New Liberian President Sworn In
STEVE INSKEEP, host:
Liberia's new president took the oath of office today. Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf is Africa's first elected female president and she's one of two newly elected women we will hear about in this part of the program. She's 67 years old, a Harvard-trained economist and she beat a soccer star in November's run-off election to get the job. Now she gets to take over a country suffering from years of conflict and destruction. We're going to go now to NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton. She is in Monrovia, Liberia's capital, and she's on the line.
And first off, the new president, Ofeibea, very impressive resume; not such an impressive situation.
OFEIBEA QUIST-ARCTON reporting:
Indeed. This is somebody who's clearly aptly qualified for the job. Her credentials are impeccable. She is an economist. This country has got no economy. It's got a collapsed economy. It has no running water. It has no grid electricity. It has a population that is tired, weary, weary, after 13 years of civil war. Now 15 years later, it has an elected leader, the first woman elected president in Africa, but a country that has got huge, huge challenges ahead of it postwar.
But I have to say that the swearing-in of Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, surrounded by her West African male counterparts, presidents, Liberians, Laura Bush, the first lady of the US, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, and many others came to see Liberia turn over a new page. So it's been quite a joyous celebration here in Monrovia.
INSKEEP: You mentioned Laura Bush and Condoleezza Rice being there. Is American aid likely to arrive anytime soon?
QUIST-ARCTON: I think, you know, the US seems to have been here very much today, Steve. We've had the SS and all sorts. But I think American support for President--Yes!--President Johnson-Sirleaf is absolutely crucial, support from the US, support from the region, support from the rest of Africa, support from the world, because this is a country on its knees. Today it's looking good. The Liberian flag is flying proudly. The Liberian people have been out on the streets celebrating their new president and new vice president. But they need to get to work right away. Fifteen years after the civil war started, there's a lot to be done. And there's also, most importantly, people who are unschooled, have no education, no respect, some of them no hope. Those who took up arms and fought in the stop-start civil war here, all those people now need essential things like jobs and hope.
INSKEEP: Ofeibea, we were told that the parade route for the inauguration today was painted and cleaned up and looked rather nice, but when you have been in other parts of the city, as I know you have been in the past, what is Monrovia like?
QUIST-ARCTON: Monrovia is flying today. Monrovia has put up its good face. It's put up its good side. But you can see that this is a war-battered capital. You still have buildings that are totally unpainted, riddled with bullets from years gone by, from fighting right in this city. So you can't hide that. Yes, the Capitol building where I am is painted up. Yes, the executive mansion just across the way is looking if not sparkling, a little better. But you look in the nooks and crannies, you look in most of the city, and you know that people are living very, very difficult lives.
INSKEEP: NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton is in Monrovia, Liberia.
Ofeibea, thanks very much.
QUIST-ARCTON: Always a pleasure.