Johnson Sirleaf’s tale of surmounting great odds a gripping read

Liberia goes to the polls in October 2017. President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf is expected to step down after completing her two terms in office. It is anticipated that she will hand over power to the next democratically elected civilian president.

It will be a historic moment. Her gains will be evaluated and judged against her election promises and annals of history.

There is no telling the story of President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf without telling the story of the country she leads, Liberia. There is no looking into the past events that have shaped President Sirleaf, without looking into the good, the nasty, and the earth-shattering calamities of her country.

It is against this backdrop that President Johnson starts telling her well-written story: from the beginning, when Liberia was formed.

She charts the course of the nation’s once glorious start into a turbulent past following the history of kleptocracy and blood thirsty army men who turned successive governments to be the “big man” carrying out vile acts in their wake: presidents William Tolbert Jr, Samuel Doe, Charles Taylor to mention but a few.

She tells her story from her family’s beginnings. Born to a mother raised by an Americo-Liberian settler family, and an ambitious Gola father, the young, energetic and driven Ellen lived carefree, climbing trees, fetching cooking ingredients from neighbours when they ran out and fearful of going out to the outside toilet at night.

Her only problem: jokes made about her complexion. They’d make her cry bitterly praying to sleep and wake up black.

Sirleaf spends time narrating the tales surrounding her interest in politics at its infancy stages, as well as the chronically tribal, corrupt and violent reigns of Tubman, Doe, Taylor (including his subsequent arrest) and her career in finance spanning a number of countries, including Kenya.

The bureaucracy of leadership, intergovernmental co-operation, international laws and treaties dot the book.

The book is well-written, and the title is drawn from a prophecy made by an old man visiting the president’s parents when she was an infant. The manner in which she questioned those words, drew strength from her mother’s prayers and remembered them all through her life.

The book chronicles her early life, caring for her father who had suffered a debilitating stroke, to his eventual death, thrusting her into an early marriage to an insanely jealous James Sirleaf.

He later became emotionally abusive, even holding his pistol one time to her head in front of one of their four young sons. Her work as an economist in and out of government to prison stays for standing up for the people, and for democracy.

The book is a page-turner. Hers is not an easy story. President Sirleaf writes her book in a sober voice. Perhaps it’s because of her age, having gone through it all; faced death at the hands of trigger-happy men, lived to tell the tales because of the kindness of strangers.

This is all while fighting to rise above tribalism, petty politics, and initially tight economic situation, to become a first, both as minister of finance and then later, as president, thereby inspiring a whole continent.

This book will bring tears to your eyes, make you question your life, your country’s economic status, leadership, and make you want to do more for your community and fellow countrymen.

It will foster a new found respect for Africa’s first head of state and when you hear her speak you will listen, it will make you understand Liberia and its current journey. 

‘‘This Child Will Be Great’’ is not just about one woman’s story. It weaves background of those who have shaped her and her country and her perceptions of this in hindsight. The women who helped rise her to head of state and Nobel Peace Prize winner.