November 4, 2017 Monrovia, Liberia—Update: This story was updated at 12:10 p.m., Nov. 6., after Liberia’s Supreme Court halted the runoff election.
Beside a busy strip of road near the downtown of Liberia’s capital city, a tall mural tells the story of the country’s recent history – or at least, someone’s version of it.
“MA ELLEN,” it says in the familiar language Liberians often use to describe their president, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. “THANKS FOR THE DEVELOPMENT AND FOR THE PEACE.”
Below the words are a portrait of President Sirleaf, her face creased by smile lines, and a series of idyllic scenes – a lush university campus, a tidy hospital, a bridge flanked by palm trees.
To many who have watched Sirleaf’s career from afar, this is a neat summary of her legacy…But for Liberians, who will soon elect her successor, Ma Ellen’s legacy is far less settled…
“By the end of the war, women had realized they could be political beings, and some men had too,” says Robtel Neajai Pailey, a Liberian political analyst who also worked for Sirleaf during her first term and recently co-authored with Ms. Williams an opinion piece on the legacy of her presidency. “It’s no coincidence that Sirleaf was able to ride this wave of renewed autonomy.”