Ellen Johnson Sirleaf Has Fanboys

The Liberian president's Nobel Peace Prize makes a great case for global feminism -- but the key to her re-election may be the male vote.

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Photograph by Dayo Olopade

Written by Dayo Olopade

The trio of Nobel Peace Prize laureates for 2011 makes a great case for global feminism. The activists -- all three from developing countries -- have changed the world for themselves and for other women. In turn, Leymah Gbowee and Tawakkol Karman have received their deserved moment in the spotlight. Only Ellen Johnson Sirleaf happens to be the sitting president of Liberia, up for re-election on Oct. 11.

"Ma Ellen," as she is known colloquially here in Liberia, is not assured a victory.

There's neither Zogby polling, nor CNN focus grouping in Liberia, and so I have spent the last three days in Monrovia on foot and on the back of motorcycles or crammed into share taxis or in the marketplace, trying to take the temperature of a population just clambering out of what had been 14 years of hellish war.

Everyone is glad that the days of killing, which began with dictator Charles Doe in 1989 and did not cease until Charles Taylor was deposed in 2003, are over. (His assassin, famously, is also running for president this year). In 2005, the first democratic election since 1997 saw Sirleaf the winner after two rounds of voting. Her success is said to have come largely on the backs of women fed up with lives of violence and eager to exercise any agency that they could. Their turnout, the highest recorded for any election in Africa, appeared to make the difference.

This year, feminine solidarity appears to be strong, but not total. On the day of Sirleaf's closing rally, I saw thousands of women whooping and hollering in her Unity Party's green and white -- while others were totally indifferent. I talked to an older demographic of women at the Waterside Market who barely registered a pulse when discussing Sirleaf's campaign.

The most enthusiastic women I saw were actually younger supporters of the Congress for Democratic Change, one of many opposition parties. The generally celebratory atmosphere at rallies for what's become known as an everyman party has been embraced by everywoman, too. Sisi Kumaya, a woman in her 30s who supports the CDC, cried, simply, "We need to make a change." That's as true in Liberia as elsewhere, but it struck me as strange to see a great many women supporting the leading opposition candidate. If she can't count on young women, whom can she rely on?

It turns out she may be able to look to the opposite sex.

Read the rest of this article at Slate.

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