The Nobel Peace Prize winning President of Liberia, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, has refused to support gay Liberians currently under sustained assault in that West African nation.
In a joint interview with Tony Blair for The Guardian she said:
“We like ourselves just the way we are.”
“We’ve got certain traditional values in our society that we would like to preserve.”
Over the past six months, life has become increasingly difficult for gays in Liberia. A bill has been introduced by the Senator wife of the war criminal Charles Taylor which takes advantage of and fans the anti-gay fervor underway. As with Uganda, contrary to claims, the Liberia bill does include the death penalty.
Pressed by The Guardian, Blair refused to comment. He was described by The Guardian as “looking visibly uncomfortable.”
At an African Union summit in January, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urged African leaders to respect gay rights and to stop treating gay people as second-class citizens and criminals.
When pushed on the UN secretary general’s comments, with Sirleaf at his side, Blair responded: “I’m not saying these issues aren’t important, but the president has given her position and this is not one for me.”
Blair was on a visit to Liberia in his capacity as the founder of the Africa Governance Initiative (AGI), a charity that aims to strengthen African governments. “One of the advantages of doing what I do now is I can choose the issues I get into and the issues I don’t. For us, the priorities are around power, roads, jobs delivery,” he said.
But one activist, Leroy Ponpon, tells the BBC ”We will not relent; people will come to the realisation that in this day and age, individuals should be free to practice what they wish.”
Sirleaf was awarded the Nobel peace prize last year for her work in campaigning for women’s rights. The 73-year-old became Africa’s first female president in 2006 and was elected for a second term last year.
Johnson Sirleaf image used under the Creative Commons Attribution License with thanks to World Economic Forum.