President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf delivers the Sixth Nelson Mandela Annual Lecture
July 12, 2008 – Liberian President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf stressed the importance of transparent, accountable government and the need to fight corruption in Africa, in a wide-ranging address delivered as the 6th Nelson Mandela Annual Lecture in Kliptown, Soweto, this afternoon.
“Africa is not poor, but poorly managed,” she said, but encouraged the audience of hundreds of invited guests to be positive about the continent’s future. But, she said, there was no stopping the African Renaissance. “The new Africa is at hand!” she said.
Much of the speech was devoted to economic issues in Africa such as debt relief, and though Johnson-Sirleaf did not shy away from difficult topics such as corruption, her tone was upbeat and positive.
For example, she pointed out that in the past 20 years or so, about 20 countries in sub-Saharan Africa had become democracies. “Never before in world history have so many low-income countries become democracies in so short a time.”
She also spoke about Liberia, and how it is an African case study of “a terrible past” and “the resurgence of hope”. She ended the speech by saying, President Mandela, we salute you and your legacy. Happy birthday!”
You can read the full speech here.
The response to the speech was largely positive from members of the invited audience. Below follows some of their reflections after the event:
“I found it very inspirational, at a time when there is so much Afro-pessimism. I was very happy that she raised the issues of economic development and accountable governance.” – Scholastica Sylvan Kimaryo
“I thought the president of Liberia was great. It’s important to be positive in an age of negativity. She raised the issue of Zimbabwe, which I thought was important.” – Razia Saleah
“This was the most profound address by a woman; it inspired me so much, and it has given me hope. As South Africans we have a lot to learn from Liberia. She was direct and honest regarding the Zimbabwe issue and I salute her for that. We need a leader who won’t support injustice and that’s the kind of leader I see in her. It’s encouraging to see an African woman being so eloquent, courageous and working so hard in order to deliver basic services – that’s a challenge we have in South Africa and we need to continue with Tata’s legacy and hers. Ellen is a phenomenal woman of great character, this lecture will be the highlight of my year –and I would like to personally meet her one day.” – Peggy Sue Khumalo
“The lecture was brilliant, dynamic, thought-provoking and awesome. Being in Tata’s presence was amazing. The lecture gave me hope that African leadership is prepared to address issues affecting Africa.” – Ella Makgwa
“The youth parliamentarians were brilliant. The Liberian president has achieved so much in a short space of time and that was just great.” – Lindi Ntuli
“It was outstanding, relevant and focused. She addressed pertinent issues in a short space of time. I’m happy that I spent my afternoon here.” – Zwelakhe Mayaba
“It was wonderful, transformational and thought-provoking. I started asking myself questions like ‘Was I doing enough in terms of youth development in this country?’ For me it was also very personal as I have started youth development organisations and my passion is promoting the youth and sharing information.” – Pat Mkhize
“The speaker was good. She touched on areas of building institutions, a good democracy and citizenship. It was a great contribution and the symbolism of having a woman president was powerful.” – Dali Mpofu
“Wonderful words from the president. The lecture was great, but my favourite lecture was the one delivered by President Thabo Mbeki. It was inspiring to know what Liberia has achieved. I was impressed by the children’s parliament – our kids must look up to them and those children who spoke today must not lose focus.” – Baby Jake Matlala
“It was a wow! She is an iron lady. I’ve been hearing her on the news and now I’ve seen her in person, and she’s amazing. I want to be back again at the lecture next year!” – Noma Sompoza
“I think it was excellent. She really raised the bar as far as I’m concerned. She was very realistic – she was talking about things that appealed to everyone in the audience.” – Mbulelo Mtoba
“It was fantastic – she got to the issues in the way only women do, dealing with them as simply as possible. I really liked what she said about what she wanted her legacy to be – good, accountable governance.” – Sibongile Mkhabela
“It was stunning, she did an excellent job. As a female president, she is continuing with the revolution Nelson Mandela started.” – Tyrena Holley
“I was interested in how the notion of an African Renaissance was revived and given meaning.” – Mark Gevisser
“I think she raised the bar … she gave hope for the continent that we can still have such eloquent speakers” – Bantu Holomisa
“She is the personification of the kind of solutions we need in Africa.” – Dali Tambo
“The Annual Lecture was the most moving, poignant, memorable event that I’ve been to. It left me with goosebumps. President Johnson-Sirleaf was inspirational.” –Peter Friedland
“It is time the people of Africa came together in unity. ” – Mpumalanga Gwadiso
“Girl power! She’s got a voice! What we are lacking in Africa is the ability to say things as they are.” – Criselda Kananda
“President Johnson-Sirleaf today proved me correct that women can lead and raise a nation. We need more women to be in such leadership positions.” – Sipho ‘Hotstix’ Mabuse
“ She is the epitome of what many of us aspire to be. She represents all that is poignant about being an African, a leader and a woman. She is a symbol of hope in terms of what women can achieve.” – Basetsane Kumalo
“The speech gave me hope that we don’t have to pick up our spears and leave.” – ZM Mulaba
“It was a momentous occasion and the president of Liberia gave us hope that it is not all bad with us in Africa, which is what Nelson Mandela believes in firmly and why he is so engaged with his Foundation and Children’s Fund. He has been an optimist ever since I first met him 65 years ago, when we were students.” – George Bizos
“The whole lecture contributed to enhancing the focus for the way forward to resolve the crisis in Zimbabwe.” – Professor Togba Nah-Tipoteh, Liberia
Click here to download a pdf version of the Annual Lecture address.