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A Memoir: This Child Will Be Great
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A Memoir: This Child Will Be Great

Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has always been one of those people you look up to but don’t know about. A known unknown, at least to me. I always wanted to learn more about her, how she got to where she is.

“If your dreams don’t scare you, they are not big enough” – This Child Will be Great

I have read a lot of autobiographies and biographies. One of my greatest has to be Walter Isaacson’s ‘Steve Jobs’. That book completely changed my life. I felt like I had found the other half of me.

Then Came Nelson Mandela’s, ‘A long Walk to Freedom’. 

There was also Wangari Maathai’s ‘Unbowed’. I cried throughout this book. In fact writing this is making me tear up.

My attachment to these books…I can’t explain it. I live through books and Ellen Johnson Sirleaf did not disappoint.

I got the book from Text Book Center at The Junction Mall. I was not aware that she had a memoir so I was pleasantly surprised to see it and of course I bought it.

I read it in about three weeks.

The title, ‘This Child Will Be Great’ is a homage to the first time an old man visited her crib when she was young. He took one look at her, turned around to her mother and said the words, ‘this child will be great’

She remembers the words during her toughest moments; when she was trying to get out of an abusive relationship; when she was imprisoned by her president; when she had to flee her own country. The list is endless.

When I started reading the book, I thought that it would take me about a chapter before I was fully immersed in her story. It didn’t take that long. I was hooked by the third paragraph.

Very early on, she comes across as a woman not ashamed to laugh at herself and who doesn’t dwell too much on feeling sorry for herself. Personally I never knew that she’d been in an abusive marriage. I wanted to know how she went from that to being the first female President of Liberia and the first female president in Africa.

Liberia - This Child Will Be Great

Image courtesy of United Nations in Liberia

The story delves into the history of Liberia, which I have to admit I didn’t know about. I knew they’d lived through a civil war for decades but I was unaware why. This book gave me the why. I was also unaware of Liberia’s relationship to the United States i.e. the slave resettlement that led to the civil strife.

There was deep tension between the Americo-Liberian settlers and the indigenous Lib tribes. It reminded me of a USIU intercultural communication class that highlighted the deep differences between Africans living and born in Africa and Africans born and bred outside Africa. We are all black but the experiences and the cultures of our different birthplaces make us extremely different.

Americo-Liberian Conflict - This Child Will Be Great

Image courtesy of United Nations in Liberia

I observed that interacting with each other will not be easy if we do not respect the other’s culture and background. This is what happened in Liberia, the settlers saw themselves as superior to the indigenous Liberians and in turn, the indigenous Liberians were skeptical and distrusting of the settler families. Deep fractures emerge when people look at the differences as a deterrent rather than an opportunity to gain perspective and learn something new.

Ellen is relatable and she doesn’t shy away from the embarrassing, or the many hardships she has endured. When we read of the greats we want to know their hardships and how they overcame them. With Ellen it felt like the first time I read Steve Jobs’ autobiography. It covered who the person was; the good, the bad and the ugly. It felt like I really got to know the person and understood  their motivations.

I especially liked that she spoke out about domestic violence – that is not something you would expect a president to reveal. I felt that it empowered her, instead of undermining her power.

Ellen manages to use the story to make a point, as women we go through injustices that are unique to us, but they do not dictate where we’ll end up. It also serves as an encouragement to women who have been or are in abusive relationships. She describes the instances of abuse and why she stayed until she couldn’t. 

Ellen Johnson Sirleaf - This Child Will Be Great

Image courtesy of United Nations in Liberia

It’s a remarkable journey of strength, sacrifice and triumph. It feels like catching up with a  best friend you haven’t seen in decades. It’s a story of a woman befitting of the title President. She exemplifies it in every single way. Her commitment to her country and her people is admirable especially in this age where we elect leaders based on way less than commitment to country.

It would be remiss of me not to mention the tremendous impact she has had on the women of Liberia. They came out in droves to vote and support her during her run for presidency. Ellen and her team pushed for civic education to educate and empower the women and the people of Liberia on their voting rights ahead of the election and it paid off.  

I dream of a day like that for Kenya, when as women, all 52% of us, make a unanimous choice to put a woman in the highest most prestigious office in the land.

All in all, ‘This Child will be Great’ is in my all time favourites category right up there with Walter Isaacson’s ‘Steve Jobs’, ‘A long walk to Freedom’- Nelson Mandela and ‘Unbowed’-Wangari Maathai because they all have one thing in common. They are real!

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