Former President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf recently participated in the second session of the United Nations Development Programme’s (UNDP) Hekima Series, which seeks to explore new ideas and solutions to combat the impact of COVID-19 on African people and societies.
The Hekima Series—which means “wisdom” in Swahili – is organized as part of the UNDP Regional Bureau for Africa’s African Influencers for Development Initiative (#AI4Dev). Madam Sirleaf’s session focused on the theme “Building a Stronger Africa After COVID-19,” and was held in conversation with UNDP Administrator Achim Steiner and UNDP Africa Director Ahunna Eziakonwa. It was moderated by international journalist Mark Eddo.
Ms. Eziakonwa opened the session, noting:
“Today as we listen to Madam President and also the UNDP Administrator, we will begin to touch on some of those ideas that will help UNDP to build solutions on the continent for sustainable lives and livelihood. COVID-19 has left huge devastation in its tracks. It has disrupted life as we know it, but at UNDP we believe that it also has created for us new opportunities to build forward stronger, better, and more sustainably.”
In her remarks, Madam Sirleaf encouraged leaders, activists, and citizens to look ahead and visualize the future of Africa beyond the COVID-19 aftermath:
“Ours is a continent of the young. Home to 16% of the world’s population, a great challenge for us is how we steer them into the future. We are blessed as a continent with natural resources, yet for many of our countries we are poor and collectively account for only 1% of the world’s wealth. Can we do better? Can Africa do better? Yes. It must. We must truly desire to do better.”
Drawing on her experience rebuilding Liberia’s damaged institutions and infrastructure after years of conflict and leading the country through the Ebola epidemic, Madam Sirleaf highlighted four key principles leaders should keep in mind in their response to COVID-19: leadership, communication, coordination, and partnership.
The event included a question and answer session, allowing young people from across the continent to pose questions directly to Madam Sirleaf. Among the participants was 10-year-old Dorisann Cecelia Gbala, who asked Madam Sirleaf for advice on how to be a good leader, as she aspires to follow in her footsteps. Madam Sirleaf told her:
“Believe in yourself and what you want to be and what you want to do. Get the best education that you can. As much as you can, as high as you can go. If you decide, like you just said, that you’re going to follow me, though you have got many years coming to that, do not be discouraged by those who will try to discourage you and if they tell you don’t, just stand firm. Tell them you can make a difference when you become that leader. Tell them you can rise above anybody who tries to discourage you or any obstacles you face. Now and then, things will not work out, but don’t be afraid of that, too. I failed so many times, but I rose above those failures and just recommitted and stayed the course, stayed focused on it.”
You can read more about the Hekima Series here.