By Chika Onyeani

By Wednesday next week, November 23, 2005, the Liberian Elections Commission would be making the final announcement of the winner of the just concluded run-off election in that country. Barring any thunder from God himself, it seems certain that Mrs. Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf will be declared the next President of Liberia, bringing to an end 14 years of misrule in that country. International observers, including Africans, led by the former Nigerian Head of State, General Abdulsalami Abubakar, have called the election free and fair, with the caution that there might have been very minor irregularities which are not enough to overturn the result of the election. It is always bewildering to hear this caveat about elections in Africa - "free and fair although there were minor irregularities to overturn the results." How do you measure the amount of fraud or vote rigging in an election? Fraud and vote rigging are fraud and vote rigging, by any other name!!

So, by this time next week, we shall be celebrating the election of the first female president in Africa. A distinction has to be made here that she is the "first female elected president in Africa," it is not that she is the first female Head of State, that honor belongs to Ms. Ruth Sando Perry, also of Liberia.
In the earlier election, Mrs. Johnson-Sirleaf had come in second to Mr. George Weah, the internationally renowned footballer (soccer player), who led the field of 14 candidates with a 29% percent of the vote to Mrs. Johnson-Sirleaf's 19%. Whether this front-runnership in that first election gave Mr. Weah a false-sense of automatic acclaim as the shoo-in President, could be discerned by his utterances so far after the results of the run-off. He has charged fraud and irregularities, which the Elections Commission is investigating. Despite the over-whelming evidence of the apparent win of Mrs. Johnson-Sirleaf, the Liberian Elections Commission's chairperson has warned her supporters and Mrs. Johnson-Sirleaf not to declare herself the winner until that Wednesday, November 23, when the results will be officially announced.

This writer had already noted and voiced great concern about George Weah's utterances during the election campaign. He had been quoted in press reports from Liberia that as president, journalists "who are writing negatively" against him would pay dearly with their lives. "What you write about others today will cost your lives," he was quoted as saying, charging that the press was "being paid $20 and $50 to write anything against him and his CDC party."

Mr. Weah's charges were not totally unfounded, as the National Transitional Government of Liberia itself had expressed "outrage and indignation about the level of reportage being carried out by some media institutions." The Press Union of Liberia joined in the criticism by saying that it "frowned on the professionalism and misconduct of journalists during this process." The organization had been troubled that "media institutions are allowing their airwaves and pages to be used by political opponents to castigate and rain profanity at each other."

"The Union is particularly outraged over the Tuesday, 1 November edition of the SKY-FM 50-50 talk show and a special program broadcast on Star Radio on Wednesday, 2 November on which the two stations, without regard for the other side, hosted Jonathan Sogbie alias Boye Charles and Dionysius Sebwe to castigate CDC presidential candidate George Wearh." The PUL went on to say that "the two programs were unfair because they sought to attack reputation of Mr. Weah without giving him the chance to respond."

However, the same PUL also issued another statement, condemning the "profanity published in the Wednesday edition of the Bi-lingual Newspaper titled, "Why Sirleaf Divorced - The True Story."
No matter the provocation, the ominous warning from Weah could not have been taken lightly, because Africa is filled with presidents and leaders who believe that the press is an enemy, to which everything must be done to stop them from performing the task of independently informing the public. Everyday, one president or another is throwing journalists after journalists in jail or threatening to execute them. Therefore, if George Weah lost the election fairly and squarely, it is good for the press in Liberia.

It would appear from the above that this is an analysis of the election, but it is not. This is about how Africa has trumped America when it comes to gender equality, with the election of Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf as President of the Republic of Liberia. Though America has had two female presidential candidates, it has not come close to achieving the same kind of gender equality that Africa has witnessed in the many past years. In fact, it is still a rarity and still a wonderment to see women appointed to important positions in America.

Compared to Africa then, America is far far behind in gender equality, though there is always attempts to paint Africans as chauvinistic. As was mentioned earlier, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf is not the first female head of government in Africa. Africa has had prime ministers, deputy presidents and women in highly important positions in government.

In South Africa, after President Thabo Mbeki fired his deputy president, he selected Mrs. Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka to replace him. As much as the Western press continues to malign Zimbabwe's Robert Mugabe, nothing is being made or said about the fact that in Zimbabwe the Vice President is Joyce Mujuru, who was a general during the anti-colonial period with the name Teurai-Ropa Nhongo, whose motto was "shed blood." When President Abdoulaye Wade came into office, he appointed Mame Madior Boye as Senegal's first female Prime Minister. Nor do we forget Ugandan Vice President the Hon. Dr. Wandira Speciosa Kagibwe, who quit her exalted position because her husband used to beat her up after she would return from a cabinet meeting and he would want to know she had been, imagine!

>From 1980-91, Alda Neves da Graca do Espirito Santo was the Deputy Head of State and president of the National Assembly of Sao Tome and Principe. Today, the Vice President of The Gambia is Aisatou N'Jie Saidy. First female Prime Minister in Mozambique, Luisa Dias Diogo, is tipped to become the next President of that country, if former President Nelson Mandela's current wife, Graca Marcel, doesn't upstage her.

There is even not the need to dwell on the number of Africa women holding highly sensitive positions across the continent, nor the high number of them in the different parliaments in respective African countries.

Again, when it comes to women in legislative houses, Africa still trumps America as well. The wallowing in praise of the increase in females elected to the current U.S. Senate is quite pathetic compared to Africa: there are now 14 female senators in the U.S. senate - 14 percent of the total number. What's the big deal compared to Rwanda where the percentage is 50%, the highest in the world.

This writer used to feel quite amused, insulted and down-right dumbfounded at the palpable ignorance of American women when they would charge that African women were victimised by the men. It always seemed that there is no point in educating them to the fact that an African woman who has the same qualification as a man would hold the same position as that man, whether it is in the government or industry.

Therefore, when it comes to gender equality, America is far behind Africa in accomplishing what the women of Africa have accomplished, despite the short number of years of independence, compared to the more 250 years of American independence.
We must congratulate Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf when she is officially announced as the new President of Liberia, but she is hardly blazing the trail of novelty in Africa.