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At the Local Level, What’s a Nobel Peace Prize Worth?

Liberian President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf struggles toward re-election.


After a storm, Liberia is beautiful. The West African country founded by freed American slaves is better known for 14 years of civil war that introduced child soldiers into the global lexicon, and sent ripples of toxic violence throughout the region. The storm has passed. From the rooftop of the gorgeous-but-gutted Ducor Hotel, you can see the nation’s potential: ports and rubber and abundant human resources. On the simple roads outside the capital, Monrovia, abandoned stone houses host ambitious, climbing plants—a metaphor for post-conflict Liberia if ever there was one.

The people of Liberia head to the polls Tuesday to elect a new government. Their second vote since civil war might have passed into the obscurity of distant democracy if the incumbent president, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, hadn’t been awarded a Nobel Peace Prize last week. The citation, honoring her and two other female activists from Yemen and Liberia, gave confidence to advocates for a global feminism, particularly in the developing world. It also revived a debate about foreign intervention in a country struggling to normalize local institutions and exercise free choice.

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