tv Talk to Al Jazeera Al Jazeera October 4, 2015 12:30am-1:01am EDT
transformed into a giant silent disco. thousands of party goers danced to music played by international deejays through wireless headsets. it's part of contemporary arts currently held in the french capital. you can always get the latest on our website at aljazeera.com. >> this week on talk to al jazeera - the president of liberia ellen johnson sirleaf. >> my life story of fighting and getting up and being beaten and rising again and fighting for the things i believe in. >> the first woman elected to lead an african country has spent almost a decade rebuilding post-conflict liberia. >> people were tired of war. war was seen as something that had been initiated and carried on largely by men. so women were ready for change. >> she survived a violently
abusive husband - and advocating for women's rights and full gender quality have been among the president's main priorities. >> i'm optimistic that if we continue on the progress we have already made, that we can get to - that is a battle that i'm going to fight. >> under sirleaf's leadership the small country on africa's western coast saw strong advances in economic growth - but the ebola crisis dealt a devastating blow. >> ebola was an unknown enemy, i didn't know what to do. nobody knew what to do, nobody could tell us what we were faced with you know. >> sirleaf is a noble peace prize winner, while her predecessor was convicted of war crimes. >> but charles taylor just proved to be quite frankly bad for the country. >> she says she draws her strength in part from her mother, but perhaps a traditional "fighting medicine" she received from her grandmother plays a part. >> i am going to give you the evidence of what you call the magic potion. >> and while there is little sign that the president is
slowing down, sirleaf talks about what she'll do when she's out of office. >> i want to watch green bay packers games and every time i find the opportunity to do so, i do. >> i spoke to president ellen johnson sirleaf when she was in new york attending the united nations general assembly. >> madam president you have now been in office for almost a decade. was the presidency as you look back on the last 10 years everything you hoped it would be? >> it comes close to everything i hoped it would be. we've had some shocks that were unexpected, things to do with global commodity prices, the disease that we faced one year ago - that has in a way stalled some of the goals that we had set. but in terms of being able to renew my nation, to be able to be able to bring back a devastated country, to restore
hope to our people, to enlift women and to give them a new horizon, a new ambition, and new dreams, in respect of all of that i think we've accomplished it and i feel very good about that. >> even from day one of your inauguration you talked about women's rights. specifically, what do you want to accomplish in that arena before your term expires? >> i would like to make sure first of all that women in the informal sector... i mean these are the farmers and the traders, many of them are not educated, many of them lacking literacy - be able to give them better working conditions. and we've done a lot to be able to achieve that. i'd also like every girl to be in school to make sure that their entire potential can be
met and that they will not be disadvantaged because of access to quality education. i'd like to see every women being able to have access to all the rights that men have access to - right to land, right to credit, right to technology. >> why don't they have those rights yet in liberia? >> well because, first of all because there are social inhibitions. there are cultural disadvantages that they face and in some cases we don't right now i cannot say legally there are any restrictions to women's full rights and full participation, but we have to overcome the practice of male domination. even though it's changing and changing in liberia quite drastically. >> you're saying its cultural this male domination and that women were treated as second-class citizens. how were you able to break
through given those cultural barriers? >> well, i tell you it may seem as a paradox, but first of all i think liberia being a small country, you know, has not had the kind of deep restrictions against women. we've had some pretty strong women leaders going back into our history. in this particular case this was a strategy to say, "hey this country is over 100 years old and it has been male dominated and now we want a change, now we want to see what a woman can do". and the women just came together behind this strategy and just decided that it was time. and don't forget we had already had two decades of war. people were tired of war. war was seen as something that had been initiated and carried on largely by men, who in fact
had subjugated women during this period. so women were ready for change in liberia. and i'm glad that they decided to go ahead and vote a woman in office. i'm privileged to have been the one to represent their aspirations. >> to be on that frontier really not just for africa but for the entire world. i've also read that genital mutilation is something that you want to address before your term expires. how much resistance do you face culturally when you take on an issue like that on the continent? >> it is a difficult one because as you pointed out it is cultural, long standing. but you know we've already made some progress in liberia on this. we have begun to sensitize traditional women leaders - pointing out to them the ill effects of this on young girls. some of them have begun to see
it, even the traditional leaders - men also are beginning. so, it is still going to be a long road but i'm optimistic that if we continue on the progress we have already made, that we can get to - that is a battle i'm going to fight. >> how did you get this fight in you? i have read that you are a domestic violence survivor. how much does that continue to drive you when it comes to women's rights? >> well you know, i grew up in a situation in which my family setting perhaps provided the basis for my strength, particularly my mother. my father was the first native member of the legislature, but he got ill very early, in my early childhood so there was no way he could have led me or propelled me and my siblings to what we are. but my mother was the strength. she was the anchor. she was a preacher and
a teacher. and she had four children that she had to take through school without any support, without a husband who was ill for seven years and finally died. and i think that strength comes from her. so we all learn to be ahead in life, to survive, to get what you wanted - you had to do it on your own. you have to be the one that pulled yourself up and that strength i think has stayed with all of us. and with me because my whole life story is so different, you know. i got married right after high school. i was 17 years old. >> why did you do that? >> because i had a good friend that i wanted to be with, is that enough? >> yes. >> and i had four children. i had four children that i had to take care of - young children - before i went back to school.
and when i went to school, i went to school with a huge determination that i wasn't going to let my classmates who had already gone ahead and completed college. i was going to catch up with them. i believe that the whole long road of having to make it on your own, having to excel having to go that extra mile for your own self success. maybe that strengthened me and maybe that prepared me for all the many other difficulties that i would face on this road. >> was the ebola outbreak the darkest time of your time in office so far? >> without a doubt the darkest time, i mean every other difficulty i faced i knew and i had the means to find a way to deal with it. ebola was an unknown enemy i
didn't know what to do. nobody knew what to do, nobody could tell us what we were faced with you know. how do we react to it? people were dying, people were running, people were crying. i cried too. i didn't know what to do, we turned to prayers. we did everything in those very early days. but then you know, then came the pronouncement that 20,000 of our citizen would die by january in the three effected countries. i think that just uh, brought out everything in me. and i just got on the air and said this will not happen. we are not going to die. we are going to take responsibility. we are going to do what we can. we started some you know measure
that proved wrong let's just put it that way. >> are you referring to the quarantine? >> we quarantined people, we restricted movements across borders. we put our security forces to make sure that they enforce those decisions and then we had some incidences, the scuffle between the army and some of the young people in one of our communities... someone died. >> but you were scared? >> yes i was there's no doubt about it, we were all scared. but we turned things around when we found that the military approach was just not going to do it and was not the thing to do. and we realized the only thing that we could do is to turn to our communities and put them in charge. and that turned the whole thing around. and i think the determination.
i went around to the different clinics and hospitals and they told me that i took risks because i didn't wear gloves or wear protective gear or anything like that. but i went there because our doctors and nurses were dying. and they were afraid to treat anybody because of that and so i had to go into the clinics i had to give to them encouragement. >> it exposed a lot of the vulnerabilities in the public health systems in the three countries that you're talking about - in your country, in guinea, in sierra leone. if ebola were to come back today are you prepared now? >> yes we are and i am glad to say that. there is always room for improvement and expanding your capabilities and we are working on that. but you know we had already reached the 42-day who requirement of being ebola free and then we had an outbreak.
and with that outbreak we know with that was our test. and so our team went to work immediately. a couple of people died, but they were able to contain all the others, to put them in treatment centers - to put them on a 21-day surveillance. they all then were free. and then we started the new count down and that new 42-day countdown ended on september 3. we also know what until all of our countries, you know, have the kind of response capability, until all of them have reached a level of being declared free of ebola we are always at risk. >> how big of a hit did the economy take and has it fully recovered? >> it took a big hit. our economy was growing at a level of about 7.8 percent. and then we faced in 2014 a decline because of our major
export, rubber and iron ore - because of depressed global prices. ebola drove us to zero. but we are starting to rebuild and we're trying to diversify the economy looking for those non-traditional areas of production that can make up for the gaps we are now facing because of our traditional areas. >> is there a lingering psychological trauma among liberians because of ebola? >> there is. for one thing we have many people that have been cured of the disease, we don't know enough about this disease to know whether the disease lingers in them. we have a lot of orphans. these orphans are being helped by people with our support. people still don't know could
they be a conveyor, two months, three months. there is some trauma. but life is back to normal. >> still ahead, the president was one of three women's rights activists to win the 2011 nobel peace prize - she talks about what the award means to her. stay with us. >> the money fell victim to the politics. >> they're more focused on getting jobs than our education.
>> al jazeera america primetime. get the real news you've been looking for. >> now everybody in this country can hear them. >> at 7:00, a thorough of the day's events. >> at the end of the day, we're going to give you an intelligent, context driven, take on the day's news. >> then at 8:00, john seigenthaler digs deeper into the stories of the day. >> this is a complicated situation. how significant is it? >> and at 9:00, get a global perspective on the news. >> the stories relevant to americans. >> they're sending their government a message. >> organizing themselves. >> weeknights, on al jazeera america primetime. >> i'm stephanie sy. our guest this week on "talk to al jazeera", the president of liberia ellen johnson sirleaf. >> how much did it mean to you to win the noble peace prize? >> quite a lot because i didn't expect it.
it's one of those positive surprises in life. true that my life story of fighting and getting up and being beaten and rising again. fighting for the things i believe in. and if anybody looks they'll see consistency from the time i took a position in government, i went to prison, i took a certain position - there is a consistency in that says "i earned it". those of us who went to jail in those particular days... you know, when jail was jail. you don't know whether you are going to live until the next day. so we went through that. and i went to jail twice. my first time i went to jail. it took the us congress to take a strong position because liberia is such a prime country
for them. and i went to jail again and i took political positions. so in a way i know that in selecting me they went through the life history. i am pleased that today i can use that when i work with other women and young girls and say there is a lot you can be. if you stay with your dreams. >> your political career has been decades in the making. your predecessor charles taylor of course convicted or war crimes, he's in jail. at one time you were allied with him. how do you view him today? >> charles taylor had an opportunity to bring some change to liberia and those of us in the early days who felt - i was not in the country, i was out - but somebody who could have brought something different. but charles taylor just proved to be quite frankly bad for
the country. and so the devastation. he penetrated the country very well. he was a powerful political force. and some of the that force is still with us today. some of that loyalty is still with us today. >> do you believe that he should spend the rest of his life in jail? >> you know, i'll just go by whatever decision the court takes. >> still ahead on "talk to al jazeera", a lighter side of the president of libera - her thoughts on the green bay packers. >> you have kids here who've killed someone? >> award winning journalist soledad o'brien takes us inside the violent world of kids behind bars. will a new experimental program be their last chance? >> i have to do my 100 percent best so i don't end up in a place like this again.
>> i'm stephanie sy. our guest this week on "talk to al jazeera", the president of liberia ellen johnson sirleaf. >> i read that when you were nine years you got into a fight over a plum that had been stolen is that true? >> it is true. >> is it true that your grandma gave you some sort of magic potion? >> the story is true. and i am going to give you the evidence of what you call the magic potion. in the morning kids woke up and went to look for which are the fruits in the trees that are ripe. so i started to pick a plum that i think was the choice of the
person who lives in the house where the plum tree was. and she decided that it was her plum and she wasn't going to let me get it. so we had a scuffle on that and i think she beat me to tell you the truth. so i went home crying. i missed my plum and a got a beating. >> and then you went to your grandma? >> my grandmother, we lived in the traditional days where people were protected with charms and things like that. so my grandmother said she had the right thing and she was going to put something... if you look carefully - you see some black marks? >> yes. >> tiny black marks. okay. what that happens is, she took a razor blade and put some nicks into the hand and my god, how
come i didn't get my wrist cut, didn't die, i don't know but... they know how to do it. they are very expert. and then there is a portion there you see which is black because it is charcoal and whatever else. >> the magic is still there. >> i don't think it will go away. >> what was it supposed to do madam president? >> make you strong. it is in the blood. it is in the bloodstream so it brings out the strength. i think as i grew up fortunately i didn't, i faced another fight with my husband but you know. >> you've been called an iron lady, which goes to the strength maybe your grandma put it in your wrist, i don't know. but you also said you wanted to quote bring a "motherly sensitivity and emotion to the presidency".
>> women do come with a certain sensitivity that perhaps may be missing in men. maybe it's the motherly value - thinking about children and protecting human life and human kind that comes with being a mother. that is not to say that men don't feel that way. i think culture is changing all over the world. today you probably have men that are just as tender feeling and just as sensitive as women. but in those days from whence i come men were meant to be the dominant force. so in us it developed this culture of caring and sharing. maybe i have lost the iron touch in some way. >> why do you say that? >> well, because in the early days of the administration i took some hard decisions -
iron lady is working again. then subsequently they say the iron is getting rusty. now a days they say, "oh, she is demonstrating too many motherly qualities". but i see that as a balancing. in our society two decades of civil war. we still have a nation, a large number of our population are still traumatized from the war. ebola just came and reinforced that trauma in many of our people. i mean, they still see me as strong and sometimes think i should you know... so i face a balance, on one hand people say, "you're giving in too much to the society. you ought to be strong and go and do the things you used
to do before". the other side is saying "you need to do a little bit more". so you see, on both sides i maintain the balance being an iron lady and also being a grandmother who cares. >> when will ellen sirleaf rest and retire and just watch green bay packers games because i've heard you like them. >> now, you don't want me to be happy... i mean i want to watch green bay packers and every time i find the opportunity to do so, i do - even if i miss some work. but i don't think i want to rest. i will end what i am doing now and i will do other things. i will go back to what i did before i ran for president, i had a small ngo community development in my country, i will do that.
i hope that the inspiration i bring to women all over the world whom i meet when i go places - and they do come and tell me the inspiration... that i will be out there in the world working with women groups. i also want to use whatever skills, whatever strength i may have left to continue to inspire girls and women to get us to the place where equality is certain. >> madam president, thank you so much for talking to al jazeera. >> thank you. >> every saturday night. >> i lived that character. >> go one on one with america's movers and shakers. >> we will be able to see change. >> gripping... inspiring... entertaining. "talk to al jazeera". saturday, 6:00 eastern. only on al jazeera america.