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Ellen Johnson Sirleaf: War criminal?

Liberia’s Truth and Reconciliation commission reccomended several days ago that a number of politicians, including President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, be banned from politics for a period of 30 years because of their past support for warring factions in Liberia’s civil war. A World Bank veteran and Africa’s first elected female head of state, Sirleaf is ...

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LONDON - MAY 31: President of Liberia, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf delivers her IISS (International Institute of Strategic Studies) 2006 Oppenheimer lecture on African Leaderships in Post-Conflict Situations - A Case Study Of Liberia on May 31, 2006 in London. Mrs Johnson-Sirleaf became Africa's first elected female head of state on November 23, 2005 following a 14 year civil war in Liberia. (Photo by Bruno Vincent/Getty Images)

Liberia’s Truth and Reconciliation commission reccomended several days ago that a number of politicians, including President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, be banned from politics for a period of 30 years because of their past support for warring factions in Liberia’s civil war. A World Bank veteran and Africa’s first elected female head of state, Sirleaf is a darling of the Western media and aid community and some commentators are just shocked, shocked to realize that she’s something other than a saint.

Blogging from Liberia, Chris Blattman advises everyone to take a deep breath and get real:

Sirleaf openly supported at least two rebel movements — Charles Taylor’s attempt to overthrow President Doe in 1989, and LURD’s invasion to oust Charles Taylor a decade later. The TRC is condemning these actions–not something you’d expect human rights advocates to disbelieve, let alone protest.

Of course, it’s not clear that there is a Liberian over the age of six who hasn’t supported one rebel group or another the past twenty years. If they were all banned from politics, there wouldn’t be a local left to run the place.

Not that it matters. The TRC has no teeth. I don’t know the legal details, but the idea that the Commission can bar the President from politics seems laughable. Oh, did I mention that the TRC judges (a) laughably bad at their job, and (b) have political interests themselves?

But was dear Ellen unjustly maligned? Please. The outside world paints Sirleaf as an angel and Charles Taylor as a demon. Black and white politics are easy to digest. But there are no angels or demons in politics anywhere, least of all Liberia. Ellen is not the noble cherub you think. Taylor is not the black devil you fear. The truth of the matter, as always, is more subtle.

Bruno Vincent/Getty Images

Joshua Keating was an associate editor at Foreign Policy  Twitter: @joshuakeating

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