October 23, 2017
Helene Cooper, Pentagon Correspondent for the New York Times and Pulitzer Prize winning author
Moderated by Ambassador Shirin Tahir-Kheli, Foreign Policy Institute Senior Fellow
New York Times correspondent Helene Cooper visited the Johns Hopkins SAIS community to discuss her coverage of Liberia, for which she received the Pulitzer Prize, and her 2017 book, Madame President: The Extraordinary Story of Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. The event was part of the school's Women Who Inspire lecture series.
Cooper mentioned that she was inspired to write the book 12 years ago during a reporting trip in Eastern Congo. She narrated her experience of war-torn Liberia and her overall perception of poverty and development in Africa. Cooper spoke about how the market women in Liberia inspired her and the role these women played in the 2005 presidential election in Liberia. The book detailed the grassroots movement that resulted in an upset victory for Johnson Sirleaf, and the social issues driving the campaign.
Cooper explained the political environment of Liberia during the campaign between Johnson Sirleaf and football legend, George Weah. Women were united in their support of Ellen, she said, and they developed a unique strategy to help her win. Some women went as far as stealing the voter cards of their sons to prevent them from voting for Weah, Cooper said. Women also used the media against Sirleaf's opponent by leveraging a cologne advertisement made by a partially naked Weah during his footballing days.
In conclusion, Cooper spoke about the challenges Johnson Sirleaf faced during her presidency and additional things she had wanted to generate progress on, such as the furtherance of women’s empowerment and rights in Liberia.