Liberia’s Johnson Sirleaf walks the gay tightrope 4

Liberia’s Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has finally been pushed to start walking the gay tightrope. In this article in The Guardian on Facebook, she apparently took the first public steps on the matter and set the pro-gay lobby scrambling when she immediately seemed to lose momentum.

“We like ourselves just the way we are.” (Sirleaf )

Harvard educated and a winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, it is not very likely that Sirleaf has such a Neanderthal view on life – that things have to stay the same simply because that is how they have been. Else she would instead have packed her bags, left her cushy life in the United States and gone back to Liberia to be a chattel to men, as things used to be, still are, in many parts of Africa. But instead she chose the non-conventional option – running for the highest political office in her country – twice.

But Sirleaf is also a pragmatic politician and she knows that though she has broken the ‘women-in-the-kitchen’ mold, her constituency are still a bunch of hypocritical, uncritical, thinkers when it comes to matters of sex and sexuality. So, she has done what Uganda’s Museveni is trying to do – pandering to whatever audience she thinks is listening most closely at that point. Sirleaf is indeed practicing the art of speaking through both sides of her mouth on the issue of gay rights in Liberia.

In private, unattributed, comments, she has been said to have vowed not to sign anti-gay legislation. One senses that, anonymous though these assignations are, they reflect her own private sentiments. But in public, she is trying to act tough, no doubt trying to show her voters that she is no puppet of the West.

Of course, it also helped Sirleaf’s cause that she opted for the bombastic tone she took while sitting next to Britain’s former Prime Minister whose pro-gay, pro-Catholic positions are difficult to reconcile. Tony Blair, no doubt aware of the discordance of his newly discovered Catholicism and his political pro-gay positions while still Prime Minister, gifted her the gift of squirming visibly and running away when asked about his views on legalizing homosexuality in Africa.

“AGI Liberia has specific terms of reference … that’s all we require of them,” she said, crossing her arms and leaning back. (Sirleaf, in a thinly veiled warning to Tony Blair to keep his mouth shut about his true sentiments on homosexuality)

Johnson Sirleaf stayed on the tightrope, albeit with part of her head-dress coming loose according to the gay rights observers. Her real test will of course come as surely as day follows night because Sirleaf will eventually have to state clearly whether she is  for or against the anti-gay bill currently being prepared for Liberia’s Parliament to debate.

For now,  both the pro and anti-gay lobbies continue to hold their part of the rope – on each side of the abyss.