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In a videotaped interview with The Guardian news agency, the much lauded President of Liberia, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, told a reporter that she and her country were not interested in decriminalizing sexual relations between gay people.
In an edited 2-1/2 minute clip, President Sirleaf would not even speak about homosexuality, only referring to the topic as “that” and “that area.” Sirleaf is reported to be the only female ever elected as head of state in Africa. In 2011, the 73-year-old President was awarded a Nobel Peace Prize. Sirleaf told the Guardian:
“I’ve already taken a position on that. We’re not going to sign any such law…. I won’t sign any law that has to do with that area. None whatsoever. We like ourselves just the way we are.”
When asked again if she was in favor of changing Liberia’s law that punishes “voluntary sodomy” with up to one year in prison, Sirleaf replied:
“We’ve got certain traditional values in our society that we’d like to preserve…. I’ve just said to you, we’re going to maintain our traditional values.”
Seated next to President Sirleaf was Britain’s former Prime Minister, Tony Blair, who looked very uncomfortable with the discussion. When asked what his advice was for President Sirleaf “on these issues,” Blair grinned and said he would not answer the question. He referred the reporter to his record back in the UK. The two leaders were meeting to discuss work by an organization that Blair founded called the Africa Governance Initiative, and Blair indicated that decrminialization of homosexual acts was not an issue they were working on. AGI’s website says Liberia is “one of the most stable and prosperous nations” on the continent and is working to rebuild itself after “two decades of civil war.”
The harsh, anti-gay policies and social attitudes that exist in many African countries have come under scrutiny in recent years by social justice organizations and Western news agencies. The infamous “kill the gays bill” in Uganda is likely the most written about. But numerous other disputes have recently erupted between officials and religious leaders in Africa and what they have have deemed as outside influences from the West. Some African nations rely heavily on Western aid, and human rights activists are concerned because homosexuality remains illegal in most African nations. The Guardian claims that Hillary Clinton‘s 2011 speech at the United Nations may have goaded some anti-gay officials in Liberia to call for increased punishments of same-sex relationships.