ROME, March 20, 2012 ( – In an interview with the UK Guardian newspaper yesterday, the president of Liberia, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, said that the question of legalization of homosexual acts is off the table, despite criticism and international pressure. “We like ourselves just the way we are,” she said.

“We’ve got certain traditional values in our society that we would like to preserve,” President Johnson Sirleaf added.

The interview was being conducted jointly with Tony Blair, former UK Prime Minister and now head of the Tony Blair Africa Governance Initiative (AGI), a group that assists African governments meet their economic and social reform goals. The group is currently working in Rwanda, Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea to help achieve targets in public services, rural development, infrastructure and job creation.


The president said that her government and AGI Liberia “has specific terms of reference.”

“They’re carrying out their function within those terms of reference. That’s all we require of them,” she said tersely.

When Guardian interviewer Tamsin Ford pressed Blair on whether his group would promote homosexuality in Liberia, he replied that anyone who wants to know his own position can examine his record as Prime Minister, but that he had no comment regarding Liberia’s priorities. AGI, he said, exists to “support governments” in getting their own programs off the ground.

“One of the advantages of doing what I do now is I can choose the issues I get into and the issues I don’t. For us, the priorities are around power, roads, jobs delivery,” he said.

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Currently, the law in Liberia on “voluntary sodomy” levies up to a year in prison or fines upon conviction. Despite the claims of homosexualist activists, the U.S. Department of State said in a 2010 report on human rights that “there were no reported instances of violence based on sexual orientation.” Public opinion in this majority Christian country (85.6 per cent) “is strongly opposed to homosexuality,” the report also noted.

Twice imprisoned by the former regime, President Johnson Sirleaf was awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace in 2011 for “non-violent struggle for the safety of women and for women’s rights to full participation in peace-building work.” Johnson Sirleaf is the first and thus far only elected female head of state in Africa.

A homosexualist organization founded in January this year is touring Liberian universities in order to garner support from students in its efforts to gain legal recognition of homosexual domestic partnerships. Archie Ponpon, head of the Movement for the Defense of Gays and Lesbians in Liberia with fellow campaigner Abraham Kamara, claims that the group’s efforts have opened a public debate, but the response from legislators and even students has not been positive.

The BBC reports that during one attempt to give a speech on “gay rights” at the University of Liberia a few weeks ago, the two men were “chased away” by angry students. “They are silly,” a sociology student said. “Is it everything that is good for the West is good for us here? Nonsense,” she shouted.

A bill was brought forward this year to amend the penal code to make it a second-degree felony to “seduce, encourage or promote another person of the same gender to engage in sexual activities” or “purposefully” engage in “acts that arouse or tend to arouse another person of the same gender to have sexual intercourse.” The bill proposes prison sentences of up to five years on conviction.

In February this year, Senator Jewel Taylor tabled a bill that would make homosexual activity a first-degree felony, punishable by up to 10 years in prison. “We are only strengthening the existing law,” Taylor said.

“Some media are reporting that I said anyone found guilty of involvement in same sex should face the death penalty, I did not say so, I am calling for a law that will make it a first degree felony,” she told the Associated Press.

In response to the bill and to international pressure to liberalize the law, Johnson Sirleaf has said that she will not sign any legislation that deals with the topic. A government spokesman later told the BBC, “The president is clear on this matter – she will not sign such a bill.”

Public opposition to homosexuality remains strong in Liberia. The BBC reports this week that a priest officiating at a wedding ceremony last month at St. Anthony’s Catholic Church in the capital of Monrovia received “wild applause” from the congregation when he said, “Man-to-man marriage will not hold.”

Referring to the British government’s announcement that foreign aid will be linked to the country’s support for the homosexual agenda, the priest was reported to have said, “They can take their money; we will live; we have vast natural resources.”

The government has asked for foreign assistance in a number of critical areas. Liberia was founded by settlers who had been freed from slavery in the U.S. in the early 19th century and is struggling to create social and political stability after a devastating 14-year civil war that ended only in 2003. The U.S. State Department says that the country’s security situation remains “fragile” and “the process of rebuilding the social and economic structure of this war-torn country continues.” 

Liberia suffers a multitude of health, economic and social problems, including high maternal and infant mortality rates, (990 deaths/100,000 live births,) low average life expectancy, (57 years) and huge numbers of orphaned or abandoned children, many of whom were child soldiers. Additional concerns are loss of infrastructure and environmental issues like soil erosion, marine pollution and deforestation.

Huge numbers of teachers, doctors and other professionals fled the country during the war and the civil unrest that followed it. Currently Liberia has an average of 0.014 physicians per 1000 population, compared to 1.9132 per 1000 in Canada and a total expenditure on health care of 3.9 per cent of GDP compared to Canada’s 10.9 per cent. The country’s leaders are faced with rebuilding the infrastructure and basic services like roads, telecommunications, electrical power, hospitals and schools.