Reading about Ellen Johnson Sirleaf in Krissah Thompson’s March 12 Book World review “Rise of an Iron Lady in a proud, complex country” reminded me of a critical role I played in her life, one not known to most. On April 12, 1980, when a coup took place in Liberia, it appeared certain that the key players of the previous regime, including Sirleaf, who had been minister of finance, would be killed. They were being marched in chains through the streets.
At the time, I was the director for West Africa at the World Bank and responsible for Liberia, among other countries. Sirleaf had been a World Bank staff member before she joined the Liberian government. The rules of the bank require that the relationship with the bank be cut off when someone leaves to take a government job.
As we were uneasily watching events unfold in Liberia, I was informed by our human resources department that because of a screw-up, Sirleaf was still a bank staff member. Upon learning this, I informed rebel leader Samuel Doe that any harm to Sirleaf would be viewed very seriously by the World Bank.
As it turned out, she was one of only a handful of government ministers whose lives were spared.
Bilsel Alisbah, Hilton Head, S.C.