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Alums Vie To Lead Liberia

By Caroline M. McKay, Crimson Staff Writer

Harvard is a household name for politics—but not just in America.

Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and Winston A. Tubman, two Harvard graduates who maintain strong ties to the University, are competing for the presidency of Liberia in an election to be held on Oct. 11.

Sirleaf, the current president of Liberia and a 1971 graduate of the Harvard Kennedy School, was the University’s Commencement speaker last spring.

Tubman, who earned a degree from Harvard Law School in 1966, returned to Cambridge last weekend for the Celebration of Black Alumni conference.

The conference, themed “Struggle and Progress: Leadership in the 21st Century,” brought together black Law School alumni from around the world for discussions and events. Tubman sat on a panel about the human rights agenda in Africa with other black leaders, including former Ambassador to Nigeria Walter C. Carrington.

In an interview Saturday, Tubman said he returned to Cambridge less than a month before his nation’s election because he believes Liberia’s relationship with Harvard is important for the country’s development.

Tubman explained that he hopes Liberia will become a place that young black professionals—like those graduating from Harvard—will consider as a potential location to live and work.

He said he hopes to “be able to reach out to all my friends and say ‘Look, I have this big job to do, and I need all the help from all my friends—including my influential powerful friends from Harvard.’”

The relationship between Harvard and Liberia reaches back to the 19th century. Simon Greenleaf, a Harvard professor, drafted Liberia’s constitution in 1847. A little more than a century later, in 1951, Joseph R. Grimes, a graduate of the Law School, founded Liberia’s first law school.

Tubman said that Harvard and the U.S. feel a special bond to Liberia because of “the tie of blood”—a reference to the thousands of American slaves who returned to Liberia after emancipation.

“One of the reasons that I came [to Harvard], in what I hope to be the prelude to my presidency, is that when that presidency materializes, we’ll find practical ways by which Harvard can continue what it began all those years ago,” Tubman said.

Tubman is not the only politician with a Harvard Law School degree who is making a bid for high office this year.

Last spring, graduate Lobsang Sangay was elected as the Prime Minister of the Tibetan government in exile. Barack Obama and President of the Republic of China Ma Ying-jeou also graduated from the Law School.

—Staff writer Caroline M. McKay can be reached at

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