Choosing the Hero
Although I humbly think this beautiful and profound memoir by Riva is slightly overdue, I commend her dedication, despite her hectic schedule, to finish it and share it with the world.
Indeed, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the other main protagonist in this memoir, in her soulful Foreword, encourages us all to read Choosing the Hero: “It tells my story from the special perspective of a woman who knows me well and was with me at every stage of the journey – a woman to whom I will always be grateful.” I know of no other more befitting endorsement of such a work. The President actually mentioned in that same foreword that Riva even believed in her much more than some of her closer entourage at one point – in short, Riva never gave up on her although she tried and failed twice before making it to the Liberian Presidency in 2005, amidst all odds and breaking the ‘tremendous taboo’ that no woman could be President in Africa.
So how did these two brilliant, brave, strong headed, strong willed, dynamic, dedicated, determined, and above all, disciplined women from worlds apart, cross paths? Riva was from the US, with her multidimensional background, upbringing, and career, while Ellen was from far off poor, shady, gloomy and poverty cum conflict stricken tiny Liberia in Africa. I have come to conclude that their personalities had a ‘spiritual magnetism’ and caused them to chose each other.
Riva is largely convinced she chooses Ellen Johnson Sirleaf because she saw in her a Hero. In her own words, thought out way back in 1996 when she first met Ellen Johnson in her office at the UN: “… a new thought that is just beginning to take root and grow: Ellen Johnson Sirleaf will make history. She will change the world. I don’t know how she will do it, or what it will entail. But I know that I want to help her. I want to come along on that journey. I want to work for Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.” I think that is where the choosing started. Eventually when she had the opportunity to be interviewed by Ellen Johnson, she was determined that that not even her five months old pregnancy was going to stand in her way. Riva reflects rightly at that point that she’s facing yet again the primary tension to her job: “needing to work for the clients who pay, while being drawn to the clients who inspire.” She knew Mrs Sirleaf had limited resources and relied on her personal savings with dignity and integrity, but that was what made her Hero more appealing.
And so it came to be that Riva didn’t only help her Hero, by working and supporting Ellen Johnson Sirleaf all the way through defeats, exiles, and eventual victory ten years later, but she actually got into some serious politicking and lobbying on Capitol Hill, most of it pro bono. Riva narrates this challenging but soulful journey, the different rejections and humiliations she faced in working with and for her Hero, recalling a time when she was told outright: “it’s a traditional society, a woman can never be president.”
One will read with hints of irony how the warlord Taylor, who had several times threatened grandmother Ellen’s life, ended up himself depending on her executive decision as president if he should be tried by the Special Court for the Sierra Leone. Another amusing fact in her memoir is the ‘play press’; both regional and international, who in the beginning were definitely not having anything to do with covering Ellen and her campaign. Once she was declared the victor over “King Leah” their proclaimed ‘winner’, they were in Monrovia overnight pleading for a spot with Madam President.
Riva’s memoir is captivating and hard to put down. Brilliantly narrated with some hints of her soulful family dynamics, her impressive and resourceful Oma, all the way through to Bagdad, Libya, and Somalia, where some of her most dangerous assignments were undertaken.
I commend Riva above all for making her memoir a fluent, easy, and interesting read. I equally appreciate that her opening scene is in Norway, where her Hero and two other dynamic and exemplary women laureates of that year’s Nobel Peace Price are honoured with their awards.
Indeed, Riva made the right choice in choosing her Hero. She is now a part and parcel of one of those ‘traditional African families’, and so gets her VIP pass to the ground breaking inauguration of President Sirleaf in 2006 and much more. Riva has also witnessed tremendous personal and professional developments and she now thinks her Hero is also her new Oma.
In light of all the above, I can only honestly and modestly conclude my review by adding my own tiny call to that of our very first African Female President, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, that this book should be read by all and sundry – you will not regret it.
About the Author:
K. Riva Levinson is the founder, President and CEO of KRL International LLC. Over the past 25 years, Ms. Levinson has earned a reputation as sought-after strategist managing international policy issues.
A front-page profile in The Hill, a prominent Washington newspaper, said Riva Levinson “…has been in trickier spots and taken up more daunting causes than all but a few other lobbyists in town.” A recent Financial Times article described Ms. Levinson’s reputation in advocacy as “formidable.”