A new biography tells the remarkable story of Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, president of Liberia and the first woman ever elected to lead an African nation.
Cooper joined MPR News host Tom Weber to talk about Sirleaf's remarkable rise to office, and her legacy as she steps down later this year.
Just that fact — that Liberia will have a living former president — is a remarkable thing for the country.
"Liberian presidents die in office," Cooper said. Some have died of natural causes, another was killed in a violent coup. With Sirleaf, "for the first time, we'll have an example of a post-president."
Sirleaf was first elected in 2005. Her credentials were impressive: She had studied at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government and worked at the World Bank. Her main opponent? A former soccer player.
For Cooper, the most important part of Sirleaf's election isn't about Sirleaf at all: "It's the story of the Liberian women who got her elected. She was enormously qualified, but this is still a patriarchal society and this was a country that had just come out of two decades of civil war in which Liberian women were largely victimized. Seventy percent were raped or sexually assaulted. Women had their children stolen and turned into child soldiers. Through all of this, they carried this country on their back."
"These are the women who formed a movement to get a woman elected president. I do believe that was Sirleaf accomplished is remarkable. I also believe the bigger story is that she did it on the backs of the women," Cooper said.
To hear the full discussion with Helene Cooper on Sirleaf's legacy, and use the audio player above.