Living with her mother in New Jersey, she won an academic scholarship to study electronic communications at the College of New Jersey. She then worked in Manhattan and began a career as a model. In 2004, she founded the MacDella Cooper Foundation, a charity dedicated to fighting poverty. She returned to Liberia in 2005 to confront the trauma of her past, ultimately deciding to stay. Our conversation about her experience as the only woman running for president, which follows below, has been edited for clarity and length.
Annabelle Timsit: Although you’re not currently projected to win the election, if you were elected, you would become the African continent’s fourth elected female head of state. What does that mean to you?
MacDella Cooper: It would be a great step in the struggle for the women’s movement. A lot of people talk about “women’s empowerment” across the continent—especially in Liberia. People talk a lot of talk but rarely take a lot of action. I think people who are serious about getting women involved will put financial support behind women candidates. A lot of people want to see women heads of state but nobody wants to financially support women-led initiatives—and by this I mean women’s political campaigns or political careers.
We need to start supporting women, not just morally, but financially, so that we can stop wishing that the men would change the world for us, but instead create a world that works for women.
Timsit: Has that been difficult for you, getting financing for your campaign as the only woman running for the presidency?
Cooper: Oh, absolutely. Men have created a great club, and they support each other; when a guy steps up and says he wants to run, then all of his colleagues rally around him and give him financial strength and support. But women have not been entrusted with enough financial power, and so when a female rises up and says she wants to run, people question her and say, “If you expect financial support, don’t think it’s going to be us.” … I have been financially supporting my entire campaign.
Timsit: Did you receive the support of President Johnson Sirleaf as the only woman running to replace her? And do you feel like her legacy has impacted your political candidacy at all?
Cooper: From the first day I made my pronouncement that I was going to enter this race, a vast majority of young people, men, and maybe even some women said: “A woman again? Oh no, we’ve already given one woman a chance, we don’t think we want another woman here.” The second [response] was, “This woman [Johnson Sirleaf] really disappointed us, and we don’t want to trust another woman with the nation’s responsibility.” But at the international level, a lot of people respect Madame Sirleaf and so they said, “Well this is great, I’m sure Madame Sirleaf has been a great role model to you and encouraged you to step into the political arena.”