ONCE a year, in mid–December, I try to anticipate who will be named by Time magazine as Person (or Persons) of the year. A month ago I suggested that a good choice would be the two women who had been elected to lead their countries, Angela Merkel of Germany and Ellen Johnson–Sirleaf of Liberia, and I coupled their names with that of Michelle Bachelet who seemed likely to be chosen as Chile's first woman president. I don't have much success with these predictions, partly because I always forget that Time probably makes its choice in late October. In the event, for 2005 its accolade fell on Bill and Melinda Gates and Bono for their combined work to fund research and programmes on immunisation of African children, especially against malaria. No one would quarrel with this choice; the Gates, using their Microsoft fortune, are probably the largest charitable donors the world has ever known. Still, yesterday the ladies got their turn in the limelight. In Freetown, Liberia, Ellen Johnson–Sirleaf was sworn in as Africa's first freely elected female leader and Liberia's first democratic President after a generation of dictators and wars. She has been a World Bank economist and says she wants to bring transparency to all her government's business. And in Santiago, Chile, the centre–left Michelle Bachelet became Chile's first woman President with more than 53 per cent of the vote. Her opponent, Sebastian Pinera, said he wanted to ”pay homage to all those millions of women who with much strength and tenacity have finally achieved the place they deserve in our society.” These two women have something in common; both have been imprisoned under former military regimes, Ellen Johnson–Sirleaf twenty years ago in Liberia and Michelle Bachelet during the Pinochet regime in Chile. That leaves Angela Merkel. In mid–December she was still something of an unknown factor outside Germany but since then she has played an important broker's role in the difficult EU budget negotiations and last week went a long way to restoring good relations with the United States during her meeting with President Bush. Yesterday she was in Moscow with President Putin. She could not have made a better start.


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