Her Excellency, Madam Ellen Johnson Sirleaf is Liberia’s 24th President and first democratically elected female Head of State in Africa. She is serving her second term as President after winning the 2011 presidential election and a proud recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize the same year. She has throughout her career demonstrated a passionate commitment to hard work, integrity, good governance and remains a strong advocate for women’s rights and the importance of education to provide a better future for her country and its people.
Born Ellen Eugenia Johnson on October 29, 1938 in Monrovia, she is the grand-daughter of a renowned Traditional Chief of Western Liberia and the daughter of a market woman from the southeast. She grew up in Liberia and attended high school at the College of West Africa in Monrovia. Subsequently, she studied at Madison Business College, University of Colorado and Harvard University Kennedy School of Government where she obtained a Master’s Degree in Public Administration in 1971.
Her entry into politics began 1972 when she delivered [a controversial] her strongfamous commencement address at the graduation convocation of her Alma Mater, the College of West Africa in which she sharply criticized the government and demonstrated her determination to speak the truth no matter the consequences. This was the start of a distinguished professional and political career spanning nearly four decades.
In 1975, she joined the then Treasury Department in Liberia and rose to the position of Minister of Finance in 1979 where she introduced measures to curb the mismanagement of public finances. After the 1980 military coup d’état, Madam Ellen Johnson Sirleaf served as President of the Liberian Bank for Development and Investment (LBDI) but fled Liberia as a result of the increasingly suppressive military dictates of the government the same year. She served as Vice President of CITICORP’s Africa Regional Office in Nairobi, and later moved to Washington, D.C. to assume the position of Senior Loan Officer at the World Bank, and as Vice President for Equator Bank. In 1992 she joined the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) as Assistant Administrator and Director of its Regional Bureau for Africa with a rank of Assistant Secretary-General of the United Nations. However, with her country still very much at heart, Mrs. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf resigned in 1997 to return home and contest the general and presidential elections and was ranked second in votes to opponent Charles Taylor. She went into self-imposed exile in Côte d’Ivoire where established the Kormah Development and Investment Corporation, a venture capital vehicle for African entrepreneurs, and Mesuagoon, a Liberian Community Development NGO.
In 2003, she joined the National Transitional Government of Liberia (NTGL) and served as Chairperson of the Governance Reform Commission where she reformed the reporting mechanism of the General Auditing Commission from the Executive to the Legislature. She later resigned to contest the 2005 general and presidential elections and won. She was inaugurated on January 16, 2006.
After decades of fighting for freedom, justice and equality in Liberia, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has spent more than nine years rebuilding post-conflict Liberia. She has revived national hope by strengthening the institutions of national security and good governance, leading the revitalization of the national economy and infrastructure, including the construction of more than 800 miles of roads, and restoring Liberia’s international reputation and credibility.
She has built strong relations with regional partners and the international community, attracting investment of over $16 billion in Liberia’s mining, agriculture and forestry sectors, and off-shore oil exploration to provide jobs for her people. Her leadership has led to more than $4 billion in debt relief in June 2010 coupled with the lifting of UN trade sanctions to allow Liberia access to international markets. She has increased the national budget from $80 million in 2006 to more than half a billion in 2011 and has driven annual GDP growth to at least 7 percent in the same period.
President Sirleaf is the Chairperson of the African Leaders Malaria Alliance after succeeding the founding Chair, Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete in January 2012. ALMA is an alliance of African Heads of State and Government working to end deaths caused by malaria, served as Chairperson of the Mano River Union. She is also Goodwill Ambassador for Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) in Africa founding member of the International Institute for Women in Political Leadership, designated in 1999 by the Organization of African Unity (OAU) (now African Union) to serve on the committee to investigate the genocide in Rwanda; was Commissioned Chair for the Inter-Congolese Dialogue; selected by UNIFEM as one of two persons to investigate and report on the effect of conflict on women and women’s roles in peace-building. Awarded highest French honor (Legion d’Honneur), Chief of the Golden Heart of Kenya, etc. Co-Chair the UN High Level Panel on Post 2015.
Madam Ellen Johnson Sirleaf served on a number of advisory boards, including the International Crisis Group (USA); Women Waging Peace (USA) and is also a recipient of numerous prestigious awards including: the FAO CERES Medal (2008); the Crisis Group Fred Cuny Award for the Prevention of Deadly Crisis (2008) for outstanding leadership in democracy, development and peace-building in Africa; and the Presidential Medal of Freedom (2007), the highest civilian honor bestowed by an American President.
She is a recipient of 14 honorary degrees from American colleges and universities. In 2010, Newsweek magazine listed Madam Sirleaf as one of the ten best leaders in the world; Time placed her among the top ten female leaders; and the Economist called her “The best President the country has ever had.” 2015 Forbes Magazine rated her 16th of the world’s 50 most outstanding leaders. She has demonstrated exceptional leadership skills in leading Liberia through a turbulent Ebola outbreak.