Ellen Johnson Sirleaf is the 24th President of Liberia and the first elected female Head of State in Africa. She won re-election in November 2011, and was inaugurated, on January 16, 2012, to a second and final term of office.
After decades of fighting for freedom, justice and equality in Liberia, in 2011 President Sirleaf shared the prestigious Nobel Prize for Peace with two other women – fellow Liberian Leymah Gbowee, and Tawakkul Karman of Yemen. They were recognized, by the Norwegian Nobel Committee, for their non-violent struggle for the safety of women and for women’s rights to full participation in peace-building work.
In May 2012, the Liberian President was appointed by the United Nations Secretary-General as one of three co-Chairs of a High-Level Panel of Eminent Persons on the Post-2015 Development Agenda. The Panel is tasked with crafting a roadmap – beyond the target date for achieving the Millennium Development Goals – for global recovery and sustainable development.
As President, Mrs. Johnson Sirleaf has spent the past six years rebuilding post-conflict Liberia, attracting foreign direct investment of over $16 billion. She has also attracted more than $5 million of private resources to rebuild schools, clinics and markets, and scholarships for capacity building.
She successfully led Liberia’s $4.6 billion external debt forgiveness and the lifting of UN trade sanctions to allow Liberia to once again access international markets. She increased the National Budget from $80 million in 2006 to over $672 million in 2012, with an annual GDP growth (2011) increase of more than 7 percent.
Mrs. Johnson Sirleaf began her career in the Treasury Department in Liberia in 1965, rising to the position of Minister of Finance, in 1979, where she introduced measures to curb the mismanagement of government finances. After the 1980 military coup d’état, she became President of the Liberian Bank for Development and Investment, but fled Liberia that same year from an increasingly suppressive military government.
She served as Vice President of Citicorp’s Africa Regional Office in Nairobi; as Senior Loan Officer at the World Bank; and later as a Vice President for Equator Bank.
Mrs. Johnson Sirleaf served with the United Nations Development Programme in 1992, as Assistant Administrator and Director of its Regional Bureau of Africa, with the rank of Assistant Secretary-General of the United Nations. She resigned this post to contest the 1997 presidential elections in Liberia, and was ranked second. She went into self-imposed exile, in Côte d'Ivoire, where she established a venture capital vehicle for African entrepreneurs; and Measuagoon, a Liberian community development NGO.
With the return of peace to Liberia in 2003, Johnson Sirleaf joined the National Transitional Government of Liberia, where she chaired the Governance Reform Commission and led the country’s anti-corruption reform. She resigned to successfully contest the 2005 presidential election, resulting in her historic inauguration on January 16, 2006, as President of Liberia.
Mrs. Johnson Sirleaf has been awarded honorary doctorates by over 15 institutions, among them: Tilburg University (Netherlands); the Nigerian Defence Academy; the University of Massachusetts Medical School; Harvard University; Rutgers University; Yale University; Georgetown University; the University of Abeokuta, Nigeria; the University of Minnesota; Furman University of South Carolina; Brown University; Indiana University; Dartmouth College; Concordia University; Langston University; Spelman College; and Marquette University.
In addition to her Nobel Prize, President Johnson Sirleaf is the recipient of numerous honors, including: France’s highest award and public distinction, the Grand Croix of the Légion d’Honneur (2012); the Indira Gandhi Prize for Peace Disarmament and Development (2012); the African Gender Award (2011); Friend of the Media Award (2010); FUECH Grand Cross Award (2009); FAO’s CERES Medal (2008); Golden Plate Award(2008); International Women’s Leadership Award (2008); International Crisis Group Fred Cuny Award for the Prevention of Deadly Crisis (2008); James and Eunice K. Matthews Bridge Building Award (2008); American Academy of Achievement Golden Plate Award (2008); Presidential Medal of Freedom (2007), the highest civilian honor bestowed by an American President; National Civil Rights Museum Annual Freedom Award (2007); National Democratic Institute Harriman Award (2007); Bishop T. Walker Humanitarian Award (2007); Gold Medal of the President of the Italian Republic (2006); Africa Prize for Leadership for the Sustainable End of Hunger (2006); National Reconciliation Award (2006); International Woman of the Year (2006); and International Republican Institute Freedom Award (2006).
The Liberian leader has been ranked among the top 100 most powerful women in the world (Forbes 2012); the first most powerful woman in Africa (Forbes Africa 2011); among the 10 best leaders in the world (Newsweek 2010); among top 10 female leaders (TIME 2010); called “the best President the country has ever had (The Economist 2010); and as one of the six “Women of the Year” (Glamour 2010).
Born Ellen Eugenia Johnson in Monrovia on October 29, 1938, she is the granddaughter of a traditional chief of renown in western Liberia and a market woman from the southeast. She earned a degree in Accounting at Madison Business College, in Wisconsin; received a Diploma from the University of Colorado’s Economics Institute; and obtained a Master’s Degree in Public Administration, in 1971, from Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government.
President Johnson Sirleaf has written widely on financial, development and human rights issues, and in 2008 she published her critically acclaimed memoir, This Child Will Be Great.
She is the proud mother of four sons and grandmother of eleven.