Ellen Johnson Sirleaf

Ellen Johnson Sirleaf

In 2006 Ellen Johnson Sirleaf made history by taking office as not only the first woman as a head of state in Africa, but also the first black woman elected as President anywhere in the world.

Ellen was born in Liberia but received the bulk of her education in the United States earning a Master’s degree in Public Administration from Harvard. Once her studies were complete she returned to Liberia and began her political career working as the Assistant Minister for Finance under the William Tolbert government. This role lasted for only one year, however she was offered the role of Minister for Finance in 1979; unfortunately this would also be a short reign as in 1980 a military coup took place in Liberia, and after criticising the new leader of the country she was forced to flee.

While in exile she worked in the international banking community in Nairobi, Kenya and the United States. In 1985 she returned to Liberia and ran in their elections as a Vice-Presidential nominee, during this time she was arrested and sentenced to ten years house arrest for speaking out against the Doe regime. She managed to escape to the United States the following year. She returned to her native country in 1997 as an economist following years of civil war in the country.

Following the end of the civil war in Liberia Ellen was named the head of the Governance Reform Commission and in 2005 ran in the general election where she defeated former professional footballer George Weah to become Liberia’s first female President. During her time as President she has worked hard to improve the lives of people in her country and perhaps the most important moment came in 2007 when she passed an Exceutive Order making education compulsory and free for all elementary aged children. She also worked to reduce Liberia’s national debt as well as promoting peace in a county that had experience over 20 years of civil war.

In 2011 she was elected President for a second term, she also won the Nobel Peace Prize, sharing it with Leymah Gbowee and Tawakkol Karman who were acknowledged for ‚Äútheir nonviolent struggle for the safety of women and for women‚Äôs rights to full participation in peace-building work.”

-Michelle O’Brien
Junior Girl
Girl Museum Inc.

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