Ellen Johnson Sirleaf
Episode #8 of the course “Incredible female leaders through history”
The current president of Liberia, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf is considered one of the most powerful women in the world. Having survived imprisonment and scandal from corrupt enemies on charges of fraud, she is also a Nobel Peace Prize laureate and the only woman ever elected to be a head of state in Africa.
Born in 1938 of mixed heritage, Sirleaf attended the College of West Africa, married at 17, and traveled with her husband to the US, earning an Associate’s degree in accounting and a Master’s in Public Administration from Harvard in 1971. Upon her return to Liberia, she served as the assistant minister of finance before becoming minister of finance in 1979. A military coup the following year caused her to flee the country.
Anytime she left the country, Sirleaf would gain experience and international connections by working for the largest financial institutions around the world. Throughout the early 1980s, Sirleaf remained in exile, returning to Liberian politics in 1984. The election was famously fraudulent, and Sirleaf refused the Senate seat she won. She was imprisoned, fled the country upon release, and did not return until the 1997 presidential campaign after the First Liberian Civil War. She placed second and again fled when her life was in danger. At the conclusion of the Second Liberian Civil War in 2005, Sirleaf finally returned to her home country, where she was elected president.
During her presidency, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has been concerned with establishing a strong economy in Liberia. She promotes education for children of all ages, as well as supports humanitarian efforts that encourage women’s rights and community involvement. Her policies support economic and tax reform that decreases the country’s debt, and she frequently signs bills that protect equal rights for all of Liberia’s citizens. In 2011, Sirleaf was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize—the same year she was re-elected for a second presidential term.
“If your dreams don’t scare you, they are not big enough.”
“I work hard, I work late, I have nothing on my conscience. When I go to bed, I sleep.”
“The future belongs to us, because we have taken charge of it. We have the commitment, we have the resourcefulness, and we have the strength of our people to share the dream across Africa of clean water for all.”
“The price that Africa is paying could cover the cost of solving the HIV and AIDS crisis in Africa, or provide education, water and prevention and treatment for tuberculosis and malaria.”
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