1 Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, former President of Liberia

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persblog.be – Edition 2014.08.04 – Ellen Johnson Sirleaf became first elected female head of state in Africa, notably of Liberia. Originally Liberia was a colony of the US. Born in Liberia and having fled to the US and Kenya, she had an international career before returning to her country.

Ellen Johnson Sirleaf - pic web.worldbank.org
Ellen Johnson Sirleaf – pic web.worldbank.org

Born in Monrovia, Liberia in 1938 and having studied at ‘Madison Business College’, Wisconsin, US, and ‘Harvard University’ in Massachusetts, US, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf became first elected female head of state in Africa, notably of Liberia.

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Ellen Johnson Sirleaf
Ellen Johnson Sirleaf

History of LiberiaOriginally Liberia was a colony of the US, the first to be established by civilians. Historians believe that many of the indigenous peoples of Liberia migrated there from the north and east between the 12th and 16th centuries. Later people were transported to the US as slaves. From around 1800, in the US, people opposed to slavery were planning ways to alleviate the problem. Some abolitionists  – a movement to end slavery – and slaveholders discussed the idea of setting up a colony in Africa for freed African-American slaves. The first ship departed in 1820. First a colony of the US, Liberia declared its independence in 1847.

Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. From Wikipedia  and biography.com: Ellen Johnson  Sirleaf was born in Liberia. Her father was ‘Gola’ and her mother had mixed ‘Kru’ and German ancestry. In 1956, Ellen married James Sirleaf at the age of 17, then traveled with him to the US in 1961, where she continued her studies. Later the couple divorced.

Charles Taylor
Charles Taylor

Back in Liberia, being Assistant Minister of Finance in the government, from 1972 to 1973, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf attracted attention with a “bombshell” speech to the Liberian ‘Chamber of Commerce’ that claimed that the country’s corporations were harming the economy by hoarding or sending overseas their profits. She was Minister of Finance from 1979 to 1980.

Then Master Sergeant Samuel Doe, a member of the indigenous ‘Krahn’ ethnic group, seized power by means of a military coup. During that period Ellen Johnson Sirleaf was President of the Liberian ‘Bank for Development and Investment’ for a short while, though she fled the country after publicly criticizing the military leader.

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Career. Sirleaf initially moved to Washington, D.C., US, to work for the ‘World Bank’ before moving to Nairobi, Kenya, in 1981 to serve as Vice President of the African Regional Office of ‘Citibank’. and later went to work for ‘Equator Bank’, a subsidiary of HSBC.

In 1992, Sirleaf was appointed as the Director of the UN Development Programme’s Regional Bureau for Africa (UNDP), from which she resigned in 1997 to run for president in Liberia. During her time at the UN, she was one of the seven internationally eminent persons designated in 1999 by the ‘Organization of African Unity’ to investigate the ‘Rwandan genocide’.

Leymah Gbowee
Leymah Gbowee

“Be not afraid to demand  peace”. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf was awarded the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize, jointly with Liberian peace activist Leymah Gbowee and journalist-activist Tawakel Karman of Yemen. The women were recognized “for their non-violent struggle for the safety of women and for women’s rights to full participation in peace-building work.”

 

Tawakkol Karman
Tawakkol Karman

Ellen Johnson Sirleaf was also conferred the ‘Indira Gandhi Prize’ by the President of India Pranab Mukherjee in 2013.

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According to ventures-africa.com she later regretted having been a fundraiser for Charles Taylor, the former Liberian President, imprisoned for war crimes and crimes against humanity, who’s war efforts against Master Sergeant Samuel Doe led to the first Liberian Civil War.

The second Liberian Civil War ended in 2003. Back then, few analysts would have predicted that the star on Liberian flag and the stardom of Mrs. Sirleaf would shine so bright again.

She became Head of one of Africa’s and the world’s most corrupt states.

“More than 65% of the population is under the age of 30. Their employment and education prospects are low and disastrous for the long-term prospect of the country. True figures remain opaque but estimates of unemployment go as high as 80% for those under the age of 30. Increased prostitution and youth violence underscore these concerns.”

In biography.com one can find one of her famous quotes: “Be not afraid to denounce injustice, though you may be outnumbered. Be not afraid to seek peace, even if your voice may be small. Be not afraid to demand peace.” F.D.

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