President of Liberia
Political Leaders

On 16 January 2006, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf became the first woman elected head of state in the history of Liberia and of Africa. Born 29 October 1938 as Ellen Eugenia Johnson, she is the granddaughter of a traditional chief in western Liberia. After completing high school in Monrovia, Johnson Sirleaf travelled to the United States to continue her education, studying at Madison Business College and the University of Colorado. She also attended the prestigious Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, earning a Masters in Public Administration in 1971. Johnson Sirleaf spent more than 10 years working within the Liberian Ministry of Finance, rising to become finance minister in 1979. She is credited with introducing measures to curb financial mismanagement during this time. Following the military coup d’état in 1980, Johnson Sirleaf left the country, settling in Kenya where she served as vice president of Citicorp’s Africa Regional Office in Nairobi. She later travelled to the United States, working at the World Bank in Washington, D.C. and then becoming vice president of Equator Bank. In 1992 she became assistant administrator of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), where she directed the agency’s Regional Bureau of Africa. Her first bid for elected office came in 1985 when she returned to Liberia and mounted a campaign for a seat in the Senate. Her political ambitions were cut short when she was sentenced to 10 years in prison for criticising the regime of military ruler Samuel Doe. She served part of the sentence before again leaving her country. Her return to Liberia and to national politics came in the 1997 presidential elections, where she finished second to eventual winner Charles Taylor. She again left the country, this time settling closer to home in Côte d'Ivoire. In Abidjan, she established two organisations promoting economic and social development. The Kormah Development and Investment Corporation provides support to African entrepreneurs, while Measuagoon is a non-governmental organisation (NGO) focusing on community development in Liberia. She returned to Monrovia in 2003, after Taylor’s resignation and exile. The National Transitional Government of Liberia (NTGL) took power and Johnson Sirleaf was appointed to chair the Governance Reform Commission, which aimed to clamp down on corruption. She resigned from the position to stand in the 2005 presidential election. On 23 November 2005, the country’s electoral commission declared Johnson Sirleaf the winner of the election, with 59% of the vote in the second round. As president, Johnson Sirleaf has won international praise for stabilising Liberia following two brutal civil wars, for revitalising its economy and restoring its standing among nations. In 2011, she was elected to a second term as president. On the international stage, Johnson Sirleaf has served as chairwoman of the African Leaders Malaria Alliance (ALMA), an initiative of heads of state working to end malaria-linked deaths, and as Goodwill Ambassador for Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) in Africa. In 2011, Johnson Sirleaf was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, along with her countrywoman, peace activist Leymah Gbowee, and Tawakkul Karman, a Yemeni human rights and democracy campaigner. In awarding the Prize, the Norwegian Nobel Committee praised the three women “for their non-violent struggle for the safety of women and for women’s rights to full participation in peace-building work.”