Ellen Johnson Sirleaf

Born:October 29, 1938 (age 85)
Career:President of Liberia, 2006-present
Party:Unity Party
Education:A.A., Madison Business College
M.P.A., Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government

Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has served as the 24th president of Liberia and the first elected female head of state in Africa since 2006. In 2011, Sirleaf received a Nobel Peace Prize for her peace work in Liberia and work for women's rights.

Sirleaf was born in Monrovia on October 29, 1938. She grew up in Liberia and attended high school at the College of West Africa in Monrovia. She studied at Madison Business College, the University of Colorado and Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government, where she obtained a master's degree in public administration in 1971. Her entry into politics came in 1972 when she delivered her now-famous commencement address to her high school alma mater, in which she sharply criticized the government.

In 1965, Sirleaf joined the Treasury Department in Liberia and was appointed minister of finance in 1979, where she introduced measures to curb the mismanagement of government finances. After the military coup d'état of 1980, Sirleaf served as president of the Liberian Bank for Development and Investment (LBDI), but fled Liberia and the increasingly suppressive military government that same year. She traveled to Kenya and served as the vice president of Citicorp's Africa Regional Office in Nairobi, and later moved to Washington, D.C., to assume the position of senior loan officer at the World Bank and the vice president for Equator Bank. In 1992, she joined the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) as assistant administrator and director of its Regional Bureau of Africa with the rank of assistant secretary-general of the United Nations.

In 1997, Sirleaf returned to Liberia and participated in the presidential elections. She was ranked second in votes to warlord Charles Taylor. She was exiled again, this time to the Ivory Coast where she kept a close eye on Liberian politics. During that time she established, in Abidjan, Kormah Development and Investment Corporation, a venture capital vehicle for African entrepreneurs, and Measuagoon, a Liberian community development non-governmental organization.

In 2003, when Charles Taylor was exiled to Nigeria and the National Transitional Government of Liberia (NTGL) was formed, Sirleaf was selected to serve as the chairperson of the Governance Reform Commission, where she led the country's anti-corruption reform. She resigned this position to successfully participate in the 2005 presidential elections, resulting in her historic inauguration, on January 16, 2006, as president of Liberia.

As president, Sirleaf served as the chairperson of the Mano River Union where she led the effort for political stability and economic cooperation among Sierra Leone, Guinea, Liberia and Côte d’Ivoire. She was a founding member of the International Institute for Women in Political Leadership, was designated in 1999 by the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) to serve on the committee to investigate the Rwanda genocide, was a commission chair for the Inter-Congolese Dialogue, and was selected by UNIFEM as one of two persons to investigate and report on the effect of conflict on women and women's roles in peace building. In 2011, she was re-elected to a second term in a run-off vote by an overwhelming margin.

Before her ascendancy to the presidency, Sirleaf served on many advisory boards, including the International Crisis Group (USA) and Women Waging Peace (USA), and she is the recipient of numerous prestigious awards, among them: the FAO CERES Medal (2008); the Crisis Group Fred Cuny Award for the Prevention of Deadly Crisis (2008) for outstanding leadership in democracy, development and peace building in Africa; and the Presidential Medal of Freedom (2007), the highest civilian honor bestowed by an American president. Special honors received include Commander de l'Ordre du Mono (1996), Togo's highest national honor; the Franklin D. Roosevelt Freedom of Speech Award (1988); and the 2010 Friend of the Media Award from the African Editors' Union, in recognition of her contribution to a media-friendly environment in Liberia throughout her tenure as president. She has also received honorary doctorate degrees from fourteen universities in the United States and Africa.


Council of Women World Leaders (n.d.). “ELLEN JOHNSON SIRLEAF” Council of Women World Leaders. Retrieved December 9, 2022. https://www.councilwomenworldleaders.org/ellen-johnson-sirleaf.html

The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica (2006, June 16). “Ellen Johnson Sirleaf" Britannica. Retrieved December 9, 2022. https://www.britannica.com/biography/Ellen-Johnson-Sirleaf

The Elders (n.d.). “Ellen Johnson Sirleaf” The Elders. Retrieved December 9, 2022. https://theelders.org/profile/ellen-johnson-sirleaf

Nobel Prize Outreach AB (n.d.). “Ellen Johnson Sirleaf Biography" Nobel Prize Outreach AB. Retrieved December 9, 2022. https://www.nobelprize.org/prizes/peace/2011/johnson_sirleaf/biographical/

Nobel Prize Outreach AB (n.d.). “Ellen Johnson Sirleaf Facts" Nobel Prize Outreach AB. Retrieved December 9, 2022. https://www.nobelprize.org/prizes/peace/2011/johnson_sirleaf/facts/

The Office of the Government of the Republic of Liberia (2012, September). “Ellen Johnson Sirleaf” Columbia University. Retrieved December 9, 2022. https://worldleaders.columbia.edu/directory/ellen-johnson-sirleaf

United Nations (n.d.). “Ellen Johnson Sirleaf" United Nations. Retrieved December 9, 2022. https://www.un.org/en/conf/migration/assets/pdf/Ellen-Sirleaf-Bio.pdf