Liberia’s President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf may have only seven more months in power, but her mark in Africa’s history will forever remain.
She made history in 2006 by being elected the first female head of state in Africa.
She made history again in June 2016 by being elected as the Chair of the Economic Community of West African States, making her the first woman to occupy that position since its formation.
In 2011 she was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize alongside two other winners for their non-violent struggle for the safety of women and for women’s rights to full participation in peace-building work.
She is also listed as one of the top 100 most powerful women in the world by Forbes magazine.
President Sirleaf’s has a rich experience in leadership and politics, and played an integral part in the fight for democracy in Liberia.
In 1985, she ran for Vice President under Jackson Doe on the ticket of the Liberian Action Party in the 1985 elections. She was however placed under house arrest in August 1985 and soon after sentenced to ten years in prison for sedition as a consequence of a speech in which she insulted the members of the (Samuel) Doe regime. Following international calls for her release, Doe pardoned and released her in September. Due to government pressure, she was removed from the presidential ticket and instead ran for a Senate seat in Montserrado County.
Sirleaf vied for the Presidency for the first time in 1997, but finished second in the controversial poll, getting 25% of the vote to Charles Taylor’s 75%.
She ran again in the 2005 presidential election, finishing second in the first round of voting behind football legend George Weah. In the subsequent run-off election, Sirleaf earned 59% of the vote versus 40% for Weah.
Forbes magazine named Sirleaf as the 51st most powerful woman in the world in 2006. In 2010, Newsweek listed her as one of the ten best leaders in the world, while Time counted her among the top ten female leaders. That same year, The Economist called her “arguably the best president the country has ever had.”
At 78, Africa’s first female President can look back at her time as Liberia’s president and draws pride, for the country can now enjoy fruits of her struggles.