Sirleaf ends 12 year reign. What legacy does she leave behind?

Ellen Johnson Sirleaf

Liberia, Africa’s oldest republic, has a new president.

Former football star George Weah was sworn in to the presidency on Monday 22 January 2018, taking over from Ellen Johnson Sirleaf – Africa’s first elected female president.

After 12 years in power, Sirleaf handed over power to Weah in a colorful inauguration ceremony held in Monrovia and attended by more than 35,000 people.

While the peaceful transfer of power is a commendable act, especially in Africa, Sirleaf’s last days in power exhibited more of a see-saw especially regarding her legacy.

In the final month of her tenure, Sirleaf was expelled from the ruling Unity Party on accusation of frustrating its candidate Joseph Boakai’s presidential bid.

FGM ban

That same month however, the 79-year-old signed an executive order banning female genital mutilation (FGM) for under-18s, which also seeks to protect women against violence.

Sirleaf has been accused of not doing enough to uplift Liberian women during her tenure,

Sirleaf however has much more to be remembered for after her departure.


Sirleaf’s rise to the presidency was never an easy ride. That she – a woman – dared to run for Liberia’s top position already tells so much about her bravery.

Before running for presidency, she sought the vice presidency in the 1985 elections under Jackson Doe on the ticket of the Liberian Action Party. However, Sirleaf was 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. She was however removed from the presidential ticket and instead ran for a Senate seat in Montserrado County.

She would later run for the presidency in 1997 under the Unity Party flag, but lost to Charles Taylor. After controversy about the results and being accused of treason, Sirleaf left Liberia and went into exile in Cote d’Ivoire.

She ran again in 2005, and was successful this time, beating George Weah in the run-off poll.

She managed to secure a second term in 2011.

Nobel Prize

Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, alongside Leymah Gbowee and Tawakkul Karman were in 2011 awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for their non-violent struggle for the safety of women and for women’s rights to full participation in peace-building work.

Also worth noting, Forbes magazine named Sirleaf as the 51st most powerful woman in the world in 2006.

But Sirleaf’s image is not all flawless however. The now former Liberian president received heavy criticism for appointing her children to powerful state positions during her tenure. Her son Robert Sirleaf served as head of the National Oil Company of Liberia. A second son, Charles Sirleaf, was in February 2016 appointed acting governor of the Central Bank of Liberia. The former president’s stepson, Fombah Sirleaf, served as head of the National Security Agency, a body with responsibility for internal security.