Liberia’s Johnson Sirleaf wins $5 million African leadership prize

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Liberian President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf speaks during an interview with Reuters in Brussels November 25, 2013. REUTERS/Francois Lenoir
Liberian President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf speaks during an interview with Reuters in Brussels November 25, 2013. REUTERS

Liberia’s former President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has won the prestigious $5 million Mo Ibrahim Foundation Award for Achievement in African Leadership.  The foundation is designed to improve the quality of African political leadership.

Ms. Sirleaf, who handed over leadership of the war-scarred West African state to ex-football star George Weah, is the first woman and the fifth person overall to win the 10-year-old award.

On several occasions the foundation has chosen to not award a prize because committee members determined there was not a suitable candidate. The $5 million prize is paid out over ten years and Ms. Sirleaf will also receive an additional $200,000 annually for life thereafter.

The Prize Committee praised her for leading Liberia as it recovered from civil war and “working tirelessly on behalf of the people of Liberia.”

She made history in 2006 by being elected the first female head of state in Africa, taking on a country ripped apart by 14 years of civil war.

“My calling was to first ensure there was peace in the country because we could easily have gone back to war”, she said.

Sirleaf made great strides in transforming the economy. The country’s economy transformed from a negative growth to more than 8.7% in 2013.

Her leadership also helped secure more than $4 billion in debt relief in June 2010, which helped ease UN sanctions.

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 Sirleaf 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.

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