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Ellen Johnson Sirleaf

IAC member
Ellen is a member of the international advisory council at Afrobarometer


Her Excellency President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, was Liberia’s first female president and Africa’s first democratically elected female head of state.

Internationally known as “Africa’s Iron Lady,” President Johnson Sirleaf is a leading promoter of freedom, peace, justice, women’s empowerment, and democratic rule. She led Liberia through reconciliation and recovery following the nation’s decade-long civil war as well as through its Ebola crisis, winning international acclaim for achieving economic, social, and political change.

Recognized as a global leader for women’s empowerment, President Johnson Sirleaf was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2011. She is the recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the United States’ highest civilian award, and the Grand Croix of the Légion d’Honneur, France’s highest public distinction, for her courage and unwavering commitment to expanding freedom and improving the lives of Africans. President Johnson Sirleaf has been named one of Forbes’ “100 Most Powerful Women in the World,” the most powerful woman in Africa (Forbes Africa, 2011), one of six “Women of the Year” (Glamour, 2010), one of the 10 best leaders in the world (Newsweek, 2010), and one of the top 10 female leaders (TIME, 2010). In 2010, the Economist called her “the best president the country has ever had.”

She was elected president of the Republic of Liberia in 2005, two years after the nation’s bloody civil war ended, and was re-elected in 2011. During her two terms as president, she focused on rebuilding the country, mobilizing more than $16 billion in foreign direct investment. She also attracted more than $5 million in private resources to rebuild schools, clinics, and markets and to fund scholarships for capacity building. She negotiated relief from $4.6 billion in external debt and the lifting of UN trade sanctions, which allowed Liberia to access international markets. She increased the national budget from $80 million in 2006 to more than $672 million in 2012, with an average annual GDP growth rate of more than 7%.

In June 2016, President Johnson Sirleaf was elected the first female chairperson of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). In May 2012, she was appointed co-chair of the UN Secretary General’s High-Level Panel of Eminent Persons on the Post-2015 Development Agenda, tasked with crafting a roadmap for global recovery and sustainable development – the Sustainable Development Goals.

Prior to her presidency, she served as assistant administrator of the United Nations Development Programme and as director of its Regional Bureau of Africa, with the rank of assistant secretary-general of the United Nations, a post she resigned to contest the 1997 presidential elections. She was the first African woman vice president of Citibank, assigned to the Nairobi office.

President Johnson Sirleaf has been awarded honorary doctorates by more than 15 institutions, including Tilburg University (Netherlands), the Nigerian Defence Academy, the University of Massachusetts Medical School, Harvard University, Rutgers University, Yale University, Georgetown University, the University of Abeokuta (Nigeria), the University of Minnesota, Furman University of South Carolina, Brown University, Indiana University, Dartmouth College, Concordia University, Langston University, Spelman College, and Marquette University.

Born Ellen Eugenia Johnson, she is the granddaughter of a traditional chief renowned in western Liberia and a market woman from the southeast. She holds a master’s in public administration from Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government, a degree in accounting from Madison Business College in Wisconsin, and a diploma from the University of Colorado’s Economics Institute.

She has written widely on financial, development, and human rights issues, and in 2008 she published her critically acclaimed memoir, This Child Will Be Great.

She is the proud mother of four sons and grandmother of 12.

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