Nationwide — Changemaker – one who desires change in the world, and by gathering knowledge and resources, makes that change happen. More and more people are getting this word coined to their name, one of which is the former Liberian president. Take a look at Ellen Johnson Sirleaf’s biography for a closer look into her life.
Quick Facts • Born October 29th, 1938 in Monrovia Liberia • Known as Africa’s “Iron Lady” • World’s first black female President • 2011 Nobel Peace Prize winner
She went to school at the College of West Africa before moving to the U.S with her husband. While in the states, she earned an accounting degree from Madison Business College and a Master’s in Public Administration from Harvard University.
Early Political Career
When she returned to Liberia after school, she worked as Deputy Minister of Finance within President William Tolbert’s administration. While in this position, she gave a speech that pointed fingers at the Liberian Chamber of Commerce, saying that the country’s corporations were harming the economy by hoarding and sending profits to overseas locations. Samuel Doe seized power in a coup d’état in 1980, so Sirleaf fled to the U.S. She left Liberia, working for Citibank, and freed herself from the war and corruption, but realized she couldn’t help others from so far away.
She returned to Liberia in 1997 to contest in the election against Charles Taylor. She placed second in a race of 13 but lost by 75%. After the election, she was exiled to the Ivory Coast.
The violence and patriarchal rule finally ended in 2003, so between then and 2005, she strategized and eventually won the presidency.
She served as the 24th president from 2006 to 2018 and strove to promote peace, reconciliation, and social and economic development. As Liberia’s first elected female president, she broke the glass ceiling for women in power. In 2011, she was jointly awarded the Nobel Peace Prize with two other women, Leymah Gbowee and Tawakkol Karman. They were awarded this “for their nonviolent struggle for the safety of women, and for the women’s rights to full participation in peace building work.”
An important aspect that needs to be included in any Ellen Johnson Sirleaf biography is the discussion about her impact. There has been a lot of talk about whether she truly made a positive influence on Liberia and the women living within. She’s come under fire for accusations of corruption and nepotism – up to 20 of her relatives have held government positions. Health officials and other civil servants were routinely unpaid – a crisis when the Ebola outbreak struck. Nevertheless, Sirleaf made huge strides toward improving the debilitating debt upon the government. She erased nearly $5 billion in debt after three years, and $516 billion by 2011. She brought electricity back to war-torn communities, led more people toward education, created a truth and reconciliation committee, and much more.
There may be some dispute about former Liberian president Ellen Johnson Sirleaf’s legacy, but above all she created a new outlook for women in Liberia, and became a changemaker for the country and its future.