Ellen Johnson Sirleaf born 29 October 1938 is a Liberian politician who served as the 24th President of Liberia from 2006 to 2018. Sirleaf was the first elected female head of state in Africa & awarded Nobel Peace Prize in 2011.
Born in Monrovia to a Gola father and Kru-German mother, Sirleaf was educated at the College of West Africa before moving to the United States, where she studied at Madison Business College and Harvard University.
She returned to Liberia to work in William Tolbert’s government as Deputy Minister of Finance from 1971 to 1974 and later went to work for the World Bank in the Caribbean and Latin America. She returned to work for the late president Tolbert’s government again as deputy minister of Finance before being promoted to the post of Minister of Finance from 1979 to 1980.
After Samuel Doe seized power in a coup d’état and executed Tolbert, Sirleaf fled to the United States. She worked for Citibank and then the Equator Bank before returning to Liberia to contest a senatorial seat for Montserrado county in the disputed 1985 elections.
After returning to Liberia, Sirleaf ran for office and finished in second place at the 1997 presidential election won by Charles Taylor. She won the 2005 presidential election and took office on 16th January 2006. She was re-elected in 2011. In June 2016, she was elected as the Chair of the Economic Community of West African States, making her the first woman to hold the position since it was created.
In 2011, Sirleaf was jointly awarded the Nobel Peace Prize with Leymah Gbowee of Liberia and Tawakkol Karman of Yemen. The three women were recognized “for their non-violent struggle for the safety of women and for women’s rights to full participation in peace-building work.”
Sirleaf was conferred the Indira Gandhi Prize by Indian President Pranab Mukherjee on 12th September 2013. In 2016, she was listed as the 83rd-most powerful woman in the world by Forbes magazine.
Sirleaf’s father was Gola and her mother had mixed Kru and German ancestry. While not Americo-Liberian in terms of ancestry, because of her education in the West, Sirleaf is considered culturally Americo-Liberian by some observers, or assumed to be Americo-Liberian. Sirleaf does not identify as such.
Sirleaf’s father, Jahmale Carney Johnson, was born into a Gola family in an impoverished rural region. He was the son of a minor Gola chief named Jahmale and one of his wives, Jenneh, in Julijuah, Bomi County. Her father was sent to Monrovia, where he changed his surname to Johnson due to his father’s loyalty to President Hilary R. W. Johnson, Liberia’s first native-born president. He grew up in Monrovia, where he was raised by an Americo-Liberian family with the surname McCritty.
Sirleaf’s father later became the first Liberian from an indigenous ethnic group to be elected to the country’s national legislature. Sirleaf’s mother was also born into poverty, in Greenville. Her grandmother, Juah Sarwee, sent Sirleaf’s mother to Monrovia when Sirleaf’s German grandfather had to flee the country after Liberia declared war on Germany during World War I. A member of a prominent Americo-Liberian family, Cecilia Dunbar, adopted and raised Sirleaf’s mother.