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Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf

Known as the ‘Iron Lady’ of Africa, she is currently the president of Liberia.

Born on 29 October 1938 in Monrovia, Liberia, she is the country’s current president after winning the presidential elections held on 8 November 2005, when she defeated the other main candidate, former football star, George Weah.

She served as Minister of Finance under President William Tolbert, from 1972 to 1973, when Tolbert was overthrown, after which she left Liberia and occupied high positions in several financial institutions.

She studied economics and accounts from 1948 to 1955 at the College of West Africa in Monrovia. She married James Sirleaf when she was 17 years old and travelled to the United States in 1961 to continue her studies at the University of Colorado, where she graduated. She began to study economics at Harvard from 1969 to 1971, earning a Master’s in Public Administration. She then returned to her country to work for the government of William Tolbert.

A few years later, Sergeant Samuel Doe, one of the members of the Krahn ethnic group, took power after a military overthrow, and President William Tolbert was executed by a firing squad along with several members of his cabinet. The People’s Redemption took control of the country and led a purge against the former government. Johnson-Sirleaf was able to escape and she sought exile in Kenya. She worked as Director of Citibank in Nairobi from 1983 to 1985. When Samuel Doe declared himself President of Liberia, she decided to return to her country of origin to participate in the elections and campaign against Doe. She was placed under house arrest for that and condemned to 10 years in prison, although she stayed much less than that after accepting the offer to go back into exile.

She moved to Washington DC and served as vice-president of the Bank of Ecuador. From 1992 to 1997, she worked as assistant administrator and then as Director of the United Nations Development Program Regional Office for Africa. She returned to Liberia during the civil disorder and was moved when Samuel Doe was assassinated by a breakaway group led by Charles Taylor of the National Patriotic Front of Liberia. She initially supported Taylor in the bloody rebellion against President Samuel Doe in 1990.

On 23 November 2005, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf was declared winner of the elections in Liberia and she was confirmed as the next President of the country. She was sworn in on Monday, 16 January 2006, with the presence of many foreign dignitaries, including the First Lady of the USA, Laura Bush, and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. On 15 March 2006, President Johnson-Sirleaf addressed a joint meeting of the Congress of the United States, seeking the support of the USA to help her country 'become a brilliant beacon, an example for Africa and the world of what love of liberty can achieve'.

President Johnson-Sirleaf is a member of the Council of Women World Leaders, an international network of current and former women Presidents and Prime Ministers, with the mission of mobilizing the greatest number of world level women directors for collective action on issues of importance such as equal development.


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