Ellen Johnson Sirleaf: President, Republic of Liberia, 2006-Present
Ellen Johnson Sirleaf comes from a family of political activism; her father was the first indigenous Liberian to sit on the national legislature. Johnson-Sirleaf received a Bachelor of Science in Accounting in 1964 from the University of Wisconsin in Madison, an economics diploma from the University of Colorado in 1970, and a Master of Public Administration from Harvard University in 1971. Johnson-Sirleaf served as Assistant Minister of Finance (1972–73) under President William Tolbert and as Finance Minister (1980–85) in Samuel K. Doe’s military dictatorship. During Doe’s regime she was imprisoned twice and narrowly avoided execution. In the 1985 national election she campaigned for a seat in the Senate and openly criticized the military government, which led to her arrest and a 10-year prison sentence. She was released after a short time and allowed to leave the country.
During 12 years of exile in Kenya and the United States, she became an influential economist for the World Bank, Citibank, and other international financial institutions. From 1992 to 1997, she was the Director of the Regional Bureau for Africa of the United Nations Development Programme. In 2003, Johnson-Sirleaf returned to Liberia to chair the Commission on Good Governance, which oversaw preparations for democratic elections. She was elected President in the 2005 presidential election and took office in January 2006. She is Liberian’s first elected female president and often referred to as the "Iron Lady". Sirleaf was also the first elected female head of state in Africa.
On November 5, 2007, President George W. Bush awarded Johnson Sirleaf the Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian award given by the United States. Sirleaf was jointly awarded the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize with Leymah Gbowee of Liberia and Tawakkol Karman of Yemen. The 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 President of India Pranab Mukherjee on 12 September 2013. In June 2016, she was elected as the Chair of the Economic Community of West African States, making her the first woman to occupy that position since it was formed.
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