President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf is one woman we have always admired. As the first elected Black female president, there is so much to learn from her. It takes a lot of strength, determination and resilience to consistently go after your dreams and achieve what she has. We hope and we pray for the day we will also see a female president of Nigeria.
This tribute and brief biography by Shantell E. Jamison of Vogue is an inspiring read. Find excerpts below:
In her 2009 memoir This Child Will Be Great, Republic of Liberia president Ellen Johnson Sirleaf said: “The size of your dreams must always exceed your current capacity to achieve them. If your dreams do not scare you, they are not big enough.”As the world’s first elected Black female president, and the first woman in Africa to be elected head of state, Sirleaf’s dreams were big from the beginning.
Born in Monrovia, Liberia in 1938 to a teacher and an attorney, Sirleaf attended school there at the College of West Africa. When she was 17, she married agronomist James Sirleaf and moved with him to the United States in 1961. They had four children. But her marriage became violent and abusive, leading to divorce. She continued her studies and eventually earned an economics degree from the University of Colorado at Boulder and a Master of Public Administration degree from Harvard University.
After returning to Liberia in 1980, Mrs. Sirleaf served as assistant minister of Finance in President William Tolbert’s administration. But Tolbert was soon overthrown and killed by Army Sergeant Samuel Doe, who represented the Krahn ethnic group. In order to stay alive, Sirleaf soon went into exile, first in Nairobi and later went back to the United States where she worked in international banking.
But she returned to her native country in 1985 to run for a seat in its senate and spoke out against the oppressive military regime faced by citizens in her country. But her opposition to Doe’s government resulted in a 10-year prison sentence. Serving only part of it, Sirleaf returned to the United States once again until 1997 when she moved back to Liberia as an economist for the World Bank and Citibank.
That same year, she ran for president but lost to one-time ally Charles Taylor, who basically forced the country to elect him under threat. However, Taylor’s administration amounted to another corrupt and cruel regime and he was accused of war crimes based on his involvement in the Sierra Leone Civil War. After his actions caused a second Civil War in Liberia — and Taylor fled to Nigeria — the nation was rife for new leadership.
In 2005, “Ma” Sirleaf, now known as the “Iron Lady” of Liberian politics, took leadership of the nation’s Unity party and with pledges to end corruption and civil war. She was elected president, beating star footballer George Weah in a close vote, and took office in 2006.
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