Sierra Leone Telegraph: 29th October 2016
Ellen Johnson Sirleaf the president of Liberia turned 78 years old today. She celebrated her birthday, joined by family members and prominent people in Liberia and from neighbouring countries, including Sierra Leone.
Sierra Leone’s Minister of Social Welfare, Children and Religious Affairs Dr Sylvia Olayinka Blyden was one of her special guests. (Photo: President Sirleaf left, Dr Sylvia Blyden – right)
President Sirleaf was born in Monrovia, Liberia in 1938. She was educated in the United States, before serving in the government of Liberia, as Assistant Minister of Finance in President William Tolbert’s administration.
She was a graduate of the College of West Africa at Monrovia. From there, she went on to receive her Bachelor’s degree in Accounting from the Madison Business College in Wisconsin, a degree in economics from the University of Colorado at Boulder and a Master of Public Administration degree from Harvard University.
In 1980, Tolbert was overthrown and killed by army sergeant Samuel Doe, who represented the Krahn ethnic group. Mrs Johnson Sirleaf went into exile in Nairobi, Kenya, as well as in the United States, where she worked as an executive in the international banking community.
She returned home five years later to speak out against the military regime. She ran for a seat in the Senate, but when she spoke out against Doe’s military regime, she was sentenced to 10 years in prison. She served a partial sentence before moving to Washington, D.C.
On her return, she supported Charles Taylor’s bloody rebellion against President Samuel Doe in 1990. She then left Liberia again briefly, but returned to her native country for a third time in 1997 as an economist, working for the World Bank and Citibank in Africa.
Johnson Sirleaf ran unsuccessfully against President Charles Taylor in the 1997 presidential election. Taylor subsequently charged Johnson Sirleaf with treason and she was forced to leave the country again.
In 2005, after campaigning for the removal of former president Taylor, Johnson Sirleaf took over as leader of the Unity Party. She subsequently contested and won the 2005 election, and became known as ‘The Iron Lady’. She is regarded as the first black female elected head of state in Africa.
President Johnson Sirleaf submitted an official request to Nigeria for Charles Taylor’s extradition to The Hague in 2006 for his part in the Sierra Leone rebel war.
She shared the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize with Leymah Gbowee and Tawakkol Karman. The prize was awarded to them for “for their non violent struggle for the safety of women and for women’s rights to full participation in peace-building work.”
The Ebola epidemic which struck Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia proved a testing moment for Ellen Sirleaf, whose relentless determination and courage helped Liberia to eradicate the disease from her country, with the help of the international community.
Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has four sons and six grandchildren.
“Be not afraid to denounce injustice, though you may be outnumbered. Be not afraid to seek peace, even if your voice may be small. Be not afraid to demand peace.” Ellen Johnson Sirleaf – President of Liberia