First woman president of Liberia, November 2005, and Africa's first female elected head of state.
Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, née Ellen Johnson, (born October 29, 1938, Monrovia, Liberia), Liberian politician and economist who was presidentof Liberia (2006–18). She was the first woman to be elected head of state of an African country. Johnson Sirleaf was one of three recipients, along with Leymah Gbowee and Tawakkul Karmān, of the 2011 Nobel Prize for Peace for their efforts to further women’s rights.
Johnson Sirleaf is of mixed Gola and German heritage. Her father was the first indigenous Liberian to sit in the national legislature. She was educated at the College of West Africa in Monrovia and at age 17 married James Sirleaf (they were later divorced). In 1961 Johnson Sirleaf went to the United States to study economics and business administration. After obtaining a master’s degree (1971) in public administration from Harvard University, she entered government service in Liberia.
Johnson Sirleaf served as assistant minister of finance (1972–73) under Pres. William Tolbert and as finance minister (1980–85) in Samuel K. Doe’s military dictatorship. She became known for her personal financial integrity and clashed with both heads of state. 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.
In recognition of Johnson Sirleaf’s leadership of Liberia during the challenging period of transition after the country’s devastating years of conflict and for the positive changes that took place in Liberia under her administration, in February 2018 she was awarded the 2017 Ibrahim Prize for Achievement in African Leadership. The award provided $5 million, disbursed over 10 years, followed by an annual $200,000 stipend for the rest of Johnson Sirleaf’s life. It also brought the possibility of the foundation awarding $200,000 annually over the course of 10 years to charitable causes supported by Johnson Sirleaf.