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If you like Ellen Johnson Sirleaf's story, you might also like:
Maya Angelou,
Benazir Bhutto,
Jimmy Carter,
Hamid Karzai,
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and Lech Walesa

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Ellen Sirleaf
Ellen Sirleaf
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Ellen Sirleaf Profile

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  Ellen Sirleaf

In 2006, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf took the oath of office as President of Liberia, the first woman to serve as elected leader of an African nation. Her victory was the culmination of a 25-year campaign to bring democracy and justice to her country, a struggle that repeatedly subjected her to death threats, exile and imprisonment.

The oldest republic in Africa, Liberia was founded in the 19th century by freed slaves from the United States. In the 20th century, tensions between the indigenous population and the descendants of the Americo-Liberian settlers erupted into violent conflict. The Harvard-educated Sirleaf served as Minister of Finance before the elected government fell victim to a military coup in 1980. Sirleaf went into exile, escaping the fate of her former cabinet colleagues, who were executed by the government of General Samuel Doe. Five years later, she returned to run for the vice presidency, only to be arrested for criticizing the General's corrupt and dictatorial rule. Initially sentenced to ten years in prison, worldwide outcry led to her release. She again went into exile, and built a second career in banking and international development, running the African bureau of the UN Development Programme.

Sirleaf returned to Liberia in the 1990s, after the violent overthrow of General Doe. She ran for president in 1997, but the victor in that contest, Charles Taylor, forced her into exile yet again. Taylor's rule proved disastrous, embroiling Liberia in war with its neighbors, while the country descended into chaos. When Taylor fell from power, Sirleaf returned to chair a national commission on government reform, setting the stage for Liberia's first truly free election in decades.

After winning a decisive victory in the 2005 election, President Sirleaf moved quickly to repair the wounds of years of misrule and disorder. She introduced free and compulsory elementary education, and has pursued foreign investment and land reform. Her courage and tenacity in facing down her most ruthless adversaries have earned this diminutive grandmother a fitting nickname, the Iron Lady of Africa.

This page last revised on Jun 14, 2012 16:11 EDT
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