Ellen Johnson Sirleaf : biography
Ellen Johnson Sirleaf (born 29 October 1938) is the 24th and current President of Liberia. She served as Minister of Finance under President William Tolbert from 1979 until the 1980 coup d'état, after which she left Liberia and held senior positions at various financial institutions. She was one of the founders and the political leader of National Patriotic Front of Liberia, the warlord Charles Taylor's party. She placed second in the 1997 presidential election won by Charles Taylor. She won the 2005 presidential election and took office on 16 January 2006, and she was a successful candidate for re-election in 2011. Sirleaf is the first elected female head of state in Africa.
Sirleaf was awarded the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize, jointly with Leymah Gbowee of Liberia and Tawakel 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."
In 1956, Sirleaf married James Sirleaf, whom she later divorced. Sirleaf is the mother of four sons and has eight grandchildren, she also has a few nephews. She is a member of the Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority. Her great nephew, Emmanuel Sumana Elsar Sr., was her political advisor during the 2005 presidential elections against George Weah. Her niece by marriage is American comedienne Retta.
Sirleaf's father was Gola and her mother had mixed Kru and German ancestry. While not Americo-Liberian in terms of ancestry, Sirleaf is considered culturally Americo-Liberian by some observers or assumed to be Americo-Liberian. However, Sirleaf does not identify as such. Sirleaf's father, Jahmale Carney Johnson, was born into an impoverished rural region. He was the son of a minor Gola chief named Jahmale and one of his wives, Jenneh, in Julijuah, Bomi County. Her father was sent to Monrovia, where he changed his surname to Johnson due to his father's loyalty to President Hilary R. W. Johnson, Liberia's first native-born president. He grew up in Monrovia, where he was raised by an Americo-Liberian family with the surname McCritty. Sirleaf's father later became the first Liberian from an indigenous ethnic group to sit in the country's national legislature. Sirleaf's mother was also born into poverty in Greenville. Her grandmother, Juah Sarwee, sent Sirleaf's mother to Monrovia when Sirleaf's German grandfather had to flee the country after Liberia declared war on Germany during World War I. A member of a prominent Americo-Liberian family, Cecilia Dunbar, adopted and raised Sirleaf's mother.
1985 general election
While working at Citibank, Sirleaf returned to Liberia in 1985 to run for Vice President on the ticket of the Liberian Action Party in the 1985 elections. However, Sirleaf was placed under house arrest in August of that year and soon after sentenced to ten years in prison for sedition as a consequence of a speech in which she insulted the members of the Doe regime. Following international calls for her release, Doe pardoned and released her in September. Due to government pressure, she was removed from the presidential ticket and instead ran for a Senate seat in Montserrado County.
Though the elections, which saw Doe and the National Democratic Party win the presidency and large majorities in both houses, were widely condemned as neither free nor fair, Sirleaf was declared the winner of her Senate race. Sirleaf refused to accept the seat in protest of the election fraud. After an attempted coup against the Doe government by Thomas Quiwonkpa on 12 November, Sirleaf was arrested and imprisoned again on 13 November by Doe's forces. Despite continuing to refuse to accept her seat in the Senate, she was released in July 1986 and secretly fled the country to the United States later that year.
1997 presidential campaign
At the beginning of the First Liberian Civil War in 1989, Sirleaf supported Charles Taylor's rebellion against Doe, helping raise money for the war. Because of this Sirleaf was later recommended a 30 year ban from politics. However, she later opposed Taylor's handling of the war. By 1996, the presence of Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) peacekeepers led to a cessation of hostilities, resulting in the 1997 general election, which Sirleaf returned to Liberia to contest. As the presidential candidate for the Unity Party, she placed second in a controversial election, getting 25% of the vote to Charles Taylor's 75%. Sirleaf left the country soon after and again went into exile in Abidjan.
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