Sirleaf left office late January, 2018, after overseeing the first democratic transfer of power in Liberia since 1944. The 79-year-old Nobel Laureate came to power in 2006, just two years after the end of a 14-year civil war that saw more than 250,000 people killed and another million displaced. During her two terms in office, Sirleaf tackled the spread of the Ebola disease in Liberia, developed the economy and championed the cause of women.
Salim Ahmed Salim, Chair of the Mo Ibrahim Foundation's prize committee said: 'Ellen Johnson Sirleaf took the realm of Liberia when it was completely destroyed by civil war, and led a process of reconciliation that focused on building a nation and its democratic institutions. Throughout her two terms in office, she worked tirelessly on behalf of the people of Liberia...'.
Salim further said: 'Such a journey cannot be without some shortcomings and today, Liberia continues to face many challenges. Nevertheless, during her twelve years in office, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf laid the foundation on which Liberia can now build...' Mo Ibrahim's reaction to Sirleaf, the 2017 #MIPrize Laureatte: 'I am proud to see the first woman Ibrahim Laureate, and I hope Ellen Johnson Sirleaf will continue to inspire women in Africa and beyond...' See for example http://mif.link/2017prize#governance#leadership
The prize was founded by Sudanese telecommunication billionaire, Mohammed Ibrahim and the winner receives $5m over 10 years and $200,000 annually for the rest of their lives. Previous winners include former Namibian President, Hifihepunye Pohamba (2014), former Cape Verde President Pedro Pires (2011), former Botswana President Festus Mogae (2008) and former Mozambique President Joaquim Chissano (2007). Nelson Mandela became an honourary recipient of the award in 2007.
Candidates for the award are all former African executive heads of state or government who have left office during the last three calendar years, having been democratically elected and served their constitutionally mandated term. In some years, the award, which was launched in 2006, has not been awarded, as no candidate was considered qualified enough.
Despite her popularity and global recognition, Sirleaf left office with a mixed record and trailed by criticism. Despite breaking the 'glass ceiling', she was criticised for not doing enough for women to win seats in government. Her administration's tackling of the Ebola virus was also called into question. Sirleaf herself recently admitted to underestimating the low capacity of skills in government and the 'cultural roots of corruption'. These and other problems, including weak economic growth, unemployment and the escalating illicit financial outflows, are some of the issues her successor, George Weah will have to deal with in the coming years.
Congratulations, Madam Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, first elected female President in Africa. We, African women are very proud of you. I am anxiously waiting for the day when my dear country, Nigeria, would celebrate her first female President who would be a Nobel Laureate and Mo Ibrahim prize winner just like Sirleaf!
*Nigeria's Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala named 1st female African of the year allafrica.com/stories/202012-okonjo-iweala-named-1st-female-african-of-the-year/