Sirleaf, Ellen Johnson

Sirleaf, Ellen Johnson sĭrlēfˈ [key], 1938–, Liberian economist and political leader. Educated in the United States (M.P.A. Harvard, 1971), she worked in the Liberian government (1964–67, 1977–80), at the World Bank (1972–77, 1980–81), and in private banking (1980, 1986–92) before before joining (1992–97) the African bureau at the United Nations Development Program. Also active in Liberian politics, she was jailed in the 1980s by Samuel Doe's regime, charged with treason by Charles Taylor's regime, and twice went into exile. She ran for Liberian president in 1997 as the Unity party's candidate but lost to Taylor, whom she had supported when Doe was in power, and returned to the private sector as a financial consultant. Running again in 2005, she defeated former soccer star George Weah after a runoff, becoming the first woman to be elected president of an African nation. She was reelected in 2011 after her runoff opponent, Winston Tubman, boycotted the contest. Her terms as president were marked by an increase in foreign investment and solidification of the rule of law in Liberia, but she was widely criticized for appointing her sons to key government posts. She shared the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize with two other activist women, Leymah Gbowee of Liberia and Tawakul Karman of Yemen. Gbowee, a political ally of Sirleaf, broke with her in 2012, accusing her of nepotism and not doing enough to fight corruption and poverty and bring about national reconciliation. Charged by Unity party leaders of not supporting party candidates and meddling in the 2017 presidential election, which Unity lost, Sirleaf was expelled from the party in 2018.

See her memoir, This Child Will Be Great (2009); biographies by P. Scully (2016) and H. Cooper (2017).

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