2011 – Ellen Johnson Sirleaf

Ellen Johnson Sirleaf is the 24th and current President of Liberia. Educated in the US including a Master’s Degree in Public Administration from Harvard, in 1979 she was the first female to hold a ministerial position in Liberia. She was elected to the Presidency in 2005, took office in January 2006, and was re-elected in 2011. She is the first elected female head of state in Africa.

She was a vocal critic of the corrupt and repressive regime of President Charles Taylor, and Liberia’s most visible advocate for reform. When President Taylor threatened to have her killed for her opposition, she moved to the neighboring country of Côte d’Ivoire, where she established a venture capital firm, the Kormah Development and Investment Corporation, as well as Measuagoon, a community development NGO for Liberia.

In 2003, after the fall of Charles Taylor (who is now serving a sentence under the International Criminal Court for war crimes and crimes against humanity), Johnson Sirleaf returned to Liberia to chair the Governance Reform Commission of the Transitional Government. She established, be executive order, a right to free, universal elementary education. She has enforced equal rights for women, built over 800 miles of roads, and has attracted substantial foreign investment in mining, agriculture and forestry, as well as offshore oil exploration.

In 2010, Newsweek magazine listed Johnson Sirleaf as one of the “Ten Best Leaders in the World,” while The Economist called her “the best President the country has ever had.” A grandmother of eight, President Sirleaf has become a popular symbol of democracy and women’s rights, not only in her own country, but throughout Africa and the developing world.