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Her Excellency President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf (Liberia)

The Order of the Companions of O.R. Tambo in

Her Excellency President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf (Liberia) Awarded for:
Her exceptional contribution to women’s leadership in the African continent. She tenaciously contained conflicts in a volatile region while ensuring recovery and development of newly founded democracies in Africa.
Profile of Her Excellency President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf

Her Excellency President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf was born on 29 October 1938 in Monrovia, Liberia. She is the first elected female head of state in Africa. She led Liberia as President from 2006 to 2017.

Sirleaf is a Harvard-trained economist. Initially she was educated at the College of West Africa before moving to the United States where she studied at Madison Business College and Harvard University. She returned to Liberia to work in former President William Tolbert’s government as Assistant Minister of Finance from 1973 to 1974 and Minister of Finance from 1979 to 1980.

Her relationship with South Africa runs deep; women like Dr Brigalia Bam drew inspiration from her during the transitional stages of South African democracy. Sirleaf’s interest lay in ensuring that South African women who took up positions in Parliament were trained, orientated and ready for the task. She also assisted the Independent Electoral Commission of South Africa at the invitation of Dr Bam to talk on issues relating to conflict, mediation and transformation.

In 2008, she gave a Nelson Mandela Annual Lecture that highlighted the good stead she has with South Africa. Prior to democracy, Sirleaf’s country of Liberia stood with South African members of the liberation movement. Liberia hosted a number of prominent anti-apartheid figures from South Africa. Mandela visited Liberia in 1962 and was well received, and even assisted with financial support to further the quest for the freedom which South Africans enjoy today.

Those ties continue as both countries forge forward in development. In June and December 2015, South Africa and Liberia signed a Memorandum of Understanding on Economic and Technical Cooperation and a General Framework Agreement for Bilateral Cooperation respectively aimed at strengthening economic relations, and enhancing trade and investment between the two countries.

On her recent visit to South Africa, government commended Sirleaf for her role in taking Liberia out of a devastating civil war and ensuring a peaceful transition to democracy since 2005. When the Women’s Development Foundation was established in South Africa, Sirleaf addressed the women focusing on matters of leadership. She is viewed as an inspiration for strong leadership as a woman and the first female head of state in Africa.

She is a founding member of the International Institute for Women in Political Leadership and a recipient of the African Women of Substance Award. The then Organisation of African Unity (now called African Union) named her and six others to a body that investigated the 1994 Rwandan genocide.

When Sirleaf took leadership of Liberia, she successfully negotiated for debt relief from international creditors, including a US$4.9 billion debt waiver from the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund.