Havard-trained economist Ellen Johnson Sirleaf was the first democratically elected woman president in Africa when she won the Liberian elections in 2005, and the second to win a Nobel Peace Prize.
She is stepping down after 12 years at the helm of the fragile West-African state.
Liberians go to the polls on October the 10 for the first round of the presidential and legislative elections.
I have an opportunity to open the doors for more African women to hold high level political positions, challenging because I represent the aspirations and expectations of Liberian African women, maybe women all over the world therefore the pressure is on me to make sure that I succeed.
When she was sworn in for her first mandate in 2005, Sirleaf inherited a country ruined by a 14 years of civil war that killed more than 250,000 people, rampant corruption, a battered economy and about $4.5 billion, which creditors took 5 years to cancel.
In 2011, she was one of a trio of women who won a Nobel Peace Prize; four days later she was re-elected president.
Sirleaf was slowly rebuilding Liberia’s economy when the Ebola epidemic erupted in 2014. The disease killed 4,800 people in Liberia, and a total of 11,000 people in West Africa as it swept through the neighboring Guinea and Sierra Leone infecting more more than 20,000 people.
Liberia was declared ebola-free in June 2015 when Sirleaf said the country needed two years to regain its economic footing as commodity prices had also slumped.
Sirleaf was chairwoman of the Economic community of West African States (ECOWAS) when she mediated for the peaceful handover of power from Gambia’s Yahya Jammeh who lost the election to Adama Barrow but refused to go. Jammeh, in power since a 1994 coup, lost the 2016 election to businessman Adama Barrow, but the authoritarian leader contested the results in a move condemned at home and abroad.
In 2015 the United States approved a $257 million grant to Liberia under its Millennium Challenge Compact program, which Johnson Sirleaf said she planned to dedicate to expanding the country’s power capacity which reached fewer than 2 percent of Liberia’s 4.3 million people have access to electricity.
In 2017 USAid announced up to $27m in funding in Liberia programming for Let Girls Learn, an initiative launched by Michelle and Barack Obama to promote education for girls.
Sirleaf said last November she was concerned about President-elect Donald Trump’s policy towards Africa would be.
She said that Liberia, a nation founded in the 19th century by freed American slaves, had a long and historical relationship with the United States and she expected that to continue. But that she was worried investments and special programmes that have been put in place by President Obama and by President George Bush before him could be reduced.