The light Magazine

First woman to bag Ibrahim’s $5m

Written by: Steven Nsamaza
Thursday, May 10th, 2018, 8:46

The former president of Liberia, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf 79, became the first and remains the only woman to be democratically elected to lead an African country. She led Liberia after the country emerged from decades of conflict and war and passed over the mantle to a civilian president through the ballot.


In February 2018, the Prize Committee of the Mo Ibrahim Foundation announced that Ellen JohnsonSirleaf, former President of Liberia was winner of the 2017 Ibrahim Prize for Achievementin African Leadership Laureate.


“Confronted with unprecedented and renewed challenges, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf demonstrated exceptional and transformative leadership,” the citation of committee stated, noting that she took over a country that was devastated and broken by 14 years of civil war, and was later struck again by the Ebola crisis.


The Ibrahim Prize recognizes and celebrates excellence in African leadership. It is a US$5 million award paid over 10 years, and US$200,000 annually for life thereafter. The prestigious award is intended to recognise and celebrate excellence in African leadershipand this year the Mo Ibrahim Foundation will consider granting a further US$200,000 annually for ten years towards public interest activities and good causes espoused by the Laureate.


While candidates for the award include former Heads of African states who leave office willingly after their constitutional mandate, the award was designed to consider leaders that leave a mark or leave their countries in a far better position than they found it.


As Dr Salim Ahmed Salim, Chair to Prize Committee notes, “we are looking for leaders who leave their countries in a far better state than when they came to office, who have strengthened the trust of their fellow citizens to state and leadership and who have built a strong legacy, it goes far beyond requiring leaders to step down willingly at the end of their constitutional term.”


Madam Sirleaf may have made an impression to the effect, she is praised for rebuilding Liberia after decades of conflict and civil war. While her popularity still ranked high with strong records in governance she handed over power, the first peaceful transfer of power in over 70 years.


According to the Ibrahim Index on African Governance, Liberia under Sirleaf (2006 –2017) remains the only country on the continent to have improved every category and sub-category of the index.

Focusing on public service, this year’s Ibrahim report indicate that Liberia emerged from a 14-year civil conflict in 2006 with a shattered country. The government of Sirleaf built almost from scratch an efficient public service. Capacity was identified as a major challenge by a 2005 report finding that, of the 19,635 persons surveyed in 33 agencies and institutions, only 12.5% had a first degree and 1.9% post-graduate degrees.


During her acceptance speech, Sirleaf said that when she assumed office, her country badly needed a professionalised civil service which was hard to find given traditional mistrust and corruption in government. She set out a repatriation initiative to bring back talented Liberians from the diaspora and launched an innovative mentoring program to recruit and train young leaders creating a merit-based, competitive path to government.


She said that the Liberian economy was transformed from growth rate of less than zero in 2006 to more than 8.67 per cent in 2013.


Paying tribute to Sirleaf, President AlassaneOuattara of Cote d’Ivoire, said: “in 12 years you have transformed Liberia and I am a witness, Cote d’Ivoire and Liberia being neighbours and it was a country torn by war.”


“President Johnson Sirleaf’s leadership and contribution spans way beyond Liberia. The people of Côte d’Ivoire, for example, will never be indebted enough to her. Indeed during the post-election crisis in Cote d’Ivoire, President Ellen Johnson was a constant voice of moderation, receiving hundreds of thousands of Ivorians in Liberia, and always trying to find lasting and peaceful solutions,” PresidentOuattara continued to a give moving praises.


Mo Ibrahim Prize


Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, is the fifth recipient of the Ibrahim Prize, she now joins HifikepunyePohamba of Namibia (2014), Pedro Pires of Cabo Verde (2011), Festus Mogae of Botswana (2008) and JoaquimChissano of Mozambique (2007). Nelson Mandela was made the inaugural Honorary Laureate in 2007 when the foundation was started.


This is theworld’s richest individual prize founded by Sudan-born telecoms tycoon Mo Ibrahim. The founder said at this year’s award ceremony that it was wonderful to have a winner because many times the foundation has failed to get a winner.


The award ceremonywas part of the Ibrahim governance weekendfrom April 27-29 that brought together experts from across Africa and the world to discuss “Public Service in Africa.”held every year in a different African country, the conference is in relation to good governance and effective leadership, the challenges facing Africa and sets out priorities for action.


The next generationis also very much in consideration whereby organisers provide a platform for young people to be involved in the discussions. The weekend was brought to an end with live concert featuring the continent’s most popular artists like Peter P-Square,Sauti Sol, Riderman, Knowless, PhionahMbabazi and Charly& Nina.


Profile: Ellen Johnson Sirleaf


Born October 1938 in Monrovia, Liberia.


1948-1955: Studied at the College of West Africa


1971: Earned Masters of Public Administration, Harvard


1972: Became Assistant Minister of Finance under the government of William Tolbert.


1981: Moved to Nairobi to serve as the Vice President of the African Regional Office of Citibank.


1992: Appointed the Director of the United Nations Development Programme's Regional Bureau for Africa at the rank of Assistant Administrator and Assistant Secretary General (ASG).


1997: Ran as the presidential candidate from the United Party against Charles Taylor and was placed second, getting one-fourth of the total votes in a controversial election. As a result, she left the country soon after and went into exile.


2005: Returned to contest for the post of President and took over as the leader of the Unity Party, winning the election.


2006: Became Africa's first elected female head of state.


2006: Became the recipient of ‘Common Ground Award’, the ‘Africa Prize for Leadership for the Sustainable End of Hunger’ and the ‘David Rockefeller Bridging Leadership Award’.


2007: Awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian award given by the United States.


2011: Elected to a second term in office.


2011: Conferred with the Nobel Prize for Peace, shared with LeymahGbowee and Tawakkul Karman. The award was given "for their non-violent struggle for the safety of women and for women's rights to full participation in peace-building work".


2012: Received the ‘Indira Gandhi Prize for Peace, Disarmament and Development’. Also awarded France’s highest award and public distinction, the Grand Croix of the Légiond’Honneur.


2018: Ellen Johnson Sirleaf stepped down at the end of her two terms in office.


2018: In February, it was announced that she was awarded the Ibrahim Prize for Achievement in African Leadership and on April 27, at ceremony in Kigali she was honoured with the Prize.




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