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Liberia’s Ellen Johnson Sirleaf wins the 2017 Ibrahim Prize

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Pres. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia

Pres. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia

Former Liberian president Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has won the 2017 Ibrahim Prize for Achievement in African Leadership, becoming the first woman to be awarded the coveted prize.

The Prize Committee recognized her for her leadership following Liberia’s two civil wars, which ravaged the nation between 1989 and 2003.

“Ellen Johnson Sirleaf…led a process of reconciliation that focused on building a nation and its democratic institutions. [She] laid the foundations on which Liberia can now build,” read a statement from Dr. Salim Salim, the chairperson of the Prize Committee.

After a three-year transitional period following the end of the civil war, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf won the presidential race in 2005 and was sworn into office in 2006; she was reelected in 2011 for a final term which concluded in 2017. She handed over the mantle of the presidency to President George Weah this January, the first democratic and peaceful handover of power to be witnessed in Liberia in over 70 years.

In her time in office, Liberia was the only nation to consistently improve in all categories of the Ibrahim Index of African Governance, which are: sustainable economic opportunity, human development, safety and rule of law, and participation and human rights.

The Mo Ibrahim Prize offers a bountiful monetary reward; $5 million to be paid over the next decade and a further $200,000 paid annually thereafter. Furthermore, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf may be granted $200,000 annually for a decade for her philanthropic projects.

To be considered for the Prize, one needs to be a democratically elected African head of state or government who served their constitutionally set term and left office within the past three years.

It’s quite telling then, about the state of African leadership, that the prize has gone unclaimed in some years; indeed, from 2008, a pattern has emerged.

A worthy candidate for the Prize emerges every third year. Laureates have been announced in 2008, 2011, 2014 and 2017.