Liberia’s Sirleaf becomes first woman to win $5m Mo Ibrahim leadership prize

Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, former President of Liberia, has won a coveted prize of $5 million for leadership achievement in Africa.

It is the first time in three years that the jury of the award has found a winner.

Sirleaf, the first female elected Head of State on the continent, also becomes the fifth and only female winner of the Mo Ibrahim Prize for achievement in African leadership since its launch in 2006.

The prize, only awarded when a worthy candidate is deemed to exist, was announced today by the Mo Ibrahim Foundation following a meeting of its independent prize committee.

The prize comes with an award of $5 million paid out over 10 years, and another $200,000 each year for the rest of the winner’s life.

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To qualify, African heads of state must have left office during the last three calendar years, must have been democratically elected and served their constitutionally mandated term.

Sirleaf served two terms as President of Liberia from 2006 to 2017 and left office last month, handing over to George Weah, the former Chelsea and Milan footballer-turned-politician and Africa’s solitary World Footballer of the Year award winner..

Salim Ahmed Salim, the head of the prize committee, said: “Sirleaf took the helm of Liberia when it was completely destroyed by civil war and led a process of reconciliation that focused on building a nation and its democratic institutions.

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“Throughout her two terms in office, she worked tirelessly on behalf of the people of Liberia. Such a journey cannot be without some shortcomings and, today, Liberia continues to face many challenges. Nevertheless, during her 12 years in office, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf laid the foundations on which Liberia can now build.”

The sponsor of the award, Mo Ibrahim, the British-Sudanese engineer-turned-telecommunications billionaire, commended Sirleaf for her achievements in Liberia.

“I’m delighted that the Prize Committee has decided to make Ellen Johnson Sirleaf an Ibrahim Prize Laureate,” he said.

“In very difficult circumstances, she helped guide her nation towards a peaceful and democratic future, paving the way for her successor to follow. I am proud to see the first woman Ibrahim Laureate, and I hope Ellen Johnson Sirleaf will continue to inspire women in Africa and beyond.”

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The previous laureates are President Hifikepunye Pohamba of Namibia (2014), President Pedro Pires of Cabo Verde (2011), President Festus Mogae of Botswana (2008), and President Joaquim Chissano of Mozambique (2007).

Nelson Mandela won the inaugural honorary laureate in 2007.

In 2009, 2010, 2012, 2013, 2015 and 2016, the Prize Committee, after in-depth review, did not find a worthy winner.

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