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Africans With Global Voices: Nobel Laureates

President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf
& Leymah Gbowee

Activist Leymah Gbowee

If you had never heard of Leymah Gbowee now is the time to watch the powerful and inspiring documentary, “Pray the Devil Back to Hell.” Leymah Gbowee along with President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and Tawakkul Karman have been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. In this video she highlights that she may never win a Nobel Prize but only a few years later she has been honored as a peace activist.

Leymah Gbowee was born in central Liberia. At the age of 17, she moved to Monrovia, when the First Liberian Civil War erupted. She trained as a trauma counselor during the civil war in Liberia and worked with the ex-child soldiers of Charles Taylor’s army. Surrounded by the images of war, she realized that “if any changes were to be made in society it had to be by the mothers”. She is a mother of six.
In 2002, Leymah Gbowee was a social worker who organized the Women of Liberia Mass Action for Peace. The peace movement started with local women praying and singing in a fish market. She organized the Christian and Muslim women of Monrovia, Liberia to pray for peace and to hold nonviolence protests.

Pray the Devil Back to Hell chronicles the steps women in Liberia took to protest the war and fight for peace under the dictator Charles Taylor.

President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf

Ellen Johnson Sirleaf is the 24th President of Liberia and the first elected female Head of State in Africa. Throughout her career she has demonstrated passionate commitment to hard work, integrity and good governance, advocating for the rights of women and the importance of education to provide a better future for her country and its people.

Born Ellen Euphemia Johnson in Monrovia on October 29, 1938, she is the granddaughter of a traditional chief of renown in western Liberia and a market woman from the southeast. She grew up in Liberia and attended high school at the College of West Africa in Monrovia, subsequently studying at Madison Business College, the University of Colorado and Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government where she obtained a Master’s Degree in Public Administration in 1971.
 

In 1965 she joined the then Treasury Department in Liberia and was appointed Minister of Finance in 1979 where she introduced measures to curb the mismanagement of government finances. After the military coup d’état of 1980, Johnson Sirleaf served as President of the Liberian Bank for Development and Investment (LBDI) but fled Liberia and the increasingly suppressive military government that same year. She traveled to Kenya and served as Vice President of CITICORP’s Africa Regional Office in Nairobi, and later moved to Washington, D.C. to assume the position of Senior Loan Officer at the World Bank, and Vice President for Equator Bank. In 1992 she joined the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) as Assistant Administrator and Director of its Regional Bureau of Africa with the rank of Assistant Secretary-General of the United Nations.
However, with her country still very much at heart, Johnson Sirleaf resigned in 1997 to return home and contest the Presidential elections and was ranked second in votes to warlord Charles Taylor. She was exiled again, this time to the Ivory Coast where she kept a close eye on Liberian politics. During that time she established, in Abidjan, Kormah Development and Investment Corporation, a venture capital vehicle for African entrepreneurs, and Measuagoon, a Liberian community development NGO.

In 2003 when Charles Taylor was exiled to Nigeria and the National Transitional Government of Liberia (NTGL) was formed, Johnson Sirleaf was selected to serve as Chairperson of the Governance Reform Commission where she led the country’s anti-corruption reform by changing the reporting mechanism of the General Auditing Commission from the Executive to the Legislature thereby strengthening and reinforcing its independence. She resigned this position to successfully contest the 2005 Presidential elections, resulting in her historic inauguration, on January 16, 2006, as President of Liberia.
After decades of fighting for freedom, justice and equality in Liberia, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has spent more than four years rebuilding post-conflict Liberia. She has revived national hope by strengthening the institutions of national security and good governance, leading the revitalization of the national economy and infrastructure, including the construction of more than 800 miles of roads, and restoring Liberia’s international reputation and credibility. 

President Johnson Sirleaf has written widely on financial, development and human rights issues, and in 2008 she published her critically acclaimed memoir, “This Child Will Be Great”.
Ellen Johnson Sirleaf is the proud mother of four sons and grandmother of eleven.

Courtesy of the Government of Liberia