The award was presented after a two-year hiatus.
Ellen Johnson Sirleaf left office as President of Liberia in late January of 2018 after overseeing the country’s first democratic transfer of power since 1944. The continent’s first female elected president, she came to power in 2006— two years after the end of a 14-year civil war. During her tenure Sirleaf also tackled the spread of Ebola in Liberia and improved the country’s economic performance and level of governance.
The award is named after the Sudanese-British billionaire Mohammed Ibrahim and carries an award of $5 million paid out over 10 years, followed by an additional $200,000 each year for the rest of the winner’s life. The award selects from African heads of state or government that have left office during the last three calendar years, having been democratically elected and served their constitutionally mandated term. The award has been notoriously difficult to win.
This announcement brings the total number of winners to five since its inception in 2007— with six occasions where no leader was considered worthy of winning. Previous winners are Hifikepunye Pohamba of Namibia (2014), Pedro Pires of Cabo Verde (2011), Festus Mogae of Botswana (2008) and Joaquim Chissano of Mozambique (2007). Nelson Mandela was made the inaugural Honorary Laureate in 2007.
The Prize Committee praises Sirleaf’s ‘exceptional and transformative leadership, in the face of unprecedented and renewed challenges, to lead Liberia’s recovery following many years of devastating civil war,’ and noted that Liberia is the only country out of 54 to have improved in every category and sub-category of the Ibrahim Index of African Governance since 2006. Dr Salim Ahmed Salim, Chair of the Prize Committee said, “Ellen Johnson 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. 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 twelve years in office, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf laid the foundations on which Liberia can now build.” Upon hearing the decision of the Prize committee Mohammed Ibrahim said, “I’m delighted that the Prize Committee has decided to make Ellen Johnson Sirleaf an Ibrahim Prize Laureate. 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.”