Today In History — November 23, 2005 — Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf Elected First Female African President


On this day in November 2005, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf was elected president of Liberia, becoming the first elected female Head of State in Africa.

Born in Monrovia, she married James Sirleaf at 17 and proceeded to America to further her education. After earning degrees from several US schools, including Harvard University, she returned to Liberia and became involved in politics.

She served as Minister of Finance in the William Tolbert government from 1972 to 1973, but when Tolbert was overthrown and killed in 1980, she was forced into exile in Nairobi, Kenya.

When she returned to Liberia in 1985, she ran for Senate, only to be imprisoned and sentenced to 10 years for speaking out against Samuel Doe’s military regime, that which had deposed Tolbert.

After a short period of incarceration, she was released and returned to the US. There, she worked as assistant administrator, and then director of the United Nations Development Program Regional Bureau for Africa.

In 1997On January 16, 2006, she was inaugurated as the 24th President of the Republic of Liberia, a position she holds to this day. And she was the first elected female president of an African country, with other African women following through the door that she threw open. she came back to Liberia once more, working as an economist for the World Bank and Citibank. She ran for president the same year against Charles Taylor but managed to get only 10% of the vote, still good for the second place finish.

When Taylor was exiled in 2003, Johnson-Sirleaf took over the reins of the Unity Party. During this time of civil unrest, she played a prominent role in the preparations for the 2005 elections.

In 2005, she ran for president again and this time won. On November 11, she was declared President-elect of Liberia by the National Elections Commission, but it wasn’t util November 23 that the decision was confirmed.


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