The immediate past president of Liberia, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has become the first woman to win the $5m Mo Ibrahim prize for African leadership. Sirleaf is a 2011 Nobel Peace Prize winner and Africa’s first elected woman president.
The award which is financed by Mo Ibrahim, the Sudanese telecommunication billionaire. “Ellen Johnson Sirleaf took the helm of Liberia when it was completely destroyed by civil war and led a process of reconciliation that focussed on building a nation and its democratic institutions,” Salim Ahmed Salim, chair of the Mo Ibrahim Foundation’s prize committee, said.
Mr. Ibrahim, who is not on the judging panel, said he was delighted with the award, which sent a “strong message to all African women and African girls that they could help change the continent”.
He said that, under her stewardship, Liberia had advanced in all categories of governance tracked by his foundation.
“No country in Africa has improved as fast, a matter of fact that outweighs other issues,” he said. “We are not looking for perfection. We are looking for excellence.”
In an interview hours after she learnt of the award, Ms. Sirleaf said: “This is going to be a great inspiration to women. It is going to make young girls know that, if you stay the course and if you continue to pursue your potential in life, you can be rewarded and recognized.”
“I feel that it is a reward for a very difficult life of service and a life of suffering and of promoting political change.”
As the winner, she will receive $5m over 10 years and $200,000 annually for the rest of their lives.
Previous winners include former Namibian President Hifikepunye Pohamba (2014), former Cape Verde President Pedro Pires (2011), former Bostwana President Festus Mogae (2008), and former Mozambique President Joaquim Chissano (2007).
Nelson Mandela became an honorary recipient of the award in 2007.
The Mo Ibrahim prize is awarded to a democratically elected head of state who serves his or her constitutionally mandated term and is seen to have demonstrated exceptional leadership.