Ellen Johnson Sirleaf: the future is woman



Ellen Johnson Sirleaf’s autobiography entitled “This child will be great” is now also available in Italy. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf is the President of Liberia (in her second term in office), Africa’s first woman head of state, the first coloured female head of state in the world and a recent recipient, at the end of 2011, of the Nobel Peace Prize.

Her exceptional political career is attributable to many factors. First and foremost is her great determination which, in addition to being known as  “Mama Ellen”, lead her to being nicknamed the ‘Iron Lady’, (just like Margaret Thatcher but in this case, perhaps, with a little more affection).

Ellen Johnson Sirleaf democratically made a name for herself in a deeply unstable country that, until a few years ago, had been the subject of bloody conflicts between the warlords. An almost impossible feat. And maybe it was no accident that it was a woman who achieved this and united a country that seemed irretrievably torn apart. “The very fact that I am a woman meant I brought a certain amount of sensitivity with me” she said. That’s probably true. In recent years other women too have succeeded in asserting themselves on Africa’s political scene. Women like Joyce Banda who recently became President of Malawi, Saraha Georget Rabeharisoa, leader of the Green Party in Madagascar or Angèle Makombo-Eboum, Chair of the League of Congolese Democrats.

But there is another lesson to be learnt from all of this; Mrs Johnson studied at the highest possible levels, firstly in her own country and then in the USA where she attended Harvard and specialised in Economics. Education (and the prestigious posts that she went on to fill in the world of economics) has constituted a great opportunity that Ellen has exploited to the utmost. She herself recalled this fact when she received her Nobel Prize: One of the greatest obstacles to women taking up positions of responsibility, in Africa and elsewhere, is quitting education early.

Women, as a great resource for society, thanks to their pragmatic and inclusive approach and culture as a means of redemption and self-determination. These are two issues I find particularly interesting and which I have often mentioned in this blog (for example here and here ). In Ellen Johnson Sirleaf’s life these two issues live side by side. They reveal a direction that allows us to be a little more optimistic about the future.