First African Woman President to Speak at Yale

President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia will speak at Yale as a Chubb Fellow on April 23 at 4 p.m. in Battell Chapel, corner of Elm and College streets.

The talk is free and open to the public.

Sirleaf is the first woman to head an African country. She began her career in banking and finance in 1965 in the Treasury Department in Liberia. In 1979, as Minister of Finance, Sirleaf spearheaded governmental financial reform. After the military coup of 1980 put Samuel Doe into office, she joined the Liberian Bank for Development and Investment as its president and served as vice president of Citicorp’s African regional office in Nairobi. She was an initial member of the World Bank Council of African Advisors.

When she campaigned for a seat in the Liberian senate in 1985, Sirleaf was placed under house arrest and sentenced to 10 years in prison for speaking against Doe’s regime. After several months of incarceration, she fled to the United States where she served as vice president for Equator Bank. In 1992 she joined the United Nations Development Program as assistant secretary general and director of the Regional Bureau of Africa.

In 1997 she placed second in a field of 13 candidates running against incumbent Charles Taylor. When Taylor was exiled to Nigeria in 2003, Sirleaf was selected to serve as chairperson of the Governance Reform Commission and led the country’s anti-corruption efforts. After successfully contesting the 2005 presidential election, she was inaugurated president of Liberia in January 2006.

Four priorities dominate her government’s agenda: peace and security, economic revitalization, the rule of law and basic infrastructure and services.She has completed the process of demilitarization, demobilization, training and reintegration of ex-combatants.She has reactivated bilateral relations with several countries including France, Germany, Canada, Israel and Italy and secured public and private foreign funding for rebuilding the country. Under her leadership, the UN has lifted sanctions on Liberia’s diamond and forestry industries.

President Sirleaf was one of seven appointees of the Organization of African Unity to investigate the Rwanda genocide and one of two experts selected by UNIFEM to investigate and report on the effect of conflict on women and women’s roles in peace building. She has received the Civil Rights Museum Award, the Africa Prize for the Sustainable End of Hunger, the IRI Freedom Award, the David Rockefeller Leadership Bridging Award, the Common Ground Award, the Commander de l’Ordre du Mono of Togo, the Ralph Bunche International Leadership Award and the Franklin D. Roosevelt Freedom of Speech Award. In 2007 Sirleaf received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian honor given by a U.S. president.

Sirleaf has served on the boards of International Crisis Group, Women’s World Banking, Synergos and Women Waging Peace.She was a founding member of the International Institute for Women in Political Leadership and of Measuagoon, a community development NGO in Liberia. She has written widely on financial issues, development, and human rights.Her memoir, “This Child Will Be Great,” was released this month by Harper Collins.

Sirleaf attended the College of West Africa in Central Monrovia and holds a master’s degree in Public Administration from the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University.She has received seven honorary doctorate degrees and is a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority, which is co-hosting the talk with the Chubb Fellowship.

Alpha Kappa Alpha is an international service-based organization founded at Howard University in 1908.

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Media Contact

Gila Reinstein: gila.reinstein@yale.edu, 203-432-1325