Africa’s first female Head of State and former Liberian president, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has joined The Elders, a group of former world leaders tasked with ensuring peace and universal human rights. The Elders was formed by the late Nelson Mandela in 2009 with a task of “support(ing) courage where there is fear, foster(ing) agreement where this is conflict and inspire (ing) hope where there is despair.”
Asides Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, former Colombian president and 2016 Nobel Peace laureate Juan Manuel Santos, and the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights between 2014 and 2018 Zeid Raad Al Hussein also joined the group. In her statement during the announcement, the Elders Group Chair and former president of Ireland, Mary Robinson expressed her pleasure with the new additions and also hopes that they play critical roles in the group’s fight for human rights and peacebuilding.
In her speech after her appointment, Sirleaf said she hopes to follow in the footsteps of Archbishop Desmond Tutu, late Nelson Mandela and late Koffi Annan who were all members of the group too. “The Elders’ work to promote justice, equality and human rights are needed more than ever,” she said, “I look forward to working with them to inspire people everywhere, particularly women and girls, to reach for their true potential, break through barriers and pursue their dreams.”
To be a part of the Elder’s group, you must have “earned international trust, demonstrated integrity and built a reputation for inclusive, progressive leadership”, according to information from its website. There are the peacemakers, who have experience in conflict resolution, the peacebuilders who have helped rebuild post-conflict communities, social revolutionaries who changed their countries, and pioneering women who were political leaders in their countries.
Ellen Johnson Sirleaf is a pioneering woman, having become the first female head-of-state in Africa after she was elected in 2005 as Liberia’s president, and then re-elected for a second term in 2011. In the same year, she was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for her “non-violent struggle for the safety of women and for women’s rights to full participation in peace-building work.” She was also elected as chair of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) in 2016, becoming the first female leader to hold the position since its creation. She was listed as the 83rd most powerful woman in the world by Forbes magazine in 2016. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf stepped down as president of Liberia in 2018, handing over to Liberian football legend George Weah who won at the elections.