a Harvard educated economist, has been a high profile figure in
Liberian politics since the early 1970s when she served as finance
minister. In 1980 she was one of a few officials to avoid death
when a firing squad killed 13 Liberian cabinet ministers.
initially supported Charles Taylor during his rebellion, but she
quickly began to speak out against him. In 1985, while she was
running for Senate, Taylor's government sentenced her to 10 years
in prison for treason. After serving a short term in jail, she
was released and sent into exile.
was absorbed in a bloody civil war from 1989-96, Johnson-Sirleaf
worked as an economist for Citibank and the World Bank, and as
the director of a U.N. development agency in Africa.
In 1996, the
arrival of African peacekeeping forces brought an end to the Liberian
civil war. Johnson-Sirleaf returned to Liberia to run for president
under the banner of the Unity Party, challenging Taylor in new
the election with 75 percent of the vote. International inspectors
determined that, while the vote was fair, most voters who selected
Taylor did so because they believed he would return the country
to war if defeated. Johnson-Sirleaf came in second with 10 percent
of the vote.
sometimes called the "Iron Lady" for her unwavering
grit and determination, served as the standard bearer for the
opposition Unity Party after its 1997 loss.
In 1999, the
rebel group Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy
emerged in northern Liberia, sparking a second civil war. In 2003,
a second rebel group emerged in the south of the country, further
exacerbating the conflict.
When the combined
rebel offensives effectively shut down the country, global attention
began to focus on Liberia. Nigerian peacekeepers operating under
the United Nations and backed by an offshore U.S. Marine expeditionary
force secured the country in the summer of 2003.
On Aug. 11,
2003, Taylor fled to exile in Nigeria. In his absence, preparations
began for democratic elections to decide the political future
of the West African state. A Commission on Good Governance was
chartered to advise the transitional government and prepare the
country for the 2005 elections. Johnson-Sirleaf served as chairwoman,
resigning in 2005 to campaign for president once again under the
banner of the Unity Party.
None of the
22 candidates who ran for president in Liberia's Oct. 11 election
received the required 50 percent of the vote. As a result, a runoff
was declared between the top two candidates: Johnson-Sirleaf and
soccer star George Weah.
a grandmother, pledged to bring the "motherly sensitivity
and emotion to the presidency" needed to heal the deep problems
that plague Liberia after so years of violence and warfare.
She is said
to favor "a government of inclusion," preferring to
bring groups that oppose her party into the government, rather
than oppressing them as past governments have done.
In 2003, Johnson-Sirleaf
pushed for a Truth and Reconciliation Commission to deal with
claims of war crimes during the civil war. She told AllAfrica,
"A [war crimes] tribunal is not just meant to indict the
guilty, but also to exonerate the innocent. This way, many people
who have been accused -- including myself -- would have the opportunity
to clear themselves and face their accusers."
refused to release former president Charles Taylor to the United
Nations for a trial; however, Nigerian officials say they will
cooperate should Liberia seek to indict Taylor for war crimes.
For now, Johnson-Sirleaf
is cautious. "We will not go for any war crimes tribunal
at this point," she said. "It's just a question of timing
and balance of reconciliation and justice. Right now, we think
we will start with reconciliation."
campaign focused on her education and experience; her opponent
Weah did not finish high school before beginning his professional
soccer career. "This is not the time to come and learn on
the job," Johnson-Sirleaf declared in a widely circulated
campaign message. "This is the time to come and do it; the
time to perform and achieve."
the runoff, Weah raised voter fraud allegations, and some members
of his party vowed to boycott their seats on parliament if his
claims were not addressed. Nonetheless, most observers say Johnson-Sirleaf
likely will be certified the winner in short order.
in, Johnson-Sirleaf will be the first woman to serve as the elected
president of any African nation, a time she said was due. "Africa
is ready for a female president. Women all over are poised to
enjoy this victory," she said.
Compiled by David S. Belt for the Online NewsHour