Presentation of the President of Liberia
Her Excellency Ellen Eugenia Johnson
University for Peace, September 30, 2013
Dr. Juan Carlos Sainz Borgo
Dean for Academic Affairs, University for Peace
Her Excellency Ellen Eugenia Johnson
Dr. Francisco Rojas Aravena, Rector
Guest of Honours, ambassadors, faculty, staff and students,
It is a pleasure and honour to welcome Her Excellency to the University for Peace here in Costa Rica.
The Rector, faculty, administrative staff, gardeners and students welcome you all.
Costa Rica and Liberia share many elements. Not only the obvious as it is a tropical location or even the small size of both countries, the similarities between the coat of arms of both countries, where you can see the XIX century ships sailing in the quest for freedom.
The struggle for a peaceful and inclusive society is represented by the commitment of this small Central American country hosting a United Nations institute to promote peace through education called University for Peace.
As Her Excellency stated on the acceptance speech of the Nobel Peace Prize in 2011, “My journey was supported by my many teachers and mentors who guided me to a world opened up by the enlightenment of higher education, and which led to my conviction that access to quality education is the social justice issue of our time.”
This is what we try to do here every day, prepare future generations of students from all over the world with courses in peace and conflict studies, human rights, gender and sustainable development, turning education in the key to the access of the knowledge for the construction of a better future.
What we are doing today is to honour a life dedicated to promote peace, justice and democratic rule.
Ellen Eugenia Johnson was born in Monrovia on October 29, 1938, she is the granddaughter of a traditional chief of renown in western Liberia and a market woman from the southeast. She grew up in Liberia and attended high school at the College of West Africa in Monrovia, subsequently studying at Madison (Wisconsin) Business College, the University of Colorado and Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government where she obtained a Master’s Degree in Public Administration in 1971.
Her entry into politics came in 1972 when she delivered her famous commencement address to her high school alma mater in which she sharply criticized the government, showing her determination to speak truth unto power. This was the start of a distinguished professional and political career that has brought us here today.
Mrs. Johnson Sirleaf joined the then Treasury Department in 1965, rising to the position of Minister of Finance in 1979 where she introduced measures to curb the mismanagement of government finances. After the 1980 military coup d’état, she served as President of the Liberian Bank for Development and Investment (LBDI) but fled her country and the increasingly suppressive military government that same year. She traveled to Kenya and served as Vice President of Citicorp’s Africa Regional Office in Nairobi, and later moved to Washington, D.C., to assume the position of Senior Loan Officer at the World Bank, and then as Vice President for Equator Bank. In 1992 she joined the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) as Assistant Administrator and Director of its Regional Bureau of Africa with the rank of Assistant Secretary-General of the United Nations.
A Long exile was not an option for her. She resigned her UN post in 1997 to return home and contest the presidential election, and was ranked second in votes to opponent Charles Taylor. She went into self-imposed exile, this time to Côte d'Ivoire where she kept a close eye on Liberian politics. During that time she established, in Abidjan, the Kormah Development and Investment Corporation, a venture capital vehicle for African entrepreneurs; and NGO for community development.
In her efforts to bring justice to her people in Liberia, she has spent more than a year in jail at the hands of the military dictatorship of General Samuel Doe and had her life threatened by former President Charles Taylor. She campaigned relentlessly for Taylor's removal from office and played an active and supportive role in the Transitional Government of Liberia as the country prepared for elections in October of 2005.
She was selected to serve as Chairperson of the Governance Reform Commission, where she led the country’s anti-corruption reform by changing the reporting mechanism of the General Auditing Commission from the Executive to the Legislature, thereby strengthening and reinforcing its independence. She resigned this position to successfully contest the 2005 presidential election, resulting in her historic inauguration, on January 16, 2006, as Liberia’s first female President
Mrs. Johnson Sirleaf is the recipient of other prized awards. So far, she received the Nobel Peace Prize in 2011, the National Medical Association of the United States Lifetime Humanitarian Award for Healthcare; the Year of Pan Africanism and African Renaissance African Union Award; the Martin Luther King, Jr. Peace Medal FAO’s CERES Medal (2008); International Women’s Leadership Award (2008); National Reconciliation Award (2006); International Woman of the Year (2006); and the International Republican Institute Freedom Award (2006).
Mrs. Sirleaf has been awarded honorary doctorates by over 17 institutions, among them: Tilburg University in the Netherlands; the Nigerian Defence Academy; the University of Massachusetts Medical School; Harvard University; Rutgers University; Yale University; Georgetown University; the University of Abeokuta, Nigeria; the University of Minnesota; Furman University of South Carolina; Brown University; Indiana University; Dartmouth College; Concordia University; Langston University; Spelman College; and Marquette University.
Mercedes Sosa, one of the greatest singers of Latin America, years ago, wrote a song about honouring people. She said that we should not honour someone because is alive, we should honour that person because that person stood above and beyond losses and criticism.
Your Excellency, we are here honouring your career, your commitment, your leadership, your voice to denounce the injustice and your courage to fight for peace.
So I do not want to steel your time here, because you are the person that we are here to listen.
Welcome again to the University for Peace. The floor is yours.