OCTOBER 21, 2006

Africa's First Elected Woman President Receives Africa Prize for Leadership

On October 21, 2006, H.E. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, President of the Republic of Liberia and the first woman elected president of an African nation, received The Hunger Project's 2006 Africa Prize for Leadership for the Sustainable End of Hunger.

The Hunger Project is an international NGO that works in partnership with people in more than 10,000 villages across Sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia and Latin to sustainably end their own hunger. The Hunger Project awards the Africa Prize—which is often referred to as the “Nobel Prize for Africa”—to recognize and acknowledge African leaders—from heads of state to the grassroots—who exhibit remarkable courage, vision and commitment to the well-being of Africa’s people. Previous laureates include Nelson Mandela, Wangari Maathai, and Graça Machel. The Prize was first awarded in 1987.

Upon accepting the 2006 Prize, President Sirleaf said she did so “on behalf of the women of Liberia, Africa and world who, in their just and determined struggle, are striving to play more prominent roles in making decisions that affect their lives.” She expressed a specific commitment to “the thousands of market women of Liberia who made great sacrifices to feed and nurture our nation during its fourteen-year war, and continue to do so as we transition from conflict to peace.” Sirleaf will direct the Africa Prize’s cash award to improving the lives of Liberia’s market women.

She went on to say that “In many parts of the world, women remain virtually excluded from leadership and decision making as their tireless efforts to gain access to resources and opportunities continue to be undermined by the reluctance of their societies to pursue and commit to gender equality.”

In her keynote address, Joan Holmes, President of The Hunger Project read from a letter written in the future, on a date yet to be determined, by a great-grandmother on the occasion of the birth of her great-granddaughter. The letter reads: “I write a history to let you know that the lives of girls and women are worthy of being recorded.” The letter goes on to say that “In the latter half of the 20th century, every country in Africa had attained independence…but while the African countries were liberated, we girls and women were not. And for years and years we lived oppressed and constricted lives.”

More than 1,200 women and men from 25 countries spanning six continents attended the award ceremony at the New York Hilton Hotel. Dignitaries who attended include Wangari Maathai, 1991 Africa Prize and 2004 Nobel Peace Prize laureate; Ann Veneman, Executive Director, UNICEF; Speciosa Kazibwe, former Vice President of Uganda; Alexander Cummings, CEO, Coca-Cola Africa; UNIFEM’s founder, Margaret Snyder and Grammy-nominated musician Angelique Kidjo. Ambassadors and leadership from the United Nations, media, the international development sector and the international business community also attended.