Ellen Launches Presidential Center to Expand Women’s Leadership Quests on the Continent

Left to right: Former Acting President of the Central African Republic, Madam Catherine Samba-Panza; former Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, and Madam Joyce Banda, former President, Republic of Malawi

Robertsfield, Margibi – Former President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf is expected Sunday, March 8, to launch her Ellen Johnson Sirleaf Presidential Center for Women and Development (EJSPCWD), which will among other things be aimed at helping Liberian and other African women expand their leadership quests in their various societies. It will also be aimed at creating opportunities for women in leadership and public service to further their ambitions and careers.

By Alaskai Moore Johnson, [email protected]

Answering journalists’ questions at a press conference Friday, March 6, President Sirleaf, along with two former female presidents of Malawi and the Central African Republic, hopes that the initiatives, through her Center, will help expand the number of women ready to hold leadership on the African continent, including Liberia.

“And by doing so, women will be in positions in all areas in the society to promote the policies, the programs and the opportunities for other women. Starting from the girl child to better educational opportunities right on up to the highest level of society,” Madam Sirleaf said as she responded to breaking the glass ceiling of becoming the first democratically elected woman President on the African Continent.

Ellen Johnson Sirleaf Center’s Flagship Program

The former President’s press conference was mainly about the launch of the Center’s flagship programs — AMUJAE, which in the Liberian Kru dialect means “We are going up.”

Launching on International Women’s Day, Sunday, March 8, the vision for the Amujae Initiative is to shift the landscape for women in public leadership in Africa, moving from a culture of tokenism to one that truly values women leaders. Its mission is to inspire and prepare women to unapologetically take up roles and excel in the highest echelons of public leadership, and to bring other women along.

“Representation is important – by increasing the number of women in public life and leadership, the Center will amplify the voices of all women and girls across Africa,” Madam Sirleaf further added.

Other Parts of the Center

While Amujae is the flagship program of the Center, other parts of the Center will include promoting reading through creating a library that will contain collections that President Sirleaf has been able to amass over her many years in leadership.

“There is the exhibition part of it; the archives in which all that I have been able to achieve through memorabilia will be available; presidential papers that reflect the works I had done over the two terms of my presidency – all of those will be available for Liberians, Africans and others to access to be able to use them as inspirations and motivation as they pursue their leadership goals,” Madam Sirleaf stated.

She also said that while women maybe the primary goal of the Center, but the resourced materials that will be in the Center, will also be used by the other sex, including current and future generations.

She also disclosed that the library will not just contain only her works, but works of other great women and men on the continent and beyond.     

Why Center for Women

On why a center for women even though some men also look to her too as their role model, the former Liberian President stated: “Despite the significant progress that women have made throughout the world, we know that all the reports and statistics show that women are still far behind. This unique undertaking, the Amujae undertaking brings together women leaders to share experiences, to improve strategy to be able to raise their profiles, to be able to prepare, working with other women to a larger number of women leaders in all endeavors in the society.”

Madam Sirleaf further stated that the lack of opportunity for women is not only unique to the African Continent but the world over.

The Liberian former President disclosed that her Center’s flagship program is going to expand into every country. “Bringing women together to share experiences, to work with each other, to build their strategies and to promote themselves. Just look at it as a wave, women all over the world, in all nations, societies, women just moving upward. That’s what Amujae is about. The wave of women, prepared and ready to claim leadership, intentional leadership, unabashedly, with no fear. Women are going to clench leadership because they are going to be prepared for it,” she said with confidence.

She further stated that there are a large number of women now on the continent working with each other in every country toward achieving this goal.

Funding for the EJS Presidential Center

On the Center’s funding, former President Sirleaf said she has been lucky to establish a foundation that is based in Washington D.C., USA. The Foundation is headed by former US Ambassador to Liberia, Madam Linda Thomas Greenfield.

“We have been able to also get a 501C3 that enables people to contribute and get certain tax benefits under this program. We have a fiscal sponsor that works with the foundation to ensure full compliance with US regulations relating to 501C3 and proper accountability and transparency. The Foundation will support programs of the Center that meet the compliance criteria,” she stated.

The former President said she has made some financial contributions from her own prize money, while others, too, have made financial contributions.

Madam Sirleaf disclosed that at the moment, there are no physical structures on the ground as money provided by the foundation only goes toward funding of the Center’s programs at the moment.

Former Malawian President Banda

Also, the former Malawian President, Madam Joyce Banda, touching on the contribution of women on the continent, gave immense credit to Madam Sirleaf for being the first to break the glass ceiling. She also credited African men for opening up space and allowing African women to contribute in leadership on the continent.

“I want us to remember that in pre-colonialism in Africa, women were already in leadership on this continent. You remember in Ghana, a woman leader refused to receive the colonists; she had to leave her country and die in exile. Therefore, when colonists came what we read, we were sidelined as women in participating as leaders,” the former Malawian President stated.

President Banda further narrated that when African men, including Dr. Kweme Nkrumah and other Pan-Africanists started fighting for self-rule of the continent, women stood side by side their men and fought, too.

“So people like Winnie Mandela, Albertina Sisulu, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and others who came before us, fought.” She stated that even though Madam Sirleaf broke the glass ceiling by being Africa’s first democratically elected female President, African women were already self-confident about their leadership capability.

She said everywhere she speaks, she gives credit to African men; adding: “Africa women have not done badly. We have done well. What we have done haphazardly without being well organized as Madam President is trying to do, has made us find ourselves to State House,” she added.

Throwing Jibe

President Banda threw jibes at some countries which have had 200 and more years of democracy but are still struggling to try and get their first woman into their State House. “Africa has had five!” she emphasized.  She further added: “The country with the highest number of women in parliament in the world is on the continent of Africa—63% in Rwanda. So, Africa has done well. What we are saying with the support and working side by side with our men, we want to do more.” She, however, acknowledged that African women have been far behind but with the caliber of African women now in leadership, than with their backings as former Presidents, those women will support younger women to move upward, too, in leadership in their respective countries.

Former Acting President of CAR

Also speaking through an interpreter, Madam Catherine Samba-Panza, former Acting President of the Central African Republic (CAR), spoke of how Madam Sirleaf’s works on the continent, have inspired all of them. Inasmuch those works have motivated them to aspire for greatness, President Samba-Panza stressed it’s now time that they move beyond theory into practicality seeing more African women take up leadership roles in their respective countries. She praised former President Sirleaf for her initiatives, which she (Samb-Panza) thinks will enable younger women on the continent to aspire for greatness.