Former Liberian president Ellen Johnson Sirleaf on Monday became the first woman to win the coveted $5 million Mo Ibrahim Prize for Achievement in African Leadership, in recognition of her efforts to rebuild her country following two devastating civil wars.

The continent’s first ever elected female head of state becomes only the fifth winner of the annual Ibrahim Prize for achievement in African leadership since its launch in 2006, as it is only given out when there is deemed to be a worthy candidate.

Named for its creator, the Sudanese-British businessman Mo Ibrahim, the prize carries an award of $5m paid out over 10 years and then $200,000 each year for the rest of the winner’s life.

To qualify, African heads of state have to have left office during the last three calendar years, having been democratically elected and served their constitutionally mandated term.

Sirleaf left office last month, handing over to George Weah, the former Chelsea and Milan footballer turned politician after a drawn-out election period marred by delays and allegations of fraud.

Salim Ahmed Salim, the head of the prize committee, said: “Sirleaf took the helm of Liberia when it was completely destroyed by civil war and led a process of reconciliation that focussed on building a nation and its democratic institutions.

Throughout her two terms in office, she worked tirelessly on behalf of the people of Liberia. Such a journey cannot be without some shortcomings and, today, Liberia continues to face many challenges.

Nevertheless, during her twelve years in office, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf laid the foundations on which Liberia can now build.”

Mo Ibrahim said he was “delighted” Sirleaf had become the foundation’s first female laureate.

“In very difficult circumstances, she helped guide her nation towards a peaceful and democratic future, paving the way for her successor to follow,” he said.

Nelson Mandela became an honorary recipient of the award in 2007. In some years the award, which was launched in 2006, has not been awarded as no candidate was considered good enough.

The previous laureates are president Hifikepunye Pohamba of Namibia (2014), president Pedro Pires of Cabo Verde.

Mo Ibrahim prize timeline:

2007: Mozambique’s former President Joaquim Chissano
2008: Botswana’s former President Festus Mogae
2009: No award given
2010: No award given
2011: Cape Verde’s former President Pedro Verona Pires
2012: No award given
2013: No award given
2014: Namibia’s former President Hifikipunye Pohamba
2015: No award given
2016: No award given.

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