The 2021 edition of the Amujae Women Leadership Forum ended yesterday, Sunday , October 31, 2021, at the Farmington Hotel, in Margibi County with participants pushing for more voices to be heard for women in public leadership on the African continent.
The Amujae Initiative which is a flagship program of the Ellen Johnson Sirleaf Presidential Center for Women and Development 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. Launched on the occasion marking International Women’s Day on March 8, 2020, the Initiative 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.
During a chat with journalist following the closing of the Forum, Former President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, and founder of the Center said she was extremely happy for the level of works the institution has been able to undertake since its establishment in 2019 after she received the Mo Ibrahim Leadership prize and as the Amujae Initiative continues to grow, people will begin to see the good works.
“Many of you may recall that when I accepted the Mo Ibrahim Prize for Leadership in April 2019 I committed that I will do what I could to promote women to leadership. I said it at that time and a year later we were able to establish the EJS Center for Women and Development and the vision and mission statement in summary is to promote women who were committed to leadership, have achieved at certain level to ascend to the highest level of leadership.
She said the Center is working hard to achieve this because women leadership brings some value to the system, one being that women leadership promotes the respect for human rights and on the other hand it ensures equity and equality. “I am so glad that under our program, we decided that based upon our resources that we will annually increase the number of women. So we have a target of 15 women a year. That is how our first cohort stated which we launch in March 2020”
She said up to date, the Center is blessed with outstanding women who have come to be part of her initiative to promote women in leadership on the continent some of whom are Madam Joyce Banda, former President of Malawi, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo–Iweala, Director General of the World Trade Organization (WTO), Dr. Antoinette Sayeh, former Minister of Finance under her administration etc, and have been actively involved in providing mentorship and pieces of useful advice to young ladies who are demonstrating the potential for climbing the ladder of leadership on the continent.
Buttressing Madam Sirleaf on the activities of Center, the Executive Director, Dr. Ophelia Onez Weeks said the institution over a short period has provided a road map to assist women to fully participate in decision making process on the African continent with various activities that have energize the women to take challenge the barriers against their journey. She said besides challenging barriers, they also support women to aspire to leadership positions because by doing so, there will be more voices that represent men and women that address issues of men and women but that can only happen when there are more women in leadership.
She said there three core areas of strategy the Center has to achieve its objectives. She said the first one is representatives in the five regions of Africa that lend leadership support to women.
Dr. Weeks who formerly served as President of the University of Liberia also said the other strategy is for the construction of the Ellen Johnson Sirleaf Presidential Library which will have an exhibit center, a library , an archive centers that will store documents on the personal and career life , especially the presidential records of Madam Sirleaf while the third is to have a strategic communication and research endeavor that will information on women accessible to the public which will include important data on women activities on the African continent.
Also speaking at the Press briefing, former United States Ambassador to Liberia, Deborah Malac said that she was happy to be back in the country, a place she called her second home. She said on a personal note, her interest in the Amujae Initiative grew out of the way Madam Sirleaf inspired the women of Liberia to strive for leadership roles and positions in the country as well as putting in place programs to achieve these goals when she served as President of the country.
The former US diplomat said that she has been deeply involved in the activities of the Center, especially the Amujae Initiative because it was a worthy cause that will not only benefit the women of Liberia but also on the African women as a whole. She admonished those in charge of the Center not to allow the legacy of Madam Sirleaf to die but continue to be a light for others especially the next generation to follow.
The four panelists from the Amujae Women for the 2020 and 2021 cohorts also interacted with the press at which time they were asked how they got recruited in the process. Madam Yawa Hensen Quao, a social entrepreneur and female leadership advocate, a member of the 2020 cohort from Ghana said she was nominated through a rigorous process which included interview to assess how they will leverage on the opportunities and that they were on the radar of the Center based on their past achievements and the ability to articulate the vision of what they want to achieve. She said it was a wonderful experience working with such an outstanding team of women who have excelled in their chosen area of work and profession.
For her part, Madam Fatoumata Njai, a Parliamentarian and Female leadership advocate from Gambia said she got to know about the program through her friend who works in Abidjan who encouraged her to apply. She said though the exercise was tedious, she was happy that she was selected in the process. She said the training and mentorship she has gotten will be of immense help in her work as a parliamentarian and her project to make women get access to leadership position.
Ms. Omra Omar from Kenya, a humanitarian, Community Development Strategist and a Gubernatorial candidate in next year’s elections in her native Kenya said that she was excited to be part of the program as it will enhance her capacity in promoting and advocating for women in politics in Kenya where she has been in the vanguard for gender equality and emancipation of the women of Kenya.
Dr. Ghada Labib from Egypt, who is serving as Deputy Minister for Institutional Development at the Ministry of Communications said she was nominated to the program through a professional organization called the Association of Public Administration and Management (APAM) based in Kenya and was glad that she was accepted to undergo mentorship from some of the outstanding on the continent and the world. She said the training and exposure from the initiatives has helped her grow professionally and also sharpened her intellect in how to advocate for gender equality. She said she has a special admiration for Madam Sirleaf whom she described as not being selfish but after reaching the height of leadership in Africa, decided to look back and assist the younger generation of women leaders.
The panelists were unanimous in their submission that pushing for women leadership is not something the women can do alone but they have to also work with men so that together they can increase more voices that will collectively speak for the causes for both men and women. They also agreed that increasing opportunities for women without discrimination will help to close the gap that currently exist between men and women in terms of access to decision making.
The press briefing also witnessed a second set of younger participants from Liberia and Sierra Leone who told the gathering that they have individually and professionally benefited a lot from the training and are leading various projects in their countries.
Madam Cornelia Kruah- Togba, who is the Assistant Secretary General for Media and Publicity of the former Unity Party (UP) said she currently runs an NGO called Young Women’s Empowerment Network (YOWENET) which aims to build a strong network of women who would excel in their various career paths and especially in politics and leadership.
Madam Kula Fofana, from Liberia who said she got her inspiration from Madam Sirleaf when she was contesting for the Presidency around the same time she too was contesting for the presidency of the Student Union government and won in her school . Currently working as Assistant Dean of Students Affairs at the David A. Straz Technical and Vocational College of the University of Liberia, Madam Fofana currently runs her own NGO called People’s Foundation Africa, an organization working for marginalized and hard to reach communities in Liberia and across Africa.
The other two participants from Sierra Leone, Dr. Yakama Manty Jones and Madam Isata Kabia, all members of the 2021 Cohort said they have benefited a lot from the exercise and will enrich their knowledge and insights in advocating for women leadership in their country and beyond.
Dr. Jones runs an organization called the Yak Jones Foundation which promotes child literacy through reading, comprehension and quiz competitions, nationwide book clubs and donating mobile libraries to schools in remote areas of Sierra Leone.
Madam Kabia who is a former member of parliament is the Founding Director of Voice of Women Africa (VoW Africa), a network of female leaders which aims to amplify women’s voices and inspire collective action. VoW Africa aims to increase women’s participation in politics by building a cadre of women who believe in themselves and in other women, and by creating a pathway to leadership for girls. Ms. Kabia has served as a government Minister of Social Welfare, Gender and Children’s Affairs and as the Minister of State at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation in Sierra Leone.
After attending the Amujae Leadership Forum convened by the Ellen Johnson Sirleaf Presidential Center for Women and Development, African women leaders feel the strength of the sisterhood behind them
Women leaders from across the African continent shared their strategies for building resilience and encouraged each other to persevere in pursuing their goals during the second Amujae Leadership Forum, held in Monrovia, Liberia this weekend.
Hosted by the Ellen Johnson Sirleaf Presidential Center for Women and Development (EJS Center), the women heard insights from former President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and distinguished global speakers about bouncing back during periods of uncertainty and hardship.
The women taking part in the Forum are part of the Amujae Initiative, the EJS Center’s flagship program. The initiative prepares women to excel in the highest echelons of public leadership and bring other women along.
Highlighting the aim of the initiative, EJS Center Executive Director, Ophelia Weeks said:
“Our intent is to activate, accelerate, and elevate Amujae Leaders’ ambition for even greater influence through a series of forums, such as this one, as well as targeted follow-up workshops, one-on-one coaching, and the creation of an active support network.”
During the Forum, Amujae Leaders shared lessons from their leadership journeys. Reflecting on the discussions over the three-day event, Madam Sirleaf said:
“When I see all of you and what you have been through, what you aspire to, it gives all of us hope. We feel so emboldened by each and every one of you.”
Isata Kabia, 2021 Amujae Leader, former Minister of Social Welfare, Gender and Children’s Affairs of Sierra Leone, and founder of Voice of Women Africa, said:
“We leave the Forum inspired to create a wave of women leaders across the continent and energized to help build more resilient and inclusive societies.”
The EJS Center also thanked the Liberian health authorities for their collaboration to ensure that the Forum could be held safely. All participants were tested for COVID-19 prior to arriving in Liberia and before departure, among other precautions including handwashing stations and distribution of masks.
The Amujae Leadership Forum was organized with support from Big Win Philanthropy.
About the Amujae Initiative
The Amujae Initiative is the EJS Center’s flagship program. Amujae, pronounced ӓ mōō jāēē, means ‘we are going up’ in Kru, a Liberian language.
Launched on International Women’s Day, March 8, 2020, 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.
Drawn from a diverse range of personal and professional backgrounds, the Amujae Leaders include members of parliament, a governor, a mayor, and several government ministers from 16 countries across Africa. They were selected through a rigorous application process from hundreds of applicants and they each have a track record of demonstrable achievements in public life and a drive to uplift African women and girls.
About the Amujae Leadership Forum
The Amujae Leadership Forum ran from 29 – 31 October 2021 at the Farmington Hotel in Monrovia, Liberia.
The Forum was facilitated by Ama Van Dantzig, Co-Founder of Dr. Monk, and included addresses and workshops run by the following distinguished speakers:
Madam Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, former President of Liberia; Ambassador Deborah Malac, former United States Ambassador to Liberia; Board Chair, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf Presidential Foundation; Jamie Cooper, Founding Chairperson and President, Big Win Philanthropy; Board Member, EJS Center; Dr. Kesete Admasu, CEO, Big Win Philanthropy; Renee Ngamau, Life Coach, Lawyer; Professor Angela Ofori-Atta, Inaugural Board Member, EJS Center.
Other Speakers are, Dr. Chris Fomunyoh, Senior Associate and Regional Director for Central and West Africa, National Democratic Institute; Eva Barboni, Founder and CEO, Atalanta; Barkue Tubman, Founder and CEO, MBL International Group; Inaugural Board Member, EJS Center; K. Riva Levinson, President and CEO, KRL International; Dr. Ophelia Inez Weeks, Executive Director, EJS Center; Amini Kajunju, Chief Operating Officer, EJS Center; Rumbidzai Chisenga, Director of Programs, EJS Center.
About the Ellen Johnson Sirleaf Presidential Center for Women and Development:
The Ellen Johnson Sirleaf Presidential Center for Women and Development (EJS Center) was founded in 2018 to be a catalyst for political and social change across Africa by helping unleash its most abundant latent power — its women.
The EJS Center aims to amplify the voice of women and girls in all spheres of life by increasing the representation of women in public service leadership roles in Africa.
Through a unique blend of programming, advocacy, archival research, and museum exhibitions, the EJS Center seeks to become a premier institution dedicated to advancing and sustaining women’s political and social development on the continent.
Through its work, the EJS Center envisions more voices heard, talents unleashed, and leaders launched that prioritize the aspirations of women. Its mission is to champion women’s ascension to the highest levels of leadership and challenge systemic barriers to girls’ and women’s advancement.
As the first democratically elected woman president in Africa, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf led Liberia from 2006-2018. Having been recognized internationally for her leadership, she is passionate about supporting the next generation of women in public life across the continent.