Encounter of the Peaceful Kind: Alumna in the Nobel Circle
Although she won’t be going to Oslo to claim a cash reward, peacebuilding efforts by Brandeis alumna Olubanke King- Akerele ’67 were indirectly recognized by the Nobel Prize committee this fall.
In early October, the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and two other African women, Leymah Gbowee of Liberia and Tawakkul Karman of Yemen. The three were recognized “for their non-violent struggle for the safety of women and for women’s rights to full participation in peacebuilding work.”
Known as “Banke” by her Brandeis friends, King-Akerele was part of Sirleaf’s essential team when she was first elected as Liberia's 24th president in 2005. The Brandeis grad served initially as Sirleaf’s minister of commerce and industry and later as minister of foreign affairs, a job she held from 2007 through late November 2010, when she reportedly resigned due to an undisclosed illness.
As foreign affairs minister, King-Akerele was responsible for strengthening strategic economic relationships, building alliances with new partners and preparing to welcome 65,000 Liberian refugees home from two brutal civil wars without threatening the fragile peace. A 2009 article at Forbes.com tagged her as “Liberia’s Hillary Clinton.”
King-Akerele, whose family tree includes three presidents of Liberia, attended Brandeis on a Wien International Scholarship, then earned master’s degrees at Northeastern and Columbia, all toward the end of returning home to work toward a better Liberia. She spent 24 years in the employ of the United Nations before joining Sirleaf’s government. They and other members of the administration were featured in a PBS documentary series, “The Iron Ladies of Liberia.”
This article is a corrected version of the story that appeared in the Fall issue of Brandeis Magazine.