eccentricweft: Icon by from-the-corner (movinginwthrodney)
[personal profile] eccentricweft
I'm halfway through This Child Will Be Great, a political memoir by Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the president of Liberia and the first woman head-of-state of an African country.

Sirleaf's education was in economics and her background includes posts in Liberia's Ministry of Finance, the World Bank, and several commercial banks. From the beginning of her career she was an outspoken critic of political corruption in her country and how it undermines economic growth.

Liberia's political old guard was overthrown by a coup in 1980, and the leader of the coup was in power for 10 years before being challenged by two separate rebel groups. The country dissolved into a civil war that lasted 14 years.

I've only read up to 1990, the beginning of the civil war, in Ellen Sirleaf's autobiography, but in March I read Liberian Women Peacemakers: Fighting for the Right to Be Seen, Heard, and Counted. This tells about the incredible work of Liberian women's groups to end the fighting.

All through the 14 years, women were courageous, persistent, creative, patient, and single-minded in their pursuit of peace. They held demonstrations, facilitated meetings between rival warlords, talked rebel soldiers out of violent acts, and invited themselves to peace talks held in neighboring countries and demanded to be allowed to address the assembled leaders.

I worked for peace with LWI, NAWOCOL, Women Action for Good Will, Concern for Women. We all joined together to bring peace in this country. We went round from village to village to talk with those boys to put the gun down. We went to Po River, to Mount Barclay, to Lofa, even to the border. When the leaders were in town, we demonstrated on the streets: we wanted peace. (Martha Nagbe, farmer)

Despite their efforts, the civil war dragged on. But in 2003, a renewed peace movement began that managed to serve as a catalyst for all the existing groups to work together. The resulting Women's Peace Network succeeded in forcing the dictatorial president of Liberia to resign and go to exile in Nigeria, and in pressuring the rebel forces to agree that their role would be limited to a transitional government while democratic elections were being organized.

The story of the Women's Peace Network and the last year of the civil war is told in a documentary, Pray the Devil Back to Hell. Both books and the film are incredibly inspiring.

To be an effective peacemaker you must be a very patient person. You must be calm and a very, very good listener. You must listen not only with your ears but with your eyes. You must listen with your heart, your soul, and your mind, because sometimes people say one thing and they mean something completely different. You must be very slow to speak on what you hear. (Gloria Musu-Scott, Chief Justice)
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