Nobel Peace Prize winner Leymah Gbowee: Liberia is progressing, but still divided
Liberian peace activist and Nobel Peace Prize winner Leymah Gbowee praises Liberia for how far it has come since the civil war days of a decade ago, but warns that tribalism still divides her country.
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Accusations about President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf’s involvement in the war have been made during the election campaign.Skip to next paragraph
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Ms. Johnson-Sirleaf – a former World Bank economist who is lauded by the West as a reformer – was charged with having provided financing to Charles Taylor during the early stages of the war by the controversial Truth and Reconciliation Commission. The commission recommended that Sirleaf and a number of other Liberian politicians be banned from politics for 30 years.
Gbowee, the Nobel Laureate, expressed concern over former-warlord-turned-presidential-candidate Prince Johnson’s pledge of support to President Sirleaf, which was welcomed by her party, the Unity Party. During the war, Mr. Johnson and his militia were responsible for numerous human rights violations, including the brutal murder of former President Doe, and many thought that his endorsement of Johnson-Sirleaf tainted her.
“His running for president shows that democracy is at work in Liberia, that was my first thought,” said Gbowee. “As painful as it is to admit … that someone who has done such harm in different parts of this country and says that he wants to run, shows democracy is at work.”
But Gbowee says that Johnson’s success in the recent elections in which he gained 11.6 percent of the vote to become “kingmaker” reveals that tribal and ethnic divisions continue to pose a major issue to reconciliation in Liberia.
“We are still deeply divided along ethnic lines,” Gbowee says. “Prince Johnson winning that percentage of the vote has shown us as Liberian people, that a villain in my community is a hero in another community and depending on the size of that community that villain can automatically become someone powerful just overnight.”
While Gbowee would not directly criticize Sirleaf over the decision to welcome Johnson’s support, she said she was saddened by the Unity Party’s decision.
“I’m sad because I think that with or without his support the first-round numbers show that there are a huge chunk of the Liberian people that are impressed with the president’s performance and that they will go back and vote for her,” Gbowee says. “I think that the politics of patronage needs to end and I think that Prince Johnson’s endorsement of the ruling party’s acceptance is by default accepting his demands.”
But despite the political posturing and divisions between the two major parties, the CDC and the UP, during these elections Gbowee sees the future of Liberia as hopeful and believes that women will continue to make headway in the political sphere.
“We stopped and celebrated Sirleaf’s presidency for too long, so this year we missed out,” said Gbowee. “The field is ripe for women to start preparing for 2017.”
And on her own political ambitions, Gbowee is clear, she will pursue a career in politics, so long as it doesn’t get in the way of her activism.
“Even before the prize, I had made up my mind that I would be going into politics in the next couple of years,” says Gbowee. “How feasible that is, given this role with the prize and with the level of work I want to do around reconciliation, I will have to wait for a year. If my involvement in politics is going to hamper that, I will hold onto my dreams.”
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