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Leymah Roberta Gbowee
is a Liberian peace activist, popular for rallying women in her country to
pressure political leaders into ending the civil war in Liberia. Gbowee is
among the trio that received the Nobel Peace Prize in 2011. Gbowee, lengthways
with Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and Tawakkul Karman were the receivers of the 2011
Nobel Peace Prize. They were awarded the Nobel for their relentless nonviolent
efforts to promote the safety and rights of women and children, as well as
their participation in the peace building process in their country (Disney
& Gbowee, 2012). Her rise in the women’s movement began on a football field
in Monrovia, where she, along with thousands of other women constantly prayed
and fasted for peace in Liberia. As the country had endured over a decade of
fighting and of women being raped and children stolen to be used as soldiers,
the women were tired. Gbowee and other women grew stronger as more and more
women joined their cause.

The Second Liberian Civil War

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The second civil war in
Liberia was an intense four year conflict that involved children on all sides.

The war was responsible for many casualties in the country. The war was so
intense that it spread to neighboring countries of Sierra-Leone and Guinea
(Ackermann, 2009). The whole conflict began in 1999 and ended in 2003. The
origin of the second Liberian war was deeply rooted in the previous conflict
that took place from 1989 to 1996, which saw Charles Taylor become president.

Peace was restored in the country for only two years. The LURD forces, led by
Sekou Conneh, began its military campaign against Charles Taylor’s government.

The problem was
compounded by Taylor’s miscalculated move in 2000. During this year, Charles
Taylor persuaded anti-government dissidents in Guinea and Sierra Leone to form
the Revolutionary United Front (RUF), a rebel group meant to weaken the
governments of the two countries that supported LURD. RUF, along with Charles
Taylor’s paramilitary supporters began aggressive insurgencies and expanded the
conflict to both Guinea and Sierra Leone. The move by Charles Taylor drew
condemnation and strong opposition from the United Nations. Besides, the Great
Britain began to support Guinea and Sierra Leone in the fight against Charles
Taylor’s allied forces.

However, by early 2002,
the LURD troops had overwhelmed Charles Taylor’s forces. The LURD troops were
just about 27 miles from Monrovia, the capital of Liberia. The LURD troops were
able to mount successful raids that bypassed several government strongholds. In
May, the same year, LURD forces staged a bold attack on Arthington, less than
ten miles from Monrovia. This meant that the forces were close to overthrowing
the government of Charles Taylor. The fact that his forces had been
outmaneuvered meant that his government would soon come to an end. This was
further aggravated by the entry of another rebel group into Liberia from the
south in 2003. The rebel group, called the Movement for Democracy in Liberia
(MODEL), was backed by the government of Cote d’Ivore and it came to challenge
the government of Charles Taylor. By this time, Charles Taylor only control a
third of Liberia. A significant chunk of the country was under the control of
rebels. In fact, the rebels were closing in on Charles Taylor from all sides.

The events prompted
President John Kufuor, the then chair of the Economic Community of West African
States (ECOWAS) to convene a peace conference in Accra to work ou a negotiated
agreement that would avert further bloodshed in Liberia. The West African
leader realized that the war would not end unless an effective intervention was
sought immediately. The four year war had already taken more than three hundred
thousand lives, most of them being children and women. Most of the soldiers
involved in the war were children. The experiences of the war led to immense
suffering on Liberian women who helplessly watched their children being used in
the war. Besides, many Liberian women were raped, maimed or murdered throughout
the period of the war (Bekoe & Parajon, 2007). However, Charles Taylor
appeared initially reluctant to support the peace process. Realizing that the
women were the worst hit in the prolonged conflict, Leymah Gbowee formed an
organization called the Women of Liberia Mass Action in Peace. Leyma Gbowee
organized a large number of Liberian women who held silent protests outside the
presidential palace. Through their incessant demand for peace, Gbowee, along
other Liberian women demonstrators were able to successfully extract a promise
from the Liberian president to attend the peace conference in Accra. The bold
initiative by Gbowee to organize women demonstrators in a country led by a
brutal regime demonstrated a high level of sacrifice from her and her
followers. The peace efforts of the Women of Liberia Mass Action in Peace
underscored the immense contribution of Gbowee in the peace process in Liberia.

Childhood and Early Life

Leymah Gbowee was born
on 1st February 1972 as one of the four daughters born to her
parents in Central Liberia. Gbowee had a normal childhood and desired to become
a doctor in future. She graduated in high school at a tender age of 17 years.

However, her plans were unfortunately interrupted as she became engulfed in a
civil war that began in 1989. Together with her family, she was forced to flee
from their home in in her country’s capital of Monrovia. She was lucky to
escape to a refugee camp in Ghana. However, Gbowee later returned to Liberia,
where she trained as a trauma counselor. She decided to train as a trauma
counselor because she wanted to help former child soldiers who were involved in
the civil war. Most of the children of were stolen for use in the war. As such,
most of them suffered from trauma associated with the civil war. Leymah Gbowee
worked with the children that were affected by the war by providing counseling.

Major Work

Leymah Gbowee realized
the potential of women in bringing peace in her country. Gbowee came to believe
that women had the responsibility to the next generation to relentlessly work
to restore peace in Liberia. In full realization of this, Gbowee became the
founding member and Liberia coordinator of the Women in Peace-building Network
(WIPNET) of the West Africa Network for Peace-building (WANEP). Besides, Gbowee
organized many fellow Christian women in Liberia to mobilize for peace because
she was a person of faith inspired by a dream (Gbowee, 2009). She went further
to collaborate with Muslim women, giving rise to the interfaith movement that
came to be known as the Women of Liberia Mass Action for Peace. The Women of
Liberia Mass Action for Peace operated under the auspices of the Women in Peace-building
Network.

Leymah Gbowee was
appointed the Spokesperson of the Women of Liberia Mass Action for Peace and
she led public protests that lasted weeks. The protests grew to include
thousands of committed Liberian women that desired for peace in the war torn
country. The protests bore fruits as they ultimately forced the ruthless
president, Charles Taylor, to meet with them and agree to participate in formal
peace talks in Accra Ghana. She did not stop the matter there. She proceeded to
lead a delegation of Liberian women to Accra, Ghana. While in Ghana, Gbowee,
along with fellow Liberian women applied strategic pressure to ensure that
significant progress towards peace building was made (Fleshman, 2010). In fact,
Gbowee and over 200 other women formed a human barricade to bar the then
President Taylor’s representatives and the rebel leaders from leaving the
meeting hall at a crucial moment when the peace talks seemed to have
miscarried. Their efforts ensured that a peace agreement was reached in the Accra
meeting. She exhibited boldness, particularly when the security forces
attempted to arrest her. She demonstrated tactical brilliance by threatening to
disrobe. According to African traditional beliefs, such an act could have
brought misfortune to the security men. Her threat worked perfectly well as it
marked a decisive turning point for the peace process. It led to Taylor
resigning the presidency and going into exile. Finally, a peace treaty
mandating a transitional government was signed, bringing the civil war to an
end.

Gbowee’s immense
contribution to the peace process in Liberia made a great impact on the world.

She emerged a global leader and she was invited to participate in the meetings
of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women, as well as other major
international conferences. She later co-founded the Women Peace and Security
Network Africa (WIPSEN-A) in Accra, Ghana. She served as the organizations as
its Executive Director for six years. The Women Peace and Security Network Africa
is a women-led pan-African non-profit organization that is dedicated to
enhancing women’s strategic participation and leadership on matters peace and
security governance in Africa. The organization has significantly helped in
transforming the lives of many young women in Ghana and Liberia.

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