Lemah Gbowee has come as close as it is humanly possible to staring the devil in his face. She didn't blink, lived to tell about it, and is now the co-recipient of the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize. In this memoir she describes her journey from hopelessness to empowerment. It is a story that will touch the hearts of any reader who dreams of a better world.
This is the memoir of a woman who experienced the devastation and horror of civil war in her native Liberia. In many ways her life was broken when the war shattered her girlhood hopes and dreams. A victim of circumstances beyond her control she ended up as a young mother trapped in a nightmare of domestic abuse. In 1999 she found herself utterly depressed, mother of four children, separated from the father of her children, and with no ideas for a possible future for herself and her children.
Somehow she found the strength to turn her depression and bitterness into positive action. She began to work at helping those traumatized by the war and by promoting steps toward reconciliation and forgiveness. She gradually gained the realization that it is women who suffer the most during conflicts, and that if united women are in a unique position to do something about it. "When it comes to preventing conflict or building peace, there’s a way in which women are the experts."
She read about Martin Luther King and Gandhi, and she began to see the possibility of the power of women working together to create a compelling force for peace.
"I read the Politics of Jesus [by Yoder], which talked of Christ as a revolutionary, fighting injustice and giving a voice to the powerless. I read Martin Luther King Jr. and Gandhi and the Kenyan author and conflict and reconciliation expert Hizkias Assefa, who believed that reconciliation between victim and perpetrator was the only way to really resolve conflict, especially civil conflict, in the modern world. Otherwise, Assefa wrote, both remained bound together forever, one waiting for apology or revenge, the other fearing retribution."
Driven by her growing passion for her new found cause she helped organize and led the Women In Peace Building Network (WIPNET). This organization organized a coalition of Christian and Muslim women to stage mass actions to call for an end to violence and demand that there be peace. They confronted Liberia's ruthless president and rebel warlords in ways that only the mothers of Liberia could have done without being shot on the spot.
The actions of these women is an amazing story which I first learned about one evening while TV channel surfing. I came across the movie "Pray the Devil Back to Hell
," a documentary about the role of women in bringing peace to Liberia. The bravery and audacity shown by the women in this film took my breath away. If you watch the DVD be sure to also watch the "extra feature" about the making of the film. I thought it was interesting to note that the film makers at first had a difficult time finding archival film footage of the women's mass action because CNN and other American networks had ignored the actions of the women. They had tons of footage showing young kids toting Kalashnikovs, but ignored the women demonstrating for peace. The BBC did a bit better job, but some of the best footage came from a former government videographer who hid his films in his house after President Taylor fled the country.
I think almost everyone agrees now that the action of these women hastened the end of the war, and consequently reduced the amount the death, destruction and suffering. Nevertheless, the postwar conditions were devastating.
"A war of fourteen years doesn't just go away. In the moments we were calm enough to look around, we had to confront the magnitude of what had happened to Liberia. Two hundred and fifty thousand people were dead, a quarter of them children. One in three were displaced, with 350,000 living in internally displaced persons camps and the rest anywhere they could find shelter. One Million people, mostly women and children, were at risk of malnutrition, diarrhea, measles and cholera because of contamination in the wells. More than 75 percent of the country's physical infrastructure, our roads, hospitals and schools, had been destroyed."
After the war, WIPNET was very much involved in securing the peace. "Peace isn't a moment, it's a very long process."
Gbowee's post-war reputation for peace building now made her in demand as a speaker at international conferences. This exposure broadened her horizons, and she began to study techniques of reconciliation and peace. She is very complimentary of Eastern Mennonite University (EMU) in Virginia where she earned a Master's Degree in conflict transformation studies. The movie, "Pray the Devil Back to Hell," allowed the whole world to learn about the peace building activities of the women in Liberia. This book must have been written prior to her winning the Nobel Peace Prize because I don't recall any mention of it in this book.
A reader of my review thus far could perhaps conclude that Leymah Gbowee must be a saint. To her credit she included in her memoir admissions to a number of mistakes and shortcomings in her life. The details of her family life and her organizational efforts are filled with nitty gritty problems, conflicts and jealousies. Her work at peace building took all of her time so she pretty much turned over her role as mother to her children to her sister. (Her sister was the one who deserves sainthood; unfortunately she unexpectedly died at age 40 which was a devastating loss to the children in her care.) During the worst stages of the civil war Gbowee's children were out of the country, safe in Ghana, while Gbowee stayed in Liberia to work for peace.
Leymah Gbowee's website: http://leymahgbowee.com/