Book Review by Marina Davis
This book is the memoir of Liberian peace activist Leymah Gbowee. Her experiences during the first and second Liberian Civil wars prompted her to lead a female-led nonviolent movement. The book is organized into three sections along the three major phases of her life: the start of the civil wars, the creation of her family, and her work with peacebuilding.
Section one details the causes of the civil wars, her adolescence, and surviving her abusive marriage. Section two focuses on her children, her work with ex-child soldiers, and her journey into peacebuilding and activism. The last section closes with her work to create peace, which came through the Accra Comprehensive Peace Agreement.
In 1989, Gbowee was just 17 when the first Liberian civil war broke out. The civil war was fought between Samuel Doe, the president of Liberia who came to power via a coup in 1980, and rebels led by Charles Taylor. Taylor was a former government official under Doe who capitalized on Doe’s mistreatment of tribes that weren’t his Krahn tribe whom he favored and gave power to build a rebel force and movement based on frustration and tribal division. The first civil war ended in 1997 with Charles Taylor becoming president of Liberia. The second civil war began in 1999 and was between Charles Taylor and rebel groups backed by Guinea who were dissatisfied with the lack of change and the corruption within the government under Taylor.
By the time the second civil war ended in 2003, she was the mother of five children and had become the face of an international women’s movement for peace. After the births of her four biological children Gbowee worked for two years with disabled ex-child soldiers who had fought for the rebels in the two civil wars. She used her experiences as a domestic violence victim and empathy for their trauma to attempt to better their lives. From there, she used her experiences working with the ex-child soldiers to work with groups of women throughout Liberia sharing and accepting their traumas and hurt over the ongoing conflict. Through her work with these women’s groups she was put in contact with the founder of Women of Liberia Mass Action for Peace (WIPNET), Thelma Ekiyor. They worked together and Gbowee became the accidental face of the organization during protests to force a peace agreement between the rebels and Liberian President Charles Taylor. To this day, Gbowee is misattributed as the sole leader of WIPNET when she was actually just part of the organization. However, she was critically influential to the activism of WIPNET and the effectiveness of their work.
Gbowee noted major differences between WIPNET’s efforts in peacebuilding and the approaches of the United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL). UNMIL relied on outside intervention from people who had no grasp of the local culture or even the history of the conflict. This focus on local knowledge and community would go on to inform her later activism and academic pursuits.
Gbowee’s memoir is an example of the power of local knowledge to bring communities together and quell conflict. This is a fascinating read for both people interested in peacebuilding and people looking for an inspiring read.
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