Nobel Peace Prize winner Leymah Gbowee made history in 2011 when she and Tawakkal Karman of Yemen shared the coveted prize with Ellen Johnson Sirleaf for empowering women and advocating peace and stability in their respective countries.
It was a personal victory for Gbowee, and another achievement for Sirleaf who continues to receive awards from friends and admirers across the globe that believes her ascendancy to the Liberian presidency is the best thing that ever happened in that country since its founding over a century ago.
The Liberian people needed a break from the daily news of suffering they are encountering on Sirleaf’s watch, and always looked up to embracing any good news that will get their collective minds off their problems at any moment.
The Nobel triumphs of Sirleaf and Gbowee temporarily filled that void and suddenly changed the storyline to pride and patriotism for their own kind, which got their minds off their problems for a moment and unified a broken nation and people at the right time.
Liberians did not expect Gbowee to win such award; let alone expect any Liberian or even Sirleaf for that matter to win a Nobel Peace Prize in this post-war era.
That’s because the President actually has been tied directly to funding the deadly civil war in her previous life and is barred by her own commissioned Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) from participating actively in politics for 30 years, which should have disqualified her for a peace prize in the first place.
Gbowee’s selection also was a surprise because prior to her selection for a Nobel Peace Prize, she was an unknown quantity whose role in any form of political or community activism was zero and unheard of in the contemporary annals of Liberian politics.
So for Gbowee to suddenly be chosen for a Nobel Peace Prize for political and community activism over lifelong activists who advocated for peace, prosperity and security for women, children and the Liberian people, continues to generate debate and admiration for her individual achievement.
However, being plucked out of relative obscurity to national and international prominence can be weighty, especially when you are seen as a Nobel Peace Prize recipient who won that particular award in the name of your people, and is expected to rise to the challenge at any moment of the day to carryout that role.
And when you are Leymah Gbowee, your people expect you to be with them not half way and in name only, but physically and all the way as a responsible and fearless peace advocate who shares their pain and suffering, and is willing to lend your incredible name and time to fight injustice and corruption in your homeland.
Gbowee came out of hiding or out of her own shadow and publicly criticized Sirleaf for her inability to promote peace and reconciliation, then resigned her post in the Sirleaf administration as head of the Peace and Reconciliation Commission.
Gbowee also came down hard on Sirleaf when she reechoed the scathing editorial of this website, and the damning sentiments of other organizations and individuals regarding the blatant practice of nepotism and rampant corruption in the Sirleaf administration.
“Her sons are on the board of oil companies and one is the deputy governor of the central bank. The gap between the rich and poor is growing. You are either rich or dirt poor, there’s no middle class,” Gbowee said.
“I feel I have been a disappointment to myself and Liberia. Not speaking is as bad as being part of the system. Some may say I am a coward but the opportunity to speak out has come here” Gbowee reportedly said again.
Even though her criticism of Sirleaf is long overdue, credit has to be given to Gbowee for finally standing up and speaking ‘truth to power’ like my friend, the late political activist Bodioh Wisseh Siapoe used to say, which isn’t an easy task to carryout in Liberia these days.
That’s because the political activism of the late 1970s and early 1980s that agitated change in Liberia is no more. And those that led it including (Ellen Johnson Sirleaf) and called for change against similar abuse of power and other forms of human rights abuse in past governments, now found themselves conveniently aligned with the current Sirleaf administration to survive.
Even though Gbowee is now a Nobel laureate, many Liberian activists and organizations still are not really sure of her commitment to fighting injustice and corruption in Liberia, and are also ambivalent as to whether she will continue to steadfastly advocate for equality and the rule of law in Liberia.
Why? Because Leymah Gbowee won a Nobel Peace Prize for the Liberian people, but lives in Ghana – a far cry from the Liberian nation and people that made her what she is today. Gbowee does not even have an office in Liberia to do peace and advocacy work.
Like other opportunistic Liberian activists who once capitalized on the suffering of the Liberian people only to later shy away from activism after a sitting President offered them a job and a better living standard, Leymah Gbowee seemed to have repeated the same offense after she won the Nobel Prize, and after she was offered a job by the Sirleaf administration.
What really caused the rift that led Gbowee to publicly lecture and chastise Sirleaf about nepotism and corruption in her administration is still not known.
Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, however, has been able to successfully skirt any criticisms of her administration by playing the gender card to her advantage, which has made it difficult to mobilize public support to effect change in Liberia.
Because she is not Presidents Tolbert, Doe and Taylor, whom are mostly blamed for some of the country’s problems, Sirleaf has also cleverly cajoled some in Liberia and the international community to continue to give her time to make the major change her administration supposedly has embarked upon.
The Liberian legislature, as usual are of no help to make Liberia a better place to live and do business; and continues to be incompetent and spineless, by allowing Sirleaf to have her way in running the country like an inheritance from a Grandparent.
By speaking out, Leymah Gbowee was able to successfully rally the progressive anti-Sirleaf crowd that sincerely wants genuine political change and prosperity in Liberia. By coming out this late to speak out against the Sirleaf administration, however, sends a mixed message to those that are unsure of her commitment to political, economic and social justice in Liberia.
Calling Ellen Johnson Sirleaf out publicly for naked corruption and shameless nepotism in her administration is long overdue. And as the saying goes, however, it is “better late than never.”
With a Nobel Peace Prize under her belt, Leymah Gbowee is in a better position to influence policies and make a difference in Liberia. But can she?