Kufungua Mazungumzo


Reading Leyma…..Mightily!

Filed under: Liberia — Jonathan Pajibo @ 6:47 pm

There are many reasons we have for reading the memoirs of some famous and successful people. The  enjoyment and learning we get from reading about their struggles and what it took for them to become famous and successful in their endeavors. Another reason we might read their memoirs is because we can relate what happened in their lives to ours. Finally, the person we are reading about may be a subject of great controversy. In reading the memoir of Leyma Gwobee, a Liberian peace activist, the perils of the Liberian Civil war can be summed up in the 246 pages of  “Mighty Be Our Powers”. For it  is a story of faith, family, lost innocence, heart breaks, devastation, redemption of the spirit, and the salvation of one’s soul.

The opening scene of this memoire is the year 1989, where we find her in church with her family.  At the age of 17, when people at that age are beginning to discovered themselves, Leyma’s world collapsed around her, when Charles Taylor, a Liberian warlord, and his rebel group, NPFL, entered Liberia from Nimba County in the north, from neighboring country Cote D’Ivore, and propelled the nation into a long cruel some civil war. She informed us that she was a  young woman of high ambitions, who found her life entangled in the war; her aspiration of becoming a medical profession dissipating like sand in the hour glass. Her dream deferred, “like a broken wing bird” that lost its ability to fly high above the stars.

Soon after, she and her family managed escaped to a refugee camp in Ghana, along with hundred of thousands of men, women, and children, when the civil war entered its more barbaric state. With a brief intermission in the war, and the election of Charles Taylor to the presidency, peace and calm returned to Liberia, if only for a moment, which enabled her to returned, and begin the process of rebuilding and resuming her studies. While back in Liberia, she trained and began working with displaced women, helping them over come the trauma of the war. The feeling of loneness and despair, couple with the hard times everyone felt from the hardship of war, led her to get involved with a man, seven years her senior. Although the relationship started on loving terms, it soon turned abusive, physically as well as mentally.

She gave birth to his child, even though, he was still legally married to someone else, then like the flow of water, she bored him another one, irrespective of  the disapproval of her parents. Her reason for staying with this man, she writes, is that she “felt trapped” by her growing dependence on him for her subsistence, blinding her to the abuses she received from him. In order to liberate herself from his grip, she began working  a new job helping  traumatized women, which enabled her to take care of her family. Peace in Liberia did not last long, with the onslaught of another rebel group, INPFL, and other splintered groups, like Movement for Democracy in Liberia, the people  found their lives once again interrupted, as fighting broke out again in the country. She once again, left  for Ghana with her kids, this time to lived with her in-laws, who she writes, were not receptive to her, and treated her badly. One day, while her children father was out about town, she packed up her things, and along with her children, escaped back to Liberia, without saying good bye, neither to him or his family. She resumed her worked with  traumatized women, traveling from villages to villages, or in Monrovia. One night, she relates, while asleep, she had a dream in which a voice told her to “organized the women of Liberia”. From this dream, arose  a new woman, and a new spirit of determination, guided by courage and imbued with motivation.

This young girl, who became a mother, before becoming a woman, resolved to do something never before heard of in Liberia, needless to say Africa; she, along with other strong minded women of Liberia, irrespective of their ethnicity, religion, or socio-economic back, initiated a peace protest, with a slogan of: “we want peace, no more war…our children are dying…we want peace…we are tired of suffering…we want peace…we are tired of running…we want peace”, and vowed to continue a non violent protest until the warring faction ceased their fighting, and agreed to a peace agreement. This “Women Movement became so strong, powerful, and successful, it got an audience with than President Charles K. Taylor, and an invite to Ghana, were the warring faction had been convoked to discussed a peace agreement.

One can conclude what happed at the Ghana peace conference made Leyma Gwobee renowned in the international spear of women peace movement. While in Ghana, the Liberian Peace women noticed that those representing the warring factions at the peace conference, had no interest in making peace, in fact, some actually sought to use the war for their own self aggrandizement; so Leyma, lined up her troops, marched to the venue of the conference, and as they say in military terms, secured the perimeters of the conference hall. She tapped on the door and handed General Abdul salami Abu-Bakr of Nigeria a piece of paper that read as followed, “We are holding these delegates, especially the Liberians hostages. They will feel our pain of what our people are feeling at home.” Then a big announcement on the public addressed system, “Distinguished ladies and gentlemen, the peace hall has been seized by General Leyma her troops.”There were no doubt left in the room, the women of Liberia, indeed tired of seeing their husbands murdered, their daughters raped, their home pillage, their sons turned into child soldiers; feed up with the world turning its back on them, came to sent a message that that peace conference would be the last one. Peace was coming to Liberia.

Mighty be Our power is more than a memoire, it is a history of one of the most perilous episode in the dehumanization of a people. In the opinion of this blogger, this is a first class, meticulously written book. Anyone who wishes to understand who Leyma Gwobee, before passing judgment on her, as we Liberians are quick to do, should first have the courage to pick up her memoire and read it. For in reading Mighty be our power, you realize the we all possessed inside ourselves the will to make a difference in everyday life, in our societies, in the world. When the history of Liberia in the closing years of the 20th century is written, it will be one in which Neighbors turned against neighbors, our young people lost all hope, and one in which, our parents and grand parents lost everything they had painstakingly earned over the years. A history which the Liberian people learned, Leyma writes “peace isn’t a moment, it’s a very long process.” This book is a must read for all school age girls in Liberia, to learn that they alone have the keys to empowerment. Mighty be our power will be remember someday as one of the most influential books written by a Liberian. Perhaps, you should pick up your copy now! This is every Liberian redemption song.jp      

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