I have a subscription to Essence magazine, an American women’s affairs magazine. Whenever I received it, the first thing I do is check the book column of Patrick Henry Bass, one of the Senior Editors. I found this book on his list one day. I must go back to my previous issues to check which month it was. All I know is that it was a couple of months before she received the Nobel peace prize. Prior to that, I knew Leymah Gbowee because she appeared at CNN INTERNATIONAL show Amanpour in 2009.
As usual, a word about the author. This is her official biography, I think it summarized pretty well who she is and what she has achieved. I reproduced it here for the benefit of this blog’s reader.
“Leymah Gbowee is a liberian peace and women’s rights activist. Leymah Gbowee is the Newsweek Daily Beast’s Africa columnist. As war ravaged Liberia, Leymah Gbowee realized it is women who bear the greatest burden in prolonged conflicts. She began organizing Christian and Muslim women to demonstrate together, founding Liberian Mass Action for Peace and launching protests and a sex strike. Gbowee’s part in helping to oust Charles Taylor was featured in the documentary Pray the Devil Back to Hell. Gbowee is a single mother of six, including one adopted daughter, and is based in Accra, Ghana, where she is the executive director of the Women Peace and Security Network (WIPSEN-Africa).”
The book started with Leymah telling us all about her early life and happy childhood with her family in Liberia. Liberia sounds like a really nice place before the war. Although, they were not living in the city, they still had a pretty good life. Contrary to common belief, life in rural Africa or in the outskirt of the city can be pretty awesome.
When war broke out in Liberia, she had to leave for a refugee camp outside of her country. She, her mother and siblings manage to go to Ghana, leaving her father behind because of his work. Life in a refugee camp can be really gruesome. Resources are scarce and people keep arriving from the war-torn country. She came back to Liberia years later, when a cease fire was announced, only to find a devastated country on the brink of collapse. For some reasons best described in the book, she got involved with an older man and before she knew it, she was pregnant, dropped out of school and moved in with him. From that moment on, her life went from bad to worst. She ended up being abused physically, emotionally and sexually.
I enjoy reading this book because it was so skillfully written. You almost feel like you are reading a novel. However, one must remember that this is a true story. It is so hard to believe that the character in this book is the same person as the one we all know.
One could say she was in a poverty trap. She did not finished school, hence she did not and could not dream of earning an income or of walking out on her abusing husband. Then, she had five young children, which makes it even harder. The fact that she was able to take back her life in a context of civil war is quite remarkable. It was quite an emotional read. It got me thinking that other women too must be suffering the same faith, but unlike her, they are not able to escape it. It is a sobering thought.
Her story made me think that Malcolm Gladwell was really right . In his famous book Outliers, part of his theory for success goes like this: to be an outlier, you have to be presented an opportunity to prove yourself and to be at the right time, place and moment to received that opportunity. Of course, they are other factors but this one is a defining one.
Once she liberated herself, she became a leader and a community organizer. At that point, Liberia has been on war for more than a decade. Leymah and her group of women organize sit-ins in front of the hotel where rebels and the government held talks to put pressure on them. They stay day and night, rain and sunshine. She even instigate a sex strike in the country. A documentary was made on the women of Liberia who help stop the war.
They are a couple of reasons why Leymah Gbowee is an inspiration and a hero to me and why you should read the book. She is a Strong, Committed, Single-minded and successful african woman who came from a war-torn country and was able to succeed without leaving her country. I highlighted african women, because we are always pictured as being weak, ill or ,well, dead. Dead as in “15% of african women died every year….“. On the other side of my argument, she almost died of malaria, so they are not totally wrong. In any case, I figured that if I have got 1% of her resilience and motivation, I will achieve a lot in this life and in the next too.
If you haven’t read this book yet, I hope I convinced you to do so. Get ready to be inspired
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