By: Abdulkhalig Alhassan
Against all odds, last week Africa had good news to tell.
Two African women from Liberia have shared the Nobel Prize for peace. The outstanding news emerged amid the familiar news of famine, civil wars, corruption and political instability. Both women, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and Leymah Gbowee, were awarded the Nobel Prize jointly with Arab Spring activist Tawakel Karman from Yemen. They are recognized as peace activists and non-violent campaigners for their role in ending one of the most brutal civil wars in the continent, alongside their struggle to save women and children during the same war.
Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, 72 years old, is the current President of Liberia. She is a veteran politician, having been involved in politics since 1979 when she was appointed as Minister of Finance under the then President, William Tolbert.
Leymah Roberta Gbowee, 39 years old, is an African peace activist responsible for organizing a peace movement that brought an end to the Second Liberian Civil War in 2003. This led to the election of Ellen Johnson Sirleaf in Liberia, the first African nation with a female president. Through efforts to stop the war, Gbowee came with brilliant ideas to rally the public. She gathered women from different religious backgrounds to pray publicly to stop the war. Also, she went further by calling for a sex strike. By doing that, she convinced women to ban sex with their men unless they put pressure on warlords to stop fighting.
The ultra-patriarchal culture that prevailed in most African societies is responsible for the appalling situation of women. The glimpse of hope that once came with the post-colonial movement’s manifestos, especially their promises of progress and gender equality, had ended in delusion. The liberation movements’ comrades of yesterday have turned on each other as bitter rivals destroying everything in their way. The theories of Pan-Africanism which have told us once about the possibility of authentic and modern values stemming from African culture, produced nothing rather than “macho culture’; the culture of tyranny, repression, brutality and the degradation of women.
Jacob Zuma, the South Africa President- the most developed and influential country in the continent- acts as perfect evidence of the bankruptcy of so-called “Authentic African values”. The man couldn’t find a good example in these ‘values’ to impress the world than polygamy! He doesn’t miss any opportunity to show off his three wives whenever he goes out publicly. Meanwhile, he fails in tackling any of South Africa’s chronic problems. Poverty, over-unemployment among blacks, injustice, asymmetrical distribution of resources, crime, and corruption among the African National Congress (ANC) are the features of the country’s politics. Robert Mugabe is another example. The Marxist guerrilla fighter of Zimbabwe has ended up being a brutal tyrant. The current Zimbabwe is merely a big detention centre for its people. Also, in Sudan, while the country is falling apart, its Islamist regime is very busy flogging women with the excuse of immodesty.
African women have endured all the consequences of political failure since liberation. They have suffered lack of skills, unequal opportunities for jobs and education as well as over-reproduction. They pay the painful price of what men do in their society. Whenever a civil war broke out or political instability occurred, African women were left alone to clean up the mess, bring together shattered families and turned out to be the bread winners. Actually this is the main character of current Africa. Whenever you watch or listen to the news there are women suffering with their kids as a result of diseases, famine, or poverty. It is thanks to their courage and wisdom that Africa still exists.
This time the Liberian president gave us a big lesson on how African women could lead and gave hope for the continent’s peaceful future. Her efforts haven’t been confined to just cleaning up what the civil war left, instead, these efforts have gone far to build and develop one of the poorest countries in the world. Since her election in 2005, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has succeeded in building a strong and stable political democratic system in a country that has just emerged from the ashes of a sequence of civil wars.
Since then, she has improved the economy, reduced the international debt to 95%, and has brought sustainable peace to the society by creating the Truth and Reconciliation Commission which it is investigating the country’s 20 years of civil wars. She has also adopted a policy of free education and health insurance for all people.
It is no surprise then that she has been praised and rewarded from various International institutions. In 2010, Newsweek listed her as one of the ten best leaders in the world, while Time counted her among the top ten female leaders. That same year, The Economist called her “arguably the best President the country has ever had”.
This is the only African female president, and so far, she has done what the whole of male African politician couldn’t do. I think this is a very strong sign to re-think Africa’s’ politics, where women can give us hope and an alternative for a better future.