Sirleaf and Gbowee Light up Africa

Published on 9th October 2011

H.E. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and Leymah Gbowee   Photo courtesy
The infamous assertion that Africa is a dark continent is slowly, but surely, fading away. Even the colonialists who coined it are now doing a Chinese kow tow towards Africa after the Chinese came into the big picture. The business they used to rule is no longer under their control. During colonial times Africa’s resources were plundered by those thieves through their headmen they called governors who represented the mother thief. 

Now that Africa no longer has white governors, at least, slowly, she is recovering. Though most of our black head prefects are no different from former colonial governors, or are even worse, a few of them have already seen the light. We now have a promising president in Zambia who answers to the name Michael Cobra Sata. This gentleman recently fired a corrupt anti-graft Czar and reclaimed a bank that was sold dubiously by his predecessor. At least things in Zambia are now tweaking after a decade of stinking corruption. 

Another good thing, two ladies in Africa have won the Nobel Prize this year. These are Madam Ellen Johnson Sirleaf; president of Liberia and only female president in Africa; and Leymah Gbowee, also a Liberian. who organized Christians and Muslims to take on former Liberian tyrant Charles Taylor who is in custody at The Hague waiting to be counted. 

Sirleaf and Gbowee are becoming second and third African women recipients of this prestigious prize after Kenyan, the late professor Wangari Maathai. It is tragicomic to learn that the duo received the prize at the same time the first African environmentalist and noble laureate was buried. In other words, one can say: the fall of one mugumo tree in Kenya produced two mugumo trees in Liberia. What a coincidence! 

Sirleaf and Gbowee attracted hearts and the minds of the world in different ways.  Sirleaf scores high thanks to her sincerity and transparency. Different from other women who want to be empowered through being favoured, she fought her way to the top. Sirleaf is different from those feminists you hear some dictators priding themselves with. She is different from cheerleaders appointed for being weak so that the strong men can use them to ruin their countries under the cover of democratic changes and female empowerment. 

Sirleaf formed the Truth Commission to reconcile Liberia. One of the challenges she faced was the role she played in supporting Taylor. She did not deny or cover it up. She admitted to have helped Taylor at the time he was still sane fighting against another megalomaniac Samuel Doe. This made logic of course for it was done under necessity.  interestingly, Sirleaf made her apology and moved forward.
Another nugget that catapulted Sirleaf to fame is her commitment to peace. This, she shares with Gbowee who organized Christians and Muslims, especially, women to fight for peace through forcing Taylor to relinquish power and be indicted. 

On transparency, how many African presidents can do that? When Kenya formed the Truth Commission everybody applauded it. Ask President Mwai Kibaki who spent taxpayers’ money to form and fund this commission, the achievement of the same. Nobody knows what Kenya achieved through this commission headed by a very progressive and brilliant human right lawyer, professor Makau Mutua. Fortunately, the author was in Kenya when this commission was crisscrossing Kenya.
The high and mighty did not like its findings. That is the ugly face of Africa. But again, despite having ugly face, Africa is not a dark continent. How can it be a dark continent while it has Maathai, Sirleaf, Gbowee and many unsung heroines? There are other unsung African heroes in Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) who are bearing the blunt of rape and wars in their area. We still have heroines in Kenya whose husbands are felled by illicit beer everyday. But again, we can not condemn Africa to negative side. 

Tribute ought to be paid to women and girls in Darfur that have been suffering from rape and persecution from the Sudan government for more than a decade. It  is sad that while the world recognizes Africa’s achievement, some African rulers are still in bed with Omar Bashir- the guy that perpetrated genocide and other heinous crimes in Darfur. Likewise, when one must look at Somalia women and girls that are suffering under al-Shabaab atrocities and megalomania tribute needs to be paid to them. Looking at how their babies die in their hands, we need to recognize them even if we are not going to give them the noble prize. But given that 2011’s noble prize is for peace and non-violent resistance, we still can say it belongs to all African women that are suffering especially from civil wars in their countries.

By Nkwazi Mhango

A Canada based Tanzanian and author of Saa Ya Ukombozi

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