Burgs Sunday book review
Reviewed by Rev. Linda Mitchell Motley of Floyd.
“This is not a traditional war story. It is about an army of women in white standing up when no one else would – unafraid, because the worst things imaginable had already happened to us. It is about how we found the moral clarity, persistence and bravery to raise our voices against war and restore sanity to our land. You have not heard it before, because it is an African woman’s story, and our stories rarely are told. I want you to hear mine.”
This excerpt from the foreword to Mighty Be Our Powers introduces the reader to Leymah Gbowee’s story, an account of one woman’s journey from single motherhood to leader of a national movement during Liberia’s horrific civil war of 1999 to 2003.
Gbowee’s family had endured Liberia’s first civil war in the early to mid-1990’s, which ended with the election of Charles Taylor as president of a fractured country. Following the election, discontent simmered throughout the nation as rebel groups sought a way to remove Taylor from office. It was into this climate that Gbowee and her family returned to Liberia from their exile in Ghana. Once home, the family was working to rebuild their lives when Gbowee, then 19 years old, discovered she was pregnant with her first child. In the next several years, Gbowee had three more children and found herself and her family fleeing from one town to another in order to escape the bloodshed around them. Gbowee took whatever work she could find to support herself and her family, but life on the run provided no opportunities for long-term or fulfilling employment.
Gbowee, her family and friends joined millions of other Liberians who had experienced the trauma of war and had seen their loved ones killed before their eyes, often not being able to distinguish the allegiance of the soldiers who did the killing.
Understanding that the war was being fought primarily by men, women in Liberia began to share among themselves their feelings of powerlessness, anger and fear. Gbowee suggested that a group of women gather to express their frustrations over the war and to pray together. From those early gatherings grew a movement called the Liberian Mass Action for Peace, a coalition of Christian and Muslim women. As their numbers grew into the thousands, so did the women’s determination to end the fighting that had decimated their lives and their country.
Gbowee found herself the unlikely leader of a movement that had a profound effect on those who waged war. Through peaceful protests, prayer sessions and wily confrontations with leaders on both sides of the war, including President Taylor, the women were at the forefront of the peace process which eventually did end the war and sent Taylor into exile.
The unusual tactics of Gbowee and her army of women and their commitment to peace captured the attention of the world. Gbowee has become a highly respected author and speaker and has shared her ideas with other countries in conflict. In “Mighty Be Our Powers,” Gbowee is unflinchingly honest, sharing her personal and professional failures as well as her successes.
She writes about her own demons, some created by war and some by her own actions. She tells a remarkable story of being entrapped both by domestic violence and the war raging around her and finding the strength to push back at the forces that threatened to destroy the life she, her children, and her countrywomen deserved.
Leymah Gbowee experienced the sorrow of seeing her childhood dreams crushed by the brutality of war, yet still found the courage to be her country’s most prominent voice for peace. In 2011, she was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize and to this day, she continues her peace-building mission throughout the world. “Mighty Be Our Powers” provides an unforgettable look at the unspeakable horrors of war and the courage and passion of one woman who believed in the power of women to change the course of a nation.
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