Congratulations, Madame Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and Sister Leymah Gbowee. We are proud of your accomplishments and welcome your recognition as new Nobel Peace Prize winners.
The Norwegian Nobel Committee was pitch-perfect in its selection of President Johnson Sirleaf and human rights activist Leymah Gbowee as co-recipients of the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize, along with Yemeni activist Tawakkul Karman. In recognizing the Liberian women, the committee brought the right focus on the personal fortitude exemplified by the President, and skilled collective mobilization practiced by Ms. Gbowee, that are required to free a country from a legacy of conflict.
Their prize cites them “for their non-violent struggle for the safety of women and for women’s rights to full participation in peace-building work.” We would go further: President Johnson Sirleaf’s and Ms. Gbowee’s courageous and tireless efforts liberated an entire nation, allowing young girls and boys to live in peace for the first time in nearly two decades that spanned two civil wars. Ms. Gbowee fearlessly organized mothers, daughters, and sisters across ethnic and religious lines to confront the agents, rapists, and predators of war in the streets of Monrovia and in the grand halls for peace talks in Ghana. President Johnson Sirleaf lived her words that if your ambitions don’t scare you, you probably aren’t aiming high enough. Her ambitions for Liberian peace took her from a squalid jail cell in Monrovia to the summit of power as the first female president of an African country.
The President and Ms. Gbowee battled to bring peace to Liberia, and that struggle as personally experienced by both women, was dangerous and violent, with constant threats of assault, imprisonment, and attacks against their humanity and dignity. Their persistence is a lesson to us all. They believed and worked when others with less vision and faith could not see beyond Liberia’s dismal state. I recall many meetings in my office at the National Security Council when the President would say that Liberia could and would turnaround and advocated for greater U.S. government and international attention to the fate of her country and the Liberian people. I also recall meeting a delegation of the Women of Liberia Mass Action for Peace with their white t-shirts and bold actions to force their way into peace talks to hold the warlords of Liberia to account.
At St. Catherine University’s School of Social Work and at Carnegie Mellon University’s Heinz College of Public Policy, we have used the Liberia case, particularly the life example of both women, to teach to our students the power of women as leaders and the force of grassroots organizing in changing social and political structures to bring about greater justice and equality. Now with their award of the Nobel Peace Prize, we can show our students that though the daily struggle for peace is not glamorous, that following one’s passion and beliefs is the sure path to great achievement. Young girls (and boys) throughout Africa and beyond will find inspiration in this year’s Nobel Peace Prize.
As President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf stated, the award belongs to all Liberians and reflects the rise of the nation as a whole. As the spotlight shines on its first Nobel Laureates, Liberia is restored to a place of global respect and honor.
About the Authors
Jendayi E. Frazer is Distinguished Service Professor at Carnegie Mellon University and former U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs and is an Africa.com featured blogger.
Valandra is Assistant Professor in the School of Social Work at St. Catherine University/University of St. Thomas.