Tensions in Liberia as President is awarded Nobel prize

By Henry Gombya

Liberian President Johnson-Sirleaf who has just won, with two other women, the Nobel Peace prize.

Tension is rising among opposition political parties in the Liberian capital Monrovia after President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf was awarded a Nobel peace prize barely four days before a general election is due to take place in the country. In a surprise announcement Friday morning, The Norwegian Nobel Committee awarded this year’s peace prize to President Johnson-Sirleaf, her fellow Liberian Leymah Gbowee, a peace activist and a Yemen peace activist Tawakul Karman.

Awarding the peace prize jointly to the three women, the Nobel committee said the two Liberian women and their Yemeni counterpart had been recognized for their ‘non-violent struggle for the safety of women and women’s rights to full participation in peace-building work’. It added that the world could not achieve democracy and lasting peace unless women obtained the same opportunities as men to influence developments at all levels of society.

But the countries main opposition leader Winston Tubman and former World Player of the Year George Weah who is to fight the Liberian elections as deputy to Tubman, begged to differ. They accused the Nobel Committee of practicing ‘provocative intervention’ only days before the country goes to the polls.

Tubman was quoted by Reuters as saying: “She does not deserve it. She is a warmonger. She brought war on our country and spoiled the country. Now she has said she will run again and on the eve of the election the Nobel Prize Committee gives her this prize which we think is a provocative intervention within our politics. His running mate George Weah said: “She won it but I don’t know for what.”

While President Johnson-Sirleaf is credited with having calmed tensions in Liberia created by the ruthless leadership of Samuel Doe and Charles Taylor, the latter now fighting for his life in The Hague where he is charged with war crimes, and the former having been bludgeoned to death by Taylor. Mr Weah told newsmen in Monrovia that all Liberians are tired of her leadership and inability to reconcile the people. He added that Liberians will go ahead and dump her from leadership when the general election takes place next Tuesday.

Those who know Liberia before she took power in the 2006 general election say she has gone a long way in restoring the country’s dignity among world nations after the wars that led to the overthrow of William Tolbert under whom she served as Finance Minister (1979-1980). The first and only democratically-elected African female head of state, Johnson-Sirleaf welcomed her prize by saying she accepted it on behalf of all Liberians.

Her political opponents accuse her of going back on her word after promising during the 20095 general election campaign that if elected, she would serve for only one term in office. She won that year’s election after beating Weah who had forced her into a run-off election. Johnson-Sirleaf survived an attempt in 2009 by a truth and reconciliation committee she had set up when it recommended that she be banned from holding any political office for 30 years for her previous support for Charles Taylor during the first Liberian Civil War. The ban was rescinded after she apologized to the country for her earlier support for Taylor.

The Nobel Committee denied it had played politics when it named President Johnson-Sirleaf among this year’s three recipients. Committee Chairman Thorbjorn Jagland said: “We cannot look to that domestic consideration. We have to look at Alfred Nobel’s will which says the prize should go to the person that has done the most for peace in the world.” In 2009, shortly after he had become the first African American to become US President, Barack Obama was as baffled as many other Americans when the Nobel Committee awarded him the US$1.5million prize.

Political analysts believe the award will bolster President Johnson-Sirleaf’s bid for a second term in office next week. A 55-year old Liberian civil engineer was quoted by Reuters as saying: “Since she came to power, she has changed the image of Liberia and shown that we are peaceful people.” But in the same breath, the news agency quoted a 48-year old Liberian teacher who quipped: “She has not created peace in Liberia or improved the situation of women. If she had there would not be all this rape going on around the country.”

This year’s Nobel Prize winners have brought the number of women who have won the coveted prize to 15 since the prize was set up by Mr Nobel in 1901. Out of these, only three come from Africa with the late Kenyan environmentalist Prof Wangari Maathai having become the first African woman ever to win it.

Commenting on the news that she had won, Gbowee, 32, who has for long campaigned for the rights of women and against rape, organizing Christian and Muslim women in a challenge to then Liberian warlords, said: “ Everything I do is an act of survival for myself, for the group of people that I work with. If you are surviving, you don’t take your survival strategies or tactics as anything of a Nobel.”

The third recipient, Yemeni’s Karman, a mother of three said: “I am very happy about this prize. I give the prize to the youth of revolution in Yemen and the Yemeni people.” A journalist and member of the Islamic Party Islah, Karman also heads Women Journalists Without Chains, a human rights group. She becomes the first Arab woman to win the peace prize. Dubbed ‘Iron Woman’, ‘the Mother of Revolution’ and the ‘Spirit of the Yemeni Revolution’, Karman is hailed for having brought the attention of the world to what was going on in Sana’a.

South Africa’s former archbishop, peace campaigner and himself a recipient of the prize in 1984, Archbishop Desmond Tutu welcomed this year’s winners. On Johnson-Sirleaf’s win, Archbishop Tutu said: “She deserves it many times over. She brought stability to a place that was going to hell.” U2 musician Bono, who has himself figured in peace prize speculation in previous years, called Johnson-Sirleaf an ‘extraordinary woman, a force of nature and now she has the world recognize her in this great, great, great way.


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