It was as typical March morning in the year 2003, I was a middle-schooler headed to school riding in the backseat of my father’s SUV. As we reached a place in the eastern suburbs of Monrovia known to locals as the “fish market,” we noticed a crowd of women, in the range of two to four hundred, dressed like the archetypal “market women” as they are colloquially called. Despite this common look, there was a good omen about those women that struck passersby. They were all attired in white t-shirts and skirts made of lappa (a high-quality hand-woven West African fabric). I immediately wondered about the rationale behind the women’s gathering. At that time, Liberia, my home country was under dictatorial rule, therefore, the women couldn’t have been there protesting. Apropos, protests were rare in the nation. Nobody dare attempted such, so why were they really gathered there? For next few weeks, this became a common sighting. By then I had come to the realization that the women had been mobilized by an organization to pray for peace.
Weeks turned to months but every morning they still made it their duty to head out in the open field to pray for peace in Liberia. Despite their prayers, it became known that another warring faction had joined the revolution in an effort to overthrow the nation’s dictator president Charles Taylor. Forces loyal to Taylor were diminishing as the rebels closed in on the capital. Then in a totally unexpected move, Taylor agreed to attend peace talks in Ghana, held by former Nigerian leader Abdulsalami Abubakar . How did such thing happen? Who’d convinced him to make such bold move? In addition to him being ill-advised, Taylor was the one of the least emotional figures anyone could ever come across. But the fact of the matter was he had agreed. It later emerged that Taylor had been pressured into attending that conference by none other than the market women. Match-point women of Liberia, consistency had paid off. So the conference went ahead as planned. However, the various warlords and political leaders were still struggling to find a common ground.
Meanwhile on home soil, the war was in full swing. The rebels had taken control of a third of the country. They seized the national seaport and cut all supply of food to the municipal area. That was when the struggles of war finally hit me. My daily meals were reduced fourfold. We woke up daily to shelling, we felt constant trepidation. At certain intervals, we’d all race to our radios to listen to the latest development from the peace conference. Even our pet dogs would be attentive. It became exasperating, with no signs of an agreement. To make matters worse, Taylor decided to take to the airwaves and make an utterance that’d prolong the crisis. He called on all of the forces loyal to him to keep fighting and not give up. Even though it became clear that they had limited amount of ammo and even less manpower, Taylor sought to prove that he wouldn’t go down easily. How could a man who had been elected by the people 6 years earlier subject them to suffering all because of his selfish motive? Hundreds of innocent citizens had already been killed as a result of the battles. Then the peace talks reached a standstill, the warlords were hesitant about reach an agreement. In a move that’d change the course of history, the women of Liberia stepped in again. Locking the doors to the hall in which the conference was held, they took the warlords hostage and threatened to rip off their clothes if an agreement wasn’t reached to bring the war to an end. With scores of innocent civilians getting caught up in the crossfire between Taylor’s forces and the rebels, an intervention was needed. This came timely in the shape of a certain West African leader. Olusegun Obasanjo,( his name will remain imbued in my heart even to the afterlife); Using his influence as the leader of West Africa’s superpower, Nigeria, Obasanjo jetted into Monrovia along with a few other African leaders and convinced Taylor to step down. He even granted the tyrant hospitality in Nigeria.
On August 11, 2003, Taylor handed over power to his vice-president during a ceremony in which he publicly expressed mea culpa. He then fled to exile in Nigeria. One week later, the Liberian Civil war came to an official conclusion with the signing of the Accra Comprehensive Peace Accord. A decade has passed since us as citizens of Liberia decided to put our differences apart and put the nation’s interests first. The path to reconciliation has been abyssal and abysmal but one thing that lingers in the minds of Liberians is the fact that war creates more wounds than it heals. Peace? YES!! War? NO, Never again!! War is not the answer.
As we celebrate a decade of peace in Liberia, let us all remember the struggles and sacrifices of the women of Liberia. Let us be thankful to God Almighty for guiding them to meticulously assess the plight of the people which inspired their actions. Let us be reminded that Liberia is all we have, therefore we should work in the best interest of our country. We must continue to strive for inner peace so that it can be reflected on the outside. For my generation, the detritus of the Liberian civil war served as a plaything. It’d be more rewarding if subsequent generations of Liberian kids knew nothing but peace. Liberians, Peace is a choice, we must pray for each other and remember that we are all children of God. Let us imagine a peaceful world as change begins with a dream. Let’s practice forgiveness, we can remember the past but turn to the future. We must speak truth; using passion and compassion. Let us value diversity, celebrate differences and things shared. Regardless of tribal backgrounds, we are all Liberians. We must build fairness and give a voice to those who have none. Finally, let us teach nonviolence and oppose violence wherever it is seen. LIBERIANS, let us LIVE PEACE as Jesus did, for it is a choice. At each small turn CHOOSE PEACE.