On October 9th, the day before the presidential election in Liberia, hundreds of women marched to make one last statement before the country’s leadership was turned over to a man. They marched to keep Liberia at peace during the elections.
President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf was the first democratically-elected female president in all of Africa. She took her position in 2006, winning the first election since the country’s civil war, which lasted 14 years. The civil war began in 1980, when Master Sergeant Samuel Doe overthrew the government, and in retaliation, former government minister Charles Taylor began an uprising to overthrow Doe. Rebel groups formed on top of that, and widespread rapes and killing ensued.
1.5M women survived the war, but were left with horrifying memories of their family and friends being raped and murdered. Men were blamed for the state of the country after the war, and once Sirleaf joined the running in the 2005 election, activists like Bernice Freeman rallied the women of the country behind Sirleaf, urging them to register and vote.
Sirleaf is Harvard-educated and had a great deal of government experience, as opposed to her running mate George Weah, who had no college education, but was an accomplished athlete. Weah was in the presidential running in 2005, and returned this year, along with Sirleaf’s estranged vice-president Joseph Boakai, lawyer Charles Brumskine and former Coca-Cola executive Alexander Cummings.
Last week, the male-dominated senate moved to amend a rape law that made rape a non-bailable offense. Unsure of what the new president will do about this proposed change, the women of Liberia are living in fear of what is to come after the elections. At the women’s march, they wore shirts that said, “Remember Our Past” and held banners that read, “Don’t Touch Our Peace.”
“We’re giving the country back to them and we don’t know what they’re going to do with it,” said activist Ansahta Garnett. “It’s almost like they are going to reverse everything we’ve done.”
Sirleaf has not had a perfect term. The country still struggles with unemployment, government corruption, and a healthcare system that was destroyed after the Ebola epidemic, which lasted from 2014 to 2015. However, she did manage to bring back electricity and running water to most of the country and build roads that allow citizens to travel easier. Most importantly, she has kept the country war-free.
Weah technically won this year’s election, but with only 38.4 percent of the vote. The election rules dictate, however, that if no candidate receives more than half of the vote, the decision will be made after a “runoff” with the runner-up. In this case, the runner-up is Boakai, who won only 28.8 percent of the vote.
Although Weah chose a woman as his running-mate, that woman happens to be Jewel Howard Taylor, the ex-wife of Charles Taylor, one of the instigators of the 1989 civil war. Jewel Taylor is said to have vowed to put Charles Taylor’s previous “agenda back on the table.” The followers of Weah and Boakai fight constantly, and people have been hospitalized over these fights.
On October 29th, it was reported that the runoff election, which was scheduled for November 7th, will be postponed due to the belief that Sirleaf tampered with the election results. It is still unknown if these accusations are true, and the women of Liberia anticipate that the violence will ensure after the final results of the election.