Reconciliation in West Africa

Nobel Laureate Lehmah Gbowee and Marion Broome, dean of nursing. The School of Nursing is working with the University or Liberia to rebuild the university’s nursing and public health programs, whose facilities and programs were devastated by decades of civil war.

“In most of our communities today, people are still looking over the heads of women and looking beyond for experts to come and reconcile their communities,” Lehmah Gbowee said recently to a packed room at the IUPUI McKinney School of Law.  “Women have the capacity.  They understand the context and issues.  They know the stakeholders, and they know in part some of the solutions to their problems.”   

Gbowee, joint recipient of the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize for her efforts in ending civil war in Liberia, related some of the ways women worked for peace in West Africa–from establishing benchmarks to assure that the process did not stall, to making sure that leaders knew when promises were not being kept.  When peacekeepers come from the outside, the peace process “is one size fits all,” Gbowee explained.  They have their formulas and their books, and although relying on local knowledge is highly publicized, it is rarely done.  “One of the ways to hide things from the African people is to bury them in books,” Gbowee said.  And some stories of how peace is accomplished don’t get told, especially the stories of the successes of the women who are part of the affected communities.

Besides the practical and pragmatic advice that only someone on the front lines of the process can give—like making sure that soldiers who give up their guns receive promised payments—women are in tune with a vital component of the reconciliation process, exemplified in the story of the woman who while feeding a wounded soldier, heard the soldier’s admission that he had killed her daughter.  “Was I supposed to stop feeding him?” the woman asked.  Peace can only come, Gbowee suggests, when the answer to that question is “No.”

Gbowee’s presentation can be viewed in its entirety here.  The event had sixteen sponsors representing every part and every constituency of the IUPUI campus.