Over the past few weeks, against the backdrop of a military coup in Niger and political violence in Zimbabwe, former President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has expressed why now is such a critical time to collectively promote peace on the continent. She underscored the importance of women as peacekeepers, and their essential role in ensuring that peace can be sustained before, during, and well after the polls are closed.
In a sitdown with renowned journalist Bernard Avle on Citi TV’s ‘Point of View’ program in Ghana, Madam Sirleaf spoke about the danger of political coups, untangling why they can set communities and countries back decades:
“Coups have never solved any problem in Africa. What the acclamation or justification is, the results based on empirical evidence is that coups lead to devastation, it leads to deaths, it leads to destruction and sets a country back – and my country Liberia is an example.”
Madam Sirleaf also acknowledged the efforts of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), reaffirming her support for their authority to mediate peaceful negotiations:
“ECOWAS has been a very strong institution trying to respond to anyone that attempts to take power without going through the proper means, and we hope all our leaders will commit to ensuring democracy.”
The recent political violence in Zimbabwe in the lead up to the country’s general elections in August has sent shockwaves through the country and internationally. Reports of harassment and violence must be a wakeup call for all political candidates to stand in solidarity to protect human rights.
Africa’s continued development depends on citizens’ constitutional rights being upheld and their rightful participation in election processes without repercussions or fear for their wellbeing. Violence and corruption in political environments have also disproportionately deterred women from political engagement, limiting their ability to run for office, campaign, or vote.
Underscoring the power of women’s leadership in advocating for transparency and a fair process, Madam Sirleaf further highlighted that community leaders, campaigners, and political candidates all play an important role. In Zimbabwe, Amujae Leaders Fadzayi Mahere and Joanah Mamombe and in Liberia, Cornelia Kruah-Togba and Kula Fofana are using their campaign platforms to advocate for a commitment to peace.
Other Liberian women leaders, including fellow Liberian Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Leymah Gbowee, echoed Madam Sirleaf’s call for peaceful elections and democratic governance ahead of the country’s general elections this October, while promoting women’s participation in the political sphere. Last week, the Liberian Women’s Peace Summit for Peaceful 2023 Elections—organized by the Gbowee Peace Foundation Africa in collaboration with the EJS Center—was held in Monrovia, bringing together women from a variety of backgrounds and political affiliations to engage in non-partisan discussions on critical challenges surrounding peaceful elections. Ms. Gbowee stressed the importance of women leaders coming together to pave the way this year, and in the decades to come:
“Our goal is to provide a cross-segment of Liberian women with the peace to consult, reflect, and strategize pathways to ensuring peaceful elections in 2023”
Participants in the summit explored issues faced in particular by women in the political sphere, such as a heightened likelihood of personal attacks, and challenges around balancing work and childcare, and lack of representation. They agreed that political candidates themselves have a major responsibility to promote transparency throughout the electoral process.
The summit resulted in the signing of the Liberian Women’s Peace Manifesto on August 17, 2023, outlining the women leaders’ aspirations. The manifesto will be translated into local languages and distributed across 30 different media outlets across Liberia’s 15 counties to promote the message far and wide.