Immorality, Lack of Leadership, Patronage Politics -Gbowee Outlines Country’s Dilemma

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The rising incidence of rape in the country has of late claimed wider attention, with many calling for tougher punishment against perpetrators. Former Nobel laureate Leymah Gbowee who caused a huge stir when she served as national orator at Liberia’s last Independence Day celebration, has honed in not only on the escalating incidence of rape in the country, but attributes the scourge to Liberia being a culturally sick society where people in authority and power exploit young girls and women due to poverty.
“We have a culture of immorality. Sex is a menace in our country. From the church to the mosque, to the House of Representatives to the Senate, to the Executive to the Judiciary, sex is a horrible culture in Liberia. They abuse little girls for peanuts.
This is not something that just started today. It is almost like a cultural system, a cultural structure. People use it to exploit others based on the poverty. The nation needs cultural change, systemic change. The war only brought our dirtiness to the surface. Why should someone rape five years old? We have a sick culture. We have the ones that rape and the ones that prey on young girls. It’s time for people to name and shame. But you see, it more difficult for the criminals to indict themselves,” Madam Gbowee lamented.
Stating her position further on the rape issue, Madam Gbowee said rape is just not a Liberian problem.
“It is a problem that is consuming the entire world. I serve as one of the advisors to the UN Secretary General on Mediation, and we were recently on a call with the Secretary General of the United Nations, and that was a matter that many of us raised. Even when he called for ceasefire at the beginning of the corona crisis, he also called for the protection of women because it was very clear from the onset of the lockdown in many countries that there was a huge issue with sexual and gender based violence against women. And so it is a serious crisis around the world. What makes Liberia’s case extremely difficult is that we do not have systems and structures to address the issue. In other countries there are hotlines that women can call to get help. Unfortunately for Liberia, we have reports of people being assaulted or raped and abused also while in police custody. And so, it’s concerning,” the founder of the Leymah Gbowee Foundation stated.
When quizzed on whether a national rape hotline is implementable in Liberia, Madam Gbowee said anything is possible with political will, the partnerships, and with the right institutions.
“Unfortunately for our country, everything is politicized. So if you are not linked to a particular group, regardless of how well you do your work, people will not pay attention to you or you may not be one of those groups that gets called for implementation. But I think with the will, we can make those things happen,” she stated.
But hotlines, she noted, are not just what could help in the fight against rape. “We have a rape law in Liberia. There is a need for us to review the law because right now as it is, judges are using their discretion in sentencing. There is a need for it be stronger,” Madam Gbowee averred.
Poverty, Madam Gbowee noted, is also contributing to apathy towards the prosecution of rape. “Most times, when people’s children are raped or someone is raped, you go to the police station, they cite logistics, they cite this, and if you have to weigh between seeking medical attention for your child or for your family, paying for police sheet, or paying for gas for their car or for the motorbike to take the police to the crime scene, most people try to weigh it and they decide to use their minimal resources to cater to their relative,” claimed Madam Gbowee.
“The other thing is, some families decide to settle out of court. So this whole divine justice, or let’s talk it family way, these are all issues that are in play as we discuss the whole rape scenario in our country,” she stated.
Gbowee said while rape is a heinous crime, she supports life imprisonment without the possibility of parole because she doesn’t subscribe to the taking of life.
Rape, she said, could be minimized through massive campaign and awareness, community sensitization and most of all, political will from all three branches of government.
Leadership and Governance
As with the 2019 Independence Day oration, Madam Gbowee again spoke truth to power and the nation regarding the issue of leadership and governance.
Gbowee lamented what she saw as lack of leadership on the part of government during a serious pandemic.
“There is no leadership. How many times have we heard the president’s voice? In this time of global pandemic, the president must speak. During the Ebola crisis, President Sirleaf was speaking to her people. World leaders were speaking to their people. Where is our president? Where is President Weah’s voice? Leadership matters,” said Madam Gbowee.
Recalling her 2019 Indy Day message, Gbowee said people used her message instead to throw jibes at each other politically.
“That speech was not Leemah’s mind. I was speaking the minds of the Liberian people. It is true that our country is divided in three parts. For us to be stronger, we need to bridge all of that divide. Immediately after that speech they started insulting me. Surrogates of the government were on social media. They called me a prostitute,” she said.
“Our country continues to work on partisan basis. But there are some Liberians with brilliant minds who just want to live their lives, do their work and be Liberians. Unfortunately for us, sadly for us, the wheels of our country turn repeatedly on patronage politics. Whoever is prepared to lick the boots of those in charge, whether you are incompetent to the teeth, those are the people they will give the job to,” Madam Gbowee lamented.
“It’s time to stop the politics of our stomach. People who are hopping from one political party to another are the ones that are damaging Liberia. The country is not functioning the way she should function,” she said.
“People in the legislature sign documents and go on social media to say, we don’t know what is happening. The executive is at loggerheads with the legislature. We have a serious pandemic happening,” the civil society leader stated, predicting also that government surrogates would immediately attack her for speaking her mind.
“Bugs are coming to hit at me because I am a light. I know that they are coming to get at me.
Rapid Fire Retorts
True to Madam Gbowee’s prediction, Deputy Information Minister Eugene Fahngon fired back at her in a social media post, stating that unlike the global platform she utilized during the occasion of the 2019 Independence Day National Oration, she was now reduced to a microphone to lampoon government.
“Leymah Gbowee, you will not gain political traction at the expense of this government. Try boosting your low self-esteem and self-control,” one of Minister Fahngon’s post read.
Joining the fray, former Liberty Party stalwart Benjamin Sanvee stamped on Minister Fahngon to support Madam Gbowee.
“It’s sad someone like Eugene Fahngon who is supposed to be spokesperson to this government, to go and insult Leymah Gbowee. The lady was speaking sense. Talking about leadership, the symbolism of leadership, things that we all need to hear constantly. I know his boss man President Weah sent him,” Sanvee stated.
“In any serious government, will a Eugene Fahngon be working? But we don’t blame him, we blame ourselves for pledging our support to them two weeks to the ballots,” Mr. Sanvee fired back.