A Dictator, Vanquished

By Pesta, Abigail | Newsweek, May 7, 2012 | Go to article overview

A Dictator, Vanquished


Pesta, Abigail, Newsweek


Byline: Leymah Gbowee

Charles Taylor is going to jail. Rebuilding life in Liberia.

Charles Taylor is a villain who terrorized, oppressed, and repressed his people. Instead of being a leader, he decided he would be a ruler. When he became president of Liberia in 1997, he had a chance to wash away the gangster attitude of the evil regime that preceded him. Instead, he chose a path of violence, sparking a bloody civil war among the people who had elected him to lead.

Last week, I watched from my bed in the morning as he awaited the verdict in his trial for war crimes in Sierra Leone. Throughout his six-year reign as president of Liberia, he sold illegal arms to a murderous rebel group in Sierra Leone in exchange for blood diamonds. Those rebels were responsible for terrible atrocities in that country's civil war--rape, mass killings, sexual slavery. At the same time, in his own country, he forced tens of thousands of young people to fight in his armies, shattering their lives.

I watched the trial with mixed emotions. Every time Taylor came on the screen, I thought of that saying, "Oh, see how hard the mighty have fallen." I also felt real sorrow when I saw the amputees from Sierra Leone, survivors of war.

When the guilty verdict was handed down, I walked outside and saw a rainbow encircling the sun. Everyone in Monrovia could see it. It was a hot day, 80 or 90 degrees. I don't remember seeing any raindrops fall. I thought, this is a sign. It is over. All is well.

I spent many years fighting for peace in Liberia. I galvanized women to help. We dressed in white and staged demonstrations across the country until we achieved our goal in 2003, ousting Taylor. Now there is a different fight--to rebuild the country.

The government recently asked me to lead a reconciliation initiative in Liberia. Across the country, damaged people are living next to those they once fought. Some are former child soldiers who survived the war, only to come home to be stuck in poverty. All are from different political factions and subgroups. Just a few months ago, during the presidential election that Ellen Johnson Sirleaf won, they were at each other's throats again. …

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