Stronger than the power of guns, warlords, drugs, corruption, and chaos: the power of family, respect, determination, solidarity, and…um, the withholding of sex. It’s good to be reminded, and even better to find this message in a documentary about an African nation.
I’m not going to get the entire history of Liberia right, so I’m not going to try (though did you know it was founded by freed American slaves? How did I miss that in History class?) Suffice it to say that, under President Charles Taylor, Liberia was a violent, drug-addled mess, mired in a civil war in which neither side looked any better than the other, and neither side seemed capable of a decisive victory. 12 year olds toted guns and shot up heroin. Bleak is the word.
And then the Christian women of Liberia decided to do something about it. And the Muslim women of Liberia decided to join them. They picketed the government offices, demanding peace. They got the attention of the UN, and other international authorities. And yes, they borrowed a tactic from the Ancient Greek comedy “Lysistrata,” though I doubt any of them had read it. This is all documented in “Pray the Devil Back to Hell,” in which interviews with the women are intercut with newsreel footage.
It is almost funny to watch these stubborn women decide that enough is enough. They put their foot down, and the men around them look childish, embarassed, like little kids being scolded by their moms and big sisters. Which, really, is pretty close to the truth.
The women forced a peace summit between Taylor and the rebel forces. And when the peace summit stalled, they blocked the doors and forced the men to get to work and come to an agreement. Charles Taylor went into exile. A ceasefire was reached. And, in 2005, Liberia elected Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, the first black female president in Africa.
Family and unity wins out over guns and drugs. Thank God. There may be hope for us after all.