Critical Analysis: The Role of Women and the media in Liberia’s emerging democracy

Written By: Jacob T. Newton

Book Review

Liberian diplomat, Josephus Moses Gray’s recent Instructive book on the Role of Women and the Media in Liberia’s emerging democracy is a thought provoking piece of work that must be read by all who have interest in Liberia.

As a reminder here—one of the highly rated and respectable Presidents of the United States of America  the late John F Kennedy, in his famous inaugural address delivered on January 20th 1961 in Washington, D.C. once said: “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.” Hence, as a matter of another critical reflection, the world chief diplomat, Ban Ki-moon, Secretary-General of the United Nations, a month after his election to run the affairs of this challenging and dedicated office, was filled with praises when a 27-year-old Indian presented a copy of his book on conflicts resolution.

Ban Ki Moon said: “if the world and others can join this gentleman to devote their times, energies and resources to conduct research on vital subjects, and have their findings made published to enlighten and educate the larger society, the world would be a better place to live.” For others, he said they have developed an infamous habit of condemning and undermining, these people he said are always troubled by certain people’s progress and accomplishments. These two world leaders’ famous and inspirational words have motivated me to firstly commend Josephus Moses Gray for his determination to stand up to the daunting task for such a unique publication and secondly to review in detailed Mr. Gray’s informative book on democracy.

In the spirit of doing justice to Mr. Gray’s undertaking, let me now turn my attention to the instructive book, rightfully titled: “Liberia’s Emerging Democracy,” the Role of women and the media, which contains ten essential chapters detailing and analyzing Liberia’s embryonic democracy: the indispensable contributions of Liberian mothers and the major role of the local media in the peace building process. Going forward, it essential to note, that the author of the book, Mr. Gray, is also a former Liberian journalist and an ex-Assistant Foreign Minister for Public Affairs. He presently serves his country in the Foreign Service, as Political Counselor at the Embassy of Liberia in the Republic of France where he is also undergoing his doctorate studies in international relations and public Policy.

The Role of Women and the media in Liberia’s emerging democracy to say the least is a fascinating and compelling eyewitness account of the author and does gives true insights of Liberia’s dark days, especially, the country’s 14-year turmoil and the amazing role of Liberian women and the local media in the attainment of genuine peace and the restoration of the rule of law. The publication also highlights the immense contributions of ECOWAS, UN, AU, USA and the enormous sacrifices made by peace-keepers and loses sustained to bringing peace and stability to Liberia. The publication covers a wild range of issues including the current status of democracy in Liberia and does catalogue the key role of three of the nine Economic Community Monitoring Group (ECOMOG), of the Western Africa sub regional security forced, established initially to bring peace to Liberia, and the Force Commanders, particularly three courageous Nigerian Generals: Maj-Gen. Joshua Dogonyaro, Brig-Gen. AdetunjiIdowu Olurin and Brig-Gen Victor Malu. These three generals according to the book left an irreplaceable mark on the history of Liberia. Mr. Gray, in his research, discovered how several women resorted to fight to protect themselves from abuses such as rape, violence, murder and a harsh labor regime while other war affected women were also held hostage and used as ‘combat-wives’ of warlords and fighters against their will.

The book also highlights Liberian women as actors—  not merely victims of conflict even though true to say so, but does paid tribute to their gallantry; it also, hence discusses the strategies the women used effectively during the war and while recognizing  their role in building bridges across society through grassroots reconciliation initiatives by getting former warlords to the peace table. The book also shows how Liberian journalists performed a critical role in bringing mayhems and atrocities committed during the heat of the war to light but also document furthermore, how the media paid a great price for being outspoken. The book launched in January 2013 at the headquarters of the Press Union of Liberia (PUL) is a reservoir of timeless gem from a historical perspective as far as Liberia’s recent history is concerned.

Of particular interest notes Mr. Gray are the contributions of women activists such as Madame Mary Brownell, a respectable woman of society by all accounts, a classroom teacher and peace campaigner. Her search for peace he said has gone beyond national borders, and have greatly impacted humanity, Angie Brooks Randall, is also mentioned;  the first female president of the General Assembly of the United Nations, and Senator Ruth Sando Perry, former Chair of the Six-man Council of State.  Sando Perry is credited for her efforts in helping to restore law and order and improving the overall conditions in the country during the transitional period. Also singled out is Roberta Leymah Gbowee, peace campaigner and joint winner of the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize who led the women’s movement to help end the war in Liberia. The book further detailed Mother Suakoko of Bong County; her role in the fight against injustices for her country, while President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, Africa’s First female democratically elected president is lauded for her contributions in restoring her nation’s image abroad.

Laymah Gbowee photo: emu.edu

According to the book, the struggle of Liberian women for a place in the body politics of Liberia have proportional historical significance, more significantly furthermore Juah Nimene of the Kru ethnic group who headed the Sasstown resistances against injustices by past  Liberian government forces.  Previous historical analysis gleaning from Mr. Gray’s chronicles has not accorded these events their fair share of narratives, as per these two indigenous major actors etc., either for selfish reasons or for lethargic accommodations. The Role of Women and the media in Liberia’s emerging democracy, pays tribute to Liberia’s rich history past and the role of these brave women whose struggle has gone largely forgotten, but not in Mr. Gray’s accounts.

The 480 page book is a well-researched publication; the book further discusses the 2005 and 2011 Presidential and Legislative Elections, positing that unlike the 1997 ‘special election’ which brought former President Charles Taylor to power. It is worth mentioning, however, that despite the significant progress in adhering to the tenets of democracy, there are still serious unsettled challenges which threaten the sustainability of peace and democracy in the country as argued in the book. The book also discusses the doctrine of the “separation of power” which actually means “division” of the state‘s power rooted in the three branches of government detached of interference.

The book also detailed the brutalities and maltreatments journalists suffered at the hands of warlords and their unruly fighters, often leaving the hapless journalist suffered while others were faced with life time injuries and sanction. The book shows how Liberian journalists performed a critical role in bringing mayhems and atrocities to light but goes further to document how the journalist paid a greater price. The book, however, indicts some of the local media for biased reportage by siding with the status quo, while treating some political candidates who contested elections with favors whereas giving less coverage to others. Ironically, in Liberia, those in the mainstream media who reflect the ideological views of those in power are too often quietly accepted as being “objective,” while the rest of their colleagues who challenge those views are simply dismissed as “ideological” or “biased.”

The book further exposed how death threats were regularly used by warlords and fighters to silence the independent media, forcing media houses to close down while state security actors on several occasions victimized media personnel and vandalized media institutions in the name of protecting the security of the state.

Under the sub-title: “To Hell and Back”, the book also gives a personal account of the author’s experience during Liberia’s uncivil war when Gray on three different occasions during the heat of the war saw death but  survived through the mercy of God. The author pinpoints to pains for example death threats, agony oftortures and mayhems that he experienced at the hands of rebel fighters of Charles Taylor’s National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL) and George Boley’s Liberia Peace Council (LPC). Sadly, he recounts how his father, Abraham K. Gray and 26 others from the Kru ethnic group were tied and buried alive in the Hoffman River in Harper City, Maryland County on April 5, 1995 by fighters of the LPC.

The underlying factors of the war and its foundation as aforementioned are highlighted and emphasized, while it delves deeper into the Liberian crisis and examines the political participation and the NPFL invasion and several attempts by peace brokers to end the conflict which lasted 14 years. It looks at the various peace agreements including the most famous Accra Comprehensive Peace Agreement, the role of the international community; it also zeroed in on the contribution of the UN through its peace keeping mission, UNMIL.

Mr. Gray also highlights the meaningful contributions of the United States government, various UN Agencies and African Union as well as other world bodies and countries which Liberia maintained bilateral ties with in ending the war. The book also identifies ominously how any quick withdrawal of UNMIL peacekeepers would exacerbate the already fragile security situation in the country which would subsequently affect Liberia’s emerging democracy and peace. Enough attention is given to the traumatized youth, most of whom are former fighters and are vulnerable and could be assimilated into violence and political disorder should UNIMIL withdrawal becomes eminent without proper security guarantee before it did so.

Moses Gray formally practiced as a journalist for 18 years with devotion, principally writing for the Monrovia Inquirer Newspaper, receiving dozens of accolades in the process. His firsthand accounts therefore have weight and news worthiness.

He has authored several journals on national and international contemporary issues that border on foreign policy, international affairs, often with political and economic undertones. Gray has also written extensively about the practice of diplomacy and the balance of power, and the dire role of the Liberian media in enhancing political pluralism in modern Liberia. I suggest that for further enquiry and concerns; please contact the author of the book, Josephus Moses Gray directly via his email:jmoses1970@yahoo.com

Contact; +231-777913353, Email: newtonj26@yahoo.com

Edited by RC Geeplay

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