On March 3, 2011, hundreds of women gathered to protest peacefully in Cote d’Ivoire to end the political stalemate and the worsening security situation. The Ivorian women took to the streets of Abidjan to put pressure on their leaders to end the stalemate and allow peace to prevail. Seven unarmed women protestors were killed in the process by forces loyal to former president Laurent Koudou Gbagbo.
Unarmed, chanting peacefully. As I watched the video on CNN, I recognized the similarity of their dress code, songs, and chants for peace to what we did in Liberia years ago. They were dressed in modest costumes—head-ties, some white t-shirts, palm branches, and no jewelry. Muslim and Christian women hand in hand, marching together for peace. I said to myself, this could have been me, Sugars, Asatu, Vaiba and Etty…. Except that these were our neighbors—women of Cote D’ Ivoire.
These same women we danced with less than two years ago, when we lobbied the 1st lady, Simoen Gbabgo, for peaceful elections and a peaceful settlement to all elections related conflict. She promised us that she and the women of Ivory Coast would ensure that peace prevailed.
After eight years of civil and political unrest, Cote d’Ivoire had its first elections in November of 2010. The preliminary results announced by the Electoral Commission showed a loss for former President Gbagbo and a 54% win for his rival Alassane Ouattara, one time Prime Minister of Cote d’Ivoire. The Constitutional Council which is the highest decision making body on electoral matters in Cote d’Ivoire, under the influence of former president Gbagbo, countered this report on grounds of fraud in some voting areas and named former president Gbagbo the winner with 46% of the votes.
Since November, both former president Gbagbo and Mr. Ouattara have claimed the presidency and have inaugurated themselves president on separate occasions.
Economic activities in Cote d’Ivoire are down due to the instability and the security situation in the country has worsened, making living conditions difficult. Former president Gbagbo, in his bid to cling to power, has demonstrated the will to use the highest form of force and violence to silence ordinary Ivorians who show their support for peace and stability in the country.
The killing of unarmed women by forces loyal to former president Gbagbo is indicative of the fear these forces have of women in the region, women who have over time shown their ability to hold leaders accountable like in the case of Liberia.
As I write this piece, I can’t help but wonder how Mrs. Gbabgbo is feeling as she watches her husband gun down her own sisters, mothers, and grandmothers? I recall Mrs. Gbagbo proudly showing off her granddaughter to a group of us she hosted during our campaign for a peaceful election in Cote d’Ivoire. How can she sleep, eat and play with her grandchildren when her husband is responsible for other children losing their mothers, grandmothers, and aunties?
I am at a loss as to how to engage Cote d’Ivoire now. My heart weighs me down as I see the price for peace get higher, fatal, and complicated day in, day out in West Africa, especially for women who are determined to champion the struggle for lasting and just peace.
Yet Gbagbo and his killers have failed to realize just one thing—the women of Cote d’Ivoire are not alone. They belong to a wider, more determined army of women peace activists in West Africa and across the world. He and his heartless killers will not escape justice for the lives of those women and the thousands they continue to gun down to hold on to power. Women of West Africa are determined to rise to the occasion.
By this, I call on all sisters to break the silence on Cote d’Ivoire. The time is now to rid yet another West African country of a tyrant and his psychopathic leadership.
Given the rich history that West African women have of holding political leaders accountable, it is important that their credibility in the region be brought to bear in this situation so that something is done to stop the carnage and mayhem that are being meted against women in Cote d’Ivoire. This requires urgent action, as the price that Ivorians, specifically women, are paying for peace in their country is getting higher by the day.
The recent 100th Anniversary celebration of International Women’s Day should go down in history as the clarion call to all sisters. We must mourn for the sisters but our mourning should not be a sorrow of victims and the vanquished. It must be tears of courage, tears of the indignant. This roadblock on our sojourn for lasting peace, democratic freedom, and civility must
About the Author:
Leymah Gbowee led the Liberian Mass Action for Peace, bringing thousands of Christian and Muslim women together to nonviolently demand that dictator Charles Taylor go to the peace table after 14 years of civil war. Leymah is presently the co-founder and executive director for Women, Peace and Security Network Africa (WIPSEN-A) a women-focused, women-led Pan-African Non-Governmental Organization with the core mandate to promote women's strategic participation and leadership in peace and security governance in Africa.