Although this class in Development Politics involved a documentary on Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, it brought up some important questions, not least did gender play a role in Liberia’s transition from civil war to democratic governance? From background knowledge, I knew that women played a large part in ending Liberia’s civil war. They used various tactics, from protesting to gathering in markets to discuss events and ways to end the war. I do feel that these women’s groups played a large role in ending the war and did play a role in Ellen Johnson Sirleaf’s popularity and election, and it should not be forgotten. With her being the first female head of state in Africa, that alone shows how important gender actually is in this case.
What was even more interesting to me was the way in which the documentary was filmed. For the first time I saw governance on a day-to-day level in a post-conflict developing nation, not from afar. The cameras followed Ellen Johnson Sirleaf around while she conducted her presidential duties. What was also interesting is how her administration coped with few resources and a destroyed nation. She met one-on-one with important figures in society, including ex-militants. She also conveyed a kind of motherly nature in her dealings with people; she was able to maintain a clear but firm aura wherever she went. Ultimately the film showed me how difficult it is to meet broad expectations; although not too surprising, it was important to see how people expected so much within such little time. Uniquely, I cannot come up with a comparison to Liberia and its experiences. Previous blog posts have usually included some sort of comparison, but Liberia is unique in its experiences and current trajectory. Decades of civil war and instability eventually led to the empowerment of women, not only through their critical role in ending violence, but also in post-conflict reconciliation and governance.
Democratising Democracy: Feminist Perspectives (2005) by Cornwall and Goetz is useful in that it outlines the increasingly important role women play in politics. They not only play a larger role in electoral politics and government but also in broader civil society. This relates to Liberia and its experiences in civil society development and post-conflict governance and the timing is interesting too; this paper was released in 2005, right during Liberia’s transition government; Ellen Johnson Sirleaf would win the upcoming presidential election in a landslide. The paper also goes on to say that democracy needs to be further democratized by opening up pathways for the inclusion of feminist politics. We only have to wait and see if Liberia can continue its successful trajectory in gender-relations and politics, and civil society growth, especially considering that elections occur later this year and Ellen Johnson Sirleaf is constitutionally barred from running for presidential office again.
Although I had not seen Iron Ladies of Liberia before, I had seen another documentary on Liberia’s civil war and the important role women played called Pray the Devil Back to Hell which can be seen here: Pray the Devil Back to Hell on Vimeo