When Eastern Mennonite University (EMU) alum Leymah Gbowee won the Nobel Peace Prize she expressed a desire to “promote peace and reconciliation” in her home country of Liberia. She now has that opportunity since Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf named her the head of the National Peace and Reconciliation Initiative.
“Reconciliation is a personal, internal, collective journey that people must decide they are going to take, and I think Liberians are at that place where they want to move forward,” Gbowee said to the Voice of America following upon her appointment.
Gbowee, who completed a master’s degree through EMU’s Center for Justice and Peacebuilding (CJP) in 2007, said Liberians’ inability to approach reconciliation has blocked their country from dealing with many pressing issues on the national agenda. Gbowee plans to talk with all Liberians and solicit the help of retired South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu, a fellow Nobel Peace Laureate. Tutu led the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission after the apartheid era officially ended. “I’ve been in touch with Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s office because I see the ‘Arch’ as one of those individuals who have all of the experiences when it comes to talking about reconciliation,” said Gbowee.
“The one thing that we are seeing happening is that our inability to approach the whole issue of reconciliation head-on has been adding more train to that gown,” said Gbowee. “So, we have one package – the issues of the war that haven’t been addressed and the issues of elections over the past few years…. Some of the other issues are disempowerment, the huge population of young people who cannot find jobs.”
“Leymah’s experience, peacebuilding skills, and above all her passionate commitment to the people of Liberia make her the right person for this position,” said Jan Jenner, director of the practice and training institute at CJP.
Gbowee came to CJP in 2004 for its Summer Peacebuilding Institute and returned for a round-table in Strategies in Trauma Awareness and Resilience (known as STAR) in 2005. During 2006-07, Gbowee was in residence at EMU as she completed her master’s degree in conflict transformation.
Gbowee has been receiving widespread coverage in the U.S. media outlets, including a feature article in the December issue of Reader’s Digest and one in the Nov. 29, 2011 edition of Christian Century.
She officially started her new position on Nov. 29 with a Peace and Reconciliation Jamboree.