Every now and again, TV brings us documentaries of such a high quality and of such importance – by chronicling events in history that were of a magnitude that they changed the face of politics and indeed, humanity – that one feels it really should be played simultaneously on all channels so as to attract the biggest audience possible to hear its message.
And last night’s More 4 documentary in the True Stories strand, Pray the Devil Back to Hell, made by Gini Reticker, was one such programme.
It followed the story of the Christian Women’s Peace Initiative in Liberia, headed up by the formidable and empowering Leymah Gbowee and later joined by the equally redoubtable Asatu Bah-Kenneth, who was the assistant director of the Liberian National Police and a Muslim.
The aim of these women and their peers was to end the tyrannical and murderous presidential reign of Charles Taylor, a man who used child soldiers, drugs and fear to rule Liberia. He and his army committed atrocities that were truly heinous and included thousands of rapes, murders and torture of innocent civilians to advance his own megalomaniac lifestyle and ambitions.
However, those who opposed him were just as corrupt and just as vile, and the civilians of Liberia were the ones stuck in the middle, being massacred and tortured by both sides.
The programme documented in harrowing detail some of those atrocities, one of which truly turned my stomach; we heard that a mother had been forced sing and dance while to one side of her, her teenage daughter was raped, and on the other, her husband was beheaded.
We saw similarly sickening images of bloodied corpses being held aloft in the streets and vacant, drugged children carrying weapons that were as big as they were.
In terms of the atrocities visited upon the Liberian people, these were just a few of many, many similarly gut churning incidents. However, Leymah Gbowee had a dream, literally, which mobilised her to mobilise other women into peacefully protesting against the horror that was part of their lives.
In a unique cross-cultural and cross-religious pact, women all over Liberia stood together and formed their own, non-violent army. Amongst their weaponry was a sex embargo until their husbands joined them in protesting and making their presence felt to Taylor as he drove past their protests daily.
They also surrounded a hotel and effectively held all the politicians – and in this case, for politicians, read ‘warlords’ – hostage until a democracy was brokered. It was by no means that easy or that fast though, but for the purposes of the documentary, obviously expediency of the story was required.
Ultimately, the actions of Leymah and Asatu, along with their followers, ensured Taylor’s exile and the democratic voting in of Africa’s very female head of state, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf in 2005.
Soon after, the women’s movement disbanded but promised that, should Liberia ever become held to ransom by men of evil again, they would be back.
This was a truly fascinating and necessary film; necessary because in a world where unrest and violence is so common place, most of us are practically immune to reports of it in some far-flung land, so being reminded of the power of good over evil, peace over violence, is always important and timely.
And the fact that it was – yet again – women who effectively brought about the end to a hideous era in history makes me proud to be female.