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In a surprise move, peace activist Leymah Gbowee sharply criticized President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and resigned from a government post. Inside the Nobel-winning power women’s relationship.

Two women who rescued a country from civil war—and who shared a Nobel Peace Prize for doing so—now might need a peace plan of their own.

On Monday, Liberian peace activist Leymah Gbowee criticized her longtime ally Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the Liberian president, for not doing enough to combat government corruption. Gbowee’s comments, in a BBC radio interview, coincided with her resignation as head of Liberia’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, a group designed to report on human-rights violations during the war, and to promote peace and security. In a statement on her resignation, Gbowee cited “differences in opinion on the pathway for national healing and reconciliation.”

“I’ve been through a process of really thinking and reflecting and saying to myself, you’re as bad as being an accomplice for things that are happening in the country if you don’t speak up,”Leymah Gbowee

It was a startling move from a globally renowned activist who galvanized women to push for an end to civil war. She and Sirleaf have been working together to reboot Liberia, a place of staggering poverty and illiteracy, where child soldiers and cannibal warlords recently held sway. And although Gbowee’s critical comments may seem offhand to some observers, they have in fact raised profound questions about whether Liberia’s struggling postwar progress could suffer from the women’s apparent divisions.

Gbowee is clearly agitated; she spent a good deal of her statement discussing an accusation from the government that she had misused funds—an accusation she denies. It’s “a shame,” she said, that while Liberians are eager to “chart a new beginning,” some political leaders “see reconciliation as a threat to their personal interest” and are injecting “innuendoes and rumor-mongering in what should be a moral and sacred journey.”

Neither Sirleaf nor Gbowee immediately responded to requests for comment. The Liberian government said in a statement that it had accepted the resignation and that it disagreed with Gbowee, saying much has been done in fostering peace and reconciliation.

The two women received the Nobel a year ago, along with Yemeni democracy activist Tawakkol Karman, marking a triumph for women fighting for human rights and peace. Last year, Beast Books, an imprint of The Daily Beast, published Gbowee’s memoir, Mighty Be Our Powers.


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