Rape Counseling for an Entire Nation
Sexual violence became a way of life in Liberia during its civil wars, with everyone -- women, men, babies -- victimized. Led by a feminist president, the country begins the healing process.
But if you spend any amount of time with Kebbeh, it's clear that this girl -- pretty, smart, intrepid -- isn't one to be ignored. "I wanted to kill my father," she says, her voice flashing with anger. She didn't, of course. Instead, she kept talking.
Never mind that her father had threatened to kill her if she told anyone; never mind that her mother refused to hear her out. Kebbeh kept talking about what was happening, until someone -- two someones, her uncle and her grandmother -- listened, and they got angry, too. Now her father is in jail awaiting a court hearing, and she is living at the clinic, far from her mother, with whom she no longer speaks.
"I want to be a lawyer, a female lawyer," Kebbeh says, one who puts rapists in prison. "Because of what my father did to me."
Modernity Is Still Fighting Tradition
Willie L. Tokpa is strutting around the offices of the Norwegian Refugee Council in Nimba County, deep in Liberia's interior. It's hard not to look at him: He's got close-cropped hair, smooth, deeply brown skin bordering on black, and he's sporting a leopard-print cap festooned with two cowrie shells, a long brocade tunic, and black-and-white pin-striped pants. He's handsome, yes, and he's got attitude to spare. A member of the Mano tribe, Tokpa is here representing as "the chief of chiefs." "There are so many powerful chiefs," he says, "but I am the One."
He's here, ostensibly, to talk about land disputes in Nimba County -- postwar, there's a lot of confusion about who owns what -- but today he has other things on his mind. Such as how those "human rights" people, or NGO workers, are screwing things up for Africans, interfering in traditional ways. "It's confusing us in Liberia, very confusing."
Of particular concern to Tokpa: the modern woman of Liberia. He paces around the room, miming the differences between the traditional woman versus today's woman. This one walks, head down, speaks in a low voice, wears long skirts. That one -- he stands upright, folding his arms belligerently, thrusting out his butt -- she talks back and wears short skirts. And that, he says, is why these women are raped: "Some men get hard," he says. "They see their butts shaking, woo-woo-woo!" Rape can't be helped.
"So what are we to make of the 1-year-olds here that are raped?" I ask him. "Are they dressed too provocatively as well?"
"That to me is a wickedness," he says. "Taking a baby and making it like that's your wife is a sickness. You have to pay the penalty. You be in jail and you die. That's the only way it will get better."
Some 250,000 died in the war -- wars -- here, widely regarded as one of Africa's bloodiest. More than 1 million were displaced. Those who could flee fled. Those who couldn't stayed and suffered. Families were broken.