(repost of a story that appeared in 2003 Melanian News)
Throughout Liberia’s civil war under the corrupt Charles Taylor regime, government soldiers and rebel fighters alike forced women into demeaning roles like sex slaves and cooks. It took a band of fierce, fly women wielding AK-47s and wearing miniskirts to fight for the rights of those who had no voices. After Liberia’s ceasefire, reporter Daimon Xanthopoulos visits Tubmanburg to spend time with the legendary African soldier Black Diamond and her Women’s Auxiliary Commandos, the chicks who fought to topple a corrupt government and ended up helping to empower an entire people.
Liberians have a tendency to describe their encounters with the celebrated warrior Black Diamond the way the apostle Paul described his brush with God in the book of Acts. Or the way civil rights activists talk about the night Malcom X rescued Hinton Johnson. Ma Korpo Nanah is no different. She remembers, with the awe of a child, the day Black Diamond saved her life. “I was hungry and went to the Freeport of Monrovia to get food for my children. There was a lot of looting there,” explains the single Liberian mother of seven. Her youngest is 10 months old. “A general rounded me up with five other looters. We were placed in an empty building as the commander cocked his AK-47 rifle to kill us,” she says while her kids play nearby. “Just as he turned his gun on me, I screamed. And then I heard a voice calling out of nowhere, ‘Who is walking on my left foot?’ [a popular war slogan that means “who is doing business in my territory without my permission?”] That was Black Diamond,” she recalls. “Black Diamond not only saved our lives but took us to a spot where we could get enough goods to survive.”
Joseph Karpeh tells a similar story. He met Black Diamond when government soldiers detained him at Bushrod Island, a commercial district. “I was stripped naked and a bandage was tightly tied across my face,” Karpeh says. “I yelled with all my power and voice, not knowing where I was. I began to feel a cold blade on my chest and back.” Before the blade made the slightest prick in his flesh, events took a turn for the unexpected. “I was surprised by how my tormentors so quickly and mysteriously took my place, with their faces tied and arms bound, prostrate on bare earth. Meanwhile, I sat trembling in the van that my liberator set me in. That liberator was Black Diamond,” he says with pride and gratitude.
Indeed, Colonel Black Diamond is a strange rebel.
First of all, she’s a woman. The soldier at the time was a tender 23-year-old to be exact. Hip-hugger jeans and sexy tank tops are her wardrobe in battle. She loves to “dance and make friends” and enjoys listening to “religious music.” She’s also a master sharpshooter who will kill any man with her AK-47 who dares to disrespect her or her sister commandos. This makes her a walking paradox. Liberian civil war means rape, harassment and torture for women, who are treated like second-class citizens. Throughout the years of rebel activities, warring parties only recruited women to play such demeaning roles as sex slaves and cooks or subordinate positions like reconnaissance agents. Rarely do Liberian female combatants rise to the rank of colonel or fight on the battlefront the way that Black Diamond has.
She leads an all-female group of fighters called the Women’s Auxiliary Commandos (WAC), which is a part of the controversial rebel organization Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD). It was founded in opposition to Charles Taylor, a notorious warlord who became president in 1997, and his forces, known as the National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL). According to The New York Times, Taylor and the NPFL killed as many as 150,000 Liberians and forced hundreds of thousands into exile during his seven years in office. The government and rebel parties declared a ceasefire in August 2003 after Taylor fled to Nigeria.