Women in Real Stories: Colonel Black Diamond – A Jewel of Liberia

Everyone was Afraid of her

You knew she was coming by a summon of gunshots, not the usual wild firing of attacks, but a specific rhythm; three cracks from an AK47, a pause, another three cracks, a pause, and three more cracks. To the looters and troublemakers ahead it was their warning to flee.  The young woman in her red beret, denim jeans, and red top was arriving with her all women team of soldiers and she meant business.

Fourteen years of anarchy and war turned Liberia – a west African country founded in the early 19th century by slaves freed from America – into a vision of apocalypse, its towns and cities reduced to smoking rubble. For years, rebel groups have been fighting to oust President Charles Taylor, whom they accused of atrocities and corruption. His resignation and exile in 2003 secured the arrival of UN peacekeepers to assist with the opposing government forces to adhere to a ceasefire.

Liberian warfare was a bizarre business with its child soldiers – who are often high on marijuana and crack cocaine brought in by covert governments seeking to destabilize the country and seize control -. But Black Diamond, whose first name is Patricia, knew what they were doing. A colonel, she was the head of the women’s auxiliary corps (WAC) and one of the better kept secrets of the main rebel group, the Liberians United For Reconciliation and Democracy (Lurd). Diamonds unit of girls and women was considered one of Lurd’s best and most effective.

Many members of the WAC were orphaned or separated from their parents in the 1990s and grew up in refugee camps in Guinea and Sierra Leone before returning to Liberia three years ago to join the insurgency.

President Taylor has been convicted of crimes including murder, rape and conscripting child soldiers in neighboring Sierra Leone, but he wreaked havoc in his own country too. More than 200,000 people were killed in Liberia’s 14-year civil war, countless girls and women were raped and much of the population was displaced.

“This is the man who ruined my future,” Diamond said prior to Taylor’s sentencing. “When I see him sentenced, maybe I will be able to move on. They say he will get 80 years. This will send an important message to the world that you can’t do terrible things and just get away with it.”

Black Diamond was 18 and a promising student when civil war broke out. She enjoyed a peaceful childhood in Voinjama, a town in the north of the country where her father worked as a doctor. During one of Taylor’s troops’ regular raids, in April 2000, her parents were killed and Diamond was gang-raped.

After regaining consciousness after the attack, she found her way to the headquarters of Sekou Conneh, the leader of Liberians United for Reconciliation & Democracy and begged him to take her in. When the compound was attacked soon after she arrived, she simply grabbed an AK-47 and joined in with the fighting.

By all accounts, Diamond struck fear into the hearts of her opponents during the war, boldly wielding her AK-47 and staring death in the face without flinching. Yet in person she is quiet, almost diffident, her dark eyes downcast. In war she had a role: in peace, like many ex-combatants, she struggles to reinvent herself.

“I am suffering today because of what Charles Taylor did. The war took everything from me: my parents, my education and my future. I want to spread the message that we must pursue peace. We must make sure that we never see another war here in Liberia.”

Today she lives in a small, overcrowded place in the middle of the Liberian capital Monrovia, a city still bearing the physical scars of war and teeming with poverty-stricken people struggling to make a living. The water supply is uncertain, rats are a perennial problem and hunger is ever-present.

Black Diamond is one of the 85% of her country’s population living below the poverty line. She is a single parent caring for her two young children and three others who lost family members during the war. The children are plagued by bouts of malaria and her attempts to find a stable job have been unsuccessful.

She supports the work of the country’s president Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, who has tried hard to unite the Liberians, despite once supporting Taylor, as well as fellow Nobel prizewinner and peace campaigner Leymah Gbowee. Yet she supports the actions of her “girls”. “Liberian women have always been strong and we are proud to have the first female president in Africa. Before the war, rape was almost unknown in our country. When the rapes started, I and the other girls who fought were determined not to be victims. We wanted to fight back to show our attackers they couldn’t get away with such things and that they, not we, should feel shame for the rapes.”

She welcomes the opportunity to work with anyone who can help her spread the message of peace to try to protect the next generation from the horrors she experienced. “I am doing this for my girls,” she says. “Those who are lost and those who are living presently.”

Source: the Guardian


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