Between 1989 and 2003, the West African country of Liberia was torn apart by gruelling civil wars that featured female warlords, such as Black Diamond.
In a country with just over 2 million population at the outbreak of the conflict, over 250,000 people were killed in a broken war that featured child soldiers, cannibalism, and various warlords.
Liberia has no shortage of bizarre and terrifying warlords. From General Butt Naked, who would fight in the nude and eat the hearts of children, to Charles Taylor, who is now spending the rest of his life in a maximum-security prison in the UK.
Women in the Liberian Civil War
Whilst a female warlord commander is indeed a phenomenon, the role of women in the Liberian Civil War is not.
It’s estimated that 30% of all those active in the fighting in Liberia were indeed women. Although many filled support roles as cooks and cleaners, many others were heavily active in combat.
As the country was decimated, Liberian women played a huge role in bringing about peace, not just with mortar rounds and Kalashnikovs.
Local women formed “Women of Liberia Mass Action for Peace”, which attempted to bring peace between the warring factions via mass action.
Alongside various silent protests, their non-violent methods famously implemented a sex strike that saw Liberian women deny their husbands’ pleasure until they laid down their weapons.
Eventually, the tactics of this women’s group brought about and enforced the Accra peace talks and eventually brought peace to Nigeria.
“Liberian women implemented a sex strike that saw local women deny their husband’s pleasure until they laid down their weapons.”
And, of course, with the election of Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Liberia made history when it became the first African state to elect a female president.
At great risk, Liberian women hid the voting cards of their husbands and sons or persuaded them to swap them for beer to ensure Sirleaf would win and act on her promise of sustained peace for Liberia.
Women played a significant role in the rebuilding of Liberia after the conflict, especially in the process of reintegrating former combatants.
Liberian women are a tough bunch who have genuinely been to hell and back. But when it comes to hard women from this country, few are as tough or feared as Colonel Black Diamond, the female Warlord.
The Warlord Childhood That Spawned a Lust For Vengeance
Like many Liberians, the life of Black Diamond began in peace before the war uprooted everything. She was born in Northern Liberia in the town of Voinjama.
She was given the nickname Black Diamond by her father to emphasize how precious she was to him.
The age of Black Diamond, as well as her real name, has never been verified. It’s estimated that she was born in the late 1970s.
As a doctor, her father provided her with a stable and happy childhood. But all of that changed in the year 2000.
In April of that year, Voinjama was violently invaded by fighters loyal to Charles Taylor.
These infamously undisciplined and ruthless men supplemented their meagre salary by raping and looting civilian villages. This was nicknamed “Operation Pay Yourself” by Taylor’s men.
During their attack on the village, these men proceeded to murder both of the parents of Black Diamond before subjecting her to horrific gang rape.
She was stabbed and left for dead before regaining consciousness and making her escape.
“I am motherless, I am fatherless, so I don’t care. God is my family now.”– Black Diamond
With her life in ruins, she set out to find help and soon crossed paths with the LURD leader Sekou Conneh before asking to be taken in by the rebel group.
LURD accepted Black Diamond, but the base came under attack from Taylor’s troops not long after her arrival.
LURD’s acceptance of Black Diamond was a wise decision, as she picked up an assault rifle, got stuck in fighting off the enemy fighters from the base, and earned the initial level of respect that would follow her throughout the war.
The Birth of a Female Warlord
Black Diamond soon discovered that she was not alone in her horrific backstory. LURD had no shortage of women who had survived being raped by the troops of Charles Taylor.
Like herself, many of these women saw picking up a weapon as the only way of preventing it from happening again.
In combat, Black Diamond quickly made a name for herself. She was soon known for being one of the most ferocious female fighters in the war.
Before long, she had been promoted to Colonel in the Women’s Auxiliary Corps of Lurd and had several women with horrendous backstories under her command.
This fearsome female Warlord married a male Lurd commander named Colonel Yankee. She became pregnant but remained engaged in combat at the front eight months into her pregnancy.
The baby was born and aptly named “Small Diamond”. A photo was kept in pride of place in the chest pocket of Diamond.
Throughout the Liberian conflict, it was noted by numerous male participants that the female fighters were amongst the most disciplined and feared combatants.
Due to many being former victims, they took lethal action against rape and abuse of women and actively sought to protect women from the widespread act.
”Her look is Black Panther-turned-movie star: mirror sunglasses, frizzy wig beneath the beret, silver ear-rings, red-painted nails”.– Rory Carroll, The Guardian.
In 2003, when the Port of Monrovia descended into anarchy as locals looted UN supplies and LURD troops failed to stop them, Black Diamond showed up and came face to face with journalist Rory Carroll from The Guardian.
The thousands of looters who had ransacked the port were forced to flee, with Black Diamond appearing wielding a Kalashnikov and firing off bursts in all directions.
The chaos had been stopped by this fierce female and her equally fearsome women fighters, many of whom were wearing earrings and makeup.
As a ferocious female fighter and crack shot who openly boasted of her numerous enemy kills, many of those who met this female fighter noted that she also had a softer side away from the frontline—noting that she was a quiet, almost shy person.
In November of 2003, Charles Taylor fled the country into Nigeria. Colonel Diamond and her band of female fighters celebrated with a barrage of mortar rounds on the government-held neighbourhoods of the capital of Monrovia.
However, the post-war life of Black Diamond would not warrant much celebration.
The Post-War Life of Black Diamond
As the civil war in Liberia ended in 2003, many of the up to 600 female fighters laid down their arms. Many made attempts to try and find their families, and others tried to reintegrate back into society. For the latter, this was far from easy and Black Diamond was no exception.
In an interview with the Guardian, Black Diamond revealed that many of the female fighters she fought alongside had been killed.
Naturally, the horror of the broken war in Liberia left her scarred for life, both physically and mentally. Additionally, she must fight off the stigma attached to former fighters while trying to rebuild her life.
As a result of her education being ruined by the outbreak of the civil war in Liberia, Black Diamond used the renewed era of peace to return to school and complete her education.
However, the devastation of the conflict left the country with an unemployment rate of around 80%. Today, she remains one of the 54% of the Liberian population living below the poverty line.
Now a mother of two, she spends most of her time trying to find work, surviving, and caring for her children, along with other family members left orphaned by the conflict.
Background to The War in Liberia
The basis of the civil wars that tore apart the West African country of Liberia can be attributed to two characters: Charles Taylor and Samuel Doe.
In 1980, U.S.-backed Doe overthrew the elected government of Liberia before holding a fraudulent election in 1985 to legitimize his regime.
Taylor supported the coup of 1980 and was given a government position in Doe’s government before being fired for embezzling $1 million.
He fled the country and surfaced in Libya, where he received military training from the Gadaffi regime, which he used to form and train the anti-Doe National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL) on the Ivory Coast.
Around Christmas of 1989, Taylor moved into Liberia with the NPFL and launched an uprising to overthrow Doe.
Monrovia fell in 1990, and Doe was murdered on camera by a rival of Taylor: Prince Johnson. After a peace deal, Charles Taylor was elected as the Liberian President in 1997.
However, Taylor’s reign was short-lived. Two years later, Liberian dissidents invaded Liberia from neighbouring Guinea.
This spawned what is largely considered the Second Liberian Civil War, which lasted over four years and saw the conflict spill over the borders of Liberia into Sierra Leone and Guinea next door.
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The war saw all-out carnage that surpassed the horror of the first. Warlords like General Butt Naked emerged, leading bands of heavily drugged child soldiers who routinely engaged in cannibalism, rape, and mass murder.
By the summer of 2003, the anti-Taylor forces of LURD had surrounded the Liberian capital of Monrovia.
The bombarding of the capital and intense international pressure forced Charles Taylor to step down and flee to Nigeria and into exile, bringing about the war’s end.