Photographs by Michael Zumstein
Text by Luke Kerr Dineen
This April, the Special Court of Sierra Leone in the Hague found former Liberian President Charles Taylor guilty on 11 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity; he now faces up to 80 years in prison. (Taylor’s sentence is scheduled to be announced on May 30.) Throughout his six years in office Taylor ruthlessly quashed internal rebellions and helped fuel the war in neighboring Sierra Leone through his support for the Revolutionary United Front (RUF), supplying the rebel group with weapons in exchange for blood diamonds.
Liberia is continuing to feel the effects of those war-torn years: Its 85 percent unemployment rate is the third-worst in the world. Its GDP per capita, at $400 per person, is second-worst, while its maternal mortality rate ranks fifth highest. But Jewel Howard Taylor, the former wife of Charles Taylor and incumbent senator in the Liberian legislature, is looking to the future. She has risen to become the second-most powerful woman in Liberian politics, behind President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf herself, and one of the most respected members in the Senate. “Liberia has gone through a very difficult process from the war years to where we are today,” she says. “We still have a long way to go.”