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Nobel Peace Prize winner rips fellow laureate over corruption

By Mairi Mackay, CNN
updated 7:39 AM EDT, Thu October 11, 2012
Leymah Gbowee (C) shared the 2011 prize with Ellen Johnson Sirleaf (R) and Yemeni activist Tawakkol Karman.
Leymah Gbowee (C) shared the 2011 prize with Ellen Johnson Sirleaf (R) and Yemeni activist Tawakkol Karman.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Activist Leymah Gbowee shared 2011 prize with Liberian president Ellen Johnson Sirleaf
  • Gbowee says Johnson Sirleaf has failed to to fight corruption and nepotism in Liberia
  • Johnson Sirleaf has appointed her sons to lucrative government posts
  • Gbowee says Peace Prize winners should be more focused on spreading peace

Deauville, France (CNN) -- Leymah Gbowee, the Liberian activist who last year won the Nobel Peace Prize, says she is disappointed with fellow winner Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Liberia's president, and believes laureates need to do more to spread the message of peace.

"I think there should be more required of us by the committee ... in terms of preaching the message," said Gbowee, who shared the 2011 prize with Johnson Sirleaf and Yemeni activist Tawakkol Karman.

Read more: Three women's rights activists share Nobel Peace Prize

All Nobel laureates should come together, particularly Peace Prize winners, "to really sit down and talk about the impact we're making on the world," she told CNN in an interview at the 8th Edition of the Women's Forum Global Meeting in France.

Gbowee is a member of the Nobel Women's Initiative, established in 2006 by among others the late Wangari Maathai, which supports women's rights globally.

Offering hope to Liberian women
Past Nobel Peace Prize winners
Nobel winners discuss women's rights

Over the years, the Norwegian Nobel Committee's Peace Prize awards have come under scrutiny. Critics have questioned their choices and politics.

Read more: African women look within for change

Many saw the award given to U.S. President Barack Obama in 2009, during the first year of his presidency, as premature. Many also question the fact that Indian leader Gandhi never received the prize, despite a number of nominations.

This year's winner will be announced Friday.

Gbowee is credited with helping to end Liberia's civil war in 2003 by leading women in non-violent protest, including organizing "sex strikes."

This week, the outspoken and charismatic campaigner publicly criticized fellow laureate Johnson Sirleaf for failing to fight corruption and nepotism in Liberia.

"Let down by her, I won't say 100%, but on certain issues, yes," Gbowee said.

Gbowee, who helped Johnson Sirleaf get reelected to a second term last year, asked why the Liberian president's three sons all have lucrative government posts.

She called for Johnson Sirleaf, who became Africa's first elected female head of state in 2005, to make one of her sons step down from his job as chairman of the state-owned National Oil Company (NOCAL).

"The public (in Liberia) has spoken, these are the people who voted for (Johnson Sirleaf)," she said of the outcry in Liberia over the appointment.

Read more: Making it as a female movie mogul in Hollywood

Gbowee also resigned as head of the country's reconciliation commission after less than a year because of her concerns.

Gbowee acknowledges that Johnson Sirleaf has made progress during her time in office, particularly in building infrastructure and reducing debt in the war-scarred nation.

Liberia is one of the world's poorest and least developed countries. Fourteen years of conflict from 1989 to 2003 left an estimated 250,000 dead.

But Gbowee says if Johnson Sirleaf does not "put her foot down (on corruption) ... it's really going to hurt not just her but future women's leadership in Liberia."

Gbowee describes winning the Nobel Peace Prize as a great platform for raising awareness of her work on peace and education.

Gbowee is the head of the Ghana-based Women Peace and Security Network (WPSN) and has recently launched a foundation that funds Liberian girls through college. So far, she says, the foundation has helped 30 girls.

She says she was under no illusions when she won the prize that it would translate into extra funding for her projects.

"Being a woman, and being African -- those are two things that ... make raising funds very difficult for peace work," she said.

Read more: Words of wisdom from women of power

While she has yet to come to terms with the celebrity that accompanies winning the prize, Gbowee says the essence of what she does is still working in the community.

"What I do is not to be all red carpet and glam and cams ... when it becomes necessary to come on the red carpet, I should have a message from down there to bring to the red carpet."

Her skills and profile beg the question of whether she has ambitions in the political arena.

Gbowee wouldn't rule out running for political office in Liberia but said that she's still young.

"I'm just 40. How can I translate this gift of a Nobel into a better life for girls on the continent of Africa in general and Liberia in particular? That's the quest that I'm on right now."

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