From dawn and up to the midnight today, the glitzy star emitting the sharpest rays in the cosmos would be telling, or simply retelling of the birth of no ordinary Liberian woman. Beneficiaries of this gift of Province to mankind are embroiled in the frenzy of thanksgiving overtures, reflecting on how her birth became a benefit to them, their surroundings and the nation. Intentionally or unintentionally, some will be asking “who’s this woman” and why the glamorous celebrations at 56th birth anniversary today worth it?” The Analyst takes these questions, looking back at the rise of Madam Jewel Howard Taylor, Liberia’s first female vice president.
Born Jewel Cianeh Howard before being Jewel Cianneh Taylor is not an ordinary woman. She was born to be great. And great she has become. Sharing birthdates with Benjamin Franklin, Douglas Hyde, George Spalatin and Pope Pius, Jewel’s parents knew that her natal advent on January 17, 1963 was meant for something extraordinary, particularly as they were hearing that feminist revolutions in Africa and world affairs as a whole on this date were growing restless.
And growing up in Kpelle land with her peasant parents, Jewel did so measuring her aspirations and dreams along those lines—lines that instilled in her the sense of somebodyness, and more so the sense of humility and charity to all.
She was, and is not, afraid to challenge odds even as a young girl playing amongst boys who the culture of her people preferred more than girls.
She has been a grassroots person. She has largely lived her roots, a very humble person who never projected herself an aristocrat, despite her high level of education and high placement in government. She has never disconnected with the people, but always trekking long dangerous roads, including footpaths, forest routes, crossing wide and wild rivers, to see and talk to villagers not merely in political times but often in ordinary times.
So, throughout the years, she has been on record for beating all odds, surmounting mountainous challenges and surviving stormy weathers.
For instance, when she entered the senatorial race in 2005 in Bong County, many pundits dismissed her importance not only because they had thought she was not a typical grassroots Kpelle woman but also because she was once married to a former president and former war lord. Not too many people know that Jewel and Taylor divorced since 2006.
That she was a wife of the war-crimes convict Charles Taylor did not stop the citizens of Bong County to vote her Senator of the county in 2005. That was the evidence not only of her humble relations with ordinary people even while serving as first lady but also that many knew and still know that Jewel Howard Taylor is not Charles Taylor and got absolutely nothing to do with the civil conflict and its horrors.
Bong County is the third populous province in the country. And some of Liberia’s well educated and prominent citizens hail from the county. Despite sharing spaces on a senatorial ballot with Jewel, most of the Bong bigwigs were not the choice of the electorate that decided otherwise.
That decision did not come from the vacuum. It was based on the fact that even while war was raging and during the interim period, Jewel maintained a close contact, not by her regular interaction with the people but also in sharing with the people directly and indirectly her personage earnings. She built that relationship long before the war.
It was not a surprise, therefore, that after her first nine years of service to the people—a period she also used to allow the copious flow of state and personal resources to trickle down to the ordinary people of Bong, that she was one of just three of all nine sitting senators to win a second term in 2014. She was the only woman amongst the victorious senators.
Just before that mid-term senatorial election, the investigation and subsequent sentencing of her former husband was regular news on national and international media. Her opponents vainly attempted to tag her to Mr. Taylor in a bid to disabuse the Bong electorate from reelecting her to the Senate. That did not work. The Bong electorate could not afford to let down someone who built them up.
The same propaganda followed her as she booked a place on the ticket of the Coalition for Democratic Change in 2017. Propagandists ignored her value and worth as a scholar, humanitarian, peace-maker and stateswoman. They dwelled on trivialities. In the end, the ticket she appeared on—the ticket of the CDC—won the elections by storm. The ticket won in fourteen of 15 counties.
Though respectful and quiet, Jewel’s leadership style which slants toward the impoverished masses often get her into feud with her colleagues who are used to elbowing ordinary people’s interest in the dispensation of the national cake.
She’s on record for fighting her way in committee rooms and in caucus meetings to jerk out the ordinary citizens’ share, pleading with colleagues to allow the felt needs of Liberians take precedence in development discussions.
Nene, as she’s called mostly in Bong County amongst her age mates, got fond relationship with and love for grassroots people, something that is informed by your natural upbringing, not only because she was born to a notable farming family, but also being an offspring of King Kerula Giddings King of Sanoyea.
Her parents, Mr. Moses Y. Howard and Nora Mammie Howard, were successful farmers, tailing a huge farmland despite civic service jobs that got them uprooted from place to place. Though job assignment took the family from one part of the country to another, the Howards returned to the farm as regularly as possible, and Jewel or Cianeh, she also loves to be called, was an integral part not only of the worthy locomotion but the attachment to the farming community of Bong.
This left her physically and mentally solidified as a progressive leader whether it was at the National Bank of Liberia now Central Bank of Liberia where she served as Deputy Governor, or at the Agriculture and Development Bank (ACDB) which she served as President or the First Union National Bank that she served as Mortgage Financing Underwriter focusing on Health and Social issues. And whether he was the First Lady of Liberia and whether she is the Vice President of Liberia.
Her devout Christian orientation tempted her to sponsor a bill that would, if it became law, abhor homosexual marriage and inflict tougher penalties for culprits. That bill did not get presidential favor for reasons deduced by skeptics and clad in great secrecy of officialdom.
All these combined and make her one of the most decorated public servant of Liberia. Amongst recent honors received by CDC’s Jewel is the Honorary Doctorate from the leadership of the Nigerian Institute of Management Consultant in recognition of the Bong County Senator’s sterling leadership abilities and for winning two successive democratic elections.
The ceremony was held in Abuja late Tuesday evening, April 26, 2016 after the Liberian lawmaker delivered a special speech on the topic, “The Role of Women in Business, Leadership and Management.”
Jewel was also decorated in 2011 with Ellen Johnson Sirleaf Presidential Recognition Award for Humanitarian Services for contribution to Youth Development in Liberia, AAW Peace 2011, and in the same year with the Chieftaincy Title that was conferred on her by Chiefs and Elders of Bong County.
Senator Taylor is a two-time winner of National Excellence Award in 2009 and 2011. She was also decorated with the Excellence Award for Advocacy for Rights of Women, AWLO, in 2012.
The Jewel story has been a story of strong stance on behalf of the people of underprivileged people. That is exactly why everyone clamors to join her in the celebration of her 56th Birth Anniversary.