Sunday, September 24, 2006

Been on Vacation

Still living it up in Cape Town. Just surfing Google News on Liberia for the last week or so:

  • President Johnson-Sirleaf accepted the International Freedom Award from Laura Bush on Thursday, rang the bell at the NY Stock Exchange on Friday. Also she joined the chorus of world leaders calling for UN reform, saying it now "appears to be undemocratic and hegemonic." I saw her dining with Kofi and Dubya on CNN.
  • Former Liberian President Charles Taylor's war crimes trial could begin as early as April 2.
  • The Americans appear to have run out of hospitality and they are requesting some 15,000 Liberians currently living in the U.S. to consider regularizing their status by October 2007 or face deportation.
  • United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan called on the Security Council to extend the UN mission in Liberia for another year until 30 September 2007.
  • President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf says the government will become more aggressive in enforcing tax compliance in Liberia.
  • Charles Julu, a former general under the regime of slain Liberian dictator Samuel Kanyon Doe, has confessed his "sins" in a church in Monrovia.
  • There was a shootout between a couple of UNMIL peacekeepers!?!?

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Oklahoma Report

Our journalist buddy Scott in Oklahoma sends this report of President Johnson-Sirleaf's visit to his state the other day:

She spoke for about 45 minutes, the first 25 of which were devoted to giving sort of a broad view about the history and future prospects for the entire African continent. The rest of the time was devoted specifically to Liberia. She spoke of the history of her country's conflicts and how it was in pretty bad shape when she took office 10 months ago. She seemed to indicate that it's made a lot of progress but still has quite far to go.

There were a bunch of African dignitaries and political bigshots in the audience, including former Liberian VP Bishop Benny Warner, Edward Perkins -- the former US Ambassador to Liberia and Charles Minor, the current Liberian Ambassador to the US. There were also Liberian expats and people who had adopted Liberian children that traveled to OK from as far away as Houston and Tennessee to hear her speak. The place was also swarming with Secret Service Agents, and she was running late and didn't have much time to spend there, so although I was able to get pretty close to her and even had her sign a photograph for me, I was unfortunately unable to get in more than a couple of words or ask any questions. She did cover a lot of ground in her speech, though. Among the highlights from my notes:

Liberia needs to encourage expats who fled the country during the war to return to their homeland (though she didn't reference a specific plan or incentives).

The education of the female child needs to be a priority.

She has a vision for strengthening Liberia's relationship with the US and also promote entrepreneurship.

She intends to take major risks promoting a reform agenda and is determined to "build a new Liberia out of the ashes of the old."

Finally, Liberians have a passion and will to make their country "America's success story in Africa."

Here's the AP article on her visit:

While she was in Georgia, Microsoft pledged to help revamp Liberia's ICT infrastructure.

P.S. We're on vacation in South Africa 'til Oct 1, so the posting will be a little slow.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Perceptions of the UN Mission Pretty Sour

Photographer Chris Herwig and I are working on a journalism project, giving us occasion to speak with some uneducated, under-employed, unhappy ex-combatant youth in town. These are the kind of dudes that are behind the recent crime wave, desperate for money and short on options.

One guy named
Sackie Nameni (pictured), age 34, who used to fight for Charles Taylor and has a huge bullet wound in his foot to prove it, tells us that his greatest ambition is to go to school, become an engineer, and visit "the Great USA". But he's really angry, impatient with the UN's disarmament and reintegration process, claiming that he was promised a chance to go to school, but that he's been waiting for months and feels forgotten.

I guess in an effort to reach guys like Sackie, UNDP has taken out ads in local newspapers telling ex-combatants that they are still eligible for education assistance, where to go, and what to do. But their ad is written in the King's English, which no ex-combatant can read, and published in the newspaper, which no ex-combatant can afford to buy.
Seems to me they'd be 100 times more successful in communicating by just scrawling their message with a crayon on a downtown wall.

All this leads me to the elephant in the room, or rather, in the country:

I'm not sure what the facts of his case are, but impressions like Sackie's only add to what's amounting to a serious perception problem for the UN Mission in Liberia (UNMIL). Although they're happy the peacekeepers are keeping the peace, Liberians are uniformly cranky with the UN's performance here, and everyone seems to suspect that their main motive is just to collect huge expat salaries. UNMIL's budget is something like 9 times the size of the government budget, and to hear the average Monrovian tell it, "All they do is buy another Jeep and go out to dinner."

The recent crime wave hasn't helped UNMIL's image. Apparently it's not part of UNMIL's mandate to police the streets, but people don't seem to want to hear that. The President spoke on the topic the other day:

"We have now asked UNMIL to be a bit more aggressive, work with the police force to increase patrolling at nights. We also suggested to them that those found in groups – gangs after midnight – be stopped and if they are ganging up, they should be arrested," she said.

In any case, if UNMIL is going to be here for years to come, they've got to do something about their image.

Chuckie Taylor's Pleading Guilty immigration-related crimes in the US.

Drop it Like It's Hot, Pt. 2

At a conference this week in Monrovia...

About 40 civil society organizations and inter-governmental agencies from 15 countries have called for the immediate and unconditional cancellation of all Liberia's multilateral and bilateral debts so as to give the country "a fresh start" after 15 years of bloody civil crisis.


Incidentally, the conference was held at the Corina Hotel, which is a convenient place to hold a conference for 50-75 people, and is one of the few Liberian-owned hotels in town. But speaking from experience, Corina is best avoided as a lodging place.


President Johnson-Sirleaf is keynote speaker at a conference on African affairs in Boston in October 2006. The guest list is pretty impressive, as is the $850 entry fee.

Incidentally, the president's biography on the conference website tackles the issue of her support for Taylor:

She initially supported Charles Taylor's rebellion against the dictatorial sanguinary regime of Sergeant Samuel Doe. She later opposed Charles Taylor when his regime took the same bloody turn as his predecessor’s. She ran against him in the 1997 presidential elections. She managed only ten percent of the votes, as opposed to Taylor's seventy-five percent. Taylor charged her with treason. She campaigned for the removal of President Taylor from office, playing an active and supportive role in the transitional government, as the country prepared itself for the 2005 elections. With Taylor's departure, she returned to take over the leadership of the Unity Party.

Thanks Michael for the link.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Vigilantism in the Cartoons

From the Inquirer. It's interesting that the little mouse, who usually has a sharp comment on the day's doings, is holding his tongue in this case. Judging from the radio call-in shows I've heard in the last few days, like the mouse, most Monrovians passively condone the vigilantism.

Glossary: ehn = even, hay= head, small small = little by little, fini=finish


Afrigadget is a group blog on the topic of African ingenuity and improvised technology. Via boingboing.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Honesty on the March?

According to today’s edition of The News, President Johnson-Sirleaf has returned the amount of more than US$33 thousand dollars to government coffers, money left over from payouts for travel expenses. Traditionally, payouts justified as travel expenses have been one of the main sources of illicit income for Liberian leaders. The article says this is the first time a Liberian president has ever given money back to the government.

Photo by Chris Herwig.

More on Vigilantism

Some Liberians are condemning the Justice Ministry's call for vigilantism. Here's a print piece, and I've heard lively debate on radio. Somebody sympathetic to the administration publicly suggested that the armed gangs are being funded by opposition political parties, which has struck a nerve.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Progressive New Forestry Law

There's a brand new national forestry law in Liberia, and it looks pretty promising, according to this post from the blog of the Executive Director of the Sierra Club:

It sets aside 30 percent of the forests as reserves, and guarantees that local communities will have to approve all timber concessions and will receive 30 percent of the revenues. But there's a smart twist -- those revenues will come from property taxes, not extraction fees, so the incentive is for the local communities to make sure there is no overlogging to ensure that the land isn't devalued and that the payments continue indefinitely -- a model considerably better than how the U.S. treats its own national forests!

Thanks David for the links.

The So-Called Isaakaba Boys

Everyone is talking about the so-called “Isaakaba” phenomenon, and although we generally try to keep Liberia looking as rosy as possible here at the Ledger, I can’t help but report on it.

Gangs of unemployed ex-combatant youths have been terrorizing various neighborhoods in Monrovia ever since the war ended, but apparently things are getting worse in recent weeks.

The response has been miserable across the board:

The media have been referring to the perpetrators as if they were some monolithic “notorious gang” instead of a generalized crime wave. One effect has got to be that disaffected ex-combatant youths will be attracted to the idea of being associated with the name, “Issakaba Boys”, and the problem will multiply.

The Justice Ministry has called on citizens to form neighborhood watches and “vigilante groups” (their words). Consequently, there have been at least two spontaneous public stonings for alleged petty crimes in the last few days, and dozens of mob justice episodes. This, at a time when the government and iNGOs had been working to foster respect for rule of law. And what will happen a couple of years from now, when these unaccountable, untrained neighborhood watch groups have morphed into miniature organized crime units themselves? I know it ain’t easy when your police force is unarmed, underpaid, unskilled, and unhappy, AND you’ve got 85% unemployment in your country, but asking the people to take the law into their own hands!?!? Could you think of no other policy options?

The UN mission is not perceived as doing anything about the crime wave. Ask anyone, and I mean anyone, what they think of UNMIL right now, and they will spit, curse, and flail their arms in disgust, wondering why they don’t send some of their 15,000 peacekeepers out to police the streets. UNMIL’s excuse is that they don’t have an Executive Mandate allowing them to do so. Is the Ellen government asking for one, and does the international community have any interest in that option?

UN Indian Women Peacekeepers Unit

Over 100 Indian women police officers will soon join United Nations peacekeepers in Liberia to respond to riots and train local police in the volatile West African country. The all-woman unit is comprised of volunteers who have served in Kashmir and north-east India countering insurgencies. According to BBC, this is only the second time that an all-female unit will be used in a peacekeeping mission.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Iron Lady Abroad

From our friend Scott who works in public radio in Oklahoma:

NORMAN - Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf will
headline the University of Oklahoma's seventh Foreign Policy Conference,
scheduled for Thursday, Sept. 14, on the OU Norman campus.

The conference, "Africa and Prospects for Hope," will include Sirleaf's
keynote address during the President's Associates luncheon, to be held
at noon in the Molly Shi Boren Ballroom in Oklahoma Memorial Union., 900
Asp Ave., as well as two panel discussions and the opening of the
Oklahoma Diplomatic Archives at the Western History Collections.
Reservations are required for all events.

"President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf is one of the most impressive national
leaders in the world today," OU President David L. Boren said. "Her
political courage and her vision for the future of Africa are
inspirational. It is an honor for the entire state for her to pay a
visit to Oklahoma."

With a professional and political career spanning nearly four decades,
Sirleaf, who often is referred to as the "Iron Lady," is the first
democratically elected woman to head an African country. She was sworn
into the office of president of Liberia in January. She also ran for the
office as the Unity Party's presidential candidate in the controversial
1997 Liberia general elections, where the official results placed her
second to Charles Taylor in a field of 13. She remains the leader of the
Unity Party.
Scott wants to know what he should ask her if he gets a chance for a question. Any of our readers have a suggestion for him? Liberians?

Tuesday, September 05, 2006


Ran into a regularly-updated website run by Mandingo Liberian expats in the US this morning, and I'm reprinting their links to Liberian and diaspora media sources:

Photo of Monrovia by Chris Herwig. Here's hoping we can feature more of his excellent work in the future.

Ledger Bookshelf: The Mask of Anarchy

This book doesn't need really recommending, since it's got so little competition. But if you're at all interested in a primer on contemporary Liberian politics, history, and culture, read Steven Ellis. It's not an easy read, but we're lucky to have such a sober, measured account of the wars.

When is the updated edition coming out, Prof. Ellis?

Fire Stories

There's been suprisingly little in the papers about the reports that the fire was accidental. Not sure what to make of these stories, where they're still speculating it was arson, and at the same time sort of accepting the investigators' verdict by scolding those who had accused public figures of attempted assassination. The Liberian journalist's tendency to editorialize in the middle of an otherwise uncolored article never ceases to amaze. But who are we to talk? This one has the most detail that I've found.

Monday, September 04, 2006


These guys are available for sale in the market, in bulk. And in our backyard.

Executive Mansion Fire Accidental?

Not much info in this story, but we hear on BBC that three independent investigation teams (US, South African, and one other) have concluded that the fire in the Executive Mansion was not arson, even though it happened on Founders' Day, even though it burned the president's own offices, and even though the president happened to be hosting presidents from 3 other African countries at that particular moment.

I'm not calling bull-crap on it per se, but you have to admit that it's much more convenient for the president, the UN, and the US if the fire is deemed accidental. And this country can hardly afford any more instability right now.

Making things weirder is a conversation we had with an employee of a big US contractor the other day. This person (a single source, granted) claims to have attended a going away party for the American arson investigator two weekends back, where it was announced on the mic that he had concluded the fire was not arson.

Fine, but why was the report only released on Saturday? Our source says maybe the president wanted to use the fire as an excuse to clean house of some of her less desirable staffers and security people. Can't blame her, I guess. Or maybe they were just waiting for the other two reports to come in?

On the topic of the state security forces shooting at each other a few weeks ago, those shootings that everyone speculates were related to the fire incident: according to our single source again, the dude who died was drunk and shooting wildly when he was killed, and the shooting had nothing to do with the fire. Our source even claims to know an American guy who was drinking with the deceased shortly before he was killed.

Friday, September 01, 2006

More on the Media vs. Ellen Story

As previously reported here, the president came out last week talking about the crooked state of the media, and the media went on the rampage against her. I wrote a raft of letters to the editor about it (there are like 20+ newspapers here), agreeing with her and challenging the press union to admit that there’s a problem. Anyway, today the Inquirer comes out with a story about a member of the press union who is breaking ranks and calling for the media to heed the president’s words. That’s a good start.