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.