Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Biting the Hand

This nonsensical article from an (often excellent) Liberian news site in the US reminds me to say something I’ve been meaning to say for a while. In spite of what you may read in the Liberian press, be it known: the US government gives a great deal of assistance to Liberia. I’m no fan of the Bush administration, and I will be the first to admit that my country has made some really grave foreign policy mistakes, including in Liberia, but this is just inaccurate:

The facts are clear. Just look at how many visits President Johnson-Sirleaf has made to the United States. What concrete assistance have Liberia gotten from the United States government? It’s all about rhetoric and symbolism. Except for private sympathizers like Oprah Winfrey and others, there has been no substantial assistance for Liberia from America.

Oh boy. Where to begin? The first three US government docs that pop up in this google search are instructive:

Planned FY 2005 Obligation: $4,471,000 CSH; $6,854,000 DA; $24,800,000 ESF
Prior Year Unobligated: $1,000,000 CSH; $45,266,000 IDA
Proposed FY 2006 Obligation: $2,900,000 CSH; $7,858,000 DA; $75,000,000 ESF

I don’t know what all those acronyms stand for, but the numbers speak for themselves. If I recall correctly, the entire government budget of Liberia is only about $60 million. Furthermore, if you go to damned near any NGO project site in the whole country, you will see the USAID symbol on every sign, every building, every bag of rice, every shipping container, and every car door. According to one of its reports, USAID funds twenty international NGOs (each of which spends millions of dollars of its own money as a result) in such areas as:

Successful Transition From Relief to Recovery through a Community Reintegation Program
Increased Use of Essential Primary Health Care (PHC) Services Through Civil Society
Coverage for Pregnant Women
Use of Insecticide Treated Bed Nets
Strengthened capacity of civil society to achieve sustainable primary health care delivery, including access, quality and demand of services
Improved policy framework for primary health care service delivery in Liberia
Increased availability of resources, including non-USAID resources for health sector
Increased Food Security In Targeted Areas
Increased Private Home Construction Using Manufactured Materials
Increased Production of Diverse Food Crops
Increased Economic Livelihood
Increased Role of Civil Society in Democratic Governance
Social and economic development and peace building activities after CPBD phases out.
Civic organizations strengthened
Civic Action increased in targeted communities
Conflict management practices improved at community and cluster levels.
Community Revitalization and Reintegration

Nevertheless, The Perspective goes on to make the case--without shame--that Liberia should quit begging from the USA and start begging from China.

…the United States has not done anything in a concrete way to stabilize Liberia, especially in the economic sense, the U.S. Government of George Bush has terminated the status of Liberians as protected alien that was granted during the Liberian civil war.

For one thing, I have met dozens of American citizens in Liberia, risking life and limb to live among desperate poverty for the sake of bettering peoples' lives whom they've never even met. Why aren't educated, motivated Liberians doing these jobs in the humanitarian and development fields? Because they'd rather live in Sharon Hill, Pennsylvania and write about how the US doesn't do anything for Liberia.

P.S. - I would argue that “terminating the status of Liberians as protected alien [sic]” is one great way to stimulate economic growth in Liberia. The country needs to arrest the brain drain problem, and for refugee Liberians to bring their new skills and experience back home with them.

Full disclosure: I work on projects that are funded in part by USAID.

Update: The author of the article in question has been gracious enough to allow me to reprint his email response to my somewhat shrill rant from yesterday:

If you read my article correctly, I applauded the efforts of private Americans who are working hard to assist Liberia and this includes Oprah Winfrey. So, there is a distinction between the Bush Administration and the American people. I have been in America for twenty two years, obtained two degrees from public universities funded by American tax payers. I am an American who has two american children. Curently, I am putting my financial resources together so that I will go to Liberia in two or three years. it is not just easy to leave your adopted home where you have been for over tweny years and just leave. For some people it is easy, for others it is not. And for your information the termination of TPS for Liberians will do the opposite of what you are claiming it would do. There are some people who can not complete their education because of the termination of their status. For us foreigners, it is not easy to work, go to school and support relatives in refugee camps. These are things you will not understand. But I just wanted you and others to know that I appreciate America and what it does for Liberians especially myself.
Thanks for your response to my article.
Joseph Solo

Monday, October 30, 2006

EJS in China

"The Liberian president is paying a state visit to China on the sidelines of the Beijing Summit of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) to be opened on Nov. 4. She will be present at the summit."

Christian Science Monitor Feature on the TRC

Reporter paints a nice picture in the first paragraph.

Thanks David for the link.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Local NGO Making Good

Just got ahold of the magazine published by The Foundation for Human Rights and Democracy (FOHRD) , a group of "human rights and pro-democracy activists (in and outside Liberia)" run by this guy, who's often quoted in newspaper stories on budget and political issues. I wouldn't tend to focus on the literature of a particular NGO, but such a thing is so rare in Liberia, it really stands out.

They don't divulge their funding sources in the magazine, but they do have a nice manifesto calling for a raft of democratic reforms. The best part is an interview with the civil service boss Dr. C. William Allen, in which he explains the various pressures on government as it tries to trim the extremely bloated civil service workforce. The interview offers a nice balance against an 8-page story about the difference between civil service salaries ($30/month) and ministry salaries ($1500/month). Incidentally, according to FOHRD, the president makes $6000/month, while the vice president and house speaker both pull down $5000/month. This kind of content would be a welcome addition to the Liberian newspapers.

FOHRD tends to blame the executive too much for the country's woes, but that's like the national pastime. It's nice to see a group of critics doing something, digging into the issues, and not just complaining.

They're Just Thinking of This NOW?

Something called the Association for the Legal Defense of Charles Taylor says that the ongoing TRC testimony in Liberia threatens to harm Taylor's case in The Hague, which is supposed to start in April. Here's some hilariously biased reporting about it.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

UN Human Rights Report No Joke

Finally got around to looking at the latest UN Human Rights report on Liberia, and woah. Like a dinner companion said last night, "If you look at the reports that Kofi Annan's people do, it's all wine and roses. But the UN Human Rights reports are hard-hitting." Lots of detail on judicial problems, police problems, corruption galore, failure to do this, that, and the other thing.

It's no fun to read, especially for the authorities responsible for preventing these crimes. But this kind of witnessing and documentation of HR abuses is an essential part of the process of fixing a broken society.

Sadly, the report fails to mention the rape and sexual exploitation within the UN mission's own ranks, which is well-known to be happening.

Here's the pdf

This Leaves a Bad Taste

Africa’s political leaders are being offered a $5m prize and a stipend for life if they do not plunder the national coffers or rig elections. Nelson Mandela, Tony Blair and Bill Clinton are backing the initiative to be formally launched tomorrow in London by a foundation started by a Sudanese-born telecom tycoon, Mo Ibrahim.

Mr Mandela said the award, which is for former leaders who have shown “excellence in leadership”, will contribute to “Africa’s political and economic renaissance”. Mr Blair said it supported efforts to “encourage exemplary leadership”.

Paying people to do the right thing? Their hearts are in the right place, but this does a lot to codify the cycle of dependence, and from the top down!

Or maybe it's the lesser of two evils.

They're Fixing the Airport!

That's great news. If they're going to attract any foreign investment here, they've got to make the airport experience a little less traumatic. (To be fair, it has improved greatly over the 5 months we've been here.)

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Drop it Like It's Hot, Pt. 5

Got this email from a buddy:
j -

I thought
you might find the Iron Lady's reported comments at Georgetown vis a vis paying back debt, etc interesting... I've never heard of her being so publicly supportive of fast-tracking Liberia's debt relief before (she always seemed to be going along with HIPC, at least publicly)... I wonder if the Jubilee/Africa Action activist phone-calls to [World Bank President Paul] Wolfowitz last week were encouraging to her.

Here are some stories about the phone call action and Jubilee's pressure vis immediate debt cancellation...

Africa Action Calls on World Bank to Cancel Liberia's Debt
Kansas City infoZine, MO - Oct 22, 2006
World Bank President Liberia's Debt Cancellation Campaign Intensifies
Voice of America, Oct. 18 06

Monday, October 23, 2006


Thanks Matt for pointing out the website for GEMAP, which is the international/Liberian partnership against corruption that's overseeing the country's economic affairs and building local capacity for good economic governance.

The FAQ page looks designed to allay any fears that Liberia has given over its sovereignty to foreigners.

Their twice-monthly reports are posted in MS word format here. This month's report talks about mineral rights contracts that they're reviewing, and how they're concerned about financial problems at the port.

GEMAP has billboards around Liberia encouraging people to pay their taxes and to trust the new government's economic management.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Radio Stations in Liberia

Somebody emailed about Low Power FM radio:

"I noticed the CIA World Fact book had a radio
station survey, according to it, there are somthing like seven FM
stations, no AM stations, and broadcasts available through Intelset.
Does that sound right to you? Is there any LPFM? What about the idea
of setting up LPFM... how tightly regulated is spectrum?

I imagine -- but have no real idea -- that each of some the FM
stations might each be largely run by, or affiliated with, some of the
many political parties.

Is there any kind of need/interest in the realm of developing
community radio with low power FM? It's pretty inexpensive to setup
(at least strictly in terms of hardware, from the perspective of an
There are at least 7 stations in Monrovia, including UNMIL radio (which is quite good), and BBC. VOA and RFI are broadcast part of the day only.

I'm not sure of radio stations' relationship with political parties. I know that parties have historically controlled some radio stations, but so many of the 40+ now extant are brand new (2-3 years old), having been established by Mercy Corps (with US money) and UNMIL, and I am positive that neither of them tolerate overt political hackery on the air. Hate speech is not allowed either. It may still happen, here and there, but not much. Hate speech is said to come over the border from Cote d'Ivoire in places. International Alert is building a few radio stations right now, too.

All the stations in the bush are LPFM, with transmitters from 1 watt to 100 watts or more. Some counties have no FM radio at all. The spectrum is regulated, and I have seen current broadcast licenses hanging on the wall in the radio stations themselves, but I bet that anyone could establish a station out in the bush and get away with broadcasting for years before anyone came knocking.

But it's a real challenge to keep the little stations on the air sustainably. Stations get free phones and free use of a tower from the various cell phone providers, and some of them even get free electricity. But many are solar powered and barely manage to broadcast half the day. There are no replacement parts and very few skilled engineers, producers, and reporters out in the bush, few listeners have any money to donate, and population densities are too low to attract many advertisers. Even in places where radio stations exist, you might have so few household radios around that radio diffusion is only 10%.

During the acute emergency phase, UNMIL and USAID were happy to fund a lot of little stations all over the place, but now I have heard both of them say that they want to let the weaker ones perish so that fewer stations will cover more ground.

Security Council Votes to Maintain Diamond Sanctions

UNITED NATIONS, Oct. 21 (UPI) -- The U.N. Security Council has voted to retain a ban on Liberian diamond exports, believed used to finance the African country's civil war.

The council called on Liberia to comply with international rules confirming the gems' origins.

Liberia's warlords have widely been believed to be financing wars in Liberia and Sierra Leone by selling more than $300 million in exploited "conflict diamonds" a year to foreign concessionaires to raise funds for weapons, the BBC reports.

The Security Council imposed arms and diamond embargoes on Liberia in May 2001, two years before the end of a 14-year civil war there.

In a May letter, Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf urged the council lift the sanctions so the diamond money could now be used for reconstruction.

The council said it would examine the issue again in December.

Iron Lady Interview with Judy Woodruff

"In two years, by the time I reach my second anniversary in January 2008, things will be different. The roads will be fixed, the lights will be fixed, the kids will be in school. If I don't, I am in trouble." (laughter, applause).

Friday, October 20, 2006

Rape-a-thon Continues

MONROVIA, 19 October (IRIN) - Liberia's chief justice on Thursday rejected calls for the establishment of a special court to try rape cases following a United Nations report criticising the country's high incidence of sexual violence and its weak judicial system. "There is no need for such a court right now as our court systems can handle those cases," Chief Justice Johnnie Lewis told reporters.
Oh, the sheer madness of that statement. But it figures, if you consider where Liberia falls on the evolutionary scale of women's rights:

A law passed in December [that's LAST YEAR. -Ed.] made rape illegal for the first time in Liberia - previously only gang rape was considered a crime. The new law forbids bail and carries a maximum sentence of life imprisonment. The UN report, however, said so far the law had been ignored. "Despite ... the personal commitment of the president to tackling this issue, the response of law enforcement and judicial authorities has been disappointing," said the report... It said rape suspects are regularly released on bail even where there is significant evidence indicating guilt.
...or the cops let them go for a small bribe, or even for free.

I spent way too much time yesterday writing a letter to the editor about this story in the Analyst, which seems to have been written to convince the reader that rape is actually not so bad. Best part:
A 97-year-old father [who has no name and no credentials AT ALL?] told The Analyst that it is only in recent time that they have begun hearing about rape cases, since cultural practices of yester-years in Liberia had seen young girls engaged to elderly men as wives with no problem in communities at all. [None!]

Besides, he cited instances of even religious practices requiring virgins to be chosen as wives, with absolutely no problem brought about following sexual intercourse. [Those 9-year-olds just skip away whistlin', do they? ]

Convincingly, [meaning that the reporter was convinced?] he urged those interested in rape cases to visit the interior of Liberia and see for themselves the "babies" who now bear children as a result of the cultural practices to which the laws will only exist in theory but will never work in practice against the way of life of the people.

No rebuttal to this 97-year old rape expert is offered in the article.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

War Crimes Tribunal Called For, Again

From a site run by Liberians in the US:

The former head and chief prosecutor of the Special Court for Sierra Leone, David Cane says Liberia needs a war crime tribunal to bring about truth, justice and sustainable peace for victims in that troubled West African state.

This is a constant source of controversy here. The TRC is up and running, with just a few hiccups so far, but what about all the warlords and alleged war criminals that are still in government? Some of them (allegedly) have just as much blood on their hands as Taylor, right?
Students stage marches on this issue, newspaper editorials debate it, and radio talk-show callers
bring it up all the time. Is the government waiting for some of the dust to settle around the TRC first? Are they waiting for the Taylor trial to end?

I guess for the sake of harm reduction, I'd rather see these alleged perps stay in congress for a while, just to keep them happy. Justice is nice, but peace and stability are nicer.

US Company Wants to Build Waste-to-Energy Plant in Monrovia

I hate to simply reprint a press release from a corporation, but this is interesting:

CHERRY HILL, NJ -- (MARKET WIRE) -- October 18, 2006 -- A United States environmental and electricity firm, BioEnergy, Inc., has proposed to build, own, and operate several waste-to-energy plants in Liberia. As presented in the two-day National Energy Stakeholders Forum held on October 5-6, 2006, in Monrovia, BioEnergy, Inc. has proposed to first utilize Monrovia City's garbage as a fuel source for the country's first waste-to-energy plant. The company plans to incinerate garbage found on the streets of Monrovia in a waste-to-energy plant that will produce approximately twelve megawatts of power for the people of Liberia.

BioEnergy plans to work with the Liberian Electricity Corporation (LEC) and Minister of Lands, Mines, and Energy to implement the plan and to co-invest in the needed transmission and distribution lines to achieve their goals. The company is not seeking any guarantees or investments by the Liberian government and plans to operate the facility as a private corporation run by Liberians and BioEnergy experts. [At least they talk a good game, huh? -Ed.]

BioEnergy has future plans to electrify rural Liberia by employing Liberian farmers to produce energy crops such as rice, corn, and palm kernels. The waste from the farm crop will be used as environmentally friendly fuel sources while promoting food production and jobs in Liberia.

At present, BioEnergy has submitted a Memorandum of Understanding to the various city and government officials for review and approval.

BioEnergy, Inc. is a United States environmental and electricity company whose mission is to implement sustainable living projects related to electricity and the environment.

For more information, visit, http://www.IntelliBioEnergy.com.

I wish we could have attended that conference! Wonder what else went on there, what other proposals came out. Monrovia certainly has municipal waste to burn. Here's a primer on waste-to-energy from wikipedia, probably written by lackeys of the industry.

As this kind of FDI starts coming in, I wonder how much Liberia's historically "rent-seeking" legislature will continue to seek rents and scuttle projects from investors who won't play the game. We need an interview with one of these anti-corruption people working with the government!

P.S. Speaking of energy, every day more street lights are coming on in Monrovia, small-small.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

AP Story on EJS Visit to the US

"Your settlers fled religious persecution in Europe. Ours fled slavery in America," she said.

"Like yours, our founders were flawed," establishing a state largely for the elite. "We seek to preserve the best of their legacies."

That reminds me; why doesn't this government change the national seal, the one that says "THE LOVE OF LIBERTY BROUGHT US HERE"? After all, that motto only speaks for the Americo-Liberians, who have never numbered any more than like 2 percent of the population. And the colonization of this area is now widely seen as the engine behind most of the area's conflicts in the last century and a half. It wouldn't be too hard to think of a motto that's more inclusive. It would an easy way for the Administration to win points with the historically opressed majority, too. I'm just sayin'.

(BTW the story says the population is 2 million, but it's closer to 3.5 million.)

Oh wait here's a full transcript of EJS at Georgetown University.

TRC to Proceed Behind Closed Doors

Can't find a print story, but the BBC reported last night that President Johnson-Sirleaf wants the TRC statement-taking to be done in secret from now on. Here's a story about some of the grisly testimony taken so far.

Monday, October 16, 2006


From the AP Daybook today:

> Highlights:
> 12 p.m. Speaks to the The Womens Foreign Policy Group. Ritz Carlton
> Hotel, 1150 22nd St. NW
Thanks, Matt.

TRC Statement Taking Roundly Criticized

Lots of newspapers are calling for the TRC statement-taking process to be changed or even halted. In a country where reputation is EVERYTHING, the chorus of editors seems to be saying the statements should be taken anonymously, and that specific persons accused of crimes should be allowed a chance to defend themselves before their names hit the papers. I don't know if this is the process happens with all TRC's, but it's interesting that even the media are calling for less media coverage.

Must be a Juicy Back Story on this One

In spite of incessant corruption allegations against former Vice Chairman of the defunct National Transitional Government of Liberia, Wesley M. Johnson, President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf has finally commissioned him as Liberia's Ambassador to the United Kingdom.
What's that management/HR technique called, the one for when you can't fire someone for whatever reason, so you just stick them in some job where they're guaranteed not to do much damage? Still looks crappy, though, and the papers are right to question it.

Maybe Some of them Really Forgot to Pick up Their Checks

Is civil service corruption on the retreat?
The Finance Ministry has revealed that for the months of June and July, there are 17,432 unclaimed salary checks as a result of the stringent verification process it conducted in various ministries and agencies.
The practice of creating ghost employees probably started about 20 minutes after the first payroll ledger was invented, thousands of years ago, like in ancient Egypt or Mesopatamia. West Africa has a long record of such connivances, no doubt inherited from crooked colonial adminstrators.

Church Singing Out the Window

The neighborhood choir must be practicing. It's a beautiful sound early on a cool Monday morning.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Haste Makes Waste

A friend of ours in Monrovia, a foreigner, told me this story yesterday. Every month, he goes to the Immigration bureau to get a new visa. (His wife works for the UN, but since it's an unaccompanied post, they won't risk the liability of sponsoring him for Resident Alien status.) Each time, he gets in line and someone approaches him, a 'fixer' who offers to expedite the process for US$20. Our buddy waits in the hair salon next door, and 15 mins later the guy comes back with his passport, stamped with a new visa. Works every time, he says. It's a routine, by now.

Yesterday when he goes to do his visa routine, the fixer's not there, so our buddy waits in line. The people at the counter inform him that all this time, he's been paying some hustler to affix a meaningless stamp in his passport.

Do TRCs Always Do What They're Supposed To?

After just a few days of testimony, the TRC is provoking strong reactions. Yesterday one of the disarmed warlords accused one of the people testifying of having been paid to impugn the warlord's character. (More here.) The warlord guy warns that the TRC process will tear the country apart. Of course, the warlords of the world have every reason to want the process to stop.

Is this what always happens with a TRC? Do people always say 'this will only make things worse!'? And does the TRC process ever lead to violence? We need an interview with a TRC expert.

Friday, October 13, 2006

In Threes

Pic by Chris Herwig.

Drop it Like it's Hot, Pt. 4

Our buddy Sarah at Jubilee USA sends word that since the Iron Lady is in the US this week, they're calling on people to phone the World Bank and ask that Liberia's debt be cancelled.

Dial: 202-458-0309

Call In Script

Hi, My name is ---- from CITY, STATE.As Liberian president Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf visits Washington, DC, I am calling to urge that Mr. Wolfowitz support immediate cancellation of Liberia's debt so the country can use its resources for vital needs like electricity, health, and education. It is unjust and inhumane that the people of Liberia have to pay back debts that were incurred under corrupt governments, especially when the people never saw any benefit. Even more unfair is the creditor's insistence that Liberia pay back $1.5 billion in arrears before seeing any type of debt relief. This just doesn't make sense for a country where three-fourths of the people live on less than a $1 a day. Please use your influence to cancel Liberia's debt immediately.


Required Paragraph for NGOs and Liberian Lawmakers

As I go through all the recent social science reports I can find on Liberia, everyone's got a different take on what caused the war. This passage from a 2005 report on returnee kids made me think about it differently, again, and I like the overall message:

What we must keep in mind is that, until 1980, Liberia was defacto an apartheid state - but because a black rather than white elite ruled Liberia, it was not a major concern for the international community. For the agencies now working for the improvement of living conditions and human rights, this should matter a lot, both as a means of understanding the war and as a precondition for their policy interventions. Of particular relevance is the fact that the spectre of war is nothing new in Liberia; indeed, the argument can be made that Liberia has been at 'war' with itself from the very beginning of its existence as an independent state. This first and foremost a 'war' over the questions of what it means to be a Liberian, and how the polity of the country should be constituted. The task for the various stakeholders currently involved in Liberia is not simply putting Liberia back together again, but - for the first time - constructing a state and a population based on the principle of inclusion instead of exclusion.

-Morten Boas and Anne Hatloy, After the 'Storm': Economic Among Returning Youths. The Case of Voinjama [big pdf]

File Under: Ain't Gonna Happen

MONROVIA – Liberia's defence minister said on Friday an exiled confidant of former president and warlord Charles Taylor was plotting to assassinate top government officials and called for international help tracking him down.

Benjamin Yeaten, Taylor's former chief of staff and one of his most feared fighters, is believed to be armed, somewhere in West Africa and planning to return to Liberia to destabilise it, Defence Minister Brownie Samukai said.

Given the unlikelihood of any such attack succeeding while 14,000 UN peacekeepers are here, I have to wonder who would stand to benefit from the making of this announcement? Is it a coincidence that this item surfaces just as the TRC is starting up?

Or maybe I'm naive. I guess I wouldn't have believed that the Executive Mansion would catch fire on Founders Day, either.

P.S. NPR in the US has done a radio story on the TRC sessions taking place in the States.

Big BBC Story on Liberian Forests

Broadcast yesterday and available in print.

Looting Yesterday

This happened before, at the end of the transition government when Johnson-Sirleaf came into office; government employees stealing everything in sight from the Capitol building.

Recently the goverment got a bunch of money to renovate the place, and the other day lawmakers were asked to vacate temporarily so that the work could proceed. But despite the ugly precedent, security was again allowed to lapse:

The facial expression of the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Edwin Melvin Snowe, who was also seen yesterday at the Capitol, showed concerns about the manner and form in which government properties were being hustled away from the Capitol.

He was however instrumental in stopping some men possessing welding machines from attempting to break down the Central Air Cool to be used as scraps.

And from another story...

The looters have already removed rugs at the Rotana and the Joint Chamber while commodes in all of the bathrooms at the House wing have disappeared. [I think they mean "rotunda". -Ed.]

Those arrested in connection with the looting include, James Cargeor, Director of Maintenance of the House of Representatives, and two police officers assigned at the Capitol.

If those arrested are guilty, I guess this could be seen as something of an improvement. Last time the perps were lawmakers' staff.

Thursday, October 12, 2006


In a screaming match between a monkey and a rooster, who wins?

Answer: Depends on the day. Most mornings in our neighborhood, the monkey (somebody’s pet?) knocks off about 6:45AM, while the roosters will sometimes pop off a couple of cockadoodledoos as late at 7:30AM. The monkey will sometimes start screaming again later in the morning, say 10:30, but to be fair I'm not sure we should count that as part of the contest, since the roosters are mostly inactive until the next morning. Mendy (who sleeps with ear plugs) says she saw a young kid carrying a baby chimp down our street the other day.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Day One

Here’s the first story of what I guess will be many--a report on TRC testimony about atrocities committed during the Liberian wars.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

TRC Started Work Today

Mail & Guardian story.

Monday, October 09, 2006

How to Make a Living in Spite of 85% Unemployment, Pt.8

A recurring series dedicated to the heroes of the informal economy. Get that paper.

Styrofoam-based mobile retailer

1. Find a thick piece of Styrofoam.

2. Save up and buy a handful of sunglasses or earrings from a wholesaler/importer.

3. Stick the wares into your Styrofoam by the sharp ends, and walk around selling them.

Vigilantism Update

There's no way to know whether it's really true, but the perception among the few people I've asked is that the recent government-sanctioned vigilante reaction to the so-called Isaakaba Boys crime wave has been effective. I still think it's insane.

Lone Star Beats Rwanda

Laying in bed sick with some water-borne illness yesterday, I was reminded by the noise of people cheering and honking horns, "Oh yeah, there's an African Cup of Nations qualifying match downtown today!" I switched on the radio to hear the last half, a real nail-biter. Not that Rwanda's any less deserving, but congratulations to the Liberians in this little moment of pride and unity. I think there was quite a bit of Sunday-night partying last night, and on a school night!

Speaking of which, it's the first day of school! We saw a truck carrying a stack of brand-new school desks about 6 meters high this morning. (Begging the question, 'Why weren't they delivered on Friday?', but oh well.)

The National Human Development Report (Part 2)

Laying in bed all day yesterday, I had occasion to read the entire Human Development Report for Liberia 2006 (so that you wouldn't have to). It's all about rebuilding human capacity for development. Here's the pdf.

This passage is brutally honest, keeping in mind that the document was written almost entirely by Liberians:

Another major cost is the switch that occurs in mindsets and value systems of people who have suffered prolonged violent conflict. The 14-year conflict eroded family and societal values, creating a situation of widening gaps between the status and responsibilities of children and their parents, and between people’s behaviour and societal norms. The traditional practices of protecting collective well-being, in which communities and individuals pool resources to realize their potential, have become lost to a pernicious sense of individualism.

The behavioural shift that resulted from the conflict is not unique to Liberia. It is a common phenomenon during protracted conflicts and one that is very difficult to reverse once it has occurred. “Once the reputation for honest interaction has been lost, the incentive for honest behaviour in the future is greatly weakened and the cost of enforcing transactions increases exponentially.”

A switch also occurred between honesty and corruption, and between hard work and laziness. Mischief and the search for ‘values’ not obtainable through honest labour seem to be a new way of life. Almost everybody in both public and private sector enterprises seems to be engaged in schemes of various types for personal interests at the expense of the corporate interest. Corruption is rampant in almost every sphere of national life, disrupting plans and programmes to support the restoration of basic social services and jobs.
That passage in red is something that I have witnessed on an almost daily basis, and something which needs to be discussed at every level of society, on the radio, in the newspaper, in congress and in every village everywhere, for years and years to come. This is not easy stuff, and I'd love to hear what our Liberian readers think about it.

TRC Touring the US

Since there are so many Liberians in the USA, it makes sense. VOA story.

Friday, October 06, 2006

TRC Update

Yesterday the new Truth and Reconciliation Commission did a public event to raise awareness, parading mixed groups of both perpetrators and survivors of wartime human rights abuses through downtown Monrovia with banners and matching t-shirts. Whether victim or perp, the message is 'don't be afraid to tell your story'.

Stamp Cutting

We're "resident aliens" now, a process which required multiple visits to Immigration and cost hundreds of dollars. One cool thing is the stamp that they put in your passport, a rubber stamp that was obviously cut by hand!

It's a common thing to see people selling their stamp-cutting services on the street, working with a razor blade and a magnifiying glass.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Drop it Like it's Hot, Pt. 3

The Administration is getting good marks from the IMF. I think this passage means something like 'stay the course and maybe you'll get debt relief sometime in the distant future':

This would allow the IMF to give consideration to further de-escalate the remedial measures and, with adequate financing assurances, a possible rights accumulation program aimed at clearing Liberia's arrears to the IMF. These actions could pave the way for Liberia to benefit from debt relief under the Highly Indebted Poor Country Initiative and the Multilateral Debt Relief Initiative.
I heard the Minister of Finance on the radio the other day, and she was really impressive, laying out the immediate steps the government is taking to create jobs by investing in labor-intensive infrastructure projects, and building from there. It was refreshing to hear a Liberian politician sticking to the issues, telling the people what the government's plans are in a straightforward way. I say that because so much of what you read in the papers from politicians is just embarrassing, where some talentless demagogue is complaining about how his character was impugned by some other talentless demagogue.

Nice Story about Liberians Coming Home

From the Christian Science Monitor.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Steel Deal Sucks

After the war ended, they had an interim government here, which was a total wreck. Among other misdeeds, this interim government signed a number of questionable deals with multinationals. One of these deals, with Mittal Steel, is now being attacked by Global Witness for creating "a state within a state", where human rights and environmental laws can be ignored. Iron Lady says she's reviewing the contract.

UN Mission Says They're Pulling Out in 2008

Announced yesterday.

Monday, October 02, 2006


The Society for the Conservation of Nature of Liberia (SCNL) is pleased to invite participants to the First Annual Liberia Bird Festival. This festival is part of a global event, the World Bird Festival sponsored by BirdLife International, which happens during the first week of October. It is the largest bird watching event in the world. The objective is to get as many people as possible to go bird watching over one week-end, and to record as many of the world’s 10,000 species of birds as possible. The World Bird Festival highlights the vital role that birds play in the equilibrium of ecosystems, as well as their relationships with people.

Celebration of this year’s festival is planned to take place in Robertsport , Grand Cape Mount County, 7-8 October 2006. The festival will take place at the proposed Lake Piso Nature Reserve, which is one of nine Important Bird Areas (IBA) in Liberia. The Important Bird Areas are areas which have been recognized to hold species of global conservation concern.

The theme for this year’s celebration is “Connecting people with birds”. Birds are part of the global ecosystem and are linked to people in many cultures. This year’s event will afford Birdlife International national partners the opportunity to raise the profile of the Important Bird Areas (IBAs) in their respective country.

There will be several opportunities for field excursions during Saturday and Sunday. Events will begin at 8:30 am on Saturday with a short program to introduce the festival and birds in Liberia. The event will end by 2:00 pm on Sunday so participants can depart Robertsport in a timely manner. Please note that logistics in Robertsport are limited and that suitable lodging may not be available for all participants. Also note that Robertsport is approximately two and a half hours from Monrovia on fairly decent roads.

More information about the World Bird Festival can be found at the following web page: http://www.birdlife.org/action/awareness/world_bird_festival/index.html