Thursday, November 30, 2006

Coming Soon: The Big Tear-Down

Driving through Monrovia and Gbarnga (and perhaps other towns as well) you can' t help but notice the big yellow "X"s painted on the sides of many wooden and even concrete structures along the sides of the road. The government is warning people that their unauthorized buildings are about to be torn down en masse in order to beautify the city and to force sellers back into the market structures that are intended for them. Most of the buildings marked for destruction are "business centers" where people sell phone cards and DVDs and exchange dollars for Liberty.

President Johnson-Sirleaf has taken to the radio over the last 7 days or so,
saying that this step is necessary to reduce traffic conjestion, attract foreign investment, enforce zoning laws, and facilitate commerce. They've also torn out all the ragtag structures on the parkway in the middle of Broad Street downtown to make way for trees and grass, she says.

Police Station and Courthouse, Zorzor, Lofa County

Another Day, Another UN Peacekeeper Raping A Kid

Props to the BBC for hitting this story so hard. According to the UN, all they can do is repatriate the perps and leave it to the countries to prosecute. The UN spokeswoman admitted that it's a problem in all 16 peacekeeping missions around the world.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

30,000 Jobs

MONROVIA, November 28 --In a bid to combat the high rate of unemployment in the in the country, the Liberia Emergency Employment Program (LEEP) is expected to provide at least 30,329 jobs for Liberians, mainly in the leeward counties and some parts of Montserrado County.

[Full story behind firewall.]

TRC Runs Out of Money?!?!?!

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission has suspended its work for lack of funds.

"Some of the donors have not up to now been able to translate their pledges into physical cash," Dolopai said, adding that "our needs are enormous".

A commission official said that expenses for the recording of evidence expected to last three months were estimated at $2-million (about R14-million).

Main donors so far have been the Liberian government, the United Nations Development programme (UNDP) and an international
non-governmental organisation Open Institute of west Africa (OSIWA), set up by American George Soros.

Doloplai said the TRC has completely run out of cash.

Something tells me that there's much more to this story than meets the eye. Why did we see no stories in recent weeks about how the TRC was about to run out of money?

Monday, November 27, 2006

NYT on Liberians Coming Home From Neighboring Countries

But many of these refugees are torn. In the camps they have schools for their children, clean water, food and protection from violence. In Liberia, they face an uncertain future. Many would prefer to stay in Guinea, either because they still fear for their lives in Liberia or because they have lived in Guinea 10 years or more and now have stronger ties there.

There's also a nice slideshow on the left side.

Passport Madness

Liberians who've been waiting to get their passports for as long as 6 months went on the rampage the other day, and the President herself walked into the passport office to demand an explanation for the delay.

I love this sentence from this story:

The passport boss has been accused of personally attempting to perform almost all duties assigned to others.

Friday, November 24, 2006

The Juju Fish

Apparently there's some deep local folklore surrounding these catfish that live in a culvert near Gbarnga, Bong County. I don't know the story, but I hear they bring luck. People bring them bread to eat, and they flop around wildly for a piece of it.

I Like to Think They Didn't Know About the Monkey

Sunday, November 19, 2006

What the?

The other day there was a big public confusion downtown, where a bunch of Catholic schoolgirls were said to have fainted at a school assembly. Our intrepid photographer friend ran over to help a local journalist cover the story, but according to him, they never got to the bottom of the multiple faintings.

Then the next day, in a different newpaper, this story comes out:

The reporter admits in the story that there's no evidence to back up the "strange creature" hypothesis, but that didn't stop the paper from using it in the headline!

Old Postcard

Rubber Tapping

Out in the bush, periodically a truck will come by and pay cash to the private tappers, who hand over their bags of dried sap.

Pics by Chris Herwig.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Ecotourism in Liberia?

A reporter from the Christian Science Monitor discovers vast tourism potential of Sapo National Park:

"...climbing through monstrous vines and stepping over slippery roots, we did see many large birds such as the great blue turaco and the hornbill, which, they told us, calls on the hour. And the foliage was Edenesque...the dahomey tree, with huge wall-like vertical roots; the fogara tree, covered in thick, sharp spikes; a tree with six-inch-thick cylindrical curving vines that you can slice open and drink water from; and the "candle tree" which has a white, waxlike sap. ("If you light it on fire, it will burn all night," says Mr. Goll.) The highlight, though, had to be the black cobra sighting."

For people with the money to get here, who don't mind the lack of tourist infrastructure, it sounds great.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

EJS Trips to DC Paying Off?

The World Bank approved on November 14, another grant totaling US$8.5 million to the Government of Liberia to support its infrastructural regeneration programs.

Sierra Leone: 39,000 More Liberians Coming Home

From a Sierra Leonean paper:

Final deadline has been set for the organized repatriation of twenty-five thousand Liberian Refugees from Sierra Leone.

By the end of June 2007, a total of 14,000 Liberian Refugees in camps and the urban areas near the capital Freetown, Bo and Kenema will also be repatriated.

That's 39,000 people. Speaking of which, I heard a new Liberian song on 107FM tonight; the lyrics were from the perspective of a woman in the USA. This is what i can remember:

Give me a one way ticket to Monrovia/I'm never coming back/Thank you papa Kofi Annan/Thank you George Bush/Thank you ECOWAS/Give me a one way ticket to Monrovia

Liberia Gets Domestic Flights

Or flight, i should say. Sounds like it's just one airplane:

The Ecowing Bandarante EMP 110, which is owned and operated by a Nigerian national, Chief Adetoyo Oshin, was brought into the country by Mr. Richeon Williams, Director General of the Liberia Civil Aviation Authority, (LCAA). Speaking few minutes after the flight landed at the James Springs Payne Airfield in Sinkor, Monrovia, recently, Mr. Williams told newsmen that Liberia was fully on its way into the airline industry.

Little Breakthroughs in Liberian English

"All two" = "Both".

Game, Set, Match

First, this happens:

Regular vehicular movement and traffic flow on Capitol Hill, Monrovia, came to a standstill yesterday when scores of former personnel of the Special Security Service (SSS), the Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL) and the Liberian National Police (LNP) besieged the main intersection of the Tubman Boulevard that connects the Foreign Affairs Ministry, in a demonstration against the delay in the payment of their severance pay and other benefits.
Then, this happens:

Throwing her personal security to the wind, President disembarked from her vehicle to address the angry crowd and to give them the opportunity to put forth their grievances.

Describing the treatment allegedly meted on them as "mockery," of their plights, he said all efforts to have their grievances attended to proved unrewarding. She thanked the men and women for being peaceful and noted that it was wrong to appeal to violence in seeking redress to grievances.

The President conceded that the laws of Liberia guarantee aggrieved citizens the right to assemble to consult upon a common good but noted that such assemblies must be held in keeping with civility and orderliness. She then advised them to form a committee ... keeping with the President's advice, the erstwhile angry mob has agreed to act orderly and has accordingly set up a 9-man committee to meet the President at 6:00 pm.

Reuters Feature on Ex-combatant Reintegration

"They say we killed their mother, their father, their brother, but they killed our mother, our father, our brother too," said Cooper Koumamene, an ex-commander in Taylor's forces.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Going up the Country

To Bomi and Gbarpolu.

Friday, November 10, 2006

One Guy's Alarming Predictions for Neighboring Guinea

From a columnist in World Defense Review, who argues that in spite of it's relative invisibility on the international scene, Guinea's mineral wealth (bauxite, among others) makes it a powder keg:

While most Americans have probably either never heard of it or confuse it for Papua New Guinea [or Guinea-Bissau or French Guyana, Ed.] chances are that there are more products in their homes containing inputs from raw Guinean materials than those of almost any other nation.
Guinea is, as I testified to a Congressional subcommittee earlier this year, both the most ignored country and, potentially, the most critical one in the West African subregion as it faces the end of the long tenure at the helm of President Lansana Conté, a septuagenarian military officer who suffers from acute diabetes, leukemia, and a host of other known maladies, and who nowadays rarely ventures from his stronghold...
...all bets are off for the power vacuum that is expected to follow his eventual demise. Analysts are divided on whether having the largest standing military in its neighborhood will exacerbate or mitigate the coming chaos.

Hmmm. Not what Liberia needs right now!

FYI Guinea is much bigger in area than Liberia, and shares many of the same ethnic groups. The borders are pretty much ignored in some parts. Many Liberians spent time in refugee camps there during the wars, where at least they were able to attend school.

Information Minister Resigns

There's no real information about the reason for Johnnie McClain's departure in this long article, but I do like this little aside:

McClain says he will spend part of his free time at his bricking-making business in Monrovia.

VP says 3 in 100 Liberians is HIV+

Veep Boakai noted that an estimate speaks of a 10 to 12 percent prevalence rate in Liberia.

But the article doesn't say where he got that number. Such data is really hard to come by here. Maybe someone did a study recently?

Nigerian Actor Filming Movie in Liberia

He informed the nation that the movie which will be ready in approximately 16 months time and will first be screened at 15 major cinemas in Europe before being taken to nine African countries.

He disclosed that the film will have over 500 characters and would lead to the employment of 250 Liberians.

The movie's called "Home to Liberia".

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Temporary Protected Status

This isn't news, I guess, but it's certainly important to the Liberian diaspora and the people who depend on them here. From the Daily Observer [registration req'd]:

On September 18, 2006, the US Department of Homeland Security terminated Temporary Protected Status(TPS), which has been in force for 3600 Liberians in the USA since 1991. This has plunged many families into uncertainty and put the fledging Liberian democracy at risk.

Is that a common thought among Liberians in the US, that being ejected from the US is somehow a risk to Liberia itself? How so? Does anyone know the actual value of remittances from the US to Liberia?

As winter approaches, more Liberian refugee families in the USA are experiencing extreme personal difficulties.

Oh, the drama. What does winter have to do with it? Are they living on the streets of Minneapolis with no jackets?

Nearly 7000 Liberians who fled the violence that led to former Liberian president Taylor's continue to be denied protection and work permits.
We talked about this the other day, I think it's a great thing to end TPS, arrest the brain drain and get these talented, qualified people home ASAP to participate in the reconstruction of their country. But I know that's easier said than done.

Bridge Update

MONROVIA, November 8 --About 100,000 residents of `Monrovia are now faced with the acute shortage of pure and safe drinking water following the abrupt collapse of the Waterside Bridge, says the Liberia Water and Sewer Corporation (LWSC). [Registration req'd.]

The bridge is a major conduit for water cans carried by hand carts. There's no running water in most of Monrovia.

P.S. A Dutch team has volunteered to fix the bridge.

China, Liberia Sign Offshore Oil Exploration MOU

BEIJING, Nov 4, 2006 (Dow Jones Newswires)

China and Liberia have signed a memorandum of understanding for Chinese engineers to explore for offshore oil in the West African country, a Liberian official said Saturday.

"Chinese investment is needed because we have destroyed everything (in the civil war)," said George Wallace, foreign minister of Liberia.

On Friday, Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf said China was giving Liberia a $5 million grant for a use yet to be decided.

Liberia and China also signed four memoranda of understanding, two of which covered possible mineral and oil exploration ventures, she said.

One of the MOUs was for cooperating on the development of a free trade zone at the Atlantic Ocean port of Buchanan, Wallace said.

Wallace didn't specify which Chinese firms would be exploring for offshore oil or developing the port.

In March, Liberia granted China market economy status, allowing easier access for Chinese exports to the West African nation.

Conference on Liberia in March / New Symbols

Looks like the Liberian Studies Association's 39th annual conference jumps off in March 2007 in Indiana, under the cryptic title "Performing the Symbols of the Past, Reinventing the Symbols of the Future". I came upon the notice by way of this call for presentations on reinventing the country's national symbols. Seems we're not the only ones who think the national seal needs a revamp.

The LSA has collections of Liberia-related documents, but almost none of it is online yet.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

House Speaker Snowe Returns US$2,000

You'll recall that the president made history a short while back by returning to government coffers many thousands of dollars that she hadn't spent from her travel allowance. No Liberian president had ever done such a thing before. Well now, House Speaker Edwin Snowe, ex-son-in-law of Charles Taylor, a man with a reputation as a kleptocrat and gangster (who's also a popular figure in Liberian public life, go figure) has returned some travel money of his own.

This guy has been under a UN travel ban for a few years, which was only relaxed for the trip in question, to a conference in Qatar. He was being watched like a hawk, I'm sure. At one point the papers carried a story that he may have been arrested in Ghana, but it seems Snowe was able to explain that allegation away.

Incidentally, the New Democrat newspaper reported yesterday that Snowe's entourage included a couple of extra people (one Lebanese and one ex-minister from the days of the Transitional Government) who were listed as "Parliamentarians". The Lebanese guy was also identified as a translator by the Snowe camp, but the New Democrat claims to have confirmed that no such a job description exists in congress. The article intimates that the Lebanese guy may have something to do with Snowe's alleged bank accounts in Lebanon.

In a taxi the other day, our car was caught in a jam caused by the passing of Snowe's convoy. He drives a gold Mercedes SUV. My taxi driver was beaming, telling me, "Oh, that's Edwin Snowe! He's a politician, but he's just a regular guy, like you and me."

Waterside Bridge Collapses

This is one of two bridges linking downtown Monrovia with the North-West of the country, as well as the Port of Monrovia and the suburb of Bushrod Island, where most Monrovians live. This bridge was probably the single most contested piece of road in the whole country at several stages of the 14-year civil war. In the final battles for Monrovia in 2003, government forces held the downtown side and rebels showered them with mortar fire from the port area. Still today the light poles and sign poles on the bridge are full of bullet holes, and the side rails are falling off.

Until it collapsed, the bridge streamed with wheelbarrow traffic carrying everything from fresh donuts to lingerie from one side of town to the other.

The scene of jubilation by marketers at the bridge after the total collapse this morning at 2 am was marked by the belief that God has again rescued Liberians from another nightmare.

Huh? (The Liberian Times never ceases to amaze.)

Monday, November 06, 2006

Got a Job

Liberia's 85% unemployment rate just got a little bit lower. Starting today, I'm managing a program for the reintegration of war-affected women and children in 4 counties. During 14 years of civil war, women and children were drafted into the fighting forces as soldiers, laborers, sex slaves, and now they're in need of substantial assistance to get back into society successfully: job skills training, health and life skills training, literacy and numeracy, setting up child welfare groups, micro-loans to start businesses, etc. The work is funded by a grant from the US government.

Most of the work happens in small rural villages. I won't be working directly with the beneficiaries, mostly managing the people who do.

This should be a huge challenge; here's something from the handover notes left by the guy who had the job before me:

"On the whole it was a jolting experience that has stretched quite considerably my appreciation of post conflict emergency and development work. And now I have had enough of it and I am happy to go."

Woah. So there's nowhere to go but up!

Liberia to Get a Proper J-School

This story is itself a reflection of the tremendous need for journalism training in Liberia. Glad to see it's happening. Here's the group that's setting up the school.

China Cancels Liberia's Matured Debt

Not sure what this means, really, or how much money we're talking about. And the news story requires registration to read.

MONROVIA, November 6 --The Government of the People's Republic of China has agreed to cancel Liberia's matured debt up to the end of 2005. China has also agreed to assist with capacity building through training programs.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

First batch of soldiers for Liberia's postwar army graduate

The AP story says the Army will grow to 2000 members eventually, but I heard it was 3000.

BBC on Prince Johnson

This is the print version of what I hope is a more in-depth radio story on Prince Johnson from the BBC. Johnson is most famous for overseeing the brutal (and videotaped) assassination of President Samuel Doe, and eating the man's ear. He's currently a member of the Liberian senate.

P.S. We're stuck in Senegal thanks to the consistently abysmal service of SLOK Air.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

New Airline Option for Liberia Travel

Astraeus' twice-weekly service to the west African nation will start from January 15th 2007 from London Gatwick Airport to Monrovia's Roberts International Airport.

As well as connecting the many Liberians living in the UK and Europe, the airline is also aiming to fly Liberians in North American via London.

"We have been analysing the UK-Monrovia market for some time and firmly believe that now is the right time to launch our services. We have a successful history of developing routes between west Africa and the UK and are looking forward to serving Liberia, which is clearly demonstrating its desire for a better future for their citizens," said Astraeus sales director Peter Cox.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Liberian Blogosphere

In a vanity search on Google Blogs, I just discovered that (as of press time, at least) WE'RE NUMBER ONE! Also found Liberia Stories, which may be the only weblog written by a Liberian person who lives in Liberia. It doesn't help that in Monrovia, internet access costs a minimum of US$75/month with a $300 startup fee.

World Bank Coughing Up More for Roads

MONROVIA, October 30 --In addition to U.S. $30,000,000.00 made available to the Government of Liberia in June for the rehabilitation of damaged roads around the country, the World Bank has signed another grant with Government for the provision of U.S. $16.5m for similar reconstruction purposes. [Registration req'd.]
...and still the critics complain that the president spends too much time abroad? (See yesterday's post.) If a couple of meetings in DC can bring in $46.5 million bucks, I think it's worth it.

Money for Education

The European Commission (EC) has presented a 12 million Euro (US$ 14.4m) agreement to President Johnson-Sirleaf for long-term assistance and quick impact support to the education sector of Liberia.

Christian Science Monitor Feature on Ex-Combatants

"One of the biggest problems in post-conflict environments is that, in the conflict phase, the [donor] money flows freely, but the environment is not yet conducive [to improving the situation]," says Charles Achodo, a policy adviser on ex-fighter reintegration for the UN Development Programme (UNDP) in Liberia. "But, when peace comes and you have the capacity to do stuff, the funds dry up."