Photo of the Vandalized Billboard
Here you can see the acid burn, which didn't really do the job as intended. [AFP photo]
Expat Impressions of Life and Rebuilding after Civil Conflict
I can't find a transcript online, but here's VOA's take. It was a reeeeeeeeealy long speech outlining the government's progress over the last year. President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf sounded confident, and the applause from lawmakers was plentiful. This morning most papers were devoted to the controversy about the divided house, and the protocol stuff about where she delivered the speech, who attended and who didn't, etc. But I guess that's a juicier story than the complicated issues of national development she spoke about.
They had the votes, but according to the highest court, the House of Representatives got the procedure wrong:
The vote to impeach Snowe went through at a special session by 41 votes out of 64, but in the absence of the speaker and when parliament was on recess.Sounds like the court didn't speak to the issue of the alleged bribery, so that controversy will linger.
I keep saying it; this place is about to get more socially conservative, especially in matters of sex and gender. You can feel it coming, in the way people talk and dress. This tends to happen after a war or other gender-bending event, including in the US after WWII where so many women had been called upon to work in traditionally male roles.
Many studies have documented that after conflict women and girls are under pressure to (re)submit to often oppressive gender roles in post-conflict societies.In evolutionary terms, I'd guess that this tendency is an instinct of the tribe (society, the collective mind) trying to create order out of chaos and also to replace all the members lost in the war by putting women back into the maternal role. Doesn't sound like much fun, though.
Drove by that "Charles Taylor is Innocent" sign this morning, and someone had vandalized it with some kind of acid. The words are still there, but the photo has been mostly eaten away. The sign was originally erected about 3 weeks ago, and this is the first vandal attack on it that I know of.
Spoke with a guy last night who works for the US government in Monrovia. He says they process 30-40 adoptions of Liberian kids per month to US families, mostly sponsored by churches.
The TRC has started taking your statements:
The Child Abuse Unit of the Law Enforcement Division of Long Island in New York has published a bulletin containing full description and detailed personal information of Mr. Kettehkumuehn Earl Murray, a lawmaker representing District number 3 of Montserrado County under the Banner of the Congress for Democratic Change (CDC) party, alleging he sexually abused a minor in the state of North Carolina, USA in 1996.Link.
The FBI is said to be offering reward for any information leading to the arrest of Kettehkumue Earl Murray.
THE HAGUE, Jan 26 (Reuters) - The U.N.-backed Special Court for Sierra Leone has postponed the start of former Liberian President Charles Taylor's war crimes trial to June 4 to give the defence more time to prepare, the court said on Friday.
The court had set April 2 as a tentative start date for the trial but defence lawyers requested more time, saying they would not be able to start before September due to a large amount of documents and work to be done.
Conte has offered to name a new Prime Minister, but protesters are saying they'll stick it out until the president names a transitional government.
The BBC reporter in neighboring Guinea attended a march today that he estimated at 70,000 people. Not that crowd estimates are ever accurate or neutral, but even if he's off by half, that's a lot of people.
Any Liberian journalist who's looking for good stories should loiter in the lobby of the Mamba Point Hotel. At breakfast on Sunday, I sat next to a Canadian guy calling himself a diamonds privateer, who explained to his tablemate the process of getting a diamond concession from the government. It's impossible right now, because of the sanctions, but this guy was grandfathered in, I guess.
Speaking of graft, here's a pretty well-informed piece from a Liberian in the US noting some of the appearances of corruption that persist in the Ellen government.
"It's one thing to critique it. It's another thing to construct the alternative."
-Susan Davis, Chair, Grameen Foundation
The guy who ran the Transitional Government of Liberia in 2003-4, between the Taylor and EJS presidencies, is under investigation for massive graft.
Says he'll stay and fight.
This is like, day 10 of street protests, and the BBC says 4 people have been killed. President Conte has been in office for 22 years. The trade unions are the main engines of resisitance, and reportedly Conte threatened the union leaders' lives in a private meeting yesterday. Neighboring Liberia doesn't need this!
One diplomat, who asked not to be named, said the situation did not look hopeful. "We don't feel we're heading for a quick end to this crisis. We have the impression that the people are determined to obtain something concrete... they don't want any more promises," they told Reuters. The strikers were also angered at the alleged involvement of President Conte in securing the release of two men, including Guinea's richest man Mamadou Sylla, accused of corruption. Last year, Guinea was ranked by Transparency International as the most corrupt country in Africa.
Congress has voted House Speaker Edwin Snowe out of office, though I guess it has to go through some kind of due process now. With hardly a friend in the world, Snowe is asking the UN mission to intervene, but no dice:
The UNMIL boss pointed out that it is the responsibility of the members of the House to resolve their differences and difficulties amongst themselves, "and that is what we are opting for," he added.
The Ministry of Finance is asking companies to bid for the provision of ID cards for 35,000 petty traders.
I keep reading newspaper articles where they take the recent allegations of bribery of congressmen as some kind of evidence of the claim by House Speaker Edwin Snowe that the presidency is trying to oust him. I have no evidence in any direction, but I note that none of these newspapers (The Parrot, The Analyst, The Monitor, et. al.) does either.
By HEIDI VOGT, Associated Press Writer
MONROVIA, Liberia - President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf said her country does not need to try former president Charles Taylor, who is already being tried by a U.N.-backed court for his role in atrocities committed in neighboring Sierra Leone.
"He doesn‘t need to be tried here," Sirleaf said in an interview with The Associated Press. "Let him go through the due process that has already charged him on so many counts."
They call it "The New Meaning of Dismal", a 29-point list of the government's accomplishments in the last year. Three examples:
12. Put Liberia back on a sound footing with the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and the African Development Bank, concluding successfully with the IMF a Staff Monitoring Program and obtaining for the first time Pre-arrears settlement grants of US$70million from the World Bank and US$4million from the AFDB;
15. Enforced the free and compulsory primary education system in Government Schools, with a result of 80 percent increase in enrollment at the primary school level;
19. Won support from the United States Congress and Administration for an additional US$50,000,000.00 in supplemental funding for continued assistance to ex-combatants, health, education, roads and electricity rehabilitation, the expenditure of which is ongoing;
Mon Jan 15, 1:54 PM ET
MONROVIA (AFP) - More than half of Liberia's lawmakers boycotted the opening of parliament and organised a parallel session to call for parliamentary speaker Edwin Snowe to resign."I was elected in lines with the constitution and I am not refusing to go if I am asked to do so in line with the law," he said.
Anybody know anything about FrontPageAfrica.com? There's no indication where they're based, or where they get their funding. But it's a pretty slick website that's dedicated almost entirely to Liberia-related news. Maybe it's affiliated with one of the Liberian newspapers?
To my knowledge there's only one of these billboards in town, part of a campaign to get the media to treat him as innocent until proven guilty. Charles Taylor's trial for crimes against humanity starts in March in The Hague. On the campaign's website, they quote Liberian law in his defense, but that seems kinda stupid since he's being charged with breaches of international law. The website is only partially functioning, but there's an email newsletter you can sign up for.
All the papers are lauding the US White House for including Liberia in the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), which gives the country the right to trade and export locally-made products to the US. I wonder what products those would be. There's no manufacturing to speak of yet.
Many taxis in Monrovia have a slogan painted on the back bumper. Sometimes it's just the name of the driver, but usually it's a message. As a foreigner, I often wonder what the slogans mean, even though they're written in English. Just on the way to work this AM, I wrote down these:
GOD'S TIME IS THE BEST
SHINE YOUR EYES [means "beware" or "watch out"]
NIMBA BOY BACK IN TOWN
GOD DECISION STAND
GOD IS IN CONTROL*
NO FOOD FOR LAZY MAN
THE COUNTRY RUNNING
CKA SLASH [meaning "commonly known as"]
Like the President says, it's the national pastime. The only difference here is that the newspaper wrote a story, for once.
They're the only 3 countries that officially don't use the metric system.
Check out the press release at this link, Josh... It makes specific mention of the Methodists across the US making Liberia a special focus of their Jubilee Sunday/Jubilee Year activities because President Sirleaf-Johnson is a Methodist laymember.Church congregations to observe Jubilee Sunday
Worldwide Faith News (press release) - New York,NY,USA
United Methodist congregations will be among those praying for international debt relief as part of an observance of Jubilee Sunday on Jan. 21. ...
Tucked into a new profile of President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf from the Chrisitian Science Monitor:
The United States Peace Corps is one way the president says she hopes to recruit teachers to teach the 50 percent of Liberian children who aren't attending school.
I posted the other week about the yellow X's painted on illegal structures all over the country, where the Liberian National Police were planning to haul them away. I guess this was a strategy to both beautify the country and to put some rule of law back into the land tenure system. Well, now the process appears to be mostly complete, at least in the capital. Many wooden shacks, squatter huts, and half-built cinderblock walls have been removed.
Yesterday on the way home from work at rush hour, we drove by a car that had flames licking up from underneath. A group of about 20 bystanders picked the car up, turned the car over on its side, and started throwing dirt on the flames.
(SomaliNet) Liberia’s President, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, has surprised many when she returned a balance of $19,000 to Liberia’s treasury. This was part of her travel allowance on trips outside Liberia.
According to Cyrus Badio, Liberia’s Presidential Press Secretary, this is one of the ways that Sirleaf is using to enhance transparency and accountability.
Sirleaf also provided receipts to explain how she spent the money. She then asked other leaders to emulate her example.
The Executive Board of the International Monetary Fund has decided to initiate the de-escalation of the Fund's remedial measures that have been applied against Liberia.
To encourage further reform efforts by the Liberian authorities and to provide a positive signal to Liberia"s development partners, the Board decided to lift the declaration of non-co-operation that had been in place since March 30, 1990, the Fund said in a media statement on Monday.
The Board also decided that it could consider lifting the suspension of Liberia’s voting and related rights following satisfactory performance regarding economic policies and payments to the IMF during an evaluation period of approximately 12 months from the date of the Board decision.
[The rest of the article is really out of date, referring to the Mittal Steel deal before it was renegotiated.]
Seems to me that if you want to build public support for a massive and controversial national reconciliation effort, such as the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, this would be the last thing you'd want to go saying in public:
A former Assistant Defense Minister, Mr. Arthur B. Dennis, has said that those who will run from the TRC will have nowhere to hide.
So it seems that indeed there was/is a resolution pending to oust House Speaker Edwin Snowe from office. He had previously accused the president's office of being behind the effort, but never presented any evidence. Now a couple of lawmakers are saying in public that another couple of lawmakers paid them to support the resolution, and they name names. In a denial, one of the ones named had this to say:
This article [must read!] says that he may be ousted as soon as January 15!
"I don't need to give anybody money to remove him because he is not up to the task. We already have the requisite number of signatures to remove him from office. We are only waiting for the resumption of our regular session," Representative Sieh stated.
This has been brewing for a while, at least as long as I've been here. But it really felt like a shot over the bow when my dinner companion got a text message tonight saying that a young woman had been arrested in Paynesville for "indecent dressing". UPDATE: To their credit, the Liberian National Police were reportedly trying to protect the woman during her short time in custody. Apparently the community singled her out for persecution for the way she dresses. The main worry was what would happen to her in jail, where rape is not uncommon.
So far the Analyst newspaper is the only one to front a story about Truth and Reconciliation Commission hearings starting Jan 16th. I guess up til now the process has just been field-based statement-taking? The story (can't find it online, sorry) wonders whether it will really happen on time, given the financial constraints that the TRC chairperson has mentioned many times recently. Funny that the other papers aren't touching it yet.
A friend came over the other night with one of these, a kolgolagi (sp?), or what he called “old Liberian money”. It’s a hand-wrought iron ingot, rather sharp and kind of rusty. Quote of the night was, “My great-grandfather paid 20 of these for my great-grandmother.” Then he busted out a L$20 bill and showed us that the image of this ancient currency is printed right on the modern Liberian money. “You could get a lot of food for one of these in the old days.”
Any numismatics experts out there with any knowledge of this thing?
Update: I just found out from a coin collectors' forum that these things are pretty common, known as Kissi pennies, after the Kissi people:
Primitive Currency used in Sierra Leone, Liberia and French Guinea. Popularly referred to as the Kissi Penny but also known as Kilindi and Gitzi penny. The legend that breaking the elongated money item allows the sole to escape has also given it the name of 'Coin with a Soul'. The shape and sharp ends allowed for easy transport attached to the hair on the head.
More info here.
It's cool. It's not humid. It's hazy as hell with all the particulate matter from the whole region, neighboring countries where it's windy. And since the rains are finally gone, everyone is burning their trash, their leaves, so it's really smoggy. I guess we get about a month of this, and then the blistering sun comes to blister us again. But golly it's nice to have it cool for now.
On the way to our house the other night, a Liberian friend got hit in the head with a rock through his open car window. He stopped the car and tried to chase the kid who threw it, to no avail. Then the kid’s friends offered to help him find the kid, for a price (of course). He put the kids in the car (with no intention of paying them) and they took him to see the kid’s parents. He brought a policeman with him and they took the family to the station.
“My goal was not to get money from the family, and the rock didn’t hurt me, really. My goal was to teach the child a lesson. We have just come from a devastating war and children are on the loose. And if nobody does anything to control them, they will always act like wild animals. So when the child chunked me, it was not about the pain. It was about the corrective process.”
Just visited Astreus Airlines' new office on UN Drive across from UN Drive Supermarket in Monrovia. The two women working there were cheerful and helpful, the polar opposite of the service at their only rival airline in Liberia, SN Brussels.
In the 8 months that I've been in Liberia, I can honestly say that the media, especially the newspapers, have really changed in their treatment of this president. They have become much less hysterical about her every flaw, and they have stopped blaming her quite so often for all the country's woes. And this is in spite of some high-profile battles between the Executive Mansion and the press. I've never seen an opinion poll, but if the media can be relied upon as any kind of reflection of the people's mood (at least the more educated class in Monrovia), then I'd guess the people have an overall favorable impression of the president's first year.
From Jubilee USA:
For the first action of the Sabbath Year, we will be collecting Valentine hearts addressed to U.S. Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, asking him to “Have a Heart and Cancel
To get involved with this important and timely (and fun) push to cancel
The message that should be written on the hearts is simple: “Secretary Paulson, Have a Heart and Cancel
Your heart and any hearts that you collect should be mailed to Saif Rahman at the Institute for Policy Studies, a Jubilee Network member organization helping to lead this effort. To ensure that the Valentine arrive in time, please be sure to mail them no later than January 31! Send your hearts to:Full link. Thanks, Sarah.
...from the Independent UK.
Médecins Sans Frontières left Liberia this week. It leaves a network of clinics that doctors fear will soon be looted.Funny 'cause I had dinner with two MSF-Spain nurses last night! Maybe one of the other MSF offices left?
Ladies and gentlemen, the Liberia Broadcasting System!
From the About Us page:
Pretty nice website, though.
At the moment, there are no television (TV) equipment and studio facilities, also no Medium (MW) & Short wave (SW) facilities and equipment, which were used in the past to broadcast throughout the country and beyond. The Frequency Modulation (FM-89.9) facilities including its building were also burnt down completely thus, leaving behind the cracked walls.
The system is presently transmitting on an FM Transmitter (FM-99.9) that covers far less than 60 miles away from its CPU, which makes it very impossible to cover the entire nation. Presently, Radio France International (RFI) and the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) have installed two Frequency Modulation (FM) Transmitters on the compound of the Liberia Broadcoasting System that enable these great countries to relay all of their regular programs on both FM-103 and FM-106 respectively.
Indecent Dressers Must Be Arrested is the name of what looks like a pay-to-play "article" in the Analyst newspaper, wherein some guy trots out the ancient fallacy about men not being able to control themselves when women dress sexy, basically blaming women for rape. Superficial moral judgements only exacerbate the problem, dude.
I just heard from a reader that the US Library of Congress is looking for Liberia-related documents, photos, sound recordings, historical archives of any kind. If you have a collection, or even a few items, and you'd like to make sure they are well-preserved, you might think of donating them. Get in touch with me and I will share the email contact I was given at the LOC.
Now that the dry season is here, it seems people are starting to invest in the future a little, painting their buildings and putting up new ones all over town. There are at least five new restaurants on my side of town, and a couple of new gas stations. I even hear that there's a sudden shortage of cement, which is a good sign, in a way.