Monday, April 30, 2007

Must Read: Zadie Smith on Liberia

The celebrated UK novelist Zadie Smith has just filed a long, colorful dispatch from Liberia for the UK Guardian newspaper. Smith is best known for her spectacular debut, White Teeth.

I have only two small issues with her newest piece:

1. She says that "Charles Taylor is Innocent" billboards have been posted "across Monrovia". But to my knowledge there is only one of these in existence, and even that one has been defaced with acid.

2. Encountering Liberian English for the first time, she states in a rather patronizing fashion that it's "difficult to understand". I would only point out that Liberian English is a language with all the complexity of any other language on Earth, and that it's not difficult for Liberians to understand.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Violent Labor Struggle at Firestone

A multi-day strike at the Firestone Rubber plantation in the West African nation of Liberia turned violent Friday as police clashed with striking workers, leaving at least six people wounded, officials said.

Liberia Allowed to Export Diamonds

From Times Wire Reports April 28, 2007

The U.N. Security Council lifted a 6-year-old ban on Liberian diamond exports aimed at stopping so-called blood or conflict diamonds from reaching the world market.

The unanimous vote by the 15-nation council was in "recognition of the progress made by Liberia" in setting up controls on its diamonds, the sale of which helped fuel a 14-year civil war that ended in 2003, British Ambassador Emyr Jones Parry said.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Taylor Trial Information Session

I went to a public event today in Monrovia for the UN-backed Special Court for Sierra Leone, the one that's soon going to be trying Charles Taylor in the Hague. Representatives of the court are doing a tour to inform the public about what's happening, and to dispel some of the common myths about the trial.

The trial starts on June 4th, 2007, and will last approximately 18 months. Verdicts expected in mid-2009. The witness list is 139 names long. Taylor is being tried as an individual, not as a government official. The allegations cover only events that occurred in Sierra Leone. No other Liberians will be indicted or tried at this stage.

Funny moment: After the Chief Prosecutor introduced himself, the Liberian English translator cracked everyone up by identifying him as, "the man da can put Charles Taylor inside."

Little Breakthroughs in Liberian English

"Ever since" means "a long time ago".

Boss: You late again!
Flomo: No, chief, I beg you! I came here ever since!

Monday, April 23, 2007


The guys with the box were trying to sell us an eagle.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

TPS Bill in US Congress

Three US congressmen plan to introduce immigration legislation [Friday 4/20/07] to help more than three thousand Liberians living in the United States on Temporary Protected Status obtain Permanent Residency Status. Freshman Congressman Tim Walberg of Michigan, is a Republican sponsor of the bipartisan measure, known as the Liberian Refugee Immigration Protection Act of 2007. He says that Liberia’s President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf supports the measure, and he denies that it would cause a “brain drain“ that could deprive Liberians of some of their most talented and best educated citizens.

Friday, April 20, 2007


Thanks Sterling for the link to this story about a particularly gruesome Liberian childrearing practice that has caught the attention of authorities in New York.

A Staten Island man was charged with assault and child endangerment after he admitted to rubbing a hot yellow pepper on his 11- and 8-year-old sons' naked bodies - including their genitals, including their faces. Why hot yellow peppers? The Staten Island Advance reports that the father, Ganganue Gonesh, explained to the police, "I use pepper to rub on their body because this is how we are disciplined in our country [Liberia], in Africa."
It's a common practice in Liberia, unfortunately.


Thanks Rachel for sending this piece on the estimated 23,000 Liberian ex-combatants who have never been able to access post-disarmament reintegration services. The government agency that's responsible for them is asking for $18m to do the job, but apparently international donor fatigue has already set in.

Taylor Trial: Liberian Media Failing the Public (2)

To their credit, today several newspapers ran front-page stories in rebuttal to the allegations of kidnapping of potential witnesses in the Taylor trial, reporting that the Special Court in Sierra Leone calls the claims ridiculous.

I wish the Press Union of Liberia would do something about creating greater accountability in the media. At the very least, the newspapers should disclose when their articles are paid for, and by whom. What many of these outlets are doing is not journalism at all, but thinly-veiled PR. A newspaper’s primary responsibility is to inform the public, not to mislead. How can the PUL take itself seriously when its members are engaged in such unpatriotic and irresponsible behavior?

Thursday, April 19, 2007

The Continuing Saga of the TRC

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission is still flailing around like an injured goat in a dry creek bed. Nothing has been done in months, the posters are fading in the sun, there's no money, and allegations are flying back and forth between international and local stakeholders. This convoluted, poorly sourced story tries to defend the Liberian TRC staff, blaming the TRC's failures on some highly-paid Ghanaian consultants, for what it's worth.

In any case, the time for blaming is done, and the time for acting swiftly is now. In a country with a $714.88 million UN Mission, one would think that someone could assemble a staff to make this thing work for a few months.

Taylor Trial: Liberian Media Failing the Public

A lawmaker with close ties to Charles Taylor appears to have paid this newspaper and this newspaper to write stories that will muddy the waters around the witnesses in the upcoming Taylor trial. He says there's a prosecution conspiracy to kidnap witnesses to testify against Taylor. Both stories are full of amateurish statements such as "many are of the belief", and "we have learnt reliably from very credible sources". Yeah.

On their face, the allegations strike me as extremely far-fetched, and it's telling that both of these nearly identical stories are based entirely on the testimony of one person. Why would the prosecution need to kidnap anyone? Taylor is an international pariah with tens of thousands of (alleged) victims. The Liberian media can and should do better than this.

Here's a related story from the AP, on the issue of protecting the witnesses.

UN About to Lift Diamond Ban?

Looks that way.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Chinese Laborers Duped into Coming to Liberia

The New Democrat newspaper has a long feature on the plight of certain Chinese laborers who are tricked into coming to Liberia on the promise of good jobs. Can't find the digital version, but here's a similar story from Reuters.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Good News from the IMF

They're predicting 11% growth, and calling for debt relief:

The rising gross domestic product (GDP) growth rates expected by the IMF puts Liberia in the same fold as other post-conflict success stories like Mozambique, which became a darling of donors with sustained growth rates approaching 10 percent in the 1990s after the end of its own civil war.

"Liberia's economic recovery continues to strengthen, and medium term prospects have improved. In 2006, real GDP growth is estimated to have increased by 7.8 percent, driven mainly by construction, the recovery in the agricultural sector, and the donor-funded expenditures in the country," the IMF team said.

Strategy for a Debt Deal by the End of the Year

Thanks Sarah for this new essay from Steve Radalet at the Center for Global Development:

In this essay, CGD senior fellow Steve Radelet describes Liberia's debt situation and the key issues in moving forward on debt relief with the IMF, World Bank, African Development Bank and bilateral creditors. He explains why it is important for Liberia's recovery that the international community act quickly and outlines the key steps necessary for Liberia to achieve a debt deal before the end of 2007.

Fulll text [pdf.]

Monday, April 16, 2007

G7 Still Thinking about Clearing Liberia's Arrears

From our buddy Sarah:

"Clearing Liberia's arrears remains on the radar of the G7... see the reference in the Communique released just prior to the IMF/World Bank spring meetings this weekend...

We encourage the use of the debt sustainability framework by all borrowers and creditors. We welcome continued work on principles for responsible lending and seek to involve other interested parties. We advocate a rapid resolution to Liberia's arrears to the international financial institutions. Available internal resources should be fully used to this end. We are prepared to make additional financial contributions."
Full story.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Britain May Renege on Offer to Jail Taylor

The memo states: "A possible objection to the Bill relates to the potential cost of imprisoning Taylor in the UK. Some may argue that, with the UK prison system heavily loaded and given the other demands on the UK taxpayer, it is not appropriate to commit government funds to imprison foreign nationals." It says the cost of keeping an inmate in high security detention is "in the region of £44,000" a year.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

American School Coming Back

A Memorandum of Understanding has been signed between the governments of the United States and Liberia, paving the way for the creation of the new American International School in Monrovia, previously known as the American Cooperative School (ACS).

President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf speaks of this as a way to attract talented Liberians back to the country, ensuring them a good school for their kids.

P.S. - Does anyone know anything more about the rumor that the US Peace Corps is coming back?

Internet Giant CISCO Moves to Liberia

Monrovia, Liberia 04/13 - The world`s leading internet networking company, CISCO, announced here Thursday it will be making a business incursion into Liberia later this month.

Investor's Guide to Liberia

Thanks Paulo for sending this Investor's Guide to Liberia [.pdf], written by The National Investment Commission with the help of Columbia University and the Earth Institute.

With this and other efforts, the government is showing that it's serious and honest about attracting FDI. But there's still a long way to go in convincing lower-level government officials to make investors feel welcome. I hear horror stories about foreigners being made to pay bribes and endless fees when they start a business.

And while we're on the topic, I am tired of reading jingoistic newspaper screeds about the need to "Liberianize" the economy, where foreigners, especially Lebanese and Chinese, are painted as slave-drivers and opportunists. We would all prefer to see a Liberia that is owned and operated by Liberians. But with 85% unemployment, crippling brain-drain, and an utter lack of investment capital, people should be thankful to have these foreign businesses creating jobs and increasing human capacity.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Dismissals Tomorrow?

Fear has reportedly gripped several officials of government as President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf has planned to reshuffle her cabinet tomorrow at a meeting in Harper, Maryland County.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

New House Speaker

After months of controversy and legal wrangling, the Liberian House of Representatives has a new speaker. He is Alex J.Tyler of the Liberia Action Party. He replaced former Speaker Edwin Snowe who resigned earlier this year after he was threatened with removal by his colleagues for allegedly bringing the House in disrepute. Snowe blamed the executive branch for bribing some legislators with $5,000 each to remove him.
In reading the papers, Speaker Tyler seems to be trying to project the image of a reconciler and a willing partner with the other branches of government. Anyone know anything about this man?

Monday, April 09, 2007

News Roundup

Back from vacation, reading the newspapers:

  • Ducor Hotel, the big building on the top of the hill overlooking Monrovia has been ordered cleared of squatters. For years, the formerly grand hotel has been serving as an IDP camp for about 1000 people. Not sure the timetable for their removal. "Lybian investors" are said to be about to start renovating the building. (Khaddafi? He owns the building that UNMIL's using, I hear.)
  • President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf visited Bella Yella prison in Gbarpolu county over the weekend, a notorious hell-hole that was filled with Charles Taylor's political opponents. She says it will not be renovated. Instead she broke ground for a new school to be built on the site. "This is the one jail that missed me," she told the press.
  • An alleged "notorious thief" was "castrated to death" by an angry mob in Saye Town yesterday.
  • The government reported a 60% increase in the number of registered businesses in 2006.