Friday, June 29, 2007


MONROVIA, June 28 (Reuters) - Liberian President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf launched the country's first census in 23 years on Thursday to assist reconstruction after a devastating 14-year civil war and improve future elections.

The last census, in 1984, registered 2.5 million people in Liberia. Up to 250,000 people were killed in the civil war that began five years later and hundreds of thousands of others fled abroad, many never to return.

"For more than 23 years, there has been no accurate data on the demographic variables of the country," Johnson-Sirleaf said.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Big News Day

Monday, June 25, 2007

News Roundup

  • Charles Taylor is boycotting his trial again.
  • The CDC political party is severing ties with George Weah.
  • The big cabinet reshuffle that was supposed to happen has been postponed or cancelled.
  • A new UN report says millions are being lost to tax evasion.

Random Pics

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Potato Greens Prophesy Pt. 2

Conversation with a guy I met last night:

Me: Hey have you heard of this prophesy about eating potato greens?
Guy: Yes I have.
Me: Are you eating potato greens, then?
Guy: No I am not.
Me: So you don't believe in the prophesy?
Guy: No I don't believe it.

Dude's taking his life into his own hands!

Friday, June 22, 2007

UN Cops Beat Up Two Local Journos, Others

The United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) has launched an investigation into reports that its troops beat and assaulted two journalists covering student protests this week, the UN said in a statement received Friday.
I know a guy who knows one of the victims, a photographer. I have also heard from two separate expat sources--one of them an UNMIL employee--that UN cops helped beat the crap out of some unruly people before, during, and after the Lonestar v. Cote d'Ivoire game a few weeks ago. But I haven't seen that story in the papers.

UN Panel Calls for Probe into Flouting of Sanctions

The Security Council yesterday called on Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to set up a panel of financial and diamond experts to renew investigations of whether UN sanctions against Liberia are being broken after learning of “credible allegations” that the notorious former president Charles Taylor may still have access to considerable wealth. UN The panel report also noted allegations “of a large sum of money being with Charles Taylor at the time of his arrest in Nigeria” last year and his continuing ties to a cell phone company in Liberia. It added that the Nigerian Government had not allowed the panel to pursue the allegations and Liberia has not adopted laws authorizing a freeze.
More here.

That phone company is the one that I use, namely Lonestar. Lonestar is the most popular phone company in Monrovia, if not the country. The US embassy refuses to do business with them, and I saw a newspaper editorial this AM calling for a boycott.

Speaking of boycotts, UL professors are still not working.

Potato Greens Prophesy

I had this conversation with one of my Liberian colleagues this afternoon:

Him: Are you eating your potato greens?
Me: No, why?
Him: There's a rumor going around Liberia that you have to eat potato greens for three days, or else you will die or something bad might happen to you.
Me: Huh?
Him: It's a prophesy. I don't know.
Me: Are you eating potato greens?
Him: Yeah! I don't want to die!

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Sierra Leone Convicts 3 of War Crimes

The ruling marks the first time an international court has issued a conviction on the conscription of child soldiers -- a practice made notorious by images of drugged elementary-school-age boys wielding automatic weapons in the regional conflict.

The Liberian Professional Self Image

Question: why is it that over a period of 6 months, one by one, nearly all the Liberian staff at the NGO where I work have printed pictures of themselves working at their desks and taped the pictures to the wall behind their desks? Even the woman who works the security counter sits next to a picture of herself sitting at her workstation. One guy even has a picture of himself working on his laptop set as the wallpaper on that same laptop! I guess this is a cultural difference; if someone did that in the US, I would just assume it was some kind of ironic joke.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Swamp Fishing in Gbolokai

Chris Herwig pics.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Palava at UL

Our Operations Manager at work says we're not allowed to go downtown today. Some kind of demonstration of university students and faculty. Ma Ellen was warning against hooliganism this morning on the radio. She had an angry conversation with UL professors yesterday behind closed doors. They were threatening to lay down their chalk over pay and benefits issues.

Update: Check out the first comment on this post for a sober and informed take on the situation.

How to Write About Africa

From Granta, a wickedly sarcastic guide to writing about Africa:

Never have a picture of a well-adjusted African on the cover of your book, or in it, unless that African has won the Nobel Prize. An AK-47, prominent ribs, naked breasts: use these. If you must include an African, make sure you get one in Masai or Zulu or Dogon dress.

In your text, treat Africa as if it were one country. It is hot and dusty with rolling grasslands and huge herds of animals and tall, thin people who are starving. Or it is hot and steamy with very short people who eat primates. Don't get bogged down with precise descriptions.

Thanks, Shelby.

And speaking of writing about Africa, here's another expat Liberia blog by Eve, who's with ARC for the summer.

And unrelated to anything, here's a funny map of the countries that have not yet adopted the metric system. (I doubt that Ma Ellen will choose to tackle that issue in her first term.)

Mass Graves Discovered

The TRC is taking testimony among Liberians in the USA:

In Lofa County, northwestern Liberia, over 100 mass graves have been discovered. The shocking disclosure was made by the Chairman of Liberia's Truth and Reconciliation Commission, TRC, Counsellor Jerome Verdier on Saturday, June 16th at a town-hall gathering of Liberians in the Philadelphia, Pennsylvania area.


And since we're on this gruesome topic, I have read that the area at the end of the airfield at Tubman and Old Road is another mass grave site. There are probably many others around the country, which we'll only hear about small, small as the TRC proceeds.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Int'l Stability Study Rates Liberia "Most Improved"

In the third annual "failed state" index, analysts for Foreign Policy magazine and the not-for-profit Fund for Peace said that Liberia was the most improved, partly because an election in 2005 brought stability after more than a decade of civil war.

Lone Star Loses to Equatorial Guinea?

Oh man, that's gotta hurt. Oh well, my man Tutu will be happy.

Yesterday's result means that Liberia has lost all hopes of reaching next year's African Cup of Nations final in Ghana, despite still having a game against Rwanda. Just a fortnight ago, the Lone Star lost 2-1 to the Indomitable Lion of Cameroon at the same Antoinette Tubman Stadium in front of hundreds of anxious fans.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Liberia Debt Issue at the G8

On the second day of the G8 summit, leading international debt cancellation advocacy groups issued a strong call that the debt deal G8 leaders negotiated two years ago has not solved the debt crisis of Liberia. The advocacy groups called on the G8 to take immediate action to cancel Liberia’s debt.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Refugee Returns from SL Reach 100,000 Mark

To date, since the start of the Liberian repatriation operation in October 2004, more than 150,000 refugees have returned to Liberia. In addition to 100,000 returns assisted by UNHCR – half of them from neighbouring Guinea – another 50,000 Liberian refugees returned home on their own over the past few years, encouraged by the restoration of peace and the inauguration of the democratically elected president and government.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Nice Slingshot!

Gbolokai, near Totota. Another Chris Herwig photo.

Govt Ban on Newspaper Finally Lifted

You'll remember that the government banned the Independent for printing the nude photo of Presidential Affairs Minister Willis Knuckles, Jr. having sex with two women. Well, now they've lifted the ban.

The paper is not satisfied, saying they hoped that the case would make it to the Supreme Court. I'm inclined to agree. I think the government acted badly in this case, even as I acknowledge the pressure that must have come on them from the churches.

Judge in The Hague: Taylor's Got a Point

I heard on the BBC this AM that the judge in the Charles Taylor trial in the Hague actually agreed with Taylor to some extent, admonishing the court administration for failing to provide adequate resources and logistics to the Taylor team to mount an adequate defense.

This is interesting because last month I attended a public information session with the various lawyers and court administrators, where they explained in detail all the resources that have been provided to the Defense team. They seemed to be anticipating this kind of accusation, making sure the public was aware of all the trouble they were going to in order to make the trial a fair one.

So who knows? The judge may simply be playing to the gallery of Taylor supporters in order to ease any tension on the ground in SL or Liberia. BTW, there's no tension to speak of here. On local radio, they were all but ignoring the story this AM.

Monday, June 04, 2007

Charles Taylor Boycotts Own Trial

He didn't show up for the opening arguments. His attorney read a statement from Taylor claiming that he wasn't afforded the proper resources to mount an adequate defense.

Defense lawyer Karim Khan said Taylor had fired him and wanted to act has his own attorney. Khan walked out even though the presiding judge repeatedly directed him to continue to represent Taylor, if only for the opening day.

Apologizing and defying threats of contempt of court, Khan gathered his files and left.

"This is not defense counsel making some cheap trick," Khan told The Associated Press outside court. Taylor "thought this was a railroad to a conviction and in those circumstances, he exercised his right to terminate my representation and to represent himself."

Next step: months of pathetic courtroom rants from Taylor about how the court is biased against him. I guess this tactic is really all he has left. The case against him is devastating, the international community thinks he's pure evil, and his country is moving on without him. He must be afraid that a normal trial would be too boring an end for a man of his stature.

Adding insult to injury...

Samuel Eto'o scored the winner for Cameroon to beat Liberia 2-1 on Sunday and stay top of Group 5 in African Cup of Nations qualifying.
But hey, Cameroon is no joke, ranked at 13th in the world. And Liberia is ranked, um...lower than that. I heard that Eto'o's FC Barcelona fans in Monrovia were lined up to catch a glimpse of him along the road from the airport.

Friday, June 01, 2007

Financial Autonomy Act Vetoed

Thanks to Anonymous for reminding me, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has vetoed the Financial Autonomy Act of the Legislature. That was the one that would have made lawmakers exempt from paying taxes on their incomes.

And Lone Star hosts Cameroon on Saturday. Go team!

Happy Birthday to Us

Today is the first anniversary of Liberia Ledger.

It's pretty amazing the changes in this country after just a year. I guess I pay most attention to the smallest microeconomic developments, since unemployment is still the biggest threat to stability. In the markets you see a much greater variety of goods for sale than you could ever find a year ago, including giant-sized cookware, fancy soccer and hip-hop t-shirts, handbags sewn from old bluejeans, hand-thrown clay pots, lots of hand-tailored clothing and "luxury" goods like fancy new shoes.

Houses are being built and rehabilitated everywhere you look. The cellphone companies finally reached Gbarpolu county yesterday. Ecobank has just established branches around the country. And the number of small businesses on Tubman Boulevard seems to have about doubled in the last six months.

But my favorite sign of change in all these 365 days came just today. A roadside market stall had a few locally-made percussion instruments, shakers constructed of gourd and beads. Maybe that doesn't seem like such a big deal, but in a region that's famous for its music, it's kind of eerie how little of the Liberian musical tradition seems to have managed to survive the war. At a workshop I attended for village leaders this AM, the facilitator had a hard time finding people in the room who could remember the traditional work songs from their tribes. Meanwhile young people can recite the lyrics to any R.Kelly or 50 Cent tune. Seeing those shakers on sale today made me think there could be something more joyful bubbling under the surface.