Everyone Has a Story (Liberia Archives)

 K. Lost both parents to the war at age 13.
Taught me how to play a card game called “AK47“.

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Liberians Go to the Polls


Tomorrow morning Liberians go to the polls for the second time since the end of the civil war in 2003.

16 presidential candidates are running for the executive post. But the two main contenders are Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf and William Tubman (both Harvard graduates). (eh, couldn’t resist plugging that in). Senatorial and legislative seats are also up for grabs in this election.

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Local Economy Takes Root in Liberia (re-post)

Reblogged from Peace Dividend Trust – published on Sept. 28, 2011

How do corporations secure natural resources (such as rubber) in a sustained way over a long period of time – knowing that most resource-rich countries are also usually prone to instability? The way corporations have traditionally done so is by signing long-term deals with the government of the country (be it a democratically elected one or not) and providing some basic services to the employees it hires (usually as little as their company’s Corporate Responsibility allows) – Firestone style. This old model is attractive because it is financially viable.

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Liberian Hit Song

Cambridge.
Unpacking and reminiscing over the summer by replaying the Liberian Hit song “Dumyarea” by Junior Freeman and African Soldier, two young Liberian musicians part of a new music genre called Gbema (Liberian music gone through electronic treatment).

Here goes the catchy beat:

 Here’s what Liberiabeat‘s got to say about it:

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Small-Small* or the Magic of Nanoentrepreneurship

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Gotta admire the resilience of Liberians!

Odd statistic that gets cited a lot: the rate of unemployment is said to hover around 80-85%. I couldn’t find the sources of the figure, but 80% seems hard to swallow. In this town, if you don’t work to scrap some living, there are few safety nets to fall back on – you will go hungry. The rate of formal employment is definitely low (around 15-20%) and that of underemployment definitely high – but until the census data (collected in 2009) is made public (ehem, LISGIS?), the numbers remain speculative.

Meanwhile, Monrovia bustles with a sense of optimistic chaos created by all the micro-businesses that line up the narrow bumpy streets – some with colorful, self-aggrandizing banners. Never a dull moment walking through this city!

*Small-small is Liberian English for “a little bit”. Check this fun entry by my roommate on other local expressions.

Happy 164th Independence Day, Liberia!

Liberia is the only country in the world to have gained its independence not from a colonial power, but from an NGO. Imagine the implications this has in terms of statebuilding?”
Hon. Amara Konneh, Liberia’s Minister of Planning and Economic Affairs

After claiming independence from the American Colonization Society in 1847, it sometimes seems that modern Liberia is battling to re-claim its independence from being an “NGO Republic”.
During the war’s 14 years, in the absence of a strong legitimate central government to report to, international NGOs were the ones calling the shots; their emergency relief services much needed by a population fleeing their burning villages and pillaged homes. Continue reading

China in Liberia

“We like the Chinese. At least they don’t interfere in our internal affairs.”
Liberian Public Official

Last week, on our way back from Buchanan (Liberia’s third largest city) our car broke down. We stopped by a nearby village, asking for a mechanic. On the other side of the road, some dozen children gathered, screaming and waving: “Chinee’ woma’! Chinee’ woma’! Come come!” It took me an elbow from a colleague and a translation to realize that the cheers were directed at me. The road we were parked on links Monrovia to Buchanan, and was built with Chinese funding a couple of years back. The Chinese workers on that project were the only non-Liberian people to have stopped by these villages.

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75 %

This is the percentage of Liberian women that are said to have been victims of rape during the country’s civil war.

On the street in Monrovia

While this may be an overestimation courtesy of Nick Kristof, gender-based violence is a serious concern in Liberia. The latest (and most reliable) data on the subject has just been released by the Initiative for Vulnerable Populations at UC Berkeley’s Human Rights Center, showing that both women and men are frequent victims of domestic violence. Extract:

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Latex (the not-so-sexy kind)

“To you, Firestone is just a brand. Where I come from, it is someone’s life – everything they will ever know”
A Liberian friend

Firestone Tire and Rubber Plantation’s history is painfully enlaced with Liberia’s.
In 1920s, the Liberian government was on the verge of bankruptcy and under severe pressure from international creditors for repaying a US$ 2 million debt.
Along came Firestone. It bargained with the government for a lease of one million acres of land for one hundred years. The price? 6 cents an acre, plus 1% in tax on the value of the exported rubber, giving the company unlimited control over 10% of Liberia’s total arable land. Included in the contract was the infamous Clause (K), which conditioned the deal on a loan from Firestone to the government of Liberia of $5 million at an interest rate of 7% (that was 2% higher than the interest rate on any of Liberia’s other debts).
Cornered and careless, the government signed.

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Participatory waste of time?

“You ask a woman in the bush what she wants – I can tell you what she wants. She wants to survive. She wants safety, water.. and education for her children. But we spend time and money that we don’t have organizing focus groups.”
A colleague, speaking of the Poverty Reduction Strategy (PRS) process *

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