It gets pitch dark around 7:30 pm. A combination of lack of public electricity on the roads (less than 30% of Monrovia, home to 1.1 million, has access to electricity) and the heavy clouds of the rainy season (starless sky!)
On my 2nd day here, I found it hilarious that I could chat in Lebanese to the supermarket owner in Monrovia (he, on the other hand was completely unfazed). It turns out there are thousands of them all over this place. They own hotels, restaurants, drycleaners, construction companies – you name it. They first came during the 19th century, as part of a wave of immigration fleeing the rough conditions of the Ottoman Empire. Their number reached 10,000 before the Liberian civil war and is estimated at 4,000 today.
In the early 19th century, the US abolitionist movement designated Liberia’s coast as the spot to resettle freed American slaves. It is said that officials of the American Colonization Society forced a treaty upon a local king at Cape Mesurado (present-day Monrovia).
And so Liberia was founded in 1847 by Black American settlers.
Perhaps unsurprisingly given their own brutal past, the former slaves enslaved the autochthones and went on to monopolize Liberian politics for two centuries. This layed the groundwork for inequalities so deep, that they triggered the 1989-2003 civil war.
Some Liberians think that reconciliation should start where it all started – by revising the symbols of the nation.
“Do we want an emblem that represents only 10% of our population? Do we want a flag that looks like the 52nd star of the flag of the ‘colonizers’?”
Liberia’s Governance Commission is tackling some of these issues as part of developing Liberia’s National Vision 2030.
How can policy makers help heal some of the deep wounds inflicted by the civil war without rekindling explosive tensions?
In Lebanon to a large extent, we’ve adopted the Ostrich policy. The reconciliation process “mousalaha” has been scattered and incomplete. As an illustration of the lack of collective memory, our official history book taught in public schools omits to mention the civil war. Given the persistent tensions and lack of common national vision, I’d say the Ostrich strategy does not work so well…
Curious and hopeful to see what would come out of the introspective work that Liberia is doing!
Liberia’s civil war ended in 2003 after fourteen bloody years that left the country in shatters.
I was born during the fifteen-year long Lebanese civil war and grew up witnessing my country’s imperfect reconstruction process. Twenty years after the end of our war, this process has resulted in a deeply unequal society and a government chronically unable to provide basic services to its citizens, even as Lebanon now classifies as a middle-income country.
Liberia is now firmly transitioning from emergency humanitarian aid to development planning. The coming years are crucial in setting the country on the track of permanent peace and sustainable development.
Flights to Monrovia — check.
Raingear and malaria pills — check.
Copy of This Child Will be Great — check.
A ton of excitement — check, check, check!
So all that remains really is getting to Monrovia, Liberia where I will be spending 10 weeks of this summer interning with the Ministry of Planning and Economic Affairs (MPEA). MPEA is the lead agency in charge of coordinating aid as well as monitoring and evaluating externally supported projects. The ministry is also responsible of developing Liberia’s Medium Term Growth and Development Strategy, which will define development priorities and guide the government’s policies over the next five years (Liberia’s current Poverty Reduction Strategy (PRS) is set to expire this year).