Sunday, October 21, 2007

Liberia on the move

This essay is part of a (more or less) weekly feature on this blog that presents interesting stories from elsewhere in the world, particularly Africa, that are little reported in the American media. It's part of my campaign to get people to realize there is a lot going on in the world outside the US, Israel, Iraq, North Korea and Iran.

A few good news stories about a country that hasn't had very many in the last two decades.

Liberia is a country of particular interest to me. When I lived in neighboring Guinea in the mid-90s, it was at the nadir of Liberia's first civil war. The radio teemed with reports of atrocities by drugged up boy soldiers of the despicably murderous warlord Charles Taylor. Guinea was also home to over half a million refugees from Liberia's conflict and from the civil war in Sierra Leone, which Taylor also inspired and helped finance. I had friends and acquaintances who'd fled these wars and that helped give me an abiding hatred for Charles Taylor.

When the warlord blackmailed, bullied and intimidated his way to "winning" the 1997 presidential elections, people hoped stability, if not prosperity, would return to the country. But it was no surprise that a despicably murderous warlord turned into a despicably murderous head of state. Another civil war erupted. There were even calls for an intervention by American troops, an amazing thing considering the world's opinion (and particularly those of smaller countries) of the US invasion of Iraq.

This is probably what most Americans think about Liberia, if they know anything about it at all.

Things are now on the upswing. Progress is agonizingly slow but after 16 years of horror, any steps forward are welcome.

Loathsome scumbag Charles Taylor is now an indicted war criminal and is deservingly on trial in The Hague for his countless crimes against humanity.

But the application of justice for one man is only a first step. Infrastructure must be rebuilt. Electricity restored. Clean water made available. This piece from the Center for Global Development explores some of the many challenges.

A special section at has many stories on the proress being made in Liberia, particularly since the installation as president of Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. She gained notoriety as the first woman to be elected president of an African country but she will gain far more awe if she can continue to help rebuild Liberia into a stable country. So far, it looks like she's providing the leadership and good governence that has been so sorely lacking in the country over the decades.

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