Welcome to Ceasefire Liberia

Ceasefire Liberia is a blog bridge between the Liberian community in Liberia and the rest of the Diaspora.

Author: Kelly Richards

UNMIL Boss Says Violence has “Ethnic Undertones”

UNMIL Boss Says Violence has “Ethnic Undertones” – The United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL), has described as false and misleading rumors that its soldiers protected only member of the Muslim community during the recent violent crisis in Lofa County.

UNMIL soldiers were accused of protecting the Muslim community during the crisis because the soldiers are predominantly Muslim, something the mission described as false.
According to UNMIL boss, Ellen Loj, the soldiers swiftly responded to the crisis and protected all parties regardless of religious affiliation.

UNMIL Boss Says Violence has “Ethnic Undertones”

Madam Loj also attributed the crisis in Lofa to what she described as unfunded rumors and noted that the violent situation, which started in Konia had ethnic undertones.
She described the situation as unfortunate and said an investigation into the crisis is ongoing.

Speaking Wednesday at an UNMIL press conference in Monrovia, the UN envoy also reaffirmed UNMIL’s commitment to maintaining peace, the rule of law and improving the living conditions of Liberians.

In another development, Loj has disclosed that the United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, in his first progress report to the United Nations Security Council, also recommended more support to Liberia’s security institutions.

UNMIL Boss Says Violence has “Ethnic Undertones”

He said the country’s security needs financial and moral capacity aimed at maintaining peace and rule of law in the country.

According to Madam Loj, the UN Secretary General in his progress report also called for the establishment of the Independent National Human Right Commission aimed at implementing recommendation of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Liberia.

Inmates Escaped During Voinjama Violence, But Police Make Some Arrests

Inmates Escaped During Voinjama Violence, But Police Make Some Arrests – A little over six dozen inmates escaped from prison during the February 26th Voinjama violence.

Inspector-General Marc Ambla, the head of Liberia National Police (LNP), said 73 inmates who were detained at the Voinjama Central Prison for various criminal offenses escaped during the violence. He was however quick to point out that 52 of the inmates have been re-arrested by the LNP and placed back into their detention cells.

Inmates Escaped During Voinjama Violence, But Police Make Some Arrests

Of the escapees, Inspector General Ambla said one person who was convicted of rape has been re-arrested and further assured the public not to panic as the police were doing everything possible to have the remaining escapees apprehended.

“Voinjama City is calm as the Emergency Response Unit (ERU) of the Liberia National Police (LNP) along with other security forces continues their patrols to restore hope to the citizens and residents of Lofa County,” Inspector Ambla further told reporters.

At the same time, the Bureau of Immigration and Naturalization (BIN) has revealed that it has launched a vigorous search deep into neighboring Guinea for perpetrators of the February 26th violence. Guinea borders Liberia to the north and is just a few kilometers away from the provincial capital of Voinjama where the disturbance was massive and chaotic after spilling over from Konia and Zorzor.

Life is said to be gradually returning to normalcy in the crisis area, particular Voinjama, as the county officials adjusted the curfew that was imposed in the area.

Inmates Escaped During Voinjama Violence, But Police Make Some Arrests

Violence erupted in Liberia’s northern county of Lofa after a Christian student named Korpu Kamara, who had gone missing for a few days, was found later dead with a bullet wound. This was subsequently followed by a students’ protest, which turned violent. The protest was characterized by tribal sentiments in which bloody ethnic clashes between Mandigoes and Lormas ensued, leaving four persons dead and 21 others wounded.

A group calling itself the “Concerned Youth of Ganta for Reconstruction and Development” condemned the recent destruction of life and property in Lofa County.

Feeding the Children

Feeding the Children

Feeding the Children – I am the executive director of the A-Mon-Nue Sport & Social Association (ASSA Inc) in Brooklyn Center, Minnesota and I wanted to share photos of an civic engagement event we sponsored called Feed My Starving Children on Tuesday, December 29, 2009.

Feeding the Children

At the event we packaged food for people with whom we may never come into contact. And we did it with much joy and love on the faces of our wonderful children and all the volunteers with whom we worked.

Feeding the Children

We helped pack 22,032 meals that will feed 60 kids for an entire year, wow! Amazing? Yes, it is truly amazing. Thank God we have plenty to eat and share in America and praying that others will have some day too.

Wood Camp Youth Versus Climate Change

Wood Camp Youth Versus Climate Change – Here is a video I made of the youth activities during the recent climate change week. An old lady is seen in the video planting a tree in her back yard.

Wood Camp Youth Versus Climate Change

Citizen Media: Drown Out the Noise

Story originally published on Ceasefire Liberia

Republished on Huffington Post

We all know the routine: the journalist, who is viewed as the authority (traditionally white and male), goes into a community and comes back with a story to share with the world.

His version of events, experienced through his eyes only, is considered objective reporting for all to read and believe.

What makes (the best of) today’s journalism different is that citizen journalists the world over have the opportunity to share their hyperlocal, interactive, personal portrayals of their communities, venturing into places that traditional journalists wouldn’t have the time or money or access to cover.

I have seen the best of what hyperlocal, citizen journalism has to offer on the blog project I founded, Ceasefire Liberia.

The Ceasefire blog is a space for Liberian bloggers from Liberia and the diaspora to share stories about their lives, travels, families and communities that would be of interest to readers around the world.

Some bloggers on the site have written about challenges in their communities, such as Nat Nyuan-Bayjay’s piece about the lack of toilets in the township of Clara Town.

Others, like Saki G, have documented their community’s efforts to fight climate change. Still others examined how the massacre in neighboring Guinea impacted Liberians across the border.

Which is why when Shane Smith, co-founder of Vice magazine, visited Liberia to “report” on an eight-part series about the most horrific and vulgar parts of a country still struggling to get back on its feet after 14-years of civil war, I didn’t blink an eye.

This is not the case for the many Liberiaphiles, living both inside and outside Liberia, who have railed against Vice and Smith for their one-sided, fear-inducing, wrong-headed portrayal of Liberia (There are many responses to Smith…a few are here, here and here).

But I don’t think getting angry is the answer. Instead Vice’s piece makes me feel even more firmly committed to the Ceasefire Liberia project and the bloggers who shine a spotlight on their country and communities.

If you ask me whether I think that by only focusing on the depravity and deprivation in Liberia Smith did not give a full and fair representation of Liberia, my answer is yes.

But do I think that Smith’s reporting takes away from the reporting being done day after day by local Liberians who know and love and see the realities on the ground in Liberia?

No. In fact, I believe that the only solution to combating misrepresentations of Liberia is to counter Vice’s series with stories written by Liberian journalists and media-makers.

Because the only way to drown out the noise of the misinformed and mis-intentioned is by telling the truth — and leaving it up to the reader to decide which information to consume.

“This has left me seething,” wrote journalist Kate Thomas on a listserv for Liberian expats last week. “‘Documentaries’ like this widen the gap between Liberia and ‘the west’ and discourage understanding and interest in the burgeoning tourism industry.”

While I hear what Kate is saying I have to believe that Vice is not the one-stop-shop for all Liberia information (or maybe my faith in humanity runs too deeply).

If someone was really looking for information about Liberia they would go to one of the many blogs written by knowledgeable expats (such as Shelby Grossman’s, which is enjoyable and smart), or to Ceasefire Liberia, or to The New Liberian, written and edited by Liberian powerhouse Semantics King, or to the myriad newspapers, internet articles or books, which all offer well-rounded views on the country and its people. 

The beauty of the internet and Web 2.0 is that it gives readers access to many sources of information on which to base their worldviews.

To be fair, Smith’s reporting, while exaggerated and embellished, isn’t wholly incorrect. There are homeless, unemployed, drug-addicted and criminal parts of Liberian society (like any society), which I and others have reported on. 

Rape and lack of opportunities are challenges in Liberia that many have tackled. And the truth is that many of the ex-combatants who fought in the war have slipped through the cracks and have now ended up on the streets begging for a hot meal and a comfortable place to sleep.

But there are also important stories like the one Jina Moore and Glenna Gordon tell as part of a series sponsored by the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting about land disputes in Liberia.

And Kate Thomas’ memorable piece about Sarah Mayson, a soul singer living in Ghana’s Budumburam refugee camp. And everyday Liberians are writing real stories about their lives. Yet even these intriguing pieces aren’t going to stop those “reporters” who want a cheap thrill at the expense of others.

While I agree with David Sasaki, outreach director of Global Voices, who called Vice’s portrayal of Liberia “idiotic, sensationalizing, simplistic, and in many places factually incorrect.

To say that this documentary is representative of Liberia is like saying that a documentary on Las Vegas is representative of the United States,” I do not believe that the Vice series in any way represents Liberia.

(Full disclosure: Global Voices gave Ceasefire Liberia a seed grant last year). Vice’s videos represents a narrow-minded, myopic, ignorant, exploitative view of Liberia, which should be obvious to anyone watching the documentaries.

Yet isn’t that the danger of citizen media? That by giving everyone the opportunity to be heard, we may not agree with everything being said. Isn’t that the danger of a democracy?

The truth is that citizen journalism, like a democracy, is for everyone and everyone does not always share the same values of journalism or tell the story we would like them to tell. That is the danger– and beauty

No, I don’t believe that Shane Smith’s parachute-eye view of Liberia is accurate, if only because it is one person’s story. Any one story that is meant to represent an entire community, let alone an entire country, is inherently flawed.

Just ask Nigerian novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Watching a video of Adichie speaking at TED woke me up to the dangers of what she calls “the single story.”

When Adichie was a child growing up in Nigeria she only read American and British writers who wrote about the world they knew: snow, apples, and conversations about the weather, were par for the course.

Wood Camp Youth Versus Climate Change

The danger was that as Adichie began to write at the age of seven her stories were filled not with what she saw around her – sun and mangoes- but with tales conjured from the stories she read in those British and American books.

Seemingly innocuous details like snow and apples seeped into her tales, although they were not part of the world around her.

This is the danger of traditional journalism and why participatory journalism is so important. When the story of a culture or a community comes from one source – no matter whom or what that source is – all of society becomes impressionable.

So, yes, Shane Smith went looking for child soldiers and prostitutes and cannibalism in Liberia and that is exactly what he found. The Ceasefire Liberia bloggers, on the other hand,

have never once mentioned cannibalism or heroin in their stories, instead talking about empowerment projects for women and girls, Liberia’s decision to aid Haiti’s quake victims, and feeding the hungry over the holidays.

So, who is worse off: Liberia’s bloggers, who are shining a light on their communities and the world around them, or Smith, who went half-way across the world and came back badly shaken, but with no more knowledge than he left with?

Smith is part of the old guard — the white, male, gonzo journalist– who leaves the world no better than he found it. The Liberian bloggers I work with are changing the world one story at a time.

I know whose side I want to be on.

Wood Camp Youth Consider COP 15 the Gateway to the Future

Wood Camp Youth Consider COP 15 the Gateway to the Future – The United Nations celebrated it’s 64th anniversary today with millions of youth around the world, including Liberia, where a youth group dedicated it as a day of climate action as prescribed by the United Nations calendar, “The Road to Copenhagen.”

In Liberia, the youth of Wood Camp in collaboration with the Youth Crime Watch of Liberia in Paynesville, added their voices to the global chorus, challenging key stakeholders who will be meeting in Copenhagen in December 2009, to commit themselves to the climate deal that will define a new direction in the fight against climate change. 

The campaign, which started with a parade through the principal streets of Wood Camp, saw students from three schools in Paynesville forming part of the campaign.

Wood Camp Youth Consider COP 15 the Gateway to the Future

They included, St Matthew Lutheran high School, F-SHAM Girls Academy, and Victory Williams High school.  The theme of the campaign was, “The Road to COP 15 – Seal The Deal!”. 

An indoor program followed next, and it was graced by Mr. Patrick Coker of UNMIL (United Nations Mission in Liberia) Civil Affairs in Liberia who served as keynote speaker and Ambassador Kimmie Weeks of YAI (Youth Action International), who made brief remarks challenging young people not to see themselves as those who cannot make positive contributions to society.

He further thanked the organizers of the event, and encouraged them to continue to get the youth involved into finding solutions to existing global problems such as climate change. For his part, Mr. Patrick Coker gave his keynote address. Like a classroom teacher he helped students to understand the issues of climate change.

Furthermore, Mr. Coker opened a dialogue between he and the audience as each member of the audience, mostly uniformed students, gave his or her views about climate change and the way forward to the COP (Copenhagen) 15 conference.

The program saw a youth from the wood camp community, Miss Georgette Sithole, presenting a position statement to the audience.

The position statement, which  centered chiefly around humans unwillingness to recognize the effects of green house gases, also challenged youth, politicians, business organizations, environmental groups

and the United Nations to make good their decisions at the COP 15 meeting as it is considered a gateway to the future and that anything less than an agreement would have greater consequences on the lives of young people, especially the poor ones.

Wood Camp Youth Consider COP 15 the Gateway to the Future

One of the most interesting activities at the program was the stamping of the Global Petition as per the United Nations campaign activities. Ambassador Kimmie Weeks first stamped and signed the global petition, followed by Mr Coker and the rest of the audience and organizers of the event.

Stamping and signing the global petition was symbolic to galvanizing political will and public support for reaching a comprehensive global climate agreement in Copenhagen in December. 

Meanwhile, the stamped and signed petition, according to the organizers of the event, will be framed and formally presented to the COP 15 participants through the United Nations

560 Victims of Rape in Nine Months; Rapes Done In Broad Daylight

560 Victims of Rape in Nine Months; Rapes Done In Broad Daylight – A statistical report in the Liberian Capital, Monrovia, has shown that 560 victims of rape have been reported from January up to the present, with most of the perpetrators of rape not using masks to conceal their identities. In addition the crimes are not even committed at night, but during broad daylight, without care for the consequences, the report said.

The report, gathered from the MSF (Doctors Without Borders) Belgium Clinics on Bushrod Island, was culled from the public clinics in Clara and New Kru Towns. Both communities are two of Monrovia’s slum communities in which crimes and all kinds of violence are on the increase on a daily basis.

560 Victims of Rape in Nine Months; Rapes Done In Broad Daylight

The statistics was revealed by Patricia Kamara, Assistant Minister for Research and Technical Services at the Ministry of Gender and Development during a two-day Gender and Development Ministry organized workshop for media practitioners in Monrovia. The workshop focused on how the Liberian media can help to reduce occurrences of rape in Liberia.

The researcher noted that more than 80% of the victims who have survived are less than 19 years old, and the majority of them are between the ages of 13 to 18, closely followed by 5 to 12 years old.

The Assistant Minister lamented that the youngest survivor, now at a safe home, is 18 months old and that the child’s case was reported to her ministry in February of this year, while the oldest survivor is 62 years of age, which was reported in July of this year.

“I know the survivors knew and trusted their perpetrators, had confidence in them, and the survivors looked up to them for protection. Some of the survivors were abused by one perpetrator and 18% of the survivors experienced gang rape. Maybe the perpetrators could be from the same community, same neighbors or friends, or relatives,” Mrs. Kamara added.

Mrs. Kamara added that sexual harassment also increased during the 14 years of armed conflict.

“Liberians thought that since peace has been restored in the country, sexual based violence against women and children would have been decreased, but, this is not the case, it continues to increase on a daily basis, especially when these people know that the survivors know them,” Mrs. Kamara said.

“Maybe, the perpetrators are unconscious of the gravity of the acts, he has been doing it over and over and nothing comes out of it, so I can go ahead and do it again. And the consequences that may result from it, they don’t want to know,” she told reporters.

560 Victims of Rape in Nine Months; Rapes Done In Broad Daylight

Kamara remembered an incident earlier this year, which took place in the provincial capital of Liberia’s northern Lofa County, Vionjama. Mrs. Kamara told the participants that she visited Lofa and met an alleged perpetrator of rape in a cell, who had earlier raped a little child and was released. He later raped the daughter of the woman who had given him a place to stay after his release, while she had gone to the market.

Living Without Sanitation

Living Without Sanitation

Living Without Sanitation – Sanitation is known to be one of mankind’s basic necessities for better life. But it seems the thousands of Clara Town residents have compromised this and are virtually not just living in filth but unimaginable poor sanitation conditions.

The township of Clara Town, strategically located in the commercial district of Bushrod Island is just a stone throw from Central Monrovia and has an estimated 61,000 to 65,000 inhabitants. Its sanitation problems range from lack of adequate toilet facilities to unkempt drainages and filthy environment.

Living Without Sanitation

THE STRUGGLE FOR TOILETS-a serious issue

The lack of adequate toilet facilities seems to definitely be the township’s most grave sanitation problem wherein over 90% of the houses were built without toilets (whether indoor or close-by). This makes the residents to rely on public toilet facilities; as if to further worsen the residents’ plights these toilets are not only nasty in most cases but are also insufficient to cater to the tens of thousands of residents that flock early morning hours and late evening hours to ease themselves.

To add ‘salt to injury’, a lot of the already insufficient public toilets have been closed to the residents—a situation that has prompted the constructions of over a hundred make-shifts toilets along the bank of the Mesurado River popularly known as the ‘Du River’.

Authorities clothed with catering to these public toilets known as the 7Man Council of Clara Town told FPA that the closure of these toilets is due to them being over-filled with feces. The 7Man Council is charged with the general welfare of the Township and is said to be drawn from a cross-section of Clara Town’s most dominant tribes (two representatives each from the Grebo and Vai Tribes which are in majority, one representative from the Kru Tribe and two representatives to generally represent the other tribes of the Township.)

This Council which replaced a previous community council named the United Development Association (UDA) of Clara Town is said to be heading in similar direction as the UDA due to its inability to cater to these needs which includes the continual filthy drainages as shown in the picture.

According to Mr. Augustine Passewe, secretary to Commissioner of the Township of Clara Town there is a unit called the Management Team which is responsible to cater to the drainages. True to his words, many of the residents informed FPA that this Management Team periodically tries its best in cleaning these drainages as well as dump-sites in the community. But again, these efforts just cannot get the commendations that it should probably be getting because it is often said that “a job half-done is not done at all”. On the issue of these public toilets, Mr. Passewe attributed it to their sewerage lines which need to be reconnected to proper ones or new ones dug—indications that they were indeed poorly connected to inadequate or unfunctional sewerage lines. As viewed in some of the pictures, most of the closed public toilets have just been constructed but yet are not able to serve the people for whom they were built.

“My brother, the people built this toilet but we could not use it for even 2 months. In fact, we the women were forced to use the same place with the men because they told us that the ‘women side’ was not good”, explained Miatta Kandakai as she pointed towards one of the relatively new toilets which she lives next to. “So, we force to just use the ones the other people built over the river”, she said as she told our reporter the way forward.

Like Miatta, most of the residents explained that there is indeed a serious need for toilets because a vast majority of the houses have none. They narrated their stories pitifully to the extent that one woman explained how she was compiled to toilet on herself due to the usual over-crowdedness of the toilets (both public and private)one early morning when she had experienced a terrible ‘running stomach’ the previous night. “When I reached to the water side that morning, everywhere was packed. So, I run to the government toilet but again the line was long”, she said. Then she continued: “By the time I could make up mind, I was finished doing it on myself”, she concluded her misfortune.

Living Without Sanitation

PAY AS YOU TOILET

Every visit to the toilet is paid for. FPA was informed by a lot of the residents that they prefer the toilets built over the river to the public ones. While their reasons vary from one person to another, the bottom line is that one pays LD$5 per visit to the toilet. Implicitly, one has to calculate or budget additional LD$150 or USD$2.3 monthly for toilet per individual. And that is if one wouldn’t have to use the toilet more than once daily. However, if one experiences a stomach disorder either due to Diareahea or other stomach problem, you just might pay twice this amount. This means that if you have a household of over five to ten persons who are not able to secure a LD$5 note for toilet purpose, then the accumulated circulation is yours.

Another older woman, probably in his late sixties told this reporter they have to set aside at least LD$25 to LD $35 on the day that proceeds Christmas Day or Ramadan Day (depending on which religion you believe in since the Township is dominated by both Christians or Muslims) because, as justified by her, that is when one gets and eats food in abundance.

IMMINENT DANGER LOOMS

Standing along the bank of this river, what can be seen visibly is the chain of make-shift toilets as if you were viewing a congested traffic from an aerial view. According to a FPA survey and proper examination of these make-shift toilets, a vast majority of them are what can only be described as ‘death trips’ while some are made only for those who are brave to use. Children as young as three to four years can be seen squatting over tiny planks that link these toilets to the shore as these toilets are built about three to four feet away from the bank of the River. Since they are small and a lot of their ‘seniors’(older people) will be in queues, they just cannot just the main toilet but use these tiny planks which serve as entrances to these toilets.

In additional to the nasty drainages, some of the Township’s water-pipes are opened for water supply just along the immediate edge of these dangerous drainages. (Available in picture) Some of these water pipes are concentrated right within the same location of the man-holes of some of the public toilets (as shown in the picture).

SITUATION CREATES NEW FORM OF BUSINESS

The compulsory alternative discovered by these residents has eventually led to the establishment of a new form of business that proves to be a worthwhile venture. Owners or constructors of these ‘private’ toilets over the River have just gotten a self-employment that is indeed sustaining. Wilfred Nyante, one of the owners of these numerous ‘water toilets’ told FPA that he makes between LD$900 to $1,000 daily—the equivalent of USD$14.00-$15.00—from 5:30 AM to about 11PM. Wilfred’s explanation servers as a confirmation that most of the residents prefer to use these ‘water toilets’ to the government or public toilets which is one reason why they (the owners) make this kind of money. “This pays my house rent, feed my family and sends my two children to school”, he said. The profitability of this new form of business has led to its proliferation that almost every day one new one is seen constructed.

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