Miscellaneous field notes

I just returned from a too-brief stay in Liberia: a few days with ex-combatants in remote mining camps near the Sierra Leone border, a few days with street youth and ex-coms in central Nimba, close to Guinea, and a few days with street youth in Monrovia’s more chaotic market areas, made even more chaotic by the splurge of holiday spending (a flurry of empty consumption that rivals any other I have seen).

While I’m cautiously optimistic about the situation in neighboring Cote d’Ivoire, there’s a risk of renewed war. I spent a lot of time with the kind of Liberians you would expect to run towards rather than away from the trouble. One fear in the capital is that they’ll do just that, in search of quick money and a little glory. I find this hard to believe. Short of state collapse or war in Liberia, even the most hardened and disenfranchised combatants I met had little interest in a bush fight. I believe them. There is money to be made in Liberia, more than almost all of them ever saw from 14 years of war.

Of course, one should not extrapolate too much from small sample sizes. Fortunately I’m running a survey of ex-coms in six weeks. If you’re trying to evaluate the impacts of an experimental reintegration program, you could find a worse measure of success than whether the treatment and control group are migrating towards the Ivoirian and Guinean  borders awaiting the the move to violence.

The next Liberian election is also a year away. I also don’t see many signs of election-related violence. If it comes down to a narrow and disputed victory, like we’ve seen in Ghana or Cote d’Ivoire, anything is possible (I don’t care how stable a democracy you have). But I saw little evidence of ‘violent entrepreneurs’ starting to mobilize the least stable young men. Not even the crime is particularly organized. But measuring this will be a main objective of my street youth study.

Actually, the biggest problems I saw were innumerable broken promises by UN agencies and NGOs. If you want to give unemployed young men a grievance, try promising them something worth their annual income and then fail to deliver for 12 months. Are UN procurement problems and bureaucracy the greatest enemy of peace in fragile states? I might say so.

A lowlight was waking up in my Nimbalian hotel room full of bedbug bites. All I owned in that room is now quarantined. I draw some solace from the fact that a rebel war criminal turned Senator and Presidential candidate, Prince Johnson, would be staying the the same room a couple of days later. I did not tell the manger about the bedbugs. Bite away, little buddies, bite away.

A final piece of wisdom to pass on to readers: if you happen to be interviewing a drug dealer and professional phone-jacker in the middle of a slum, be sure to put your iPhone on silent.

8 thoughts on “Miscellaneous field notes

  1. “Are UN procurement problems and bureaucracy the greatest enemy of peace in fragile states? I might say so.”

    A little bit harsh there?

  2. Hey there, Chris!

    Just a clarification that the vote in Côte d’Ivoire wasn’t narrow although it is clearly in dispute!

  3. I served in UNMIL back in 2006. At that time we encountered numerous attacks on civilians by a gang called “Issakaba boys”. At the time, we never figured out whether this was an orginized gang or rather something that random criminals called themselves. They had a hideout at the Monrovia cementary and appeared on several occations in the township just below Mamba Point.

    Any news about these vicious gang?

  4. Hi Chris and Hans:

    The “Issakaba Boys” is not really an eseattablished group but however, these were guys creating mayhams and chaos in order to draw public attention to discridit the government of lacking the ability to protect and secure its citizenry. It is also believe that this group was a part of the ex-combatants that were dislouged from the Gulthurie Plantation in Bomi County.

  5. Thank you for a most interesting reply.

    This, sadly, makes me question our presence as peace keeping soldiers. Me among many others patrolled Guthrie during a good couple of missions in early 2006. At the time Issakaba was unknown to me, but we were told that many of the ex-combatants left the plantation from our appearance. Later in my deployment, Issakaba filled most of the patrol reports I wrote.

    If you are right about that last part, our patrols may have eased living conditions in Guthrie but worsened the safety in Monrovia. I sincerely hope things are getting along better now.

  6. Hi Gentlemen,

    Yes things are actually getting better now since the government seal up/fence the cementary and started providing more training and geers to the national police to fight crime in the city. But with the up comming elections soon the question is will the current peaceful situation remain stable?????

    Youth Development Consultant