Friday, 21 October 2011

I can't see Facebook

Recently, whenever I try to go to Facebook, this is the page that comes up:

It says 'this wiki does not exist.'

I googled Facebook is Being Re-Routed to Wiki and I got 10,400,000 results! Apparently,  being re-routed is pretty common.

The same problem was posted on a discussion on Yahoo! Canada and someone suggested cleaning out all the cookies through running a software which was free for download.

Another blogger posted about Facebook being re-routed to a certain Samuel Garcia's My Space profile. He thought it was because of a "DNS exploit." His advice to issue to open up the Administrator window (on Windows) and issue a command to flush out the cache and to clear out the cookies too. 

Since I am on a Mac and I use the Safari browser, I emptied the cache by clicking on Empty Cache in the Safari drop down menu. Next, I deleted all the cookies (Safari -> Preferences -> Security -> Show Cookies - > Remove All). I typed Facebook again in my browser and it actually worked! 

Thursday, 20 October 2011

It Will Hold

It would be an understatement to say that Liberia has been making history in the past couple of weeks. Two Liberian women shared the Nobel Peace Prize along with a woman from Yemen. One of these women is a sitting head of state who is also hoping to win a second term during one of the most crucial elections in Liberia's history raising questions about the timing of the Prize. Despite a lot of anxiety and worries, the elections were convened peacefully but none of the 15 parties clinched the required 51% of the votes. This was predicted all around and run offs are slated for the 8th of November. Furthermore, the third most successful party has declared its support for the ruling party giving an interesting twist to Liberian politics. The party is led by none other than Prince Johnson, notorious former warlord famous for cutting off Samuel Doe's ear and then proceeding to killing him, now leading a calm life as a born again Christian pastor and Senator from Nimba County.  Finally, it would be noteworthy to mention the good work Liberians in general have done in putting the whole show together as these are the first Liberian-run elections in a couple of decades. The elections were declared FFT (free, fair and transparent) by the host of international observers that have descended into Liberia for these historic elections, including a former Nigerian General. Lastly, history was also made by the Liberia Media Centre for independently providing minute to minute exit polls through their website and social media presence which were actually matched by the National Elections Commission (NEC) results too. 

Prince Johnson, The Queen Maker

Tuesday's BBC article "Liberia's Vote: Prince Johnson Backs President Sirleaf" quoted Prince Johnson as saying Ellen Johnson Sirleaf was "the lesser of two evils." There is something ironic about him using word evil so casually. Not to mention that he comes off sounding very smug because of the sheer sway he knows he could have in these elections. This is a historical juncture where Prince Johnson is able to make such a significant impact on these elections.  

Yesterday's front page headline in the local paper, The Analyst, was "No Permanent Enemy, Only Permanent Interest - PYJ Declares as NUDP Joins Forces with UP." Prince Johnson is described as the "dark horse of the 2011 presidential race" in the article. One can say he's an unpredictable dark horse who joined the opposition in saying that President Sirleaf had not succeeded in reconciling Liberians but now seeing an opportunity, has switched sides. He responded to criticism to his unpredictability by saying "I believe in adaptation base on systems. I tell you exactly what it is and don't mince on words." I am not sure whether he was quoted correctly in the paper or whether that's his English, but ignoring bad syntax, I found his words quite amusing. Sure, he doesn't mince words, he minces ears!

Prince Johnson's choice of words is amusing, witty and reflective of the kind of politics that is being played out in post conflict Liberia since August 2003, when Liberia's 14-year old civil war came to an end through a negotiated peace settlement and peace was ensured through compromise and absent of any criminal accounting. "No permanent enemy, only permanent interest" is an interesting choice of phrase to describe the opportunistic politics that has dominated Liberia since its inception. I am reminded of the slogan that the Liberian population chanted when they elected Charles Taylor to power in 1997 that goes like this: "He killed my pa, he killed my pa but I will vote for him." 

This is a country where following a negotiated peace settlement, the same actors of the civil conflict enjoy positions of power and influence in state and society. In fact, Liberia's post-war justice choices have demonstrated that there is no enemy of the state and, power and interest lead the way. It is almost as if there are not any other options and it is ironic that a famous warlord and singled-out perpetrator by Liberia's Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC)'s report is able to go about being so smug and influence these critical elections. It is as if there are no other political options in Liberia except for the same actors over and over again. The 'Congo' elite and former warlords, the so-called sides of the civil conflict, have come together again to control and wield power. So what has essentially changed in this post-conflict scenario, one might ask?

The ignored TRC Report was an important card that was used by the opposition during this campaign season. President Sirleaf has been accused of ignoring the Report which bars her from public office for the role she played in the civil war. She testified in the TRC process herself, admitting she financially supported Taylor and apologised for it. However, the apology was not enough and neither the fact that she was a sitting head of state to whom the Report was presented to; and so, the Report lists her as a perpetrator recommended to be barred from office for 30 years. 

I have heard Liberians say she 'has blood on her hands' or she 'brought war' to this country. This is an interesting perception. Sirleaf has admitted to giving $ 10,000 to Taylor, perhaps it was more than this and even in combination with other kinds of support. Whatever it was, it has been translated into enough of a charge to be considered an actor in the civil conflict. The Report's recommendation to bar her and others from public office and, the Report being ignored has been used fully by the opposition. That is what makes the awarding of the Nobel Prize to a named-perpetrator by the TRC even more interesting. 

The opposition does not have any more of a cleaner past than the President in a post-conflict state where the same actors from the war have found roles to play in the 'new' dispensation. Most notably we have the man at the centre of everyone's attention, the queen maker, Prince Johnson himself. How much cleaner is his past? How has he managed to re-invent himself as a born again Christian pastor and Senator and what kind of public has voted him in as a Senator  and as the leader of his party?      Not only has he been able to make the born-again Christianity work to his advantage but he also continues to present himself as a freedom fighter. 

Now, we have the President having made a pact with Prince Johnson in order to get his support and succeed at getting a second term. What bearing does this having on her distinction as a Nobel Peace Laureate? 

Just before the interesting twist was made by Prince Johnson and before Tubman, the standard bearer for the CDC Party, was hospitalised on shock at losing a key part of the opposition which had declared the results fraudulent (see hilarious picture below), I would have predicted that the TRC Report would be re-opened sooner or later. With how the opposition has used this card during the elections, one would be led to conclude that the justice issues have not died down and in fact, need to be addressed by the new regime, be it Sirleaf or anyone else. At the same time, though, the new turn of events has made me reflect upon how 'transitional justice' issues are tackled in Liberia. They have more or less been dormant in Liberia and the TRC Report has been ignored by locals as well as the international community. Perpetrators of the conflict are enjoying positions of power and respect like the rest of them. And justice issues have only come up to be used in the elections, for the advantage of discrediting the incumbent President.

And now that President Sirleaf has made a pact with the "dark horse," what chance is there of ever opening up that TRC Report and start to address those issues?  

Transitional justice in the form for criminal trials has been demanded by the public, civil society and the international community in other experiences. So far, Liberia's efforts at moving towards criminal justice has failed and it is doubtful that it will change anytime soon. It has more or less been swept under the carpet and it is doubtful that it can be freely addressed. With a Prince Johnson helping to re-crown the Queen, has the transitional justice ship sailed? Or did it sail on 18 August 2003? 

Expectations and Results

These have been exciting elections not so much for any amazing show down between UP or CDC but more so for President Sirleaf's luck and Prince Johnson's queen-making twists. 

The CDC made a smart move by teaming up with Winston Tubman, a former UN diplomat and Harvard educated economist, to deflect criticism away from former footballer George Weah's less than perfect educational and political credentials. However, they were short of any other intelligent strategy after that. In terms of an ideological platform, there's the usual buzzwords like Good Governance, AgriBusiness and Environment. In fact, if you take a look at their website, it's quite unimpressive and reads almost like a UN or World Bank Report on How to Reduce Poverty and Build a Sustainable Environmentally Friendly Gender Friendly Future. They have even incorporated the pillar language into their website which is highly amusing. 

Their campaign has actually been characterised by a lack of imagination and scandals more than anything else. They were unimaginative enough to actually use the same campaign language as the UP. The CDC-ians were labeling themselves baboon, calling the President a corrupt monkey and declared their last major rally as the monkey's funeral. This all came from the UP's campaign slogan "The "Monkey Working Baboon Wait Small."

Winston Tubman has stated that he does not care for civil liberties. George Weah threatened a journalist for taking pictures of his motorcade knocking down a pedestrian. Through out the election season, the CDC and NUDP have been aggressively posturing and even threatening trouble in case the elections did not take place free and fair. And when the elections indeed did not result in a majority for any one party, particularly their party, they cried foul! 

All in all, the opposition, particularly, the CDC lost a great opportunity to play some intelligent and mature politics in these elections. Sirleaf herself lamented the fact that she would not go head to head with George Weah which is a bit of an insult for Tubman because surely, his years of experience as a diplomat and experience has done nothing for his political image thus far: "I'm ready to take everybody on. I think the strongest person is the person who decided not to run for president. And that's unfortunate. But he decided to accept the vice presidency role maybe because he doesn't realise that when people are voting, they will be voting somebody else who is not as popular as he is." ("Weah's Decision Was Unfortunate" in Daily Observer, 10.10.2011)

It is Prince Johnson who has come out of this as a better political player who seized an opportunity when he saw it. 

The run offs and the period leading up to the run offs will be exciting still and I certainly am enjoying this interesting phase in Liberia's history. 

If I dare make a prediction, to borrow a local phrase, "it will hold," meaning that the current regime will come back again and President Sirleaf will enjoy another 6 years of power. With all the honours bestowed on her by the international community and her local political successes, she is going to be written into history books as the mother of the nation, an image that she has been working hard to project.

Monday, 10 October 2011

Campaign Posters - Liberia Elections 2011

Sunday, 9 October 2011

The Monkey Wins the Nobel Peace Prize on its Own Funeral Day

The 2011 Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to three women: Ellen Johnson Sirleaf (Liberia),  Leymah Gbowee (Liberia) and Tawakkul Karman(Yemen). This blog entry is a reaction to the timing of the prize to Sirleaf who is up for re-election for a second term. The Committee explained that the elections are a national consideration and their award goes beyond the fact Sirleaf is running for a second term. That sounds all good and noble by recognising that they are awarding the Prize during such critical elections,  but it sounds a bit insincere. The bottom line is that the Prize should not have been awarded in real time. This international stamp of approval will only feed into the perception that the powers that be are calling the shots in Liberia. 

Awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize 2011: Bad Timing?

Friday morning, we all woke up to the stupendous news that not one but two Liberian women had been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize (along with an activist from Yemen, Tawakkul Karman). The winners are the current president of Liberia, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, who is running for a second term and Leymah Gbowee, a social activist known for leading women in peaceful protests. 

It was a surprise to say the least!, My initial reaction to it was - as usual - suspicous: "Hold on, let's not get too excited here."

Given that elections are hardly a couple of days away, it seems like inappropriate timing. Excited messages have been posted on Facebook and the Liberia Expats Google Group. Among my former colleagues and friends from the UN and NGOs who used to work for Liberia or still work here, it's "congratulations" all around. People are quite chuffed with themselves for having been associated with such a regime and society that is being showered with such praise and respect on an international level. It also reaffirms the ideological framework under which they serve. Hardly anyone from the UN/NGO crowd bothered to question the timing of this Prize. 

Amongst the critical reactions were that that this was being "perceived as interference in the political process." This was observed by a friend (expat) who is working out in Grand Gedeh County.  Another friend, an academic who has published a Phd on Liberia, told me that while he thinks this is great for "global recognition" for Liberia's progress, he didn't think this was "fair for democracy" as it would definitely interfere in the process. Another friend (also works for an NGO) who was over for dinner last night, suggested that the Prize should have either been given earlier to mark the a few years of peace brought about in Liberia or a couple years later.

Further still, given the speculation about these upcoming elections and that this election is going to marked by stiff competition, some think that this Prize is meant to appease Sirleaf and 'encourage' her to leave peacefully in case her party does not win. That the international community is 110% behind Sirleaf goes without saying but that is not how I read the news. I think this just a big fat endorsement.

Although the international press is still seemingly vague, random and selective about details in Liberia's story and how its reported, there is now more of an understanding that Sirleaf's image abroad does not necessarily match her domestic appeal. The New York Times' article Nobel Peace Prize Awarded to Three Activist Women  states: "The Nobel committee’s decision underscored the gap between local perceptions of her — it is not hard to find critics of the president in Liberia — and the view from abroad."

Monkey's Funeral and the Big Cheese

Having discussed the ill timing of the awarding of the Prize and the international community's over excitement in expressing their support for an active politician and sitting head of state, what was the local reaction to the Prize?

Well, the news was not even printed in the local papers and whoever did learn of the news must have through radio. My staff was not aware of it until I told them and since they are all UP (United Party - Sirleaf's party) supporters, instant Facebook messages went up celebrating the Prize.

It was also the day when the Congress for Democratic Change (CDC), the main opposition party, launched a final campaign rally. So I took a walk out on Randall Street to get a sense of what was going on. My staff had told me the day before it was going to be quite rowdy and the CDC-ians were going to make trouble.

It was more like a party atmosphere slash street politics while the businesses were either closed or the owners stood at their entrances observing the show. As I walked towards my friend Bendu's tea shop, I heard animated discussions on both sides of the street by men and women wearing CDC T-shirts. I could hear bits and pieces like "We are not for UP or CDC, we are for Liberia." So I finally got to Bendu's and again, she did not know of the news but a lady, a secretary for a Lebanese businessman, who was getting her hair braided, knew of the news.

A Lebanese fellow who was hovering around started speaking to me and tried to impress me with his conspiracy theories and personal take on the elections. I shall paraphrase it: Africa is a piece of cheese divided among Western powers and Liberia belongs to the Americans. Referring to locals, he said they have no clue what is going on and because neither he or I could vote, who cares? Finally, he said Obama was in support of Winston Tubman (the standard bearer for CDC).

The fellow's crass and patronising remarks prompted a barrage of indignant protests from the women around us. The ladies shot down the gentleman's shaky theory and undiplomatic comments on Liberians' understanding of politics. My friend, the secretary, was so impassioned at the thought that Liberians would let CDC come into power and bring in turbulent times and risk the peace. The guy disappeared but the excited discussion went on for many more minutes.

It made me realise that sure, Sirleaf enjoys immense international support, and is a "darling of the international community" as described by the Washington Post ("Liberia's Nobel Prize-winning President To Face Stiff Competition at Tuesday's Polls"), but she also has a strong domestic following. My staff, mainly composed of youngsters below the age of 30, love and admire her as the mother of the nation. Market women, vegetable and fruit sellers and the average person on the street I have interacted with profess to be UP supporters. Even the few 'returnees' (Liberians returning from abroad after exile) I have befriended are staunch UP supporters. Salaried, office-going people also support UP. I also see avid support and discussion on my Facebook stream. I think that while some of the average people on the street supports her truly as Mama Liberia, the more so-called educated and wealthier layer applies a certain practicality to their support. In other words, many believe there is really no other viable alternative to Sirleaf.

CDC is viewed as populist party with little or no ideological platform which enjoys mass following comprised mainly of a bunch of 'hooligans' for lack of a better word. This perception is very strong among UP or other party supporters. A procession was coming down on Randall Street and I managed to take a few pictures of the crowd. Most of the partisans were young men and women, dancing and singing, drinking and generally having a good time. Apparently, most of them do not have have voter registration. They were singing some songs about a corrupt monkey and its funeral. 

The monkey refers to Sirleaf, actually; moreover, it's self-afflicted! Part of the UP's campaigning involved the slogan "Monkey Still Working Let Baboon Wait Small." It's a playful satire to convince the public to give the current administration a chance to continue its work. Baboons, referring to CDC, are noisy and troublesome. Another billboard says not to change the pilot before the plane has not even landed! Another set of billboards are even more dumbed down: for instance, Education Da Their Area, Agriculture Da Their Area, Hospitals Da Their Area.

So Friday's CDC rally was dubbed the Monkey's Funeral but unfortunately for them, the Monkey was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize!

Tail End 

The upcoming elections in Liberia are going to be historic not only for the country itself but add or subtract from Africa's recent election nightmares. And of course, let's not forget that if Liberia manages to peacefully hold these elections, the international community will be able to pat itself on the back for its neo - liberal peace building efforts in the country since 2003.

I have been quite optimistic about these elections: that Madame Ellen will be swept into a second term, the transition will be smooth, Liberians are 'tired of fighting, ' too much is at stake in terms of foreign direct investment and let's face it, Madame Ellen has the full support, nay adoration, of the international community and it's been fully proven by Friday's announcement of the recipients of the prestigious Nobel Peace Prize.

What will the results be? Your guess is as good as mine. There is some anxiety given the aggressive posturing by the opposition, threatening trouble in case things do not go their way. There is also the likelihood of a run off given there are 15 candidates running for the Presidency. And, there is also a lot of support for the main opposition party, CDC. All in all, these elections will be a tense affair and a lot is at stake.