Tuesday, 17 October 2017

These few moments after the 2017 elections

It's hard to believe we have passed the moment of the highly anticipated 2017 races which went by quite smoothly (except for administrative and operational complaints against inefficiency and disorganisation at some voting stations). In fact the entire process has been peaceful. Now we are awaiting the final tally.  That we will go to a second round is inevitable since it is unlikely that any one party will secure 51% of the votes. Provisional results indicate that Boakai and Weah are leading the vote count. If Boakai is indeed the incumbent (phrased as the incumbent president at Dr Pailey's lecture), then it's the same race as it has been for the past 2 elections, namely in 2005 and 2011. It's the Unity Party against CDC. What's more, Weah has always clinched higher percentage in the first round and has consistently been popular. It's too bad though that amongst the heavy weights, at the front of the Presidential aspirants, Dr Pailey couldn't come up with a phrase to capture the phenomenon that is Weah. 

Several weeks ago, the supermarket we shop at hinted to us that we should stock up before the elections. A few other Lebanese and Indians told us the same. Back in 2011, it was the same thinking within these business communities: anxiety and trepidation over possible riots and looting. 

None of my Liberian friends shared any fear of violence. Last year, our company driver Morris Duo expressed supreme frustration over all the opportunists who were going to come and contend for the Presidential elections next year. He said he didn't know who he would vote for but for sure, he didn't have any praise to shower on the ruling party and Sirleaf's Presidency. 

Closer to the elections, earlier this year, we heard and read about disappearances of children, in alleged ritualistic killings. In this sense, the lead up to the elections has not been without violence. 

When I asked my housekeeper and nanny, Christiana and Musu, who they would vote for, they were shy to tell me. I joked and said, is it because you will vote for CDC and are embarrassed to admit it? (Apparently, Trump voters in the United States quietly voted for their choice). They said they can't vote for CDC because George Weah cannot control his crowds. 

Haresh has been saying that CDC supporters are threatening violence if they do not win this time. Could Liberia really fall into chaos and fighting?

UNMIL is really only sticking around until it sees the peaceful transfer of power. It seems they have been trying to leave for years now! From UNMIL friends, I gather that the mission has drastically been reduced in size and, they will definitely close up shop once the elections are peacefully concluded and the next regime steps in.

I must admit that the little bit of fear mongering whispered among business communities affected me and, I thought "At least UNMIL is still sticking around." UNMIL has served as the pseudo safety net in Liberia in the post war era - acting in place of a capable army. In terms of actual security and border control, what was the actual role and impact of the UN's massive deployment of peacekeepers? And, was their presence required all these years? Especially if they just gave us a 'semblance' of security? When I was briefly representing International Alert

Is there really a chance that Liberia could slide back into chaos? Would it be CDC-ians causing problems?

Another friend I spoke with, the illustrious Mr. TQ Harris, our neighbour and landlord, explained that Liberians are tired from war and, they have tasted it badly!

Will they be peaceful elections are not? Should a reduced UNMIL presence concern us? What's going to happen? How helpful have these questions been in the lead up to the questions? Not so much! 

Monday, 9 October 2017

Dr Robtel Pailey's lecture on Liberia's Democracy and 2017 elections

Haresh and I attended a very timely and informative lecture by Dr Robtel Pailey at the offices of Liberia Strategic Analysis (LSA) in Mamba Point. 






Tuesday, 3 October 2017

Nobel Peace Prize - the View from Liberia

I had another column published in the Bush Chicken under the title: The Blinding Effect of the Nobel Peace Prize. My original title was Nobel Peace Prize - the View from Liberia. 

Monday, 2 October 2017

Part 2: How to think about the state in Liberia

Part 2 of my column got published in Bush ChickenAmid a Hollowed State, Sources of Optimism.

A piece of the original column wasn't included and it goes like this:

"States have been the organising principle for the last couple of hundred years. The first state of Liberia was fashioned out of 19th century ideas of statehood in 1847 by founders who believed in their destiny and vision to carve a modern state in this corner of West Africa. The right to statehood and freedom were some of the passionate ideals of the time. The state was the symbol of government and authority and, provider of society’s needs based on the ideology of the governing elites.

Similarly, post war Liberia’s state is being conditioned by norms of the global 21st century order and reigning international political economy. The international community revived and saved the state in 2003. After almost 15 years of Good Governance, the results are mixed and, most Liberians do not have access to basic infrastructure, security, access to justice, and good schools and hospitals."

Trying to write a column isn't easy. A column is a very concentrated, precise piece of commentary/Opinion. One has to fit everything together in 800-900 words. No wonder one enjoys reading great columnists! 

Thursday, 28 September 2017

Gbagba by Robtel Pailey

While out walking with Kavita, I bumped into Luca who was on his way to Miami Beach. He told me there was a children's play being staged at the Monrovia City Hall. He would send me the e-mail about it and, encouraged me to take Kavita with me.

So, I went to City Hall today and, sat next to Luca and Leslie. Kavita was being picked up from school in Sinkor by our office manager who needed to submit some paperwork to a client. I asked her to drop Kavita at the City Hall. 

Luckily, the programme had not started and, I met Janneh at the front and brought Kavita back to the auditorium. Kavita was quite excited to see so many children in the hall and in fact, the organisers were waiting for more school children to arrive. 

The event finally kicked off and, it was quite enjoyable despite the non-functioning air conditioners. 

As I've said before, cultural events like these are too few and, it's always a pleasure to attend them. 

Robtel, the playwright herself, introduced the event, how she transformed the book Gbagba into a play and, all the support she received in bring the play to the public. 

The play was fantastic because it was being performed by children who were really very good! It was so cute and adorable to see them enacting the typical scenes of deceit, bribery, 'sifarish,' and thievery. For sure, there is a powerful message and aim here: to educate children against the destructive nature of corruption because there is more hope in children than older generations. 

At the end, Robtel had the audience pose questions to the actors. It was a good session and, during one exchange, the actor responded that police would stop taking bribes if their salaries were increased. At the very beginning, Flomo Theatre (they had trained the kids in their acting) did an amazing skit to warm up the audience that was an allegory for stealing. The conclusion was that in Liberia, greed is crippling society and seems to have no limits. Even a highly-paid official continues to steal. 

I think the play was a good place to start talking petty bribes and corruption which we see in the every day scenes of life in Liberia. Even an outsider, someone with privilege and buffer to the every day struggles of life in Liberia, is a witness to how bribery, corruption, favours and dishonesty permeates life. The play was fantastic in how it portrayed these on point scenes! 

However, I missed the more nuanced understanding of how and why corruption works in Liberia. Is it because there is poverty, inequality or just a leadership and power structure without a moral compass?  Maybe this could also be explored a little, in a subtle manner. Because at the end of it, what's the real toxic and diseased impact? A police man making hardly $ 200/month that takes petty bribes of a few Liberian dollars or the excess, corruption, and bad policies at higher levels? But perhaps this complexity cannot be explored/debated at a children's level. Let the children understand and passionately defend against dishonesty of all types, big or small. 

I found a TED video of Robtel explaining Gbagba which means 'trickery.' 

I really loved watching the play and, how much it resonated with the audience. The play was simple but extremely clear in terms of how corruption weaves its way in every day life. 

Although it was being performed by children, Kavita was more engrossed in playing games with the girls sitting in the row in front of us. 

While we were going home, she complained that they had not let go on stage. 













Friday, 22 September 2017

A rainy evening walk

Haresh dutifully accompanied us to the evening walks but recently he's been dodging them. 

These are photographs of a particularly wet evening walk. As we turned left to go towards Mamba Point, it started pouring and we stood under an entrance to wait until the rain stopped. 

Afterwards, I asked the security guard to take a few photos of us. I mean, why not? Then, the elderly security guard also posed for a photo with Kavita. 

Everyone seems to be so enamoured with Kavita's conversational skills. Folks I met when I am out and about remark, "She got sharp mouth!" 














How to think about the state in Liberia

Part 1 of my How to think about the state in Liberia got published in Bush Chicken: http://www.bushchicken.com/op-ed-the-challenges-of-the-liberian-state/. Check it out! I hope Part 2 will be published soon. 

Wednesday, 20 September 2017

Evening walk

These past couple of months, I've really returned to a regular and invigorating routine of evening walks with Haresh, Kavita and Bijli. It's a good feeling to be have a regular rhythm. 

I don't think I had such a stamina for a long walk at Kavita's age but she has kept pace with us and, walks as long and fast as we do. Moreover, she also runs laps up and down Snapper Hill. 

I love how familiar a walking route can be and, even if it is repetitive, it doesn't get boring. Opposite the new TM Mall, the security guard greets us enthusiastically. He has one of those very kind and sweet faces. 

The owners of the souvenir shops opposite the Mamba Point and Cape Hotels are all known to me and, always greet me and request me to stop to look at their shops. But I politely tell them, not now. In fact, I've made friends with a carver from Ghana who carves masks and tables himself and, even beads them. 

Past the shops, there is a lady who calls out to me, "Suzanna." She has known me since the days I used to live in the former Carter Center office in Mamba Point. We usually stop and chat. 

When we reach this point, Kavita says, "We are almost there." "Almost where, Kavita?" I say. "Almost to the hill, " says Kavita. 

We keep going and reach almost to the gates of the old American Embassy where there are 21 yellow short poles/barriers which Kavita and I count in Urdu: "Eik do teen char panch...." 

When we finally reach the top of the Hill, we feel so good! There we rest and then begin some exercise. 





Wednesday, 13 September 2017

Recycling and evening walk

I asked Aaron to come over with some plants and flowers to plant in my empty Nido and yoghurt cups. 

I know Aaron Sannah since my UNDP Liberia days. He used to bring $ 5.00 bouquets to one's desks. I was out of touch with him for a while until I was re-introduced to him through another UN former colleague. 

Aaron has a farm in Tubmanburg and, I went to visit it with a few friends last year in September

Anyway, he brought over some of his workers with him and planted some flowers and plants in the empty containers. I placed these on a rackety metal shelf our neighbours Monroe Chicken had left behind. 





Later that evening, we went for an evening walk straight from the office. These days, I come to the office dressed in walking clothes 3 times a week. Haresh has to go home and change his attire. 


So, here are the snaps of the evening walk. 







And, then we went shopping for groceries at Exclusive Supermarket and made lasagna for dinner.