Friday, 12 May 2017

Joining International Alert as Country Manager for Liberia Part 1

I joined International Alert Liberia as Country Manager on 1 February. I saw the vacancy back in September or early  October 2016 and, applied and was confirmed by early November. It took a couple of months for the contract and recruitment formalities to be agreed and finalised and, I joined as head of the office here in February, a few days after returning from Pakistan from holiday. 

I've lived in Liberia since 2003 and worked with WFP-UNJLC and UNDP until 2008; took a year out to pursue a masters at SOAS in London; and been running an IT company since 2009. 

The time ebola struck Liberia and indeed the region, I started to think about reviving my development career. Ebola was a  real existential crisis: I was away in Pakistan for about 8 months because folks told me it was better to stay away and, that in itself created feelings of anguish and guilt. I was also separated from Haresh and, he even had an ebola scare himself. It was time to think about putting my eggs in other baskets. If I revived my job career, I would have an alternate source of income and even have the option to start moving out of Liberia in case things got worse. 

The general existential and moral crisis of course has not been resolved. Ebola and the suffering it wrought exposed to outsiders a barely existent health care system barely managed by a state. As the death toll increased, many aid workers living in the bubble they do in Monrovia, fled the country. An emergency was imposed and, everyone was fighting a war. International airlines pulled out and only 2 airlines served the whole country. Despite it all, the Liberians managed to control and halt the epidemic. Unfortunately, the ebola epidemic coincided with a general global market slump and, the fall of iron ore prices forced some of the mining companies to pull out. Things in Monrovia have normalised of course since the ebola epidemic but the fractures and vulnerability are still here. One can have an enormous sense of helplessness and anger when one thinks about what little postwar reconstruction has actually taken place. 

Against this personal crisis, I joined the big bad Aid Establishment in 2015 when I saw an advert for a Partner Support Director position at Mercy Corps Liberia. The project I was part of was an ebola sensitisation  project: Ebola Community Action Platform. I completed my 6 month contract and, unfortunately, was not renewed for the second phase of the project. I was told I would be better suited at a think tank. 

In some ways, I was glad to be out because I was not really intellectually stimulated per se and, wondered how we could better use $12 million in a country without critical life-saving medical equipment; and, how sustainable was this work without hand-in-hand collaboration with government counterparts. 

I was too glad to see the post of Country Manager for International Alert. I read as much as I could about them and, bombarded my interviewers with my rants about the socio-economic-political crisis in Liberia. Somehow, they hired me and, I began my new stint with a London-based peace building NGO. 

It's been about 3 and a half months since I joined. 

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