Post-War Liberia: A Healing Nation

Megan Chrisler, Features Editor

It has been 10 years since the civil war in Liberia ended, but much like the effects of America’s own civil war, it will be much longer before the destruction turns into prosperity. Abandoned buildings are few; there are instead many foundations with cement creeping up as if striving to become walls. Running water outside the city is scarce. Even trash cans are hard to find; litter covers every square inch of the country. But few things are more moving than hearing a group of Liberians singing their national anthem; it is a moment filled with hope and inspiration, of determination to get back what once was theirs.

Liberia gained its independence after freed American slaves settled there in the 1820s. It was never officially colonized, but there were white settlers (some of the first presidents of the country were Caucasian). America, in fact, was the first country to acknowledge the new nation as a sovereign country. It became a financially stable nation; a black and white photo shows a city that could have been any American town in the 1950s. Christmas Eve of 1989 was when President Doe was assassinated and overthrown by Charles Taylor and his men, creating the First Liberian Civil War. In the late 1990s he managed to get elected as president and started the Second Liberian Civil War. It was not until 2003 that Taylor’s reign ended by his voluntary resignation and exile. Taylor was arrested at the request of the current Liberian president, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, found guilty of crimes against humanity and sentenced to 50 years in prison.

Within that time, Liberia was sent back almost to the dark ages. Americans usually see civil war as a two-sided issue; however, Liberia has 16 different tribes, all of which were fighting each other for over a decade. Consequently, buildings were destroyed, thousands were killed, and children were forced into fighting using heavy drugs. These same children, not knowing a world of freedom, education, or prosperity, have put little to no value in schooling or work, preferring easy money (which usually includes robbery) and a good time on the weekends. Even if they wanted education, it is hard to get; with exchange rates ending in about 75 Liberian dollars for every one American dollar, registration for any school can be around 1,000 Liberian dollars, and this may not even include books, uniforms or supplies. When at school, they are unlikely to get breakfast, resulting in low learning levels. The education system is based on copying and imitation, which also results in low learning levels.

Despite sanitation issues, a slow rebuilding process and lack of resources, Liberia is still a beautiful country. It is lush and green with vegetation everywhere one goes, the country side overflowing with different palm and rubber trees. Even soggy rice paddies appear once in a while. Flowers and orchids usually bloom around April, and the colors are as varied as the paints that adorn the buildings and shops in the cities. Their equivalent of winter is the rainy season, which happens during our summer; July is a perfect time to visit, with misty mornings and consistent temperatures between the 70s and mid-80s for the afternoons. There are a lot fewer mosquitos during the rainy season as well, decreasing the chances of malaria (which UNICEF claims, along with pneumonia, is one of the “leading causes of child morbidity and mortality” in Liberia).

Liberia also has a strong spirit. When a Liberian choir sings, the whole nation sings. When they worship, they start at five in the morning and go to eleven at night. When they pray, they shout. When they dance, it is never alone. And there are not enough words, pictures or souvenirs to adequately convey this experience. One must go to the lush land with a broken people to learn what Liberia has to offer.