LIBERIA MARCH 2008
I first of all extend my heartfelt thanks and kind appreciation to
Ingrid and all members of the Association of World Citizens whose
donation made our trip to Liberia possible. I strongly believe that
our partnership will definitely serve as a conduit to help and restore
hope to those in need.
The Center for Youth Empowerment (CYE) has been in operation
at the Buduburam Refugee Camp for the past six years; providing
services to the refugee populace with the intention to empower them
become self-reliant, agents of change, as well as, provide a beacon of
hope. Our activities include, but are not limited to: peace building,
human rights, academic and vocational education, prevention of
gender-based violence, and recreational activities. Our programs
have made a positive contribution to the camp and they continue to
significantly impact the lives of many at Buduburam. For
example, our "Making the Children Happy" campaign, a
recreational program, has made a great impact; emphasizing among the
children the importance of peaceful co-existence regardless of the
tribal divisions enforced during the war.
We consider the assessment tour in Liberia a vehicle, in
which, to observe and identify the many issues facing Liberians
today. This tour helped us effectively determine ways in which
we could intervene and empower the people of Liberia. By doing so,
this will not only help war-weary Liberians recover from the tragedy
of war, but also, it will play a vital role in the development of
peaceful co-existence, stability and economic development.
During my assessment, I visited the following counties: Lofa,
Grand Gedeh, Sinoe, Margibi, Grand Bassa and Gbarpolu. Within each
county, I investigated six thematic areas: education, peace-building,
agriculture, the plight of the children, health and sanitation, and
the living standard of Liberian in the post-conflict era. I will
also discuss the current challenges refugees face during repatriation.
I am pleased to present to you the details of my assessment
Education in our modern world serves as an important pillar
in the determination of development and peaceful co-existence.
The neglect of education, as seen in Liberia, affects the
capacity of the nation to develop in a timely and effective manner.
According to the 2006 United Nations Development Progress
report, the contemporary illiteracy rate in Liberia stands at
eighty-five per cent; thus, greatly impacts the capacity of Liberia to
rebuild after the devastation of civil war.
The educational sector was greatly impacted by the war;
during the civil unrest, many trained teachers were either killed or
forced into exile. Most regrettably, in the absence of trained
teachers, the schools are now being taught by individuals who are
untrained in childhood development. The teachers’ credentials
rest are based on their graduation from the level they now
teach. A child’s education rests solely on the capacity of
unqualified individuals to communicate and comprehend the subject
matter; the incapacity of many of these teachers has lead to huge
The educational infrastructure has also been severely damaged
by the war. Many schools are not spacious enough to accommodate
the growing number of school children, leaving the classrooms
congested. Some classes I observed exceeded seventy
students. In rural areas, the lack of nearby schools force many
children to walk hours from their village just to attend class.
Those who cannot walk such a long distance remain at the home, being
assigned household chores or remain behind to play. The
inaccessibility of a proper education to many is a great set back to
the stabilization and development of Liberia.
Recently, the government has announced free education for primary
school, in an attempt to address the staggering illiteracy, as
well as, align Liberia with the United Nations Millennium Development
Goals. However, this program is limited, as from all
indications, it is restricted to government-operated schools.
The government-operated schools have a limited capacity to house the
many children that could benefit from this program. Private
schools, which have a greater capacity to host more students, lack the
subsidies which would enable them to offer more affordable school
fees. Currently, the tuition and fees of private schools are
being sharply increased in order to underwrite the cost of running the
institution without government assistance. High tuition rates,
coupled with the nationwide unemployment crisis, have left many
children excluded from the educational system.
Those that are fortunate enough to attend classes face yet another
set of obstacles; the lack of text books, laboratory equipment and
instructional materials impede the actualization of a quality
education. Due to this severe lack of resources, the schools are
incapable of establishing a working school meal program. During
my assessment, I witnessed children boycotting classes due to hunger
on several occasions; this is extremely disruptive to the progression
of their education.
The area of vocation training has been severely impacted by the lack
of available resources. However, considering the devastation of
the civil war, there is dire need to train Liberians in marketable
skills; the tedious task of rebuilding the country relies on the
skilled man-power provided by tradesmen and tradeswomen.
Circumstances at the moment dictate that plans should be designed to
focus on vocational skill training; this will assist in the expedient
In an effort to reduce the current illiteracy rate in Liberia
and supplement the government’s efforts in achieving the Millennium
Development Goal of having a literate society by 2015, CYE would like
to do the following:
- Establish an elementary and junior high school.
- Conduct an in-service teacher training workshops with implicit
focus on training individuals with no professional background.
- Establish a vocational skill training center in the following
areas: carpentry, plumbing, sewing, beauty care, computer
literacy, drafting, and masonry.
- Create educational awareness in the rural areas for parents and
community members to encourage and support children to go to
- Solicit scholarship assistance to enable vulnerable children to
- Develop a community library, thereby, providing students,
teachers and members of the community access to valuable
- Initiate a school meal program to reduce the number of children
boycotting classes due to hunger.
During my assessment, I was made aware of the grave impact the
civil war has had on Liberia’s society. Among the Liberians,
the war enforced many divisions; erecting walls that divided the
people based on tribal, factional, religious and political
affiliation. Feeding on these divisions, a great number of
atrocities during the fourteen years of civil unrest can be attributed
to the manipulation and politicization of difference.
Contemporarily, these divisions continue to threaten the tenuous peace
in Liberia. Specifically, I noticed during my assessment that
there remains a deep divide between the natives and the settlers, or
the Congo people.
Following the abolition of the Atlantic slave trade, freed slaves
came to settle in Liberia. The settlers rapidly seized
control of the political and economic institutions; thereby, excluding
the natives from actualizing their capacity from 1847 – 1980.
The settlers grossly repressed the native population, asserting the
importance of settler culture above the many traditions and culture of
the native population. Natives pursuing higher education were
constrained to change their names to that of the settlers to suppress
traditional language and culture.
The minority, with settlers constituting only two per cent of the
total population, weakened the country’s capacity by denying many
education, as well as, political and economic power. Many saw
this attitude as being responsible for the current stalemate in our
beloved country. My investigation revealed that the division
between settlers and natives remains in the contemporary context, with
each group apportioning the blame on one another for the massacre, the
destruction of towns and villages, and the high rate of illiteracy and
unemployment. As such, the continuing of prejudice and
discrimination has the propensity to deconstruct peaceful coexistence,
reintegration and post-conflict reconstruction.
There is also a great amount of tension amongst the natives as
the conflict emphasized tribal division and prejudice. For
example, in Lofa County, the Loma strongly believe that the Mandigo
tribe is largely responsible for the destruction of lives and
properties. Conversely, the Mandigo assert that the Loma tribe was the
architects of the destruction of their county. In Nimba County,
the Gio and Mano tribes are holding the Mandigo responsible for the
destruction in their county, and vice versa. I was informed that
prior to the war, land dispute claims between the Loma and the Mandigo
tribes in Lofa County, as well as, property disputes in Nimba County
between the Mandigo, and the Gio and Mano tribes was responsible for
the establishment of the numerous appropriations of blame. As a
result of the rivalry, members of these tribes used the war to pursue
their hidden agenda, resulting in the destruction of lives and
properties. During my assessment, I witnessed this formulation
of tribal division and accountability in each county; this not only
perpetuated violence and destruction during the civil war, but also,
it continues to threaten the tenuous peace contemporarily.
In Sinoe County, a similar situation exists between the Sarpo and the
Kru. While the two tribes co-existed peacefully prior to the
outbreak of the civil war, they now lay blame on one another for the
horrible experience in their county. In Grand Gedeh County, the
Krahn tribe holds the strong belief that the civil war was a genocidal
pursuit against them; asserting that they were discriminated and
isolated from Liberian society due to their association with the late
Samuel Doe. At the height of the war, anti-Krahn sentiments ran
high and many were indiscriminately killed. The continuing
assertions of blame, whether for territorial gains or otherwise,
perpetuate stereotypes and hatred among the people.
There is a great need and opportunity for the establishment
of peace education in contemporary Liberia. Persistent efforts
made in the past by traditional leaders brought some calm. The
presence of United Nations multinational peacekeeping force, couple
with a democratically elected government, serve as a platform to
engage in peace-building as they attempt to identify the multiple
causes of the nightmare of civil war and strive to find remedies to
secure durable peace. The establishment of workshops and
conferences on peace education would provide tools to citizens on how
to handle conflict
Constructively, in the hopes, that this would break the destructive
impact of intolerance and prejudice.
In order to address the causes of the war and the consequences
thereof, facilitate development and unity, and create an enabling
environment where the views of everybody will be respected regardless
of tribal, religious or political affiliation, CYE would like to
intervene in the following ways:
- Teaching of peace education in schools.
- Conducting community workshops based on peace education,
conflict resolution, mediation, and tools for community
development targeting the youth and other major stakeholders.
- Establishing a community peace outreach program, in which,
those who cannot read and write would be taught those skills
through drama. Thereby, granting an opportunity to add their voice
and capacity to the reconstruction of the state and the
development of peace.
- Organizing peace and reconciliation sporting and cultural
activities targeting traditional leaders, youth, women and major
THE PLIGHT OF THE CHILDREN
When the civil war erupted in Liberia, it cast a dark shadow over the
lives of many of the children. Parents, guardians, siblings,
family members and neighbors were either killed or separated from each
other; many children lost their supportive network in the throes of
war. In the cities, I observed many children roaming the streets
begging or selling good for petty-traders. Having no place to
stay, many sleep in street corners and open market places. In
the rural areas, the children are engaged in hard labor; they go into
the bushes, hunting and fishing to find sustenance. Many lack
proper clothing or shelter. The war has left many children
vulnerable, not only are their future at risk, but also, the security
and development of Liberia is greatly undermined.
On the whole, these kids do not have food security, shelter,
medication, and opportunity to go to school to prepare them for a
In view of this, CYE would like to:
- Establish an orphanage home to take out of the street
vulnerable children with the intention of providing them shelter,
education, medication and give them hope for tomorrow.
- Give them the needed necessary care to put smile on their
HEALTH AND SANITATION
Communicable diseases and HIV/AIDS are on the rise in
Liberia; the lack of trained physicians, nurses and medical
practitioners further exasperates this issue. During the long
running civil war, most medical professionals were either killed or
forced into exile. As well, the war caused the destruction of
infrastructure, and thereby, many villages and towns do not have a
clinic or health post to support the people. Many individuals
must walk a distance of two or three hours to seek medication.
Those who are seriously ill are transported to the clinic using a
wheel barrow; sadly, many of which, die in transport before reaching
medical aid. Many of the existent clinics and health posts experience
acute shortages of medical equipments and drugs to treat
illness. Therefore, preventable diseases like malaria, typhoid,
running stomach, headache and chicken pox has easily overwhelmed the
As for sanitation, there is no good drainage system; leaving many
of the drainage systems in ill-repair or entirely nonfunctional. As
well, there is no centralized garbage disposal system, coupled with
the lack of proper sanitation this contributes to a large presence of
flies and mosquitoes, and the proliferation of disease. The
absence of community sensitization program to educate community
members also contributes to a widening gap; many do not have knowledge
about basic hygiene and other tools to uphold better sanitary
conditions. It was also noticed with keen interest that places along
the coast do not have any education about the importance of the
sea. People defecate on the beaches without comprehending the
extreme consequences to the recreational and ecological functioning of
In order to assist in addressing these problems, CYE would like
- Build a clinic with accessibility to rural areas.
- Launch a community awareness campaign on sanitation, basic
hygiene, environment and HIV/AIDS.
Farming before the war served as one of the main economic
pillars of Liberia. The base, of said activities, is in the
rural areas of the country; however, the war displaced rural
inhabitants and erased many agricultural villages and towns, and
thereby, denigrating agricultural capacity. The rural areas prior to
the war supplied urban areas with food staples, vegetables, cash
crops, live stock, and indeed, self-sufficient in food
production. However, since the war, the displacement of rural
inhabitants and the destruction of arable land have affected Liberia’s
capacity to be self-sufficient in food production. Additionally,
the high prices of farming tools, seeds and chemicals, and poor
infrastructure all inhibit the redevelopment of agriculture.
With little or no access to starting capital, it remains infeasible at
this time for many farmers to resume their activities in the
One subsistent farmer indicated to me prior to the war, there
was a cooperative farming system. In this system, each village had a
large collective farm; proceeds from the sale of their produce were
used towards the development of the village under the supervision of a
community team. At the individual level, farmers organized themselves
into smaller groups to help one another through out the farming
season. Brushing, cutting down of trees, clearing, planting and
harvesting was carried out by assigning both sexes a specific job to
Contemporarily, the ever increasing hatred emanating from the war has
destroyed this cooperative system; individuals are no longer willing
to form groups due to prejudice and fear. All of the stated
above undoubtedly is responsible for the downward trend of farming
activities in post-conflict Liberia.
To revamp farming activities, CYE would like the following to
be highly considered:
- Provision of farming tools, seeds, chemicals and other
materials to enhance farming activities.
- Provide farmers with the tools of handling conflict through
peace education workshops with the sole intention of restarting
the cooperative farming system which is not feasible now because
of growing hatred.
- Provide starting capital to re-organize the cooperative farming
system at both the individual level and group level to enhance
LIVING CONDITIONS IN LIBERIA
It is very disheartening to note the severe hardship being
encountered by ordinary Liberians. This hardship is being compounded
at the present time by high unemployment rates, inflating prices for
basic commodities, high government taxes, expensive transportation,
and lack of electricity. Due to poor infrastructure, many of the
counties are inaccessible and travel within urban centers is extremely
expensive and time consuming; thus, intensifying the suffering and
isolation of many individuals. In the city of Monrovia,
transportation fares are inordinately high and commercial cars are
difficult to hire; it may take several hours before one can procure
the services of a commercial vehicle for transport. In rural
areas, it takes several days for a hired car to arrive, thereby,
forcing many of the rural dwellers to walk on foot several hours to
reach their destination. The country also lacks modern
electrical infrastructure; many people rely on a private generator to
ensure a constant supply of electricity. The present hardships
facing the country have left many vulnerable to the influx of criminal
activities. Although security agencies attempt to keep in check
the situation, criminal activates remain on the rise; with the source
of this influx yet to be addressed.
Despite all the hardships faced, the Liberians still seek to
experience the many joys in life. In Monrovia, as well as in
other urban and rural centers, there are recreational areas such as
the beach, which are occupied on the weekends. People go there
to play, eat and drink, and engage in lively discussions, and thereby,
find temporary reprieve from the many inconveniences and hardships
they face during the
The war in Liberia coerced many Liberians to seek refuge in
Ghana and other neighboring countries; established in 1990, Buduburam
refugee camp hosts over forty thousand Liberian refugees. Throughout
the war, many peace accords failed as a result of differences among
warring factions; but in 2003, the Accra peace accord produced
fruitful results, of which, has paved the way for the formation of an
interim government. The interim government has guided Liberia
through the demobilization and disarmament of over one hundred
thousand ex-combatants, and the subsequent holding of free and fair
elections bringing to power the first ever female African president.
After the election, Liberian refugees were overwhelmed with the
opportunity to return home, but remained wary because of legitimate
concerns and fears. The majority of these concerns rest on personal
security, shelter, food, and most importantly, reintegration.
Reintegration remained a grave concern for many of the refugees,
fearing that returning to Liberia after a fifteen years absence would
propagate instability. During my assessment, I observed a
relative calm in Liberia, which is reinforced by the presence of the
multinational peace-keeping force. However, one of the greatest
concerns remains whether this peace can be maintained in the
restructuring of the Liberian army and in the eventual absence of UN
Presently, the government of Liberia is recruiting and training
the new army under the watchful eyes of the international community,
so as to be independent and responsible for the future security of
There is an acute shortage of dwelling places in the urban
areas, specifically in Monrovia. Many houses were destroyed or burned
down throughout the war; the existing high rate of unemployment and
high tariff on building materials presently impede the rebuilding of
homes by ordinary Liberians. High demand for property and the
scarcity of available housing has lead to a hyper-inflated rental fee,
far exceeding the amount that the average Liberian could afford.
Many returnees are currently in Monrovia, some of them enlightened me
to their plight; their villages are virtually non-existence, with no
house to live in, minimal economic activities in the rural areas and
bad road conditions provide convincing reasons for the movement of
people from the rural areas to urban areas. The cities have
become congested with returnees unable or unwilling to return to their
villages. Many of these individuals have been accommodated by
extended family members and friends, creating difficult living
situations. One room is commonly shared by four or five persons;
correspondingly, this has largely contributed to the outbreak of
communicable diseases. I further gathered that obtaining daily means
is extremely difficult.
Currently, there is no program that focuses on fully reintegrating
returnees. Unbelievably, upon repatriation, many of the refugees
received little aid from the United Nations High Commissioner for
Refugees (UNHCR). Five American dollars, some cooking utensils,
and a few personal belongings was all the refugees were given upon
their return; without assistance in finding places to live, as well
as, lacking the means to afford housing, many have found themselves
placed within an internally displaced persons camp.
Returnees’ land, like many Liberians, has been encroached upon
or taken away. There are several reported cases of claims and
counter claims regarding the ownership over a single parcel of
land. The government is exerting all efforts to address the
issue; however, land dispute in the African setting remains a very
delicate issue, and henceforth, all necessary care is employed.
In the rural areas, land acquisition is not as difficult as the urban
areas. Many people in the rural areas, as evidence of places
visited, are overwhelmed to receive their brothers and sisters; with
many expressing willingness to help them with whatsoever means
possible. While land acquisition may be considerably easier in
the rural areas, it remains that the housing infrastructure is
extremely lacking. Rural dwellers built their houses using local
resources, leaving many of these housing instable and susceptible to
flooding during the rainy season. Most interestingly, rural
dwellers survive through their farming activities and sell their
produce to urban areas. Earnings, thereof, are used for upkeep,
which includes, but are not limited to, sending their kids to
school. The destruction of many villages and towns,
skyrocketing prices of farming tools, migration and displacement
of rural dwellers greatly affect farming activities and the
livelihood of many rural inhabitants.
Having provided the details above, for the repatriation project
to be carried out successfully, CYE would like to recommend
- Houses are built for returnees in the standard of the local
- Vehicles are provided for transportation of refugees from the
camp to their destination in Liberia.
- Hire the services of a lawyer to provide guidance in the
process of land acquisition.
- Help returnees with farming tools, seeds for the first farming
season and provide them with food supplements during the initial
- After the first six months, start a revolving micro-loan
program for returnees to help fully reintegrate them, as well as,
provide them with access to funds previously unavailable.
- Establish a central office in Monrovia to coordinate activities
of the project and set-up local points in counties of operation.
- Lofa, Sinoe, Grand Gedeh, Bong, and Margibi counties are
considered for the first phase of the project.
- Develop a community awareness program in areas where returnees
will be living; with the intention of integrating them with the
locals and obtaining the community’s full cooperation.
I would like to inform you that we utilized the assessment tour in
- Registered the organization under the Liberian laws.
- Probated the article of incorporation at the probate court in
- Established a bank account for the organization.
- Received the green light to operate in Liberia as a
With legal aspect as regards operating in Liberia being completed,
we are confident that our operation in Liberia is legal and protected
by the authority
Center for Youth Empowerment