The Paradox That Is Liberia

A teenage boy lives with his family on the third floor of an abandoned office building on Broad Street in Downtown Monrovia, Liberia.

Teenaged school children mingle during a break between classes at Cestos High School. The school district in Rivercess County offer one Primary elementary and one high school for the entire county. Often children walk several hours to attend or get a ride on small motorcycles to get them to school.

A young girl sells fruit to residents and tourist visiting Ducor Palace Hotel Park in Monrovia, Liberia.

Old world craftsmanship, Peter Dwana, a 19 year-old carpenter and cabinet maker working for Lassana Dukuly, skillfully uses a chisle and plane to carve, then smooth, the gentle curves of a cabinet frame at the home and shop of Dukuly along 12th street in Monrovia, Liberia.


I have now been “in country” for two weeks, and I have met many Liberians. I have seen new sights, and some things not so new. Liberia is struggling in its post-civil war era to become a modern nation of the 21st Century. The war ravaged its land, its psyche and its people, leaving deep scars that are healing slowly. Many festering wounds threaten casino to reignite the violence.

If you listen closely you will hear Liberians reiterate that they want an end to the corruption that has plagued their government and society. Corruption in politics, government and business seems to be an everyday occurrence. Newspapers report accusatory stories about politicians that have embezzled. There have been countless businessmen that have bribed officials, cheated people, the government and other business clients. Politicians that have been caught bribing, embezzling and cheating the tax-paying citizens are routinely appointed to other posts. These instances have enraged the people, who seem to trust no one.  Yet they often pride themselves when they can work out a “deal” with a business client that benefits themselves, yet could be detrimental to thousands of others.

Most of this skullduggery occurs in a shroud of secrecy, while the press has been jailed, decommissioned, revoked, closed or barred from reporting on or exposing the truth. Government officials hide documents, make illicit deals, bribe others or extort citizens, all under the guise of privacy. Everyone has an expectation of privacy, although it’ s not a right. People will tell you that you need their permission to enter, to speak, or to photograph them, even in public

Could you imagine the outrage in the USA if the media were handcuffed when it came to reporting the news about the government, the courts or business. Or if there were no Freedom Of Information Act protecting the rights of American citizens to have access to government meetings or documents? To see, read and collect the information that the officials have gathered? Liberia finds this dichotomy a tremendous challenge to overcome.

During my first week here, two journalists were detained and their electronic images deleted after taking photographs of members of the Liberian legislature on the floor of the chambers while in session. I realize that members of our Congress would love to have that kind of power, whether a Nancy Pelosi or John Boehner. This society lacks the transparency that is needed to provide the checks and balances that would reduce corruption and hold the offenders responsible.

In Liberia, until that changes. it will continue to be “I did not give you my permission.”