Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Displacing the Internally Displaced People

January 2006 New York

The ongoing Demolitions in Duala, Red Light, and Waterside trading areas should give every concern Liberian something to reflect on. According to reports emerging from Monrovia, a joint-United Nations and Liberian force has received mandate to destroy market stalls and other temporary shelters built by Internally Displaced People and other petty traders.

Speaking to Francis, a young used-clothes vendor by phone from Monrovia, he said, “These people have not even thought about how we’re going to feed our families,” lamenting on his frustration of the exercise.

Technically, the exercise is intended to give Monrovia a face-lift in light of the upcoming presidential inauguration scheduled for mid-January. Once again, it is also an attempt by the government to show-case it authoritarian face, and that is has the power to evict marketers, who for the most part do not possess legal papers to operate on street corners and other public places.

The practice of petty trading on sidewalks in Monrovia goes a long way into the social-economic issues that Liberians are faced with. Selling on street-corners has been the most popular form of survival in this war-ravished nation. How could one possibly imagine being evicted from a place where a typical family gets its daily bread? Is this the new strategy to develop Liberia over the coming years?

Corruption: the norm
Ordinary Liberians have seen dictators come and go, while politicians, both elected and appointed, pillaged public good and crippled the economy. The likes of William V.S. Tubman, Samuel Doe, and most recently warlord Charles Taylor only accelerated Liberia’s corruption decadence. One hundred fifty-eight years of independence, yet Liberia has little to show in terms of development or better living standards. The country and its ordinary people have been respectively reduced to rubble and beggars.

The International Community imposed sanctions on Taylor’s government in 2001. The Diamonds-for-arms embargo went a long way in weakening Taylor’s war machine. It also contributed to more hardship on ordinary Liberians. The nation’s infrastructure is almost non-existent.

While majority of Liberians languish in poverty and suffering, Liberian politicians are sugarcoated with lavish parties and trips across the ocean to Europe and America. These so-called “business trips” are times when Liberian politicians transfer large sums of money to their bank accounts overseas. Then how can Liberians talk about development or investment in Liberia when such practices have become the norm for the “smart-thieves”?

Liberian Women, who are said to have voted overwhelmingly for the incoming government, bear the brunt of this appalling hardship. Evicting a mother from the source of her family’s meal will leave her in destitute and shock. Also, some of the evictees come from rural parts of Liberia that have completely disappeared. These people have no place to go.

The way forward
The United Nations must revise its policy vis-à-vis its service to the people. There is no way politicians can influence this august body. The government cannot attempt to hide the true nature of what Liberia and its people have been reduced to over the years, just to impress some high-power dignitaries. It is like trying to conceal one’s true identity to a long-term partner. It is a shame.

The incoming administration must immediately halt the ongoing demolition exercise, which is threatening thousands of Liberian families livelihoods. It must then access the level of damage that has been done to the livelihoods of ordinary Liberians to ascertain their true needs and solutions.

In collaboration with the people, derive a competitive strategy that will improve local trade and commerce. The government must also put in place (build or renovate) structures that will house marketers and traders alike to facilitate reconstruction and development.

Unless Liberians can look at themselves and accept what they are, there will be no sustainable development. Liberians cannot pride themselves of any achievement by attempting to hide the true malady affecting the nation – poverty. The current demolition exercise of market stalls in Monrovia is a guise to further impoverish the masses. Will the Zinc Shacks in West Point be next? Liberians watch-out!

Remember, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere,” said Martin Luther King, Jr. Liberians cannot afford another hundred fifty years of injustice, at least not in the 21st century.

This article was posted on TheLiberianTimes.com on January 13, 2006.


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