Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Full Stop

One of the more enjoyable challenges of blogging is to develop a narrative arc, expressing themes that transcend through the site over time. Instead of a bunch of random observations and "musings," I think its a larger achievement, and a more enjoyable reader experience, to have some continuity, some symmetry of content, a recurring of topics, veins of interests running through the blog, to give it a relevance, make it compelling and enjoyable.

I've tried to do this, while at the same time covering a wide range of issues related not only to Liberia, and the greater West African region, and which reflect not only my personal interests in architecture, art, history and culture, but also the more complex professional issues of trade, investment, development, and socially-responsible business.

This is a constant challenge, sometimes enjoyable and other times daunting and confusing. Its made more difficult in the wider context of the blogosphere. While I do not think of other blogs as competition, there is also no point in repeating what others have said, or replicating what can be found elsewhere.

In the hyperspeed of contemporary media, its also a challenge to say something original about a contemporary topic or news item before the rest of the world does. But even with all the other blogs and media writing, responding, observing, and analyzing, I take a stab at a fresh perspective anyway, and I hope those posts are both worthy of readers' time and compatible with the rest of this blog's content.

Unfortuantely, at the moment, I feel completely overwhelmed by depth and breadth of current events, and feel basically inadequate to contribute any worthwhile comment on them. The momentum of this blog has completely flagged. This has been building up over the last couple of months, with the following underlying contributors:

(1) The Jasmine Revolution uprisings, which have influenced popular protests south of the Sahara. This historic chain of events might at first seem like a great source of inspiration and impetus to write. Frankly, I lack the expertise to contribute anything original or worthwhile here to the mountains of words that have piled up since January on this topic.

If I had anything fresh to say, I'd try to join the other outlet's efforts to point out that it is not just Tunisia, Egypt, Bahrain, Yemen, and Syria that have experienced uprisings, but also Mauritania, Djibouti, Cameroon, Gabon, Zimbabwe and elsewhere, quite apart from the incredible events in the past month in Burkina Faso and Uganda. But I haven't the academic or journalistic expertise to spread this blog into such areas.

(2) The fighting in Cote D'Ivoire. As I tried to articulate in a previous post, the fall of Gbagbo might not have been the worst possible outcome, but it is hugely dispiriting to see egotistcal, big-man autocracy cannibalize a society. The intense fighting, killing, and looting in Abidjan and the genocidal atrocities in the Western frontier make a mockery of a decade of bromides proclaiming that governance is improving everywhere on the African continent and that progress is occurring everywhere. I've been stuck between trying to blog about these events, and feeling completely incapable, while it also seemed inappropriate to write about more mundane topics.

Both are an on-going humanitarian crisis, which continues to inundate at least four Liberian counties; and are an unspeakable tragedy which is no less egregious than the worst atrocities of the Liberian Civil War nearly a decade ago. Also, this conflict has not ended, even though it only held the headlines for about a week.

(3) The death of Chris Hondros and Tim Hetherington. As I said to a friend the other day, I can't remember the last time I was so affected by the death of someone that I hardly knew. One of the main things that bothers me is that I have all of these questions about Tim's work, his time in Liberia, where he lived, what he saw, what he did. All I would have had to do was keep emailing him. But was starstruck, or intimidated-- I didn't want to bother him, pestering him with questions. Now I'll never know the answers to those questions about his years living in Monrovia, during the war and thereafter. That's also probably the most selfish way to view the loss of such an incredible person, and one that leaves me out of sorts.

There are bad things happening in the world. Maybe even more so than at other times. A lot of it affects Liberia directly and indirectly. This makes a lot of what I'd like to say, about traveling to, living in, and falling for an exotic, esoteric country seem uninteresting.

Yet I sputter along.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

In Memoriam: Chris Hondros

News came later yesterday that the journalistic profession lost another of its living legends, the American Chris Hondros. Like his colleague Tim Hetherington, Hondros gained respect and prominence for his incredible work during the Liberian Civil War a decade ago. Here is a video from MSNBC, in which Hondros talks in detail about his time in Liberia and his connection to the country:

As the feature mentions, Hondros did not merely take the now-famous shot of the celebrating government soldier on the Old Bridge in Monrovia (below), but he actually established an enduring the relationship with the photograph's subject, returning to Monrovia in 2005 to meet with then 28-year old Joseph Duo (image at top courtesy of a Life magazine feature commemorating Hondros).

One of the most famous images of the Civil War. ©Chris Hondros

Like Tim, Hondros cared deeply about the people he was covering, especially Liberia, and the Liberian people have lost not one but two friends because of yesterday's tragedy in Libya.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

In Memoriam: Tim Hetherington

Image ©Tim Hetherington via MSNBC

I am still in shock at the loss today of Tim Hetherington, a devastation that is better honored elsewhere, especially at Scarlett Lion, where Glenna shares her personal and close professional connections with him, and also at Africa Is A Country, which has a moving, must-see video of Tim talking about his time in Liberia and his time and work there. Here is what I wrote in the comment section below that:

Great video, thank you for posting it. I think it really shows how Tim was not only acclaimed within his profession as a photographer and journalist, but also that he deeply cared for the people whose hardship and suffering he documented and reported. Going beyond his press coverage to assist the TRC was an example of this.
Liberia was my first African country, too, and Tim was extremely gracious when I reached out to him recently to ask him about his time in Liberia and his feelings for the country. Journalism has lost one of its living legends, but the Liberian people have also lost a real friend. I hope that he is remembered for his heart as well as his talent, skill and bravery.

Here is a link to the earlier post I did at the beginning of the year about Tim's work in Liberia, which he was very supportive and helpful. Its always a pleasure to exchange emails with such a great figure, and Tim was very gracious and generous with his attention. He will be missed.

Liberian Beauty Pageant

An uplifting video about Liberian students competing in a beauty pageant, produced by Time Magazine and courtesy of the always-excellent Africa Is A Country.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Its happened again.

Duekoue Massacre - Ivory Coast 2011 from Christian Parkinson

I've been silent over the last few weeks, unsure of what would be right to post next, and instead of writing, mostly reading the various reports, increasingly horrifying out of Cote D'Ivoire. I am always uncertain what is worth saying, what I can add, when so many professional journalists are telling the story first-hand, or analyzing the situation so astutely.

Nonetheless, I want to express sorrow, anger, frustration, disappointment, and disbelief that I feel now that it has all happened again.

Women were raped, then hacked to death with machetes. Girls were raped in front of their families. Whole families were shot. Babies died on their mother's back, their bodies left on the dusty road in the tropical sun.

Young Liberian men marched through the bush, destroying what small, destitute bits of human existence they came across. What few possessions people had come by in their difficult, marginal lives were abandoned as they fled for their homes, cut down by bullets and blades, torn, violated, destroyed.

A once-thriving West African capital's normally-bustling market is burned and bullet-holed. Shops and homes are looted and destroyed. Office blocks are empty, ministries are vandalized. A government, already weak and dysfunctional, is even more crippled, mistrusted, and ineffectual.

Families are separated, loved ones are dead. Children starved, and are starving. Individuals, families and villages have been exterminated due to their language, ethnicity, appearance, location, or possessions.

At what scale is called genocide?

It has all happened again. Sierra Leone and Liberia from ten and twenty years ago is Cote D'Ivoire from two weeks ago. Nothing is different, nothing has changed. There is a new cycle of pain, trauma, and vengeance to either address, or once again ignore.

The United Nations, the African Union, the French, and the other parties do not get a passing grade or better marks for improvement just because the fighting didn't continue into state-wide open warfare. These foreign powers, African, European, American, made the region a low priority, not in the last four months but in the last three decades, usurping it only for their own needs, not the welfare of its many helpless and hopeless people.

Gbagbo is to blame, and Ouattara is to blame. The shame of these crimes stretches from their private apartments, down to the recruiters in the borderland, those making promises to idle youth to come and fight. Those young men are to blame, too, for being willing to bring hell on earth for the chance at $500, for their insane, random violence.

I keep thinking, over the last few weeks, as I have been working, traveling, eating dinner, going to the gym... What was I doing at the exact moment that that baby died? Where was I that morning when that village was burned and looted? Did I do anything different? Could I sense it? A flinch, a pang of pain in my back, as I sat on the train, ran on the treadmill, closed my eyes and slept through the night... did it effect me at all? Could I feel it?

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Daily Show's Guide to American Foreign Intervention Policy

Extremely clever. I wonder what the diplomatic community makes of this.

I know a lot of ex-pat aid workers will find the part about the Sudan, whose "Ambivalence Package" includes 'limited access to Bono, Sean Penn, Angelina Jolie, George Clooney, and...anyone who has ever appeared in a movie with George Clooney...pending their personal schedules and the chance they'll contract dysentery in your nation!'
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