Marshall and more
Today our project driver, Sammy, and I drove to Marshall, a small fishing community of about 4,000 people. Marshall is located on a lagoon, near the airport, 40 minutes off the highway. The modus operandi of the drive was to do a bit of four-wheeling, but unfortunately the rainy season was over and the road was dry. No rain = no mud = no four-wheel driving. The drive, however, was worth it (partly because we ended up racing a truck from the Firestone Plantation down the dirt road). It baffles Sammy that you might want to use four-wheel drive vehicles for recreational purposes, so he came along as an instructor.
Marshall, while extremely picturesque, is far from romantic. It’s very densely populated, un-sanitary and hot. People in Marshall live in desperate poverty. As soon as we rolled into town the mayor came to greet us with his deputy. After the necessary pleasantries he cut right to the chase and started asking me how our NGO would assist them. I explained to them what we do; and we really do nothing that would make a dent in their immediate needs. (It’s up for debate what we do for them in the long-run, but I like to believe that it is something.)
After that exchange, the deputy mayor walked us through the town, and to the beach. I found out that there are 11 boats and a total of about 255 fishermen in the village. When I asked him how the fish was distributed, I was really hoping to hear about some elaborate community-wide profit sharing scheme. No. The boats have owners, the owners get the fish, the fishermen get a salary and the community supports itself by drying the fish in coal-fired barrels. There is also one man who fixes the boats’ outboard motors, two flimsy shacks selling items like soap, oil, and rice are sold, and one movie theatre. The movie theatre is nothing more than a windowless shack that houses a small generator, television, DVD player, and some wooden benches. Today it was showing a Jet-Li movie.
On the way back to the main road we gave some guys that were bringing coconuts to market a ride in the back of the pick-up. Bouncing back to the main road, listening to jams on UNMIL radio, Sammy explained to me that the guys in the back of the truck were former combatants looking for a way to make some money. This made me a bit nervous, because all of them were carrying rather large machetes. But when we dropped them off it was nothing but smiles and some really good coconuts.
On the political front, things have been quite interesting in Liberia. I went to the release of the final election-results last Tuesday. This event was attended by Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, the President-elect who will be the first female president in Africa, and the special representatives from ECOWAS, the African Union, the EU, American Embassy, etc. In other words they were big-shots. I sat behind the big shots, across from the Sirleaf. Two interesting things happened outside of the speechmaking.
First, the Chairman of the National Elections misread the final elections results, and had to come back to the podium to correct herself publicly. This is a rather big SNAFU not only because she should really not be making those kind of mistakes - she was off by 900,000 votes or so - but also because hearings into complaints of elections fraud are on-going, and correcting errors like that don’t look good at all. But copies of the speech were distributed to the press right after the event, and it was evident that it was just a screw-up.
The other interesting thing was that the Chairman of the CDC was at the event, and was very publicly acknowledged by the SRSG. As a result the guy had to get up, rather embarrassed-looking and wave to the applauding audience. As it turns out, other leaders in the CDC did not take too kindly to his attendance. Apparently, ex-combatant/CDC partisans came to his house to collect his party car after he was suspended from the party. He is now under the protection of the Ministry of Justice, after having received threats on his life. The presidential candidate of the CDC, George Weah, has not conceded defeat, and the CDC is continuing to present witnesses to support its claim that the election was fraudulent. None of the twenty something elections monitoring groups detected any fraud, even though there was some limited fraud in the last elections (people are very reluctant to talk about this right now, as you can imagine).
Otherwise, things go on. Had a good thanksgiving dinner with some NGO and UN folk. The food was plentiful and good. Also, check out some good photos from the observation operation.