Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Liberia: Surviving the Past


Monrovia — The deep wounds on Joe Turner's wrists and ankles were strangely golden - a result of the gentian violet antiseptic used to keep them clean by the nurses at ES Grant, Liberia's only psychiatric hospital.

His family, terrified by his rages, had kept him tightly bound for days. Somehow he was able to work himself loose and escape, but a brother found him and brought him to the hospital in a quiet neighbourhood of Paynesville, in the capital, Monrovia.

Turner's case, diagnosed as acute psychosis, is not unusual for ES Grant and its increasingly busy out-patients department. Whatever troubled him was accentuated by alcohol and drugs, according to Barkon Dullah, the acting nursing director. "It's hard to establish what he's been taking, probably marijuana, but maybe other drugs we don't know about."

Shaven-headed, wiry and intense, Turner was "a little bit aggressive" when he first arrived at ES Grant but had improved, said Dullah. He was expected to spend two to three weeks in the 73-bed hospital, given sedatives to help him rest and detox, and group counselling sessions on alcohol and drug abuse.

Seven years after the end of its civil war, Liberia is still trying to free itself from the trauma of the conflict; with only a rudimentary healthcare system, it is a struggle for those affected by the fighting. In dealing with the new challenges of rebuilding their lives, they first need to recognize they need help, and then find it.

Dullah suspected Turner had been in the war. Sitting in a cramped office of the hospital administrator, lighting his umpteenth cigarette, Turner guessed where Dullah's questions were leading. He said he "didn't see anything" during the war as he was a refugee in neighbouring Cote d'Ivoire, emphatically denied he ever held a gun, and added: "I don't abuse women and don't disrespect people."

But the story he told of his life seemed no less traumatic: three of his five children were dead, he had recently lost his wife and was struggling to keep his family together on a labourer's wage. Regardless of whether bad war experiences haunted him, or he had lived peacefully in a refugee camp, Turner was clearly unwell.


The stock image of the Liberian war is of a wild-eyed urban youth decked out in a wig. But according to a June 2010 MICROCON Research Working paper, ex-combatants "[do] not seem to have been any more idle, marginalized and alienated than any other group of young men in Liberia". Many people fought, but not all were hardcore fighters: most joined the various militia "for the sake of protection for themselves, their families and their communities".

But that did not lessen the impact of the 14-year civil war. Research by Kirsten Johnson published in 2008 in the Journal of the American Medical Association, found that 44 percent of the adult household population had symptoms associated with post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The difference between former combatants and non-combatants was 57 percent and 37 percent respectively.

"Demographically these are the highest figures I have ever read," psychologist Judith Baessler, a consultant to the Mother Patten College of Health Sciences, Monrovia, told IRIN. "The war lasted too long and too many bad things happened."

When your focus is solely survival, horrors can be endured, noted Baessler. "It doesn't mean you are okay, it just means you go on living as best you can ... Little scars are there, but when you are struggling so hard you don't have the luxury of looking into yourself."

Peace raises new challenges. "All that internal stuff, depression and suicidal ideation, can break through as life gets less tough. You need different skills rather than being able to run and hide, and poverty becomes a stress factor," said Baessler. "You are no longer satisfied - the kids might not be in school, you don't have a job."

In the rural areas, poverty is tempered by traditions of communal support; that can also extend to cleansing rituals aimed at overcoming the past. But although the purpose of the ceremonies is to move forward, "you can be grieving silently inside; the grief still comes and you cry in the mornings", said Grace Boiwu of the Mother Patten College trauma counselling programme.

Communicating and understanding trauma are culturally bound. "Open mole" is a specifically Liberian disorder - increasingly regarded as short-hand for PTSD - where it is believed the head opens and the brain and soul leaves the body. There can be physical symptoms, such as dizziness and high blood pressure, but with "no word [in Liberian vernacular] to describe depression or anxiety, you say 'open mole'", Alice Vahanian, head of mission for M├ędecins du Monde (MDM) in Liberia, told IRIN.

Women in particular have suffered as they have tried to reintegrate or cope with the past. "Some women were perpetrators [of violence], some were victims. In some small communities they were fighting for recognition, and behaved violently. 'If you don't accept me, fear me'. After the war some became pregnant to identify themselves as women ... [but do] not have the means to take care of the child," said Vahanian. Former fighters do not often make the best parents, she added.

Fear of more war

Formal sector employment in Liberia is estimated at 15 percent and the literacy rate 56 percent. A GDP growth rate of 7.1 percent in 2008 has not yet translated into a marked rise in living standards and opportunities. In Liberia's urban "ghettos",

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Inside Liberia with Bernard Gbayee Goah

Everyone is a genius

Everyone is a genius. But if you judge a fish on its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid. – A Einstein

Drawing the line in Liberia

Crimes sponsored, committed, or masterminded by handful of individuals cannot be blamed upon an entire nationality. In this case, Liberians! The need for post-war justice is a step toward lasting peace, stability and prosperity for Liberia. Liberia needs a war crimes tribunal or some credible legal forum that is capable of dealing with atrocities perpetrated against defenseless men, women and children during the country's brutal war. Without justice, peace shall remain elusive and investment in Liberia will not produce the intended results. - Bernard Gbayee Goah

Men with unhealthy characters should not champion any noble cause

They pretend to advocate the cause of the people when their deeds in the dark mirror nothing else but EVIL!!
When evil and corrupt men try to champion a cause that is so noble … such cause, how noble it may be, becomes meaningless in the eyes of the people - Bernard Gbayee Goah.

If Liberia must move forward ...

If Liberia must move forward in order to claim its place as a civilized nation amongst world community of nations, come 2017 elections, Liberians must critically review the events of the past with honesty and objectivity. They must make a new commitment to seek lasting solutions. The track records of those who are presenting themselves as candidates for the position of "President of the Republic of Liberia" must be well examined. Liberians must be fair to themselves because results from the 2011 elections will determine the future of Liberia’s unborn generations to come - Bernard Gbayee Goah

Liberia's greatest problem!

While it is true that an individual may be held responsible for corruption and mismanagement of funds in government, the lack of proper system to work with may as well impede the process of ethical, managerial, and financial accountability - Bernard Gbayee Goah

What do I think should be done?

The situation in Liberia is Compound Complex and cannot be fixed unless the entire system of government is reinvented.
Liberia needs a workable but uncompromising system that will make the country an asylum free from abuse, and other forms of corruption.
Any attempt to institute the system mentioned above in the absence of rule of law is meaningless, and more detrimental to Liberia as a whole - Bernard Gbayee Goah

Liberia's Natural Resources
Besides land water and few other resources, most of Liberia’s dependable natural resources are not infinite, they are finite and therefore can be depleted.
Liberia’s gold, diamond, and other natural resources will not always be an available source of revenue generation for its people and its government. The need to invent a system in government that focuses on an alternative income generation method cannot be over emphasized at this point - Bernard Gbayee Goah

Liberia needs a proper system
If Liberians refuse to erect a proper system in place that promotes the minimization of corruption and mismanagement of public funds by government institutions, and individuals, there will come a time when the value of the entire country will be seen as a large valueless land suited on the west coast of Africa with some polluted bodies of waters and nothing else. To have no system in place in any country is to have no respect for rule of law. To have no respect for rule of law is to believe in lawlessness. And where there is lawlessness, there is always corruption - Bernard Gbayee Goah

Solving problems in the absence of war talks

As political instability continues to increase in Africa, it has become abundantly clear that military intervention as a primary remedy to peace is not a durable solution. Such intervention only increases insecurity and massive economic hardship. An existing example which could be a valuable lesson for Liberia is Great Britain, and the US war on terror for the purpose of global security. The use of arms whether in peace keeping, occupation, or invasion as a primary means of solving problem has yield only little results. Military intervention by any country as the only solution to problem solving will result into massive military spending, economic hardship, more fear, and animosity as well as increase insecurity. The alternative is learning how to solve problems in the absence of war talks. The objective of such alternative must be to provide real sustainable human security which cannot be achieved through military arm intervention, or aggression. In order to achieve results that will make the peaceful coexistence of all mankind possible, there must be a common ground for the stories of all sides to be heard. I believe there are always three sides to every story: Their side of the story, Our side of the story, and The truthBernard Gbayee Goah


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