Tag Archives: war

The birds and bees of conflict resolution

“How do we make a baby!?” exclaims Varbah Flomo, standing on a cement stage before 40 workshop participants. The participants, a mix of Ivorian refugees and members of their local host community, fan themselves in the midday heat. “How is the baby made?”

A regal-looking woman in a bright lapa raises her hand and stands. “When a man and a woman are good together, when they have the connection, they have sex and God gives them a child,” she explains.

The audience laughs, and Flomo smiles. “I’m sorry for making use of the word sex. But that’s how a baby is made. The day you agree to have the baby, you have it? NO! You have to sleep together, you have to wait nine months, you have to deliver!”

The participants nod, and she continues, “The man wants you, but you may say ‘yes’ or ‘no.’ See? The baby’s got roots! Just like a conflict. The conflict’s got roots! It doesn’t just happen overnight.”

The participants murmur in agreement. “Oh ma,” Flomo addresses one older woman in the corner, “Tha’ cleah?” Does that make sense?

The group of refugees and host community members paid close attention to Flomo's stories.

Throughout Liberia, the Lutheran Church’s Trauma Healing and Reconciliation Programme (THRP) conducts two-day conflict resolution workshops like these for communities, law enforcement officers, traditional leaders, and Ivorian refugees and their hosts. In their methodology, the workshops look like those found around the world. The facilitator encourages participants to ask questions and offer constructive comments, each topic is defined and discussed, and participants break into smaller working groups to come up with solutions to hypothetical conflict situations. The participants are community elders, teachers, leaders in women’s and youth groups, and other respected figures.

It is their local twist, though, that makes these workshops unique and effective here. Though THRP receives its funding from the Lutheran Church of Sweden and Sweden’s national aid agency, it is run entirely by Liberians, who use their local knowledge to connect with participants. The examples used in workshops include disputes over land given as dowry, the role of local elders in resolving arguments, parents putting their children to work, and, of course, the parallel between conflict to childbirth – all situations in which participants have first hand experience. Even the language is tailored to the audience. In this particular workshop, in rural Nimba County, the facilitator’s explanations are translated into Gio, a local language spoken there and across the border in the Ivory Coast. Explanations are punctuated with shouts of “women, oh, women!” and “oh ma?”, a phrase ubiquitous on the streets of Liberia that calls for attention. Each time those calls echo around the room, participants respond with vigor.

Locally-run initiatives like these of course have problems, predominantly with securing funding. They lack the resources to reach all the communities in need of conflict resolution training and discussion; in Liberia, only the UN and international NGOs seem to have an adequate, constant cash flow. But what they lack in money, efforts like THRP make up for in their ability to appeal to participants and speak to them in their own language. Tha’ cleah, ma?

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Trouble in the bush

Nyehn is as idyllic as villages come. An hour and a half outside of Monrovia, the settlement of about 500 people is perched on a hilltop, with mud brick and thatched roof huts nestled among palm trees. Chickens and children run over the rust colored earth, through patches of cassava and down to the river. At night, friends gather to watch movies in the two houses that have generators. On Sunday mornings, the sound of drums floats out of the town’s medical clinic, where the Lutheran church holds its services. It is, at first glance, the very picture of quiet country life.

The local pastor and his wife

But appearances can lie, and Nyehn, like many areas in rural Liberia, is stuck between a violent past and a difficult present.

During the war, rebel fighters moved into Nyehn. According to Gbanjan Dohn, the General Town Chief, rebels stole supplies and food from the village – even hot meals that women were preparing for their families. To transport the stolen goods, they enlisted local men to carry the supplies on their heads to the next camp; once, they made Dohn carry an entire sugar cane mill for ten kilometers. As Dohn explained, “Nobody could say anything. If you did, they killed you. It was a complete breakdown of law and order.” The rebels killed and enslaved men, raped and made bush wives of women, and enlisted children as child soldiers.

After the war, the village was destroyed and local rubber plantations had stopped production, leaving the people with no homes and no source of income. To rebuild, Dohn said, they started small-scale charcoal production and subsistence farming; with their profits, they rebuilt most of the village. To heal the community, they held a series of reconciliation meetings and discussions.

Today, the only evidence of the war that destroyed this community is the occasional concrete skeleton where a home once stood. But, as Dohn and other community members explained, Nyehn has a long list of problems. Although there is a clean, functioning health clinic in the village, there is no ambulance or vehicle for the nurses to use. There is a one-room police station, but they don’t have a car or motorcycle either. There are only two water pumps for 3,000 people in the area, and the local surface water makes children sick because, lacking latrines or a sanitation system, the villagers must go to the bathroom in the bush.

The rebels stole the zinc roofs of houses, leaving them to crumble in the rains.

Outside of Monrovia, about a million Liberians live in villages like Nyehn. Here, amid the palm trees and bird calls, it seems these communities cannot escape hardship.

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The Daily Talk: More than refugees coming from the Ivory Coast

With the violence following the November 2010 presidential elections in the Ivory Coast, refugees have been flooding into Liberia’s border counties. Until now, the main problems have been overstretched resources and some tensions between hosts and refugees. On Friday, the headlines in Liberia were all about a cache of weapons discovered in one province, linked to the conflict in the Ivory Coast. The Daily Talk is displaying this story for the next few days:

Evil plans thwarted! Bags of gunshot and guns discovered in Lib. – I/Coast border, UN backed Quattara [Ouattara] rebels and refugees linked.

The bags of ammunition and arm unearthed in Fish County last week by state security near Ivory Coast include one butter rice bag [butter rice is a type of rice known for coming in large bags] of ammunition, 48 AK-47’s, 1 GMG [grenade machine gun], and 5 PKMs [PK machine guns]. I/Coast rebels and refugees linked. Several arrested in R/Gee [River Gee] County in connection with arms and ammunition discovered by police.

Other Headlines:

  • Pres. Sirleaf keeping the promise. A new court in Wee District, G/Bassa [Grand Bassa County].
  • Jailbreak at Center St. police department in Monrovia, several criminals on the run.
  • CSA [Civil Servants Association] in Mon. disputed. Critics accuse UP [Unity Party, the current ruling party] gov’t of calculated plans. UP’s choice was defeated.
  • Defense Min. Samukai: “I’ve no intention to run for election.”
  • A bill on Capitol Hill seeking passage for the protection of children, called “Child Act,” suffers serious setback. “Billionaire’s club” at Senate? Unskilled workers make more than skilled workers, says media report.

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