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Does the Holocaust teach us anything about modern-day genocide? (Oh, and happy new year)

January 2, 2010

Things are quiet on this blog while we’re preparing for a server transfer and redesign. But here’s a nice graph from a piece in Foreign Policy last month, on whether the Holocaust is the right tool for teaching us about genocide (or helping us identify early warning signs, etc.). The whole piece is worth a read, but I thought this bit was particularly compelling:

“Genocide” is too limiting a term in any case. In recent years, governments have not necessarily been exterminating entire subgroups en masse with crystal-clear intent. Yet some governments show no qualms about shelling huge numbers of ethnic minority civilians trapped in confined war zones, as we saw in Sri Lanka earlier this year. More common still are governments that kick one ethnic group off its land and force the people into displacement camps where they become permanent wards of international humanitarian agencies — think Darfur, for example, to mention just one place commonly labeled a “slow-motion genocide.”


Sketches from the Liberia notebooks…

December 4, 2009

A farmer on the outskirts of Saniquellie, Liberia, itself on the outskirts of the town Ganta, itself near little but Guinea…

I ask, “Do you stay in town?”
“Yes, I stay in town with my wife and my children.”
“With your wife?”
“And how many children?”
“I have…I am trying to figure out my children.” Long pause. “Sixteen. I was a very strong man.”

And, belatedly, Madame President (in English or Dutch)

December 2, 2009

Sorry for the silence; writing about Liberia has taken over my life since…Liberia.

A few weeks ago, Newsweek ran a Q&A I did with Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the country’s president and Africa’s first female elected head of state. (Glenna and I wanted to know why people always put it that way, so we looked into it; it turns out there was once a female appointed head of state. Where? Liberia. Oh, you!)

No idea why Glenna’s photo does not appear on the website. A cookie for anyone who can guess which questions I wanted to ask, and which ones Newsweek put me up to.

And a Belgian friend just informed me that the story ran in, “the best qualitative Dutch-speaking magazine in Belgium.” Hey, in Belgium, that’s a big deal. So if you want read it een Nederlands…well, you have to go to Belgium, because it’s not online.

Meanwhile, watch this space for a totally sexy feature on land reform policy across Africa.

Vexed by the King of Liberia

November 13, 2009

Glenna Gordon has a fantastic story about trying to take the photo of George Weah, massive soccer star and one-time presidential candidate, whose narrow loss to Ellen Johnson Sirleaf surprised some folks. Weah was in town for the recent senate elections, lending some celebrity to his political party.

Here’s an excerpt:

“Geogre Weah is the king of Liberia! If he say to Liberia, ‘lay down,’ they will lay down!” the PRO told me with pride. “I promise you that today, TODAY, you will see George Weah! You are with me so you have to see George Weah TODAY.”

When we drove past the Governance Commission, the PRO belted out, “That Amos Saywer! He eating all the money!” (Amos Sawyer is one of the more respected members of the political elite in Liberia.) When we drove past a new hotel, he said, “Ellen built that hotel and when George Weah is President, we will seize this building for the people!”

Closer to George Weah’s house in a neighborhood called ELWA, just past Rehab Junction (no relation drug problems) he said, “Everyone wants to live here because this is where George Weah lives!”

At his compound, at first I was requested to “wait small” since George Weah was resting. “You will see George Weah today!” and then in quickly became clear I wouldn’t see him at all. Having now wasted several hours, taxi fare, and way too much phone credit, and would soon disappoint my editor, I was, as the PRO called me, “vexed.”

“You can wait! You will see George Weah today!” I refused to wait, and got ready to leave. The PRO seemed personally insulted. He gave me back my business card. I accepted. I think this was supposed to be symbolic, but I’m not sure of what.

Voting yesterday was apparently as disorganized as my trip to see George Weah. Ballots were missing, polling stations closed, and people unsure of when to vote. The results of the elections have still not been announced, but I’m told they will be announced TODAY.

Read the whole post.

A look at loving and hating the French in Africa

November 13, 2009

Kudos to Adam Nossiter, the New York Times’ man in Dakar, for today’s piece on mixed feelings about the French across Francophone Africa. (He even pulled it off without mentioning Rwanda, whose relationship with France is so troubled it skews the curve.) France is often seen as quietly backing, well, the bad guys — Mobutu comes to mind, as does Habyarimana, the president whose underlings committed the Rwandan genocide. And those are just two countries….Adam has more.

It’s a great piece that takes the temperature of a compelling question…which, alas, has no easy answer. To strong man, or not to strong man? C’est la question.

“I swear, that is SO legal,” or, why the man in charge of fixing Liberia’s justice sector “owns” all the laws

November 13, 2009

A piece of investigative reporting that took Glenna Gordon and I the better part of our month together in Monrovia, and lots of her time before that, is finally in the world. The story is about Philip Banks, by my impression a genial and very smart man, who claims to own the copyright to Liberia’s laws. That would be weird and a little shady on its own, what with him being the former Minister of Justice and the current head of law reform.

But because of his cowboy copyright claim, no one in Liberia can actually get their hands on the laws. Not lawyers, not judges, not even the national parliament.

For more, check out the story. Meanwhile, never doubt that there can be a juicy bit of journalism in a big fat gold-embossed edition of a national tax law.

Justice and rape in Liberia

October 30, 2009

Glenna Gordon and I have a couple posts up on the Pulitzer Center blog focused on justice and rape in Liberia. The first gives some background on the difficulties of prosecution here and the second gives two different takes (hers and mine) on how to handle the confidentiality of victims.

On confidentiality in genera, here’s a post script. There’s a glossy pamphlet the UN mission here, called UNMIL, puts out. Goes over all the issues, has pretty glossy pictures. The confidentiality thing at hand in these pages is about ex-combatants. There can be stigma, so the publication seems to err on the side of caution.

There’s a sidebar that profiles a 15 year old who was a slave laborer for some soldiers, with the photo of a young-looking man sewing. The text is all about the skills training he’s gotten and rebuilding his new life. They don’t use his name. In fact, in the first sentence where they “name” him, there’s an asterik, and this footnote: “Name has been changed to protect identity. The person in the picture is not related to the story.”

This isn’t journalism, of course, so it’s a different ball game. But… if the person in the picture has nothing to do with the story…why’s the picture there?

Point is, it’s all about the context.