Liberia meeting and book launch, 18 October 2013

book launchOn 18 October 2013, a special afternoon was organized about Liberia, on the occasion of the launch of the book Liberia: van vrijheidsideaal naar verloren paradijs (Liberia: from ideal of liberty to lost paradise), written by Fred van der Kraaij. The book is written in Dutch and is a “personal story” of the author, who lived and worked for years in the country. It deals with the political history of the past decades and tries to give an answer to the question why things could go so wrong. The author finds the answer in the origin of the Liberian state: from the onset the country was ruled by a small, authoritarian Americo-Liberian elite, with the exclusion of the indigenous population.

Reactions to the book
After the author’s presentation and the official handing-over of ‘the first copy’ of the book by ASC director Ton Dietz to the author, three special guests gave their view on the book, partly also from a personal perspective. The Honorary Consul for Liberia in The Netherlands, mrs. Rosemarie Donkersloot knew the regime from the inside since she was married to a nephew of the then President Tubman. Now and then performing a humorous kind of ‘one-woman-show’, she especially focused on the question how to solve the problem of witchcraft (including ritual murders). Professor Erwin Bulte from Wageningen University very much appreciated the book and had read several things he didn’t know. As micro-economist, he is involved in research at village level focusing on the impact of development interventions. “Corruption, local democracy and ethnicity” appeared to be the main issues around the degree of success of such interventions. Vamba Sherif – author of four novels and a fifth one that will appear in 2014 – reacted to the book by (again) a personal story from his childhood, in beautiful prose.

Liberian economy
After the break, the video documentary “A dream called Harper” by Martin Waalboer was shown, followed by four presentations from people with very different backgrounds. Maudy Keulemans represented the Netherlands-Africa Business Council (NABC) and zoomed in on a mission by Dutch business people in 2012. The Liberian economy is reviving – especially in the major cities – and offers all kinds of opportunities for Dutch enterprises. The mission was quite successful, leading to several contracts. Ms. Bello Williams, interim chairlady of the Liberian Association Holland (LAH), represented the Liberian community in The Netherlands. In a lively presentation, she focused on the question how to find a balance between adapting to the Dutch habits and yet preserve one’s own identity. Bringing together Liberians in The Netherlands is the major objective of the LAH, with the aim to help them in their integration process. “But that is not easy, especially with all those ‘unwritten rules’ and ‘non-verbal language’.”

Peace and reconciliation
Marius Stehouwer of ZOA represented the NGO-sector. For quite some time, ZOA is active in Liberia, focusing on the improvement of the livelihood at the level of the community: “relief – hope – recovery”. ZOA has introduced an “intervention package for livelihood development” in 120 Liberian communities. Finally, Stephen Ellis from the African Studies Centre gave a presentation on the issue of peace and reconciliation. He was a witness at the Truth and Reconciliation Committee, but “the TRC was weak, its final report shelved”. The two civil wars  between 1989 and 2003 caused about 120,000 deaths, according to this expert on Liberian affairs, and not 250,000 – a figure usually cited. All leaders in the past were from the Americo-Liberian elite, the major politicians nowadays also form a small group of people. “Current Liberia reminds one of Liberia in the 1970s: stable but very little reformation. So could it go wrong again?”

The meeting was attended by over 80 people, from various backgrounds. At the end, many of them enjoyed the drinks offered by the ASC.
Dick Foeken