Friday, November 26, 2010

Effects of War

Civil wars are not created equal. When you hear about different African countries recovering from civil wars, the degree of healing varies. Liberia makes Cote d’Ivoire look like a Sunday warm-up. Nearly everyone you talk to here has been affected by the war, usually directly and severely. Joseph (on the left), who I had lunch with one day, had just two weeks ago returned from a refugee camp in Ghana after being there for seven years. In his room, I saw his few personal items still half unpacked. He recalled back to 2003 when, with the war closing in on him and his family, they spent their last $200 to pay for a motor canoe to flee the country. After a less than fun week of vomiting, eating and drinking almost nothing, and relieving oneself in front of everyone (50 people packed onto a small canoe), they landed in Ghana. Seven years of living in a refugee camp and he was forced to come back when the school at which he was working in Ghana was cutting staff and he couldn’t get a ticket to the U.S. It’s hard not to run into someone who doesn’t have a similar story.

His brother Emmanuel (to the right of me in the picture) was currently in university getting his B.A. He is 30 years old. On average most people I met were years behind their grade level, due to the schools shutting down in most areas during the war – 12 year-olds in 1st grade, 20 year-olds in 5th grade, etc. I had the chance to visit the University of Liberia for the day, arguably the country’s best university. The teaching was, in my opinion, pretty subpar, though the professors may not have been at fault. It seemed like they were reading a lot of definitions for the students to copy down, something they should have covered in their preparation. But then I found out that books were too expensive for the majority of students to purchase. One of the interesting things I saw was that they were covering indifferent curves in their economics classes; granted it was something I learned in my first year at Vanderbilt while they were just getting to it as juniors, but they were covering it nonetheless. Now that schools are back open, the classes are heaving. The classes I saw were spilling out into the pathways, and students searched for anywhere to sit, while those less lucky had to stand for the lectures. Large populations of students are pressed into a limited number of schools – roughly 70% of schools were damaged or destroyed during the war, and 35%, of the whole population has never attended school, according to the Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper. Until education improves, it’s unlikely that many of the top jobs in these big MNC’s like BHP Billiton will be able to go to Liberians.

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