It’s a sad fact, but in recent decades Liberia has seen more than its fair share of conflict and violence. The civil wars wreaked havoc on the counmtry’s infrastructure, not to mention the physical and emotional health and wellbeing of its citizens. Travel around the country (especially the capital, Monrovia) and one of the first things you notice are the blue-helmeted UN peacekeepers stationed there. It’s virtually impossible to pass through the city and not see one of their trucks parked up by the side of the road or outside a government ministry.
It’s little suprise, then, that during our short time in the country we met with a number of peacebuilding organisations trying to ensure that the decade of relative peace Liberia has witnessed continues and the security situation becomes more stable, less fragile. iLab Liberia acts as technical host for the Liberia Early Warning and Response Network (LERN), an Ushahidi platform designed to map incidents of violence from across the country and a network of peacebuilding organisations. It’s a fascinating instance of Ushahidi that reveals some very interesting patterns and stories from around the country.
The West Africa Network for Peacebuilding (WANEP) is a regional group operating in 15 countries and headquartered in Ghana. They monitor conflict issues across the wider region to create situation and incident reports and share them with government and member organisations to guide their work. Poor tech infrastructure outside the capital, however, create frequent problems in terms of data collection. There is also a feeling that civil society outside Monrovia is not independent and can easily be bought off. From our limited time there, it quickly became obvious that Liberia is not an easy country to work in.
Like WANEP, the Liberia Armed Violence Observatory (LAVO) also works to monitor and reduce violence within Liberia. Part of a larger organisation, AOAV, they work locally, nationally, regionally and globally to reduce – and ultimately prevent – armed violence. They work with communities affected by armed violence, removing the threat of weapons, reducing the risks that provoke violence and conflict, and supporting the recovery of victims and survivors. They also work with civil society partners and with governments, to strengthen international laws and norms on the availability and use of conventional weapons, to build recognition of the rights of victims and survivors of armed violence, and to research, understand and act effectively on the root causes of armed violence in affected countries. By collecting data in Liberia, they have discovered, for example, that most violence in Liberia is not firearm-related, but that knives, machetes and other bladed weapons are far more common.
In a country such as Liberia the work of organisations like WANEP and LAVO is crucial. They face some huge challenges, yet the potential of Liberia is immense.