Liberia: where will a stern hand come from?

Position:Liberia - Travel narrative
 
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Not having been back to Liberia since 2002, New African editor Baffour Ankomah returned to Monrovia in early February to find a city under renewal. Progress is being made but a lot of challenges still remain, especially defeating corruption in high places and instilling accountability in public officials. Not surprisingly, people are yearning for a stern hand in the steering of the ship of state, and the next elections in three years' time will be a crucible for the candidates who will throw their hats into the ring.

The British Airways Might landed at Monrovia's Roberts International Airport at 8.10 pm instead of the scheduled arrival time of 9.25 pm. Cars, or rather their drivers, are known to speed sometimes. But have you ever heard of commercial airplanes or their pilots speeding in the air? Maybe in the age of fast food and Twitter, we shouldn't really be surprised when pilots are caught speeding in the air - how else can they get their fast food hot? And who wants cold food anyway?

So it happened that we arrived one full hour and 15 minutes early, upsetting every pick-up arrangements we had put in place. Ending up at Roberts International when your journey started at a spanking new Terminal 5 at Heathrow is like going from Singapore to ... not quite a provincial airport, but something near it.

To be fair, Roberts International, originally built by the Americans as an emergency landing site for NASA's Space Shuttle programme, is in better shape today than the last time I was there in 2002. At the time, the burnt-out shell of the old terminal and VIP Lounge stood mocking the wisdom of the men and women who thought of themselves as saviours of the country and yet became the destroyers of its national symbols and utilities, like the airport and the only hydroelectric project supplying power to the capital city.

Roberts International, named after Liberia's first president Joseph Jenkins Roberts, had been built by the Americans as a base for the US Air Force. Its massive 11,000-feet runway was made long enough to take B-47 Stratojet bombers on refueling stops. For a good many years, Roberts International had the longest runway in Africa.

But during Liberia's civil war that started on Christmas Eve 1989, Roberts International saw pitched battles waged to control its soul by both Charles Taylor's National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL) and the manifold warring factions sponsored by the interim governments based in Monrovia and supported by the international community, including Ecowas, whose peacekeepers, Ecomog, had turned into a warring faction themselves at the instigation of the military leaders of Nigeria.

Incidentally, in early 1990, the Americans had promised Charles Taylor that if the NPFL took control of Roberts International, Washington...

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