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Liberia Dispatches 1: Departure

Monrovia, the Liberian capital.
Monrovia, the Liberian capital.

Jordana Hochman is an editor on NPR's Morning Edition. She's going to be travelling to Liberia on a fellowship for a few weeks and kindly responded to bribery and threats and will be sending in some posts from her sojourn. Here's her first.

Liberia’s president, who’s up for reelection next year, fired all but one member of her cabinet this week. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf announced the decision would give her administration a “fresh slate going forward.”

Liberia has been seeking a fresh start since its founding in 1822, when freed black slaves from America colonized it. They were aided by prominent white men – like Senator Henry Clay and President James Monroe - who thought freed blacks could be more free in Africa, and also less likely to inspire rebellion among enslaved blacks back in the US.

After arriving in West Africa, these freed men and their descendents became Liberia’s elite. They controlled the country’s economy and government, even though they made up about five percent of the whole population. These divisions reached a boiling point in the 1980s, and they influenced years of vicious civil war, which ended in 2003.

I head to Liberia tomorrow on a fellowship arranged by the International Reporting Project. The IRP is a nonprofit organization that provides opportunities for American journalists to report overseas on issues under covered by the US media. We’ll meet with Liberian students, government officials, women’s activists, and ex-combatants. Our goal is to learn how Liberia is recovering from 14 years of political instability and violence.

I hope to bring you occasional updates from my journey. But first - here’s a list of books that have helped me (and others) get ready:

The House at Sugar Beach – by Helene Cooper

An excellent memoir of the New York Times reporters’ privileged childhood in Liberia, before the civil war.

The Darling-- by Russell Banks

A novel set in modern Liberia that captures the scene and mood of Liberia in chaos.

This Child Will Be Great – by Ellen Johnson Sirleaf

A history of recent events in Liberia and autobiography by Africa’s first elected female president.

Journey without Maps – by Graham Greene

A travel account by British novelist Graham Greene, on his four week, 350 mile trek across Liberia in 1935.

And one movie:

Pray the Devil Back to Hell(2008)

A documentary following the women who helped end Liberia’s civil war through peaceful protest.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

JJ Sutherland
JJ Sutherland covers the Pentagon for NPR. Since 2004 he has regularly spent time in Iraq as part of NPR's award-winning team of reporters and producers who have dedicated themselves to covering the conflict.
Jordana Hochman