Today we have a guest post from Chris Hennemeyer, a man who knows more about contemporary Africa than anyone else around. Chris has worked in international aid and development for the last few decades. He’s seen the beauty and the violence of the African subcontinent up close. Here is his account of dealing with rebels in Liberia back in the 1990s. The follow up about Nigeria is here.
The Cavally was a thick, rich cafe au lait color and impressively wide for a river I’d never before heard of. I was on the Ivorian side of the border, my shoes deep in the crumbling sand of the river bank, squinting across the broad brown water at Liberia. On our side women chatted as they washed clothes in the shallows, and men sat nearby repairing fishing nets, but on the opposite shore there was no movement, only a dense wall of green, old-growth forest; soaring silk cotton trees, raffia palms, and elaborate weaves of liana vines. It was just past noon and my damp shirt clung to me like a second skin. I loosened my tie, a pointless effort in the oppressive humidity.
In 1991, Liberia was barely a quarter the way through its “first” civil war. Tens of thousands of people, nearly all civilians, had been killed by marauding bands of bizarrely costumed criminals, and many times that number had fled their homes, either for the bush or for neighboring countries. But things would get much worse before they briefly got better. In the meantime, though, they were bad enough.