Q&A: Worldfocus producer Megan Thompson on Liberia today

April 17th, 2009

For Worldfocus’ signature series, “Liberia’s Long Road Back”, producers Lynn Sherr and Megan Thompson recently went to Liberia to track the current conditions of the country, 5 years after their brutal civil wars ended. With the influence of President Ellen Sirleaf, the reconstruction has prominent roles for women.

Stories in the series (watch now):
Women’s movement transforms post-war Liberia
Liberia, “America’s stepchild,” searches for own identity
Former child soldiers, sex slaves recover from Liberia’s war
Liberian women occupy front lines of war on sexual violence

All of the questions pertain to these reports from Sherr and Thompson.

Questions related to report about Liberia’s growing female police force: (see story)

What have been reactions of men to the female police?

Thompson: As far as I saw, just fine. I could imagine it might take some time for some people to get used to the idea, but that would be true anywhere. The country was so traumatized for so long – everyone is in the rebuilding effort together. I don’t think anyone particularly cares who’s getting the work done.

How long has Liberia been growing a female police force? Since Sirleaf was elected?

Thompson: Sirleaf appointed Beatrice Munah Sieh Brown to head the police force, and she has been leading the effort to bring more women into the force. But Liberia didn’t even really have a police force when the wars ended in 2003, so they’ve been recruiting men, too!

What kind of enforcement weapons do the female police carry?

Thompson: As far as I know, only some people in a special emergency response section carries guns. I’m not sure what kind of weapons the rest of them carry, if they carry anything at all.

Questions about rehabilitating women who were victimized in the Liberian civil wars: (See story)

One of your pieces is about getting the ex-combatant women who were child soldiers new lives–but what has happened to the people who were not considered victims? The conscriptors, the rebels?

Thompson: They are also participating in the disarmament and rehabilitation programs. This was a huge priority after the war ended – a national program called the DDRR (Demobilization, Disarmament, Rehabilitation and Reintegration) was implemented through the UN and now Liberia’s national government. Although the formal processes are winding down, there is still a ton of work to be done.

Some of the women we profile would probably be considered by some to be a rebels themselves, since they carried guns and were technically part of the movement, even though it wasn’t their choice.

But overall, the people we spoke to said: everyone is a victim of the war.

Liberia had two civil wars–which one wreaked more havoc on the country and its population?

Thompson: I’ve never seen anyone distinguish between the conflicts – all the wars were hell.

Questions about the U.S.’ close relationship with Liberia: (see story)

Does the U.S. still provide Liberia debt relief, yearly?

Thompson: If you mean foreign aid, then yes – The U.S. provides a large amount of aid, much of it through USAID — it’s the second-largest USAID development program in Africa, after Sudan. We also provide financial support to UNMIL, and our military is also very active helping to train the Liberian army.

Are there figures about how many Liberians went to America, then repatriated?

Thompson: The state department might have exact numbers. Many more came here than have gone back yet.

See also:
an extended interview with Linda Thomas-Greenfield, the U.S. Ambassador to Liberia.

Megan Thompson produces for Worldfocus’ Signature Series, and also has a number of other stories on the site, both video and print.