Experiences of a Former General of the Civil Defense Forces: Humanitarian Issues in Sierra Leone and Liberia, Then and Now

EDITOR’S NOTE: Dear Readers, the below is the second post of a three-part series on the moral economy of resource extraction, with its attendant violent commodification of people’s lives.  In order to probe some of the issues raised in part-one, our interview with Danny Hoffman, CIHA Blog editorial assistant Ben Cox interviews Mohamed Tarawalley about his experiences during the recent conflict in Sierra Leone and Liberia, the state of humanitarian aid, and his collaboration with Hoffman. Mohamed Tarawalley is former General of the Civil Defense Forces in Sierra Leone and founder of Action for Poverty Mitigation in the Third World (APM3) and West African Youth Agenda Against Corrupt Practices (WAYAACP). We are grateful that he could join us from Monrovia, Liberia.

Ben Cox (BC): Could you speak a little about yourself and your experience in the conflict in Sierra Leone and Liberia?

Mohamed Tarawalley (MT): I am Sierra Leonean and hail from Kailahun District in the eastern part of the country from a town called Jojoima in the Malema Chiefdom. I am the first male born child of my parents. I am 40 years now, born in 1972 on 19 January. I was schooled in Sierra Leone up through the Sixth Form, but my university education was disrupted by the rebellion.

With respect to the conflict in Liberia and Sierra Leone, in which I participated from the beginning to the end, I look at most of the humanitarian ventures, especially the DDR Program [Demobilization and Reintegration Program], as a partial failure. The DDR Program was designed from outside, was exported from outside, and got into this area and was just forced down the throats of people. The people were forced to pick it up because there were no other alternatives. And the real people – the real actors – were not given the chance to contribute ideas on how the program should work or what we might need. The conditions that led to the war during that time are still very much visible and alive here now — we are on a time bomb in these areas. If you come here one day, you will understand what I mean. Continue reading

Youth, Labor, and Violence: The Production of Humanitarian Crises in Sierra Leone and Liberia

EDITOR’S NOTE: Dear Readers, the below is the first post of a three-part series on the moral economy of resource extraction, with its attendant violent commodification of people’s lives. In this post, Ben Cox, an editorial assistant for The CIHA Blog, sits down with Danny Hoffman to discuss his latest book. Topics addressed include the politics of photographic representation; mobility, labor, youth and violence; and future projects in West Africa. All images have been graciously provided by Danny Hoffman.

Ben Cox (BC): The title of your first book is War Machines: Young Men and Violence in Sierra Leone and Liberia. What are the stakes of doing an ethnography in a warzone? What is the book about?

Danny Hoffman (DH): The phrase the “war machines,” and the theoretical underpinnings of the book is from Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, but what I have really been interested in is thinking about young men and their participation in the conflict on both sides of the Mano River, which forms the border between Sierra Leone and Liberia. I am thinking of these guys as essentially a labor force, which I think is an unusual way to think about African violence, at least in a lot of the popular literature, but also in anthropology and political science as well. I was interested in the movement of young men across the region, and the forces that allow for them to be assembled and deployed as laborers in a certain kind of violent economy. What I found during the time of this research was that for a lot of the fighters on both sides of the border, the work of going to war was one form of labor that they didn’t necessarily think of as being qualitatively distinct from any other form of labor, such as taking diamonds, tapping rubber, etc. The thing that interested me was: how are these guys moving around the region, what are the forces that allow them to be assembled and deployed, and how does that change for them over time, if it does? For one of the groups that I worked with, the Civil Defense Forces in Sierra Leone, they followed an interesting trajectory. They began as a village-based community defense body and then, over time, became essentially a mercenary pool of reserve labor to be deployed around the region. The book follows that trajectory. It looks at these factors within the history of the region and the history of the conflict, and then doing a closer ethnographic reading of the different facets of those processes in various regions over time. Continue reading

Dignity in Development

By Duncan McNicholl

Arop - One

Last year, I began the Perspectives of Poverty photography project to demonstrate how carefully constructed images can lead us to very different conclusions about someone living in poverty. I was, and continue to be, outraged by how charities and the Western media will often stoop to using undignified photos of people to evoke feelings of shock and pity, particularly when representing sub-Saharan Africa. The effects are incredibly damaging. They manipulate our perceptions to see people and issues from a very narrow perspective. Before I came to work in Malawi, I knew little more about rural poverty in Africa than what I had learned from the media, which was largely a portrait of hopelessness and despair. Continue reading

Microbicides: Another “Silver Bullet” Needs Ongoing Socio-Cultural Analysis

Part I: Microbicide: a magic bullet in HIV prevention strategies for women?

By Veronica Noseda, Social sciences project officer, Sidaction, Paris

Every international Aids Conference needs a big announcement to go down in history (and, incidentally, to map out the research agenda for the following years). The 2010 IAS international conference, which was held in Vienna last July, was no exception.

The results of CAPRISA 004, a trial which tested the safety and effectiveness of an antiretroviral-based vaginal gel among nearly 900 women at two sites in South Africa, were announced as a major breakthrough: this 1% tenofovir gel prevented four out of ten HIV infections (39% efficacy), and avoided more than half of the infections in women who used the gel more than 80% of the time (54% efficacy). For the first time, after years of disappointing trial results and ethical controversies, we have the proof that microbicides can work.

If we look at results more carefully, though, we realize that there is no space for triumphalism. 39% reduction is, on the whole, a rather moderate rate. 54% is undoubtedly a more consistent reduction, but it needs a very high adherence to the protocol. Of course, these figures must be interpreted in the framework of the so-called “combined prevention,” where microbicides do not substitute but are used in addition to traditional prevention tools, like condoms. But, still, would you be satisfied if a contraceptive pill would reduce the risk of an unwanted pregnancy only by half? Continue reading

“When the Night Comes” film critique and discussion

By Cecelia Lynch

I sent the following email to the Directors of the UN Foundation (Timothy Wirth and Elizabeth Gore) after viewing a screening of the film, “When the Night Comes.” We at the blog are very appreciative of Elizabeth Gore’s subsequent phone call to me, her openness to our concerns, and her willingness to continue the discussion by phone (she preferred not to write for the blog).  Ms. Gore and the Nothing But Nets campaign raise good questions about how to generate support for campaigns to benefit others; we are concerned with the imagery sustained and promoted by this campaign in particular (as well as many others) and the connotations of this imagery for humanitarian assistance in general.  We invite readers to comment on any component of the issues raised. Continue reading