Reporters on the Job

The Issakaba Boys: Africa editor Matt Clark was in Liberia recently reporting today's story about reopening its timber industry. In 2003, the UN slapped sanctions on Liberia's "blood timber" – so-called because it was selling its forests to finance a war with rebels, paying militias staffed by child solders.

Today, UN and Liberian officials are taking steps to clean up the industry so it can jump-start the country's stagnant economy. More than 80 percent of the West African country's population don't have formal jobs, and that two-thirds survive on less than a dollar a day.

But as Matt did his reporting, he kept hearing about rising violent crime and whispers about the Issakaba Boys. "That's what really underscored the importance of kick-starting the economy: The brazenness of a machete-wielding gang thought to be made up of former child soldiers. The gang is named after a series of popular, and violent, Nigerian movies. It was the No. 1 issue on the minds of most Liberians," he says.

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But UN and government officials Matt talked to pointed out that the crime rate in Liberia's capital city, Monrovia, is minuscule when compared with Johannesburg, South Africa, or Lagos, Nigeria.

"This was of little comfort to Liberians. One source told me she found a note on her doorstep saying the Issakaba Boys were coming. Across the city in a much different neighborhood, the driver I hired to take me around in a barely functioning 1986 Nissan sedan told me that someone left a note in his neighborhood last week saying the Issakaba Boys were coming and not to resist. 'They're coming here,' he said in a face that conveyed fear. 'So we have to be ready.' "

David Clark Scott
World editor

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