• Inside the UN Bubble: Staff writer Abraham McLaughlin says that Liberia was the most war-destroyed place he'd visited during three years of covering Africa. He was there most recently to report today's story about Liberia's Truth and Reconciliation process in part 4 of the series "Africa After War: Paths to Forgiveness."
"Every other building in the capital, it seemed, had been blown up or blasted through during the country's 14-year civil war. Yet my hotel in Monrovia was among the nicest I stayed in anywhere in Africa. It had wireless Internet in the room, a sushi bar just off the lobby, and a barn-sized restaurant bar with great American-style burgers. There was even real Heinz ketchup on the tables. And this wasn't even the fanciest hotel in town," says Abe.
Liberia's relative luxuries are a byproduct of the presence of United Nations officials and other international aid groups. "There are literally hundreds of UN 4x4s bouncing around the capital's potholed streets," he says. "There are lots of businesses that serve the 'internationals.' Rents in Monrovia can run $1,500 a month for a two-bedroom apartment."
To Abe, it highlights a conundrum that lies behind UN peacekeeping efforts: The international body's presence distorts local economies by bringing in so much money so fast. But when the UN eventually pulls out, it can often be a blow to fragile nations. "It made for a relatively cushy trip for me, but I hope that it won't do too much long-term damage," he says.
David Clark Scott