Monrovia has an opinionated and controversial mayor, a woman whose idea of leadership involves bulldozing the informal sector -- literally. Of course, "informal sector" is really a bland euphemism for the poorest of the poor. People who "belong" to the informal sector often live on less than $1 a day with little or no access to health care or education, and do not know where their next meal is coming from.
What little they do have is often transitory -- a plastic bag of belongings, a mattress if they're lucky, or for the truly fortunate, a shop or shelter built out of discarded planks and hammered out tin. Mayor Mary Broh, as you can read in this article, intends to clean up Monrovia by knocking them down. With logic I need to have explained to me, she believes this will encourage people who fled to Monrovia during the war -- and stayed -- to go "back where they came from."
In classic blame-the-victim style, she claims that the poorest people in one of the poorest countries in the world "want to stay in the city and slum ... because they are just too lazy. Nobody wants to go back to the soil. Laziness is the root of this whole thing." Here's what it looks like:
A week ago, we were dropping a friend off after beers in town and turned off the main road towards his compound on the beach. On the way, we passed shacks where people lived and worked, showing Nigerian movies for a small fee or selling rice and soup to passersby. The blare of Nollywood drama and the light from small lamps cut through the darkness as we drove, winding our way through a dusty football pitch and along the beach.
Last weekend, we were supposed to collect the same friend on our way to Robertsport, only a bulldozer blocked the road and a crowd of silent people had assembled. "You're going to have to walk here, man," Nate told him on his mobile. "It looks like they're bulldozing your street today." We parked a reasonable distance away and, taking turns and making sure we stayed in each others' line of sight, went to see what it looks like when what little people have is demolished by a Caterpillar. It felt Palestinian.
So why am I smiling? My future roommate made this shirt, which cost $8 and is silkscreened on a secondhand H&M t-shirt he bought from the market. My $8 purchased my shirt -- and a free shirt for one of the men or women who live in or run businesses from the shacks. And I wore it out to a fun Liberian party last night, all pretty and political.
We dropped the same friend off last night and his street is now empty, broken signboards and pieces of demolished lives littering the dust, no lights from people who were just trying to make their way. I wonder where they're sleeping.