After a month of traveling, it's nice to be stationary again and settling back into a routine.
There have been some small changes since I left . One of the restaurants in town now sells Western food (pizza, fried chicken with french fries, hamburgers, and so on). Someone is building a video club on my compound (“video club” meaning essentially a shack with a TV and a generator, and either a VCR or DVD player or a satellite connection, at which people can pay a few Liberian dollars to take in a show). The Ethiopian UN soldiers have left and a new contingent of Pakistani soldiers has come in to replace them. The house my landlord is building behind mine has had its mud walls plastered with cement and is nearing completion.
It's actually pretty cool to see how things can change in such a short time. I would interpret the progress of building projects – even small ones like the video club and the house – as a positive sign regarding the development of the country. People perceive things as stable enough to invest in longer-term projects.
Of course, many people (particularly those who are affiliated with the UN) are predicting that the country will fall apart again as soon as the peacekeeping forces leave (which I believe is supposed to occur completely by 2012 – but don't quote me on that). From my perspective, it's somewhat hard to believe, because my town seems so stable and the soliders seem to do so little other than occassionally walk around town looking intimidating (or, if not really intimidating, at least looking official and armed). But I guess that doesn't really mean anything; the idea of a peacekeeping force in general, I suppose, is to provide a presence that keeps any kind of threat of violence underground. So the stability I witness could be nothing more than a sign that the UN forces here are doing exactly what they are supposed to be doing – maintaining peace – and not an indication that the country has actually achieved any kind of lasting stability. Unfortunately, I can't see that there is any way to tell the difference until the peacekeepers actually pull out, and things either fall apart or do not fall apart.
Speaking of stability – the President of Liberia, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf (“Ma Ellen”), announced recently that she will run for a second term, although she had originally promised to serve only one term. I can't say that I know much at all about Liberian politics beyond the fact that they are incredibly, pervasively corrupt, and extremely complicated due to continued problems with tribalism. However, from my completely un-knowledgeable perspective, the President's decision to run again seems like a good thing and a bad thing. It seems good because, as far as I can tell, the President seems to be doing a very good job in what must be an incredibly difficult position. Furthermore, having some continuity in what is still an extremely fragile country seems like it would be a positive thing. On the flip side, this seems like a bad thing because she did promise to serve only one term, and the fact that she has gone back on her word is somewhat suggestive of a hunger for power (although I'd like to believe that she is more altruistically inspired to continue helping her country get back on its feet). In any case, the elections will occur next year, and it seems like that will be the first true test of Liberia's stability.
Anyway. These tests of Liberia's peace – the withdrawal of the UN soldiers and the next elections – will all happen well after I'm gone. But they are quickly approaching, and it's interesting (if fuitile) to speculate on what will happen when they do.