Frontline World

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Liberia - No More War, May 2005

 

 

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Alvin Peabody - Pensacola, Florida
It is my understanding that the 30-minute program was only part of a 90-minute show. It would be wonderful to show the program in its entirety. While it is educational to show Liberia in its worst form, it also would be ideal to balance that with a program that shows efforts at rebuilding, whether it's through educational, physically or spiritually.
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Editor's Response:
No, there is not a longer documentary -- at least not yet. Reporter and producer Jessie Deeter is working on her own Liberia film, which will be an expanded version of what you saw on FRONTLINE/World. Currently she plans a one-hour documentary. We are always pleased when our viewers ask us to show more from a particular country.

As an international news magazine, we can never run stories longer than about 30 minutes. We usually try to tell three stories in our one-hour time slot. We only wish we were on the air more often.

Our goal is to expose more people to world news and to offer an array of different perspectives, to take people on journeys to places they may never go. But we also always aim to be sophisticated enough to provide new information and insights even to people who are familiar with a particular country or story.
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Farah F. - Seattle, Washington
To Frontline and Jessie Deeter, that was a moving piece about a rich country torn apart by devastating civil war. Many thanks to the reporter and people like General Opande. It shows that the U.N. works best when regional solutions are used. Such solutions should be implemented in other African nations.
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Lisa Brenneisen - Oakland, California
I have to say I was really disappointed in Deeter's telling of this story. No context or history, just a glossing over and tidying it up in a nice little package with Opande as a hero, Wolfcatcher as a rock star, schools are full up and most everyone is seemingly happy, dancing and singing. Why is it that neither she nor Frontline added the update that in 2004 there was looting, rape, forced labor and forms of violence in the areas that lacked international peacekeepers. Ex-President Charles Taylor has yet to be brought to justice for his crimes. In April 2005, U.N. chief Jacques Klein up and left, with much to be done, to take a teaching post at Princeton. Or that a former warlord plans to run for president, and there is rioting in demand for payment of the second half ($150) of the resettlement allowance, and a $39 million shortfall of funds. Out of the U.S. promise of $445 million for reconstruction, approximately $32 million has reached them, the rest is "currently being finalized," according to the 2005 Congressional Budget Justification. Out of more than 100,000 peoples, only 33,000 have placements in schools and job training. The rest are left to loiter and beg on the streets.

The promises of water and electricity have yet to be met, even though Klein stated it was a top priority in 2003; only the rich and foreign companies have access to this luxury via generators. No, I can't say that I was impressed by this reporting. I doubt that the humanitarian organizations are either.

"There are concerns that the U.N.'s desire for a success story ahead of October 2005 elections in Liberia is the main reason for what is widely seen as a rushed and poorly planned return and reintegration process," said Raymond Johansen, secretary-general of the Norwegian Refugee Council.

May I suggest there are better sources of information on topics such as this than PBS/Frontline, the internet is a good start.
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FRONTLINE/World reporter Jessie Deeter responds:
You have succinctly presented a list of many of the enormous obstacles Liberia still faces in its efforts to recover from a prolonged, nightmarish civil war.

As a reporter, you have to decide which story you are going to tell. I went to report the story of disarming Liberia, and I reported what I found. I could have joined the chorus of other reporters hammering the U.N. or I could have focused on any number of specific problems and outrages, including the sex-for-food scandals, ongoing corruption in the transitional government, or the rumors of rebels rearming to fight in neighboring Ivory Coast. But the main story I found was hopeful. I didn't know when I started that Opande was going to be able to disarm more than twice the number of combatants that the U.N. had initially planned. I went in as a skeptic, half expecting riots in April, not believing the combatants' claims that the war was over. I came out believing that change was at least possible. When I first met Wolfcatcher on the side of the road, there was no way to know that six months later I would find him in the capital working as the reporter he told me he wanted to be.

But as I showed in my report, I also found ex-combatants sewing dolls' clothes for months, instead of the suits and dresses for Liberians they wanted to make, because the funds needed for the "R and R," or rehabilitation and reintegration part of disarmament promised by the international community, hadn't been delivered in full. Jacques Klein speaks eloquently on this subject on our Web site, meant to provide some of the context for this film that you are craving. And as we said at the end of the story, most U.N. peacekeeping efforts collapse within five years, so the relative peace and progress in Liberia remains fragile and tentative, especially if the international community loses interest and turns away.

I appreciate the fact that you took the time and effort to respond to my piece, and understand your frustration that the enormity of Liberia's difficult story wasn't fully presented. I am curently working on a one-hour documentary on Liberia, which will have more information than I could possibly fit in a 22-minute piece. For now, I would say only that I tried to honestly report a story with surprisingly positive developments and with people who were willing to try to at least take the first steps to fixing the mess in Liberia. For things to get better in Liberia, the world needs to have a little hope to supplement the standard crisis coverage that makes Americans turn the channel and shut their pocketbooks at any mention of Africa, expecting to find nothing but desperation there.
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Anonymous - Atlanta, Georgia
I was a bit disappointed that the program was shortened to only 30 minutes. With about half a million Liberians living in the U.S., we were hoping to finally get coverage that will serve as due process for those of us who have been unceremoniously removed from our homeland with limited information as it relates to the peacekeeping mission and its advancements. The program really didn't provide much insight, due to its duration on air. This did a lot of disservice and injustice to the plausible and hard work of the journalist. I hope your organization considers rebroadcasting this piece in its entirety. Thanks.

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Anonymous - Union City, Nevada
Please re-air this program and air other programs on Liberia. Liberia is a very special nation that has great ties to the U.S.; it's important that people see and understand these things. I want to commend PBS for these opportunities and for giving the country a chance to learn more about the world and matters that are important to society.
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Richmond Harding - Sacramento, California I wish to see the full 90 minutes of the documentary. The U.N. troops and their presence do make a difference in Liberia. Hope the election does not turn out to be a flop to encourage those hungry warlords to take their heels to the bush.
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C.B. King - San Carlos, California
Thanks PBS for the story on Liberia. I hope that it will bring more attention to the Liberian situation. The U.N. has been a great help to Liberia and we Liberians appreciate it greatly. Thanks U.N. for saving the lives of our people. Thanks to all the people of the world for their support in the time of our sorrows.
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Anonymous - Baltimore, Maryland
As a Liberian living in the U.S. for the past 25 years, I decided to revisit my homeland 5 years ago, and was most disappointed, disgusted, and brought to tears to see Liberia in a state of chaos, poverty of the highest level, and just utter destruction. But, I was also moved by the resilience of Liberians to make life, whatever life is to them, just a little bit better. I watched the short documentary on PBS, and felt that there was some difference being made, but we have a very, very long uphill battle ahead of us.

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Andrew Greene - Fishers Landing, New York
Thank you for such a touching piece. As a former African Peace Corps Volunteer I am heartened to see such excellent coverage of an overlooked continent.
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Anonymous - Leesburg, Virginia
The documentary was very informative. It has been many years since I was last in Liberia and in this program it was very encouraging to see that many young men have exchanged guns for positive things. Thanks for airing this documentary. It was very enlightening.

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Lawrence Zumo - Baltimore, Maryland
The world's attention is focused on events elsewhere. The world's print and television media are disinterested in Africa and its people. Given the circumstances, yes the U.N. is an effective although imperfect peacekeeping organization. Others who could have risen up to their historic duties are looking elsewhere. The U.N. is all we have. We are grateful for that. At the same time, Africans have to do a lot of soul searching to help themselves to learn to live side by side and solve their own problems. However, we need help in identifying those external factors that continue to exacerbate our internal problems, as well.
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Adele Berry - Hayward, California
I really enjoyed the piece on Liberia, "No More War." There are many newsworthy stories throughout the African continent that mainstream media ignores. I would love to see more programming about Liberia and other African nations.

Tina Brooks - Atlanta, Georgia
Great story, PBS! We need to see more on the progress of the U.N. peacekeeping efforts. Very promising toward reconciliation, reconstruction and rehabilitation of Liberia. Surely, Liberia will rise again. Please air again to promote awareness. Love to see a longer version.
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Rev. Lawrence Miller, Jr. - Atlanta, Georgia
Coverage somewhat 'lightweight' and dated; some good insightful observations, but a lot has happened since then -- for example, the formation of a temporary government under the leadership of Guide Bryant, and preparations for refugees returning to their home villages; also preparations for elections in October 2005. Glad you focused on Liberia. It's terribly important to expose the public viewer to the plight of the people there so, thanks, overall! But please put something up-to-date together.

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Saynyonoh Dee - Concord, California
Thank you PBS for airing this documentary. For someone who has not been to Liberia since 1989 it was insightful. From reading all the documents online at PBS, I can see that this documentary was not one sided or trying to push one person's opinion, but just stating the facts. I personally appreciate that. I would love to see more on Liberia and other aspects of what the war has done to the country. Not only that but I would also like to see how we in the U.S. could help -- for example, organizations we can get involved in. Once again thank you PBS and thank you Jessie Deeter. May God bless you all.
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Charles Nilon - Columbia, Missouri
I was struck by the lack of context in "Liberia, No More War." Liberia has been a country since 1847 and the political and social history is part of the civil war but not presented. The focus on the role of the U.N. is important but the role of the Liberian people and institutions is more important. There are numerous Liberians living in Liberia who were not members of rebel groups and actively involved in the country's reconstruction. Why not also focus on these groups and individuals? Why not allow them to speak about their experiences, efforts at reconstruction, and vision for the country? It seems that much coverage of Africa seeks to portray its countries and peoples as totally helpless.

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Anonymous - Herndon, Virginia
In response to Charles Nilon's comments, I do think we in Africa want to be portrayed as totally helpless. Especially in Liberia, we love to depend on others to solve our problems. The solution lies within every Liberian. If we don't see that we have become NGO dependent and that we need to change our attitude, then we are heading to even greater destruction. The coverage on Liberia in the documentary "Liberia, No More War" was an excellent piece and I hope we get to see the whole 90 minutes. The U.N. peacekeepers are doing the best they can. Thanks U.N.! We caused our problems and we should fix them! Can you believe we have 52 presidential candidates? Who's going to vote for whom? PBS, please show the rest of the documentary.

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Amadu Sirleaf - Modesto, California
As a Liberian who has lived in the U.S. for over 20 years (without returning home), I was very touched emotionally and spiritually to see the utter devastation, poverty and illiteracy in my home. I'm thankful and reinvigorated by this unfettered report by Jessie Deeter, to contribute in any small way to a strong and peaceful Liberia. Thanks Jessie and PBS for airing this report. I eagerly await the follow up.
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Michelle Kunert - Sacramento, California
The right to bear arms should not just be considered America's constitutional second amendment but a basic human right for self defense worldwide and should not be taken away by the U.N. Yes, even Africans, including the Liberians, need to be able to own arms to police themselves and protect innocent lives, even when they are in a time of peace. The U.N. officials should know that African slaves in America were once forbidden to have firearms, and they should likewise not reduce Africans to being slaves in their own countries either.

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Neal Helfman - Rio Verde, Arizona
Bravo! Thank you for sharing a little good news for our world. These real stories of progress and peace should be mandatory viewing for all people on this planet.
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Anonymous - Austin, Texas
It was ironic that this story featured squatters living in the abandoned Masonic Lodge building -- the very symbol of the Old Families' power hub. Now a few of the masons have reclaimed and restored it -- their Mercedes parked outside, the old powers slowly but surely regaining control. Funny that you were showing what was outwardly going on with the building, but not the history of it or how its members played such an important role -- both symbolically and practically -- in all of this huge mess. Freemasonry is a gentle craft, promoting brotherly love, truth and relief. I'm an American mason, but fully realize that the lodge may be used in the most wrong of ways -- and used by those who have no business being masons whatsoever. Perhaps this is too specialized to explain in a documentary but it is nonetheless a vital element in this sad story.

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Ben Robinson - Falls Church, Virginia
Enlightening. Give us more of this type of information on African states.
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David King - Cape Canaveral, Florida
Excellent reporting on the amazing progress that has been accomplished in such a short amount of time. Thanks for taking me into the background of these fighters and following up on their life after the disarming.

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Anonymous - Cincinnati, Ohio
Wow, what an insight into a desperate situation. Say what you will about the U.N., Opande and those like him are doing the dirty work where the "civilized" world is unwilling to engage. It may be an imperfect organization, but it may well be the only bulwark we have against utter chaos in places like Liberia.
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The following are responses to the moderator question, "Is the U.N. an effective peacekeeping operation?"

Adele Berry - Hayward, California
The U.N. seems to have done a fairly good job with disarmament in Liberia. It's just a shame that they weren't there 14 years earlier to stop the unnecessary slaughter of so many innocent people. It was great to see this segment about Liberia. I'd love to see more segments on African countries.
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Charles Blake - Oakland, California
Excellent documentary! The U.N. is doing a commendable job and must be encouraged to complete the mission. More exposure to the world is needed to attract investors, because real peace can only be attained with economic growth. Liberians must not only be encouraged, but to a person, become participants in the rebuilding of our beloved country.

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Anonymous - Lawrenceville, Georgia
The U.N. is the most effective peacekeeping organization in the world and needs more support from member countries. It should not allow itself to be pulled around by the U.S., regardless of its wealth. Arab countries should contribute more to the U.N. to stop U.S. domination and give them some power too.
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Ouidah Smith - New York, New York
Thank you Frontline for keeping the issue of peace in Africa on the front line. Yes the U.N. is effective in disarming combatants, however, U.N. peacekeepers in Africa need much more financial support. I was disappointed that the report did not make mention of the work of organizations such as the Mano River Women's Peace Network (composed of women from Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea) and who were also instrumental in brokering and maintaining peace in Liberia.

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Tracey Ellison - Channelview, Texas
It is hard for the U.N. to follow through when it is not fully supported by the U.S. and its other member countries.
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