Tag Archives: diaspora

Little Liberia – book review

He relives some of this as he speaks, something he has studiously avoided until now; his hands are shaking in his lap.  When he sees me watching his hands, he shoots me a look of accusation, as if I have caught him out.

That’s from Little Liberia, Jonny Steinberg‘s latest impossibly good book about two Liberian men who come to Staten Island, one in 1986, the other in 2002.  Steinberg is a South African scholar and writer.  You can buy Little Liberia via Amazon UK.  (I got my copy 12 days after ordering it, and shipping costs were not bad at all.)

Rufus, one of the men, has established himself as leader of Liberians in Staten Island by the time Liberian refugees start flooding the borough’s Park Hill neighborhood.  Jacob arrives toward the end of the war.  He is shocked to find that there are no reliable immigration and health services–the most pressing concerns for many Liberians in the community.  The two men clash.  Jacob wonders if the politics of Americo-Liberian exclusion have replicated themselves across time and the Atlantic.  Steinberg summarizes the concern: “Could it be that wherever Liberians settled, some among them would become Congos, the rest helpless indigenes?”

Steinberg brings Rufus and Jacob to life through his attentiveness to their words, actions, and demeanor, which he observed during two years of shadowing them in New York and Liberia.

One of the most powerful passages in the book comes when Jacob describes his first reaction to America: He was infuriated.

…the level of development…it reinforced my belief that the Americo-Liberians had used Liberia as their farm, their dumping ground, their pet project.  They had their homes here in America.  They…went to hospital here when they were sick.  I lost all respect for Americo-Liberians; for all those years, sending their children overseas and leaving us in the dark.

Beyond the substance of the book, I love Steinberg’s transparency about his interactions with his subjects, and how he wrestles to interpret what they are thinking and saying.  “One is always performing, even in the most private corridors of one’s soul,” he writes.  He describes Jacob’s unhappy response to the book manuscript, interprets the source of this unhappiness, and discusses the process of revision.

I also admire how Steinberg captures the small and large humiliations people suffer–humiliations that are only apparent to an outsider who is empathetic and understands the context.

I hope you enjoy this book as much as I did.  I’d love to hear other thoughts.

You can buy the book here.  You can read an excerpt from another review I very much liked here.  You can read a short profile I wrote of Steinberg here (pdf, p. 18)


Pro-Gbagbo propaganda in diaspora

Africa Confidential has an article [gated] about high levels of support for Gbagbo among Francophone Africans in the diaspora.  The article discusses creative pro-Gbagbo propaganda that have been circulating through online forums:

One imaginative ploy copied an advert that the UN had placed in a local newspaper in September 2010, inviting applications from providers of mortuary services. The propagandists say this was ‘proof’ the UN had been planning massacres that would help Ouattara long before the polls.


TRC diaspora report released


The final report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s diaspora project has been released.  It’s called “A House with Two Rooms.”  At 626 pages, you can either read it as a PDF (in parts) or buy it for $26 on Amazon.

Sadly, I’m not going to have time to read this report in its entirety.  If you read it, and find anything interesting, let me know.   I’d love for someone to do a guest post analyzing the report.


Liberia film premiering on Sundance Channel 10/19

Eventual Salvation” is premiering on the Sundance Channel later this month.  I haven’t seen the film, but it looks interesting.  Here’s a blurb someone just sent me:

In this uplifting film, Rees follows her 80-year-old grandmother Earnestine Smith, as she returns to her adopted home of Liberia to help rebuild a country emerging from 14 years of civil war.  Smith is reunited with old friends and colleagues, who have also resolved to lend their expertise to the hard work of restoring communities and infrastructure.  As it chronicles the efforts of Smith and her friends, Eventual Salvation interweaves their thoughts and stories with those of neighboring young men and women, who have resumed their lives and education after losing their childhoods to war.

This personal story of hope and redemption won the Creative Promise Award for Documentary at  the Tribeca Film Festival.

The premiere is on Monday, October 19th at 9pm ET.

For images from Eventual Salvation stills, visit the Flickr page.


Update on Arizona rape case

An update on the case of the Liberian girl who was raped in Arizona: The police are seeking felony child abuse charges against the parents, who allegedly said they were ashamed of their daughter for being raped.  A few weeks ago, the girl was taken into protective custody.

Dove, who has worked on gender-based violence issues in Liberia and the US, thinks the girl should have remained with her family.  She said:

The parents having an initially unsupportive reaction is not abnormal. No parent is prepared to accept that something so awful has happened to their child. In all of my years of GBV work, I could count on one hand the number of parents of victims who did not deny, excuse, or minimize what had happened to their child. While this initial reaction is not helpful, it is understandable. Our minds are resistant to believing something so upsetting, or to acknowledging that we have failed to protect our child.

But before we criticize the decision to seek felony charges against the parents, it’s worth noting that police have documented a series of incidents of abuse and neglect against the girl.  In fact it seems surprising that charges haven’t been filed against the parents previously.  This AP article goes through these incidents:

…the girl had injuries consistent with child abuse after school officials called them. Officials removed her for the weekend before allowing her to return home…the girl took a steak from a neighbor’s grill and Phoenix police officers found her hungry and wandering around by herself…police got a report that the girl was seen being dragged into the family apartment. Eleven days later, an officer found her lost and wandering the neighborhood and wrote a child neglect report…a Phoenix officer found her wandering around begging for food.