I’ve been sitting around in Monrovia for 6 months so now its time for me to get some bush experience in the form of 2 nights in Greenville City, capital of Sinoe County. I should explain that there are 15 counties in Liberia and I hope eventually to visit them all. This was not a ‘quick and dirty’ trip, by which I mean flying in and out on the UN helicopter, feet barely touching the ground for 4 hours!! This will be ‘rough and dirty’ as I’m staying long enough to get a glimpse of life in the field. So even though its a bit overdue, here are my fotos and observations from my visit to Greenville in April 2009.
a view of one part of town
Greenville is larger than I expected, but definitely not worth the title of ‘city’! Most buildings are run-down, mould-covered neglected structures, or flimsy bamboo leaf or rudimentary mud structures. I didn’t want to take too many fotos as people often get upset. As a generalisation, you could say that Greenville is much like other Liberian towns and people live in basic conditions without electricity and running water.
abandoned building in the centre of greenville with small stalls for street vendors
The plus for Greenville is that it is on the coast and has/had a good port, solidly constructed by a German company to export rubber from the plantation during the pre-war period. Unfortunately the port has not been functional for the last 6 months or more since an over-loaded ferry ship sank at the only location which had been accessible for berthing. There are 3 or 4 other rusting hulks of wrecks in and around the port, so until they are removed and the harbour dredged, there will be no sea trade in or out of Sinoe County.
sunken ship blocks the only berth in the greenville port
This is a real disappointment because potentially Sinoe county is quite resource-rich: Sinoe Rubber Plantation, Sapo National Park, gold and diamonds! However, at present, none of these resources are being properly managed and the resources generated are not contributing to ‘lifting Liberia’, they’re just enriching thieves and profiteers.
The rubber plantation has no independent, viable management and the rubber tappers have placed a moratorium on producing rubber until management and tax issues are resolved. now that the price of rubber has fallen, The motivation to resolve the problems has dropped off too. Sapo National Park is the largest in Liberia, but it is not under State control. Reportedly there are pockets of land in the Park used for illegal forestry, and marihuana production. There are 2 large illegal mining camps – with populations of roughly 10,000 and 12,000 – which apparently function quite well with their own generated power and codes of conduct, but completely external to any State authority.
The 3-day experience was interesting, but I’m definitely not made for bush-dwelling! When you work in the field, there are only 3 options for lunch – PakBatt or the UN cafeteria (which dishes up the same rice and chicken every meal) – or the 3rd option, to cook at home. But as every food item that expats need, including bottled drinking water, has to be brought in from Monrovia, you can see that supplies become a major factor in one’s survival and sanity! At least Greenville has a small fishing community and it is possible to buy fresh fish which is a wonderful supplement to a diet of canned supplies and pringles!
I noted that many people I met muttered that ‘nothing works in Sinoe. It will never get better!’. People have very low expectations and appeared to have given up all hope of change. The Superintendent seemed to be deeply unpopular and allegations of corruption stick to him like grunge.
So the visit was uneventful. I got headaches but managed to avoid a full migraine. When I can travel at my own pace, I can manage. I’m not sure when I will visit again, but I’d like to especially once the ferry hulk is removed and the port becomes functional agin.
The ferry is almost removed from the berthing area and dredging of the port should start after that. The hope is that by the end of the year the Greenville Port can be open for business again.eld.