Indiana University and
the University of Liberia

David Zaret
Vice President for International Affairs
Professor of Sociology and History
Bryan Hall 104, Bloomington, IN

zaret@iu.edu

Ties between IU and the West African nation of Liberia extend back to research by IU faculty the 1930s, when ethnomusicologists from Indiana University traveled to the coast of West Africa in order to make recordings of Liberian music. Later, development of a special relationship continued in the early 1960s, when IU faculty with expertise on West Africa established the African Studies Program at Indiana University. (The Program celebrated its 50th anniversay in 2011. For more on African Studies at IU and IU activities in Kenya and South Africa, see African Scenes.)

Today, IU has one of the largest archival collections outside Liberia for studying the cultural and political history of that nation. In addition (see below) many personal ties exist between IU and Liberia's educational and political leaders.

Currently in Liberia, Indiana University is the lead institution that is helping the University of Liberia regain its capacity to train health care professionals, in a project funded by USAID (U.S. Agency for International Development, a branch of the U.S. State Department) and administered by HED (Higher Education for Development). The medical school of the University of Massachusetts is a subcontractor on the project.

The capacity to train health professional, along with much else at the University of Liberia, was destroyed in the ruinous civil war that ended about a decade ago, after approximately 10% of the population perished.

See references for information on Liberia and its civil wars

Student locker in ruined laboratory in Liberia
Student locker in destroyed laboratory at the University of Liberia, Fendell campus.

David Zaret with Liberian Foreign Minister and
President of the University of Liberia

Above: Ceremony at City Hall, Monrovia, launching the USAID/HED project led by Indiana University. March 26, 2012.
Front row from left: Patricia Rader (USAID Mission Director), IU Vice President David Zaret, Liberian Minister for Foreign Affairs Augustine Ngufuan, and University of Liberia President Emmett Dennis. IU Associate Vice President Charles Reafsnyder, who was principally responsible for assembling this project, is standing third from left. Immediately behind President Dennis is Amos Sawyer, who served with distinction as the country's interim president during the first Liberian civil war. Both Sawyer and Dennis have pre-existing connections to IU--see below.

I am the source of the images, below, from the University's main campus in Fendell, the older campus in Monrovia and other places in Monrovia.
These images were recorded in March 2012.

Devastation from the civil wars is a prominent feature of the capital of Liberia, Monrovia, such as the city's formerly luxury resort atop a wooded hill. From my hotel room, one watches local residents line up plastic jugs for water at a communal pump. During my trip in 2012 the banking system could not support credit cards. Transactions with hotels and restaurants required cash.

Ruined Hotel, Monrovia
Previously, Monrovia's luxury hotel.
Water Pump source of Water in Monrovia
View from my hotel in Monrovia: no running water in many parts of the capital

Anyone who works at a college or university would be especially struck by the facilities devastated in the Liberian civil wars.

As someone who admires scientists and their science, I was haunted by ruined spaces inside the University's laboratory facilities.

The Chinese flag flies alongside Liberia's (it resembles the U.S. flag), by a gateway leading to new buildings that were funded by the Chinese government.

Note the Chinese-style of the gateway.


Classroom in ruined science building on Fendell campus.

Gateway to new university buildings, funded by Chinese government.
Academic Sign, University of Liberia David Zaret at University of Liberia
Students and Registrar's staff interact through small windows in wall

Science buildings on the University's main campus in Fendell were pillaged. Doors, windows, fixtures and electrical conduit were stripped from the buildings. On interior walls, eerie, unpleasant graffiti display the trauma of the country's extended civil wars.

Graffiti at University of Liberia Science Building, University of Liberia

Chemistry is the same everywhere in the world, but anywhere it is difficult to learn without laboratories.

Chemistry in Liberia David Zaret in ruined chemistry storeroom

These last two images display optimistic signs for the future. Liberia appears to have entered a stable period of slow rebuilding since the election and re-election of Ellen Johnson Sirleaf as the country's President. Educators and politicians who fled from Liberia have been returning. The current President of the University of Liberia, Emmet Dennis, returned from the United States and assembled a young staff that includes persons who grew up in the U.S. during the civil war and have elected to return to Liberia.

Indiana University's personal ties to Liberia include Emmet Dennis who has a degree from Indiana University. They also include the country's President, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the first female elected head of state in Africa, who was award the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize. In 2008, IU conferred an honorary doctor of laws degree on President Sirleaf.

Another IU connection is Amos Sawyer, who served with distinction as Liberia's Interim President from 1990-93. Afterwards, Sawyer was a senior research scholar in  Indiana University's Workshop in Political Theory and Policy Analysis, then directed by Nobel Laureate Lin Ostrom, and in the Department of Political Science. Sawyer subsequently returned to Liberia and currently works as a widely respected diplomatic leader in Africa.

Liberian Government Sign Amos Sawyer and David Zaret
Amos Sawyer and David Zaret at the launch of the IU initiative (funded by USAID) for rebuilding the University of Liberia's capacity to train health care workers.

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© 2013 David Zaret