At the Local Level, What’s a Nobel Peace Prize Worth?

Liberian President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf struggles toward re-election.

After a storm, Liberia is beautiful. The West African country founded by freed American slaves is better known for 14 years of civil war that introduced child soldiers into the global lexicon, and sent ripples of toxic violence throughout the region. The storm has passed. From the rooftop of the gorgeous-but-gutted Ducor Hotel, you can see the nation’s potential: ports and rubber and abundant human resources. On the simple roads outside the capital, Monrovia, abandoned stone houses host ambitious, climbing plants—a metaphor for post-conflict Liberia if ever there was one.

The people of Liberia head to the polls Tuesday to elect a new government. Their second vote since civil war might have passed into the obscurity of distant democracy if the incumbent president, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, hadn’t been awarded a Nobel Peace Prize last week. The citation, honoring her and two other female activists from Yemen and Liberia, gave confidence to advocates for a global feminism, particularly in the developing world. It also revived a debate about foreign intervention in a country struggling to normalize local institutions and exercise free choice.

The morning after the Nobel announcement, Monrovia’s city hall wore a hastily printed banner congratulating Sirleaf on her peace prize. Sirleaf’s opponent, George Weah, a famous former footballer and vice presidential candidate of the CDC party, quickly tamped down the hype. “She won it but I don't know for what,” he told reporters. Winston Tubman, who is leading the CDC ticket, went further: “She does not deserve it. She is a warmonger,” he said, adding that the Nobel committee made “a provocative intervention within our politics.”

In the west, Sirleaf is well known as a canny, Harvard-credentialed activist who represents female power in a region where it's often missing. She has long been welcome in Washington and at the Clinton Global Initiative, and a good deal of foreign investment in Liberia—from a Firestone tire plant to a mining project operated by Arcelor Mittal—can be traced to Sirleaf’s Rolodex. Her supporters believe this is great news for Liberia. “She’s been at the World Bank. This isn’t even a big job for her,” said Tulay Hansford, a 31-year old working on HIV awareness. “The world is dollar-driven, and she can play in that world … we are grateful for it.”

Elsewhere, Sirleaf’s reputation as a member of the global elite hurts her; few Liberians have heard of Davos. While some residents welcomed a positive story from Liberia, one Monrovian, who does not support Sirleaf, questioned whether the Nobel Prize committee had ever visited his country. “We talk about peace and reconciliation and it’s not here,” says Gayflor Mulba, a part-time student supporting the CDC. “She has failed to reconcile the Liberian people.” Another detractor chimed in, “No one with blood on their hands should control this country,” referring to Sirleaf’s admission of funding violent efforts to oust former dictator Charles Taylor. He called Sirleaf a rebel fighter “just like myself.”

The difference between international reverence and local skepticism can be jarring, but is just the beginning. This election, widely supposed to be headed for a runoff, will have resonance far beyond Liberia. First, it’s a test for female empowerment. The women of Liberia were essential to electing Sirleaf the first female president on the continent. Any crossover to the opposition party could be bad news for Sirleaf and other women running for office.

Second, it’s a rare change election in Africa. Recent analysis from The Economist showed just a trickle of successful transitions between parties in the region. The Mo Ibrahim foundation today announced its prize for good governance in Africa—which hasn’t been awarded since 2008. The world will be watching to see if Liberia can handle democracy more gracefully than its peers.

And, most importantly, it’s a referendum on the relationship between democracy and real progress. The opposition CDC party is making a populist push for change based on the Reaganism: “Are you better off than you were six years ago?” The answer is ambiguous. Residents credit Sirleaf for maintaining stability and improving security after endless war, but still suffer obscene shortages in clean water, electricity, fuel and formal employment—80 percent of the population is officially jobless. A Nobel Prize doesn’t feed the people—and young Liberians like 24-year-old Ben Joseph expect tangibles. “So many of us don’t have jobs or money to go to school, or to survive,” he said. “I need the government to work.”

Among those who remember the chaos of war, stability is more important. Sirleaf and her running mate Joseph Boakai—known in all campaign literature as “Ellen and Joe”—have insisted they need more time. A slogan emblazoned on a placard on Harriet Tubman Avenue reads: “If the plane not e’en landed, don’t change the pilot.” Another highly popular slogan: “Monkey still working; let baboon wait small.” The classic ruling-party argument holds sway with the monkey’s supporters. “There is actually nobody to replace her and continue the things the government has done,” says Allison Foday, a 49-year-old French teacher in Monrovia. “She should finish what she started.”

Corruption is also a perennial concern in Liberia, which has some of the most porous public institutions on the continent. Though Sirleaf has made efforts to minimize graft, she is suffering from her own 2005 pledge to be a one-term president. In a country where decades of misrule ground down faith in institutions, Sirleaf’s 2011 “never mind” both offends and frightens voters. “I was here during Charles Taylor’s time,” says Wres, a 37-year-old who voted for the second-tier Liberty Party in the previous election. “We needed change then and he just wouldn’t go.”

It’s unlikely Sirleaf will cling to power if she loses the first-round vote on Tuesday. But the threat of illegitimacy hovers over her cause—and the Nobel intervention only exacerbates the belief that, somewhere, strings are being pulled. A disputed outcome could lead to a hobbled presidency, or worse, violence when the results are announced. “If the vote is free and fair, Ellen will not win,” said a female CDC supporter who declined to give her name. “If she wins, people are going to be angry.”

It’s a charming reality of Monrovia that the “business centers” which dot the city are so called not for their printing and faxing capabilities, but because they are sites of airing “business”—literal chat rooms that hum with political debate. On Saturday, a statistical shouting match erupted between one of many women backing Sirleaf and a man supporting Tubman. “It’s not Tubman you are supporting,” says the woman, slicing the air with her right hand. “If George Weah left the CDC tomorrow, all these men you see in the streets would follow George Weah.” The alleged turncoat vigorously disagreed.

If tempers stay this hot, expect a high turnout and a very close race. There is no formal electoral polling in country, and so the political temperature is measured in boots—or more likely, sandals—on the ground. On the day of Sirleaf’s Nobel win, thousands of CDC supporters packed the streets of Monrovia, chanting for Weah long into the night. On Sunday, it was Sirleaf’s turn. She addressed a throng that nearly filled the city’s 33,000-seat Samuel K. Doe stadium. Her long chain of supporters drummed through the city, undeterred by the evening storm but ready for the rain to cease.

Photos by Dayo Olopade

via Collection of the New-York Historical Society / Wikimedia Commons

Fredrick Douglass was born into slavery in 1818. At the age of 10 he was given to the Auld family.

As a child, he worked as a house slave and was able to learn to read and write, and he attempted to teach his fellow slaves the same skills.

At the age of 15, he was given to Thomas Auld, a cruel man who beat and starved his slaves and thwarted any opportunity for them to practice their faith or to learn to read or write.

Keep Reading Show less
via Thomas Ledia / Wikimedia Commons

On April 20, 1889 at the Braunau am Inn, in Upper Austria Salzburger located at Vorstadt 15, Alois and Klara Hitler brought a son into the world. They named him Adolph.

Little did they know he would grow up to be one of the greatest forces of evil the world has ever known.

The Hitlers moved out of the Braunau am Inn when Adolph was three, but the three-story butter-colored building still stands. It has been the subject of controversy for seven decades.

via Thomas Ledia / Wikimedia Commons

The building was a meeting place for Nazi loyalists in the 1930s and '40s. After World War II, the building has become an informal pilgrimage site for neo-Nazis and veterans to glorify the murderous dictator.

The building was a thorn in the side to local government and residents to say the least.

RELATED: He photographed Nazi atrocities and buried the negatives. The unearthed images are unforgettable.

For years it was owned by Gerlinde Pommer, a descendant of the original owners. The Austrian government made numerous attempts to purchase it from her, but to no avail. The building has served many purposes, a school, a library, and a makeshift museum.

In 1989, a stone from the building was inscribed with:

"For Peace, Freedom

and Democracy.

Never Again Fascism.

Millions of Dead Remind [us]."

via Jo Oh / Wikimedia Commons

For three decades it was home to an organization that offered support and integration assistance for disabled people. But in 2011, the organization vacated the property because Pommer refused to bring it up to code.

RELATED: 'High Castle' producers destroyed every swastika used on the show and the video is oh-so satisfying

In 2017, the fight between the government and Pommer ended with it seizing the property. Authorities said it would get a "thorough architectural remodeling is necessary to permanently prevent the recognition and the symbolism of the building."

Now, the government intends to turn it into a police station which will surely deter any neo-Nazis from hanging around the building.

Austria has strict anti-Nazi laws that aim to prohibit any potential Nazi revival. The laws state that anyone who denies, belittles, condones or tries to justify the Nazi genocide or other Nazi crimes against humanity shall be punished with imprisonment for one year up to ten years.

In Austria the anti-Nazi laws are so strict one can go to prison for making the Nazi hand salute or saying "Heil Hitler."

"The future use of the house by the police should send an unmistakable signal that the role of this building as a memorial to the Nazis has been permanently revoked," Austria's IInterior Minister, Wolfgang Peschorn said in a statement.

The house is set to be redesigned following an international architectural competition.

via Chela Horsdal / Twitter

Amazon's "The Man in the High Castle" debuted the first episode of its final season last week.

The show is loosely based on an alternative history novel by Philip K. Dick that postulates what would happen if Nazi Germany and the Empire of Japan controlled the United States after being victorious in World War II.

Keep Reading Show less
via Mike Mozart / Flickr

Chick-fil-A is the third-largest fast food chain in America, behind McDonald's and Starbucks, raking in over $10 billion a year.

But for years, the company has faced boycotts for supporting anti-LGBT charities, including the Salvation Army, the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, and the Paul Anderson Youth Home.

The Salvation Army faced criticism after a leader in the organization implied that gay people "deserve to die" and the company also came under fire after refusing to offer same-sex couples health insurance. But the organization swears it's evolving on such issues.

via Thomas Hawk / Flickr

The Fellowship of Christian Athletes explicitly announced it was anti gay marriage in a recent "Statement of Faith."

God instituted marriage between one man and one woman as the foundation of the family and the basic structure of human society. For this reason, we believe that marriage is exclusively the union of one man and one woman.

The Paul Anderson Youth Home teaches boys that homosexuality is wrong and that same-sex marriage is "rage against Jesus Christ and His values."

RELATED: The 1975's singer bravely kissed a man at a Dubai concert to protest anti-LGBT oppression

In 2012, Chick-fil-A's CEO, Dan Cathy, made anti same-sex marriage comments on a radio broadcast:

I think we are inviting God's judgment on our nation when we shake our fist at Him and say, "We know better than you as to what constitutes a marriage". I pray God's mercy on our generation that has such a prideful, arrogant attitude to think that we have the audacity to define what marriage is about.

But the chicken giant has now decided to change it's says its charitable donation strategy because it's bad for business...Not because being homophobic is wrong.

The company recently lost several bids to provide concessions in U.S. airports. A pop-up shop in England was told it would not be renewed after eight days following LGBTQ protests.

Chick-fil-A also has plans to expand to Boston, Massachusetts where its mayor, Thomas Menino, pledged to ban the restaurant from the city.

via Wikimedia Commons

"There's no question we know that, as we go into new markets, we need to be clear about who we are," Chick-fil-A President and Chief Operating Officer Tim Tassopoulos told Bisnow. "There are lots of articles and newscasts about Chick-fil-A, and we thought we needed to be clear about our message."

RELATED: Alan Turing will appear on the 50-pound note nearly 70 years after being persecuted for his sexuality

Instead, the Chick-fil-A Foundation plans to give $9 million to organizations that support education and fight homelessness. Which is commendable regardless of the company's troubled past.

"If Chick-Fil-A is serious about their pledge to stop holding hands with divisive anti-LGBTQ activists, then further transparency is needed regarding their deep ties to organizations like Focus on the Family, which exist purely to harm LGBTQ people and families," Drew Anderson, GLAAD's director of campaigns and rapid response, said in a statement.

Chick-fil-A's decision to back down from contributing to anti-LGBT charities shows the power that people have to fight back against companies by hitting them where it really hurts — the pocket book.

The question remains: If you previously avoided Chick-fil-A because it supported anti-LGBT organizations, is it now OK to eat there? Especially when Popeye's chicken sandwich is so good people will kill for it?


Oh, irony. You are having quite a day.

The Italian region of Veneto, which includes the city of Venice, is currently experiencing historic flooding. Venice Mayor Luigi Brugnaro has stated that the flooding is a direct result of climate change, with the tide measuring the highest level in 50 years. The city (which is actually a collection of 100 islands in a lagoon—hence its famous canal streets), is no stranger to regular flooding, but is currently on the brink of declaring a state of emergency as waters refuse to recede.

Keep Reading Show less
The Planet