December 2008 saw International Alert, in partnership with the Government of Liberia, host the largest peace and cultural festival held yet in the West African republic of Liberia. Taking place on a large football field in the centre of the capital Monrovia, and attended by between 30–40,000 people on both days, this was the fourth consecutive festival that Alert has organised in Liberia since the end of the civil war only six years ago.
A hallmark of the conflict in Liberia was the use of cultural differences that exist between different communities as a means of dividing them. Our work, represented in part by this festival, is aimed at enabling Liberians to celebrate their cultural diversity as the unifying strength that it can and should be.
While previous festivals, which have taken place throughout the country, were focussed on different regions, this festival was celebrated on a national and even international level. Joining the President of Liberia Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf in attending the festival were Ministers and Ambassadors from the neighbouring states of Sierra Leone, Guinea and Ivory Coast. Cultural performances also reflected this dimension with performers from each of the 15 counties of Liberia being joined by troupes from neighbouring states, which together form the Mano River Union (MRU).
The interest in celebrating the cultural heritage of Liberia and MRU states was evident not only from the high attendance at the event, but the extensive press coverage it attracted.
The challenge for Alert, and our partners with whom we work, is to use the momentum created by the festival to build further pride and understanding between communities.
Photo: Jonathan Banks