Liberia's story is truly one of the real tragedies of our times, and the Liberians need aid as much as anyone on the planet.
The NYT ran a piece yesterday, "Seeing the Forest for the Peace", which explores the idea of "trading" Liberians extended peacekeeping and nationbuilding assistance for commitments to preserve rainforest:
"It would be a sort of Peace for Nature swap, based on the Debt for Nature model in which third world countries receive debt relief for conserving their natural heritage. Under Peace for Nature, Liberia would convert a significant part of itself into a United Nations biosphere reserve, zoned for both strict preservation and multiple use.
"In return, the world would commit to a sustainable, lasting Liberian peace instead of the usual Band-Aid approach. This means a full 20 years, long enough to establish a habit of peace and to educate a new Liberian generation. We would ensure security through the United Nations, meanwhile training Liberians to do the job themselves, including retooling former fighters as park guards. We would also help bring electricity and piped water to their capital, Monrovia, and a few interior towns. Liberia's potential for ecotourism and certified timber production will be fulfilled over time, as its image transforms from red (blood diamonds) to green (rain forests)."
Given both the humanitarian imperative and the self-interest we have in intervening in failed states, I'm not sure this idea passes muster.
Still, when I read reports like Tim Butcher's Re-charting the Mighty Congo, I think we may need every tool we can get our hands on:
"United Nations peacekeepers and aid workers do not venture into these parts, the stronghold of black magic-using Mai Mai rebels and murderous Interahamwe fugitives from Rwanda. So I was petrified when I left the lake on a small motorbike, picking my way along 18in (45cm) wide tracks.
"I passed a village where a skull and other human bones lay thick on the ground... the result of some forgotten, bloody skirmish. I biked through burnt-down, abandoned villages and caught the occasional glimpse of people in rags who ran away, terrified of outsiders. In 600 miles I saw not one other working motorised vehicle. I met village elders who told me VW beetles used to pass regularly in the 60s but now their own teenage children had never seen a car.
"This is a part of the world in regression. The hands of the Congolese clock are not just standing still, they are spinning backwards."
This is colonialism and paternalism of the usual kind. How obscene. Next, please.