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Liberia: Portrait of a Failed State [Hardcover]

John-Peter Pham


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Amazon.com: 4.0 out of 5 stars  14 reviews
22 of 24 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A needed assesment with some flaws 12 April 2004
By Seth J. Frantzman - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
This book is one of few that tells the complete history of Liberia, a state founded by America as a homeland for former slaves. Although only 3000 slaves immigrated and Americo-Liberians make up only 2.5% of the population of the country today nevertheless the state has been seen as unique in its origins. This book tries tot ell the tale of this `failed state' mostly by exploring the contemporary Doe/Taylor crises. Samuel Doe was the man who assassinated Tolbert's cabinet in 1980 and took power, becoming the countries first indigenous African leader. Charles Taylor was the Americo-Liberian who led a Libyan trained and Leone backed rebel offensive which took the capital in 1990. Liberia had been known as a safe, democratic country worthy of foreign investment, not resembling its neighbors which had a long history of corruption and coups. But today Liberia mirrors the rest of its neighbors and has descended into bloodshed. This book tries to explore the complicated topic of `why?'.
There are several fundamental flaws in this dry read. First and foremost is a total lack of maps or figures. The early history of Liberia was one of its relations with the tribes that occupied the land, the Grebu, Kru and others. This is a history that requires maps to explain. Besides the dearth of maps, there is also no reliable figures showing population, economic or political statistic breakdowns. These types of diagrams would have helped the reader understand the quickly glossed over history of this complicated nation. Nevertheless this remains one of the few studies of this interesting nation.
Seth J. Frantzman
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Lessons from a Tragedy 15 Mar 2004
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
The disturbing tragedy of Liberia's descent from a refuge for the freed slaves and other African-Americans from the Americas into a Reagan-backed cold war dictatorship, violent civil war, and the despotism of a warlord-turned-president (Charles Taylor) is an important lesson about the very real threat that so-called failed states present not only to their own citizens, but to the entire international community. Dr. Pham lucidly narrates this history, uplifting a depressing series of facts with his penetrating analysis. While the account is not easy, it is an eloquent call for reexamining not only U.S. foreign policy with respect to Liberia, but also our perceptions of contemporary African crises in general. If some good might come from the Liberian tragedy, it might be in the salutary lessons that this profound book invites us to learn from one of the twentieth century's forgotten tragedies.
12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Rare Understanding 15 Mar 2004
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
The author is not an African, but he has a rare understanding of Africa and Africans that permeates every page. If you're not an African - or maybe you're an African, but have not followed politics much -- you will understand the continent differently after reading this book. The author, a scholar and diplomat, recounts many of the sad, well-known stories of violence and horror. However, he distinguishes himself by arguing the need for Africans to stand up and take responsibility for the endemic problems of their homeland rather than forever waiting for others to bring them solutions. That insight, at once both respectful and provocative, is truly rare.
12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An Important Book 15 Mar 2004
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
As a Liberian journalist now living in the United States, I can testify that this book is thoroughly researched yet passionately argued. LIBERIA: PORTRAIT OF A FAILED STATE is one of the best books of its kind in recent years. Its author clearly knows and loves Africa -- and loves her enough to tell the truth, no matter how hard...This is a book that deserves to be read and pondered for the important lessons it elucidates for both U.S. foreign policy and African development theory.
13 of 15 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Provocative Book 19 April 2004
By Jonathan Weisman - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
True to form, Professor Pham - who was an influential opponent of the proposed U.S. role in military intervention in Liberia's civil war last year and a critic of this year's intervention in Haiti - paints a cautionary tale about the fallacy of believing that international force can bring lasting peace to persistent conflict regions. While his thesis - that 'each political community must accept responsibility for assuring its own viability' - will strike many as provocative, if not outright cold-hearted, it is this type of provocation that needs to be, at the very least, considered and debated openly in our public policy debates. While the author is clearly no peace activist (I suspect that his self-described adherence to 'national interest realism' might lead him to support the administration in more cases than many others) I cannot help but thinking that had someone proposed a similar argument about the Middle East, perhaps we would not be seeing American soldiers dying daily to do for Iraqis what they clearly are unwilling to do for themselves. Pham's book deserves a wide audience for it provocative thesis (introduced in the Introduction and articulated in the final chapter, "Liberia and the Lessons of a Failed State"), even if the exhaustive case study of West African country presented in the the intervening chapters may appear at first glance to be addressed to a rather limited circle of specialists.
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