Boredom On The Border Between Liberia And Guinea

Dec 10, 2014
Originally published on December 11, 2014 7:38 am

They're from the same ethnic group. They speak the same language. And they live on both sides of the Liberia-Guinea divide in the area around Liberia's eastern border city of Ganta, in Nimba County. The families straddle the border, which is not fenced.

"Right over there is the border," says businessman Prince Haward, directing our attention to some rubber farms not too far away. "Those are the rubber farms you find in Guinea."

Many families have relatives who live right across St. John's River, which separates the two countries, he says. They used to cross back and forth at the busy border post.

Then Ebola came, arriving in Liberia back in March when someone from Guinea entered the country. To curb the further spread of the virus, Liberian officials shut the border in July.

Haward, whose family has lived in the area for nearly a century, calls the government wise for closing the border to help protect Liberia — and Ganta. "Life comes first," he says, "before economic activities."

There has definitely been an economic impact. When the border post closed, says Haward, many people lost their jobs.

There's no activity whatsoever: no cars, no trucks, no commerce. And that means no government revenue and no income.

People are twiddling their fingers. Grasses are growing superhigh. There are absolutely no vehicles, no noise, nobody coming and going — nothing.

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Ebola crossed into Liberia through the country's border with Guinea back in March. A few months later, the Liberian government closed the border. Liberia is now making progress in its fight against Ebola, but people in the border areas are still feeling impact from the closure. NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton sent this report from Liberia's eastern city of Ganta.

OFEIBEA QUIST-ARCTON, BYLINE: In this area, you find the same people, the same ethnic groups and languages, and families straddle the border here in Liberia and over there in Guinea.

PRINCE HAWARD: Right over there is the border. Yeah, as you can see over there the rubber farms. You see across that - the rubber farms you find in Guinea.

QUIST-ARCTON: Local businessman Prince Haward; his family has lived in the Ganta area for nearly a century.

HAWARD: Ebola has no fence. And you have, you know, people who live around the river and have their relatives right across the river. Most likely they may cross over sometime because where there is no security, sometimes they crossover.

QUIST-ARCTON: Haward says this is Liberia's busiest border post, and when it was shut in July, it put many people out of work.

At the border checkpoint, a group of young men sits under a tall mango tree, endlessly playing cards. One of them is Prince Dolo. He says they used earn their living as money changers, but Ebola has changed all that.

PRINCE DOLO: The reason why I'm not happy is that I have nothing to do - the border is closed - and no means to live. So I think this disease stopped killing, hunger kill us.

QUIST-ARCTON: Prince Dolo says either way, Ebola will get you or hunger will. To date, half the deaths from Ebola in West Africa have been in Liberia, but the number of cases has dropped drastically in recent weeks with no new cases for over a month reported here in Ganta or the surrounding Nimba County. Yet, just down the road, a 50-bed Ebola treatment unit being built by the U.S. is nearing completion. Haward takes us to the bright yellow bridge that spans the border.

HAWARD: This metal divides Liberia and Guinea. Yeah. And as you can see because the border is not moving...

QUIST-ARCTON: It's dead.

HAWARD: It's completely dead, as you can see.

QUIST-ARCTON: We're standing at the edge of St. John's River, which separates Liberia from Guinea.

HAWARD: Right on the shoulder of the river, you see the crops growing down there - it's pepper. You know, that...

QUIST-ARCTON: Chili peppers?

HAWARD: Yeah, chili peppers that look coarse and green. And also on the other side, you see cassavas. These have been grown by the local people here.

QUIST-ARCTON: Can I step across?

HAWARD: Yeah, no problem.

QUIST-ARCTON: Here we go, just about to start crossing this metal bridge. I'm leaving Liberia. And here I am. I'm in Guinea. We can see a few security people, the map of Guinea, a gazebo painted green and absolutely no activity.

Haward says he thinks the government was wise to close the border to help protect Liberia and his hometown, Ganta.

HAWARD: I think life comes first before economic activities.

QUIST-ARCTON: People are twiddling their fingers. Grasses are growing super high - absolutely no vehicles, no noise, no coming and going, nothing. Ofeibea Quist-Arcton, NPR News, at the Liberia-Guinea border in Ganta, Nimba County. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.