Liberia: Amputee All Stars as Tool for Reintegration

Image by Andre Lambertson. Liberia, 2007.

Mabel takes my hand as we march into the Antoinette Tubman Stadium in downtown Monrovia to watch the championship game between the Amputee All Stars and the reigning champs, The Mighty Conquerors. Charles is the assistant coach of The Mighty Conquerors and as we head into watch the game he proudly hands me a team t-shirt.

It's the first awards ceremony for the Amputee Football Federation's league and everyone's on the edge of their seats.

Just before half time the Amputee All Stars score against Charles' team, sending the coach into a torrent of curses and finger pointing. In the background a song plays loudly on the speakers and Mabel sings along, "The war is over. Everybody just praise God." Back in the stands, the executive director of the National Commission on Disarmament, Demobilization, Rehabiliation and Reintegration, Reverend Jervis Witherspoon, watches as the Mighty Conquerors one-armed goalee misses the ball and the other team scores. "We need to get those guys off the street so they can play soccer," he says, half-jokingly.

Two days later in his office, Reverend Witherspoon explains that he disarmed all the ex-combatants and helped form the amputee soccer league because he sees sport as a tool for reintegration. The soccer players, he says, represent Liberia both at home and in games around the world. They receive trophys and medals for their hard work for the team. But at night they sleep on the streets, begging for money to buy a little food, even showing their soccer identification cards so people may pity them and give some extra cash.

The hypocrisy of holding up these young men, many of whom fought in the war, as symbols of Liberia and then allowing them to sleep on the streets is apparent. Part of the problem is that the DDRR program, which ended in 2003, did not have sufficinet funds to follow through with many of its promises. Tools and training that were promised, were never delivered. Reverend Witherspoon acknowledged that the young men who play on the soccer team, should be given a job, any job, to keep them off the streets. But he is not the President, and he does not have the power to make those decisions.

Now to make matters worse, the makeshift houses which many of the men have built on the beach are targeted for demolition in October by the Ministry of Public Works. Again, if Reverend Witherspoon was President, he'd like to find the people somewhere else to live before kicking them out of their houses. But that's easier said than done especially with limited resources.