Liberia Marathon Commemorates a Decade of Negative Peace
October 26, 2013
October 26, 2013
Despite a rainy forecast on August 25th over a thousand runners turned up in Monrovia for Liberia’s second organized marathon since the end of the civil war. The “Liberia Rising, Together” marathon is one in a series of events that have been held this year in commemoration of 10 years of peace in the West African country.
Among the runners was President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf. Flanked by members of her staff and close associates, Johnson-Sirleaf jogged a stretch of the course along Tubman Boulevard as a gesture of solidarity with marathon participants. “I am running in the spirit of celebrating this year of peace,” Johnson-Sirleaf said as she caught her breath to waive to passing runners. Alluding to the nexus between sports and development, the President added, “A healthy body means a healthy mind.”
The marathon also attracted international runners, including the winner of the men’s marathon, Nathan Naibei. A native Kenyan, Naibei completed the marathon in 2 hours and 33 minutes. “I’m happy, although this race was not as competitive as other marathons. The weather was also not that favorable to make a better time,” Naibei, who has won three other marathons, opined.
A race for all Liberians
Apart from the full marathon and a 10K alternative, a race for disabled persons was arranged for participants in wheelchairs and crutches.
Nursing blisters on his hands chafed from maneuvering his wheelchair to a fourth place finish, Alex Kerkula expressed deep satisfaction for having surpassed his sixth place finish in 2006, “I thank God, I’m happy.” For Kerkula, a sense of accomplishment is a rare feeling. As an aspiring Hipco (Liberian rap) musician, Kerkula spends most of his time hustling on the streets to save up money to record his songs. Among the songs he has released is “Equal – Don’t Hit Me, I’m a Human Being,” in which he raps about the challenges of being disabled in Liberia. “In Liberia, we suffer hard. Nobody helps us,” Kerkula laments.
Coming off a first place finish in the crutches race, a shy smile crosses Emmanuel Nyumah’s face as he imagines how proud his family will be when learning that his arduous two-week long training paid off. In the book-selling business, Nyumah plans to use the cash prize awarded to the winners to invest in more books.
Nyumah feels as though he has come a long way after that fateful evening of Christmas Eve 2004 that resulted in the amputation of his right leg below the knee. Nyumah was traveling overnight in a truck carrying fish on the notoriously pothole-ridden road connecting Monrovia to Gbarnga when the vehicle overturned. During the three months he spent at the JFK hospital, Nyumah recalls, “I felt like I had lost the whole world.”
Negative peace in Liberia
Recognizing that there are still many obstacles to overcome after Liberia’s gruesome 14-year civil war, the Minister of Youth and Sports, Eugene Nagbe, maintained that the marathon represents “a vote of confidence in the Liberian people.”
Echoing those sentiments, one 10K participant named Omaru stressed, “You need these types of events to make people know you are on the rightful path to peace.” In a country where most unemployment rate estimates hover between 80-85 percent, Omaru notes that, for the youth in particular, the race offers an opportunity to contribute to society in a positive manner.
For a brief moment, the marathon provided ordinary Liberians with a distraction from their daily struggle to survive. It was an opportunity to celebrate ten years of interrupted negative peace in the Galtungian sense. Johan Galtung is widely regarded as a driving force behind the development of an academic discipline for Peace and Conflict Studies. Among many notable theories attributed to him, Galtung made the distinction between positive and negative peace along with developing the concept of peacebuilding. Negative peace refers to an absence of large-scale violence, while positive peace goes beyond that definition to include provisions against structural violence which hinders, among other things, democratic processes and social mobility.
While the marathon infused many Liberians with a sense of accomplishment and confidence, most Liberians are still reeling from the legacy of the war and the reality that the benefits of development have been disproportionately felt in the country. The gap between rich and poor continues to be unacceptably wide and so is a source of much resentment. That a marathon was held in one of the poorest post-conflict countries in the world is a massive feat, but not necessarily a sign that the country is out of the woods quite yet.
Not unlike Nyumah, when he goes home Kerkula expects to receive accolades from his family. And tomorrow he will be back on the streets, hustling to get by.