Keeping the peace

Fellows Fall 2003

By Jessie Deeter

June 04, 2009

I went to Sierra Leone and Liberia in October and November of 2003 on a Pew international journalism fellowship, spending six weeks shooting a documentary film on what it means to be a U.N. peacekeeper. I began my trip in Sierra Leone, where the United Nations is currently in a slow withdrawal after a four-year presence as the largest peacekeeping mission in the world. Although the United Nations sent a mission into Sierra Leone in 1999, the country's decadelong civil war was not declared over until January 2002. Sierra Leone has been "calm and stable" for nearly two years now, but overall living conditions for most people still leave much to be desired, and some worry that the country might slide back into chaos when the United Nations pulls out in December 2004.

I went briefly to Liberia because it is impossible to separate the wars of Sierra Leone and Liberia since Liberia's leader, Charles Taylor, was a driving force behind the war in Sierra Leone, and the combatants flowed back and forth across the borders from one country to the other. While the United Nations is winding down its operations in Sierra Leone, the U.N. presence is ramping up in Liberia. The United Nations is waiting for its allotment of 15,000 troops to reach the country, expected some time this spring. The atmosphere in Liberia was charged and tense, and it has since become even more edgy, with riots in the capital and the postponement of disarmament until January. We were fortunate to ride with U.N. Force Commander Daniel Opande on a day of helicopter patrols—an effort to curtail renegade militia pillaging the provinces. Until he has enough manpower on the ground, Opande will be spending much of his time putting out fires like these.

My photographer, Rob Peterson, came for two weeks to help capture the story of Sierra Leone and Liberia, a vast narrative that these images only begin to tell.

Click here for a slide show of images from Sierra Leone and Liberia.