In late October 2015, tension began seeping into Monrovia, Liberia’s capital. One day, while passing through Congo Town, a relatively well-off neighborhood, I noticed crowds gathering as heavily armored members of the National Police Emergency Response Unit followed a woman. She was a whirlwind of activity, pointing, yelling, and directing crews wielding sledgehammers and crowbars through an informal marketplace. Mary Broh was at it again.
President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf had been planning another clean-up campaign in Monrovia, but it was not until a November 11th cabinet meeting that the formation of a ‘Special City Beautification Taskforce’ was announced, led by Mary Broh, a former mayor of Monrovia. It was scheduled to be active over the next month. Broh, a woman proud of having been nicknamed ‘Hurricane Mary,’ didn’t feel like waiting, though, and started her campaign on October 28th in the most high-profile place possible: Broad Street, the main avenue of downtown Monrovia.
Broh and her team smashed the tables and boxes of street vendors and money changers. Many vendors complained that they had paid the equivalent of $65 to the government to set up shop on the sidewalks, and now Broh was destroying their livelihoods. The fees were no small change, as most Liberians live on only $1 per day. The taskforce continued to sweep through neighborhoods before it was officially announced, leaving residents scrambling to try to determine which structures might be demolished. Broh told reporters she and her team would move through Monrovia “like a hurricane, sweeping and cleaning up all and everything that looks like debris.”