Rory Carroll

West African nation is savouring a fragile peace and normality

They do not always work, and when they do motorists tend to ignore them. But for Liberia, the arrival of the first traffic lights in 16 years is reason to celebrate.

After almost two decades of war and anarchy, the West African nation is savouring a fragile peace and with it the promise of normality. The capital, Monrovia, may still resemble an apocalyptic ruin, but it does now boast the country's first working traffic lights, the BBC has reported. The lights, erected near the port, are supposed to impose some order on the chaotic traffic that has clogged streets since peace ushered in a boom in the use and ownership of cars.

Symbolic location

The location is symbolic: the port was a key battleground when rebels closed in on Monrovia in 2003 and forced the then warlord President, Charles Taylor, to flee into exile. With so many buildings destroyed and so few jobs for a youthful population born and reared into mayhem, the flashing green and red offers cautious but tangible evidence that normality may be returning to what was once a stable and relatively prosperous nation.

But there are regular electricity blackouts. And it does not help that many motorists are too young to know basic road rules, such as what the signals mean. Older drivers will need to unlearn war-time habits of speeding and weaving to dodge mortars. Traffic police hope that the lights will be extended to the rest of the city to make directing motorists less like herding cattle. The election of Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, who was inaugurated as President last week, has raised hopes that Liberia can utilise the goodwill of the U.S. and African governments to help rebuild.

The President, who was feted at this week's African Union summit in Sudan, has promised to restore electricity to Monrovia within six months. -

Guardian Newspapers Limited 2004