Simon Akam

Why Liberians Are so Unimpressed by Their President’s Nobel Prize
October 11, 2011

Monrovia, Liberia—The sirens usually sound on Monrovia’s Tubman Boulevard in the early evening. In the Sinkor district of the Liberian capital SUVs belonging to NGOs, motorbikes, and local jalopies pull over to either side of the road to make way for the absurdly over-sized motorcade that follows. There are men with guns in pickups, cars and four-wheel drive vehicles, perhaps an ambulance, and U.N. personnel in bulky Nissan Patrols.

The Comeback
September 28, 2011

Monrovia, Liberia, September 9, 1990: Many Liberians once thought that President Samuel Doe was invulnerable, protected by powerful black magic. But, in the video, he is slumped on the floor, his hands tied behind his back, naked except for blood-stained underpants. A crowd of young men in fatigues surround him, some carrying machine guns, one holding a microphone in front of Doe’s face. As Doe cries, a fighter strokes his head gently and then grins at the man sitting behind a conference table in a black executive chair, underneath a picture of Jesus. This man is clearly in charge.

Left Behind
May 21, 2011

When I was an undergraduate at Oxford University my tutor—a deeply eccentric but profoundly decent man who claimed to both “loathe this century” and be surprised by the fact that he had lived to see it—had a map on his wall. The map showed the world. The continents were outlined in black on a white field. Shaded red were all of Britain’s former overseas possessions, from India to swathes of Africa to North America.

The Horror, Footnoted
May 10, 2011

Even while the fighting was ongoing in Sierra Leone, another battle was breaking out elsewhere: the war over the meaning of the war. Krijn Peters’s bo

Reporting, Risk, and Death
April 22, 2011

I met war photographer and filmmaker Tim Hetherington two years ago in New York. I was working at The New York Times and, one evening, went to the Umbrage Gallery in Brooklyn to the launch of a retrospective of Tim’s work from Liberia. Amid the pale walls and bottled beers, in the center of the room, a tall, dark-haired man held court in an understated manner. Later, I emailed Tim—explaining my own more modest photographic work—and asked to meet him for a drink. To my surprise, he accepted. After that evening in the Meatpacking District, we corresponded.

The Fate of a Nation
April 16, 2011

When Laurent Gbagbo was dragged out of his hole beneath the presidential residence in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, wearing a white vest and a bemused expression, it seemed on the surface a fitting end to his country’s miserable post-election stalemate. The recalcitrant strongman who would not step down was humbled, but not dead.

How the West Failed Ivory Coast
April 06, 2011

Freetown, Sierra Leone—Twelve days ago, I rode on the back of a motorbike through the forests of Grand Gedeh County in eastern Liberia to a remote crossing point on the border with Ivory Coast. On the Liberian side were jumpy Bangladeshi peacekeepers who stood close by local security forces wearing blue fatigues and coalscuttle helmets. On the Ivorian side were the rebels of the Republican Forces, who support Alassane Ouattara, the internationally recognized winner of Ivory Coast’s disputed presidential election last year.

The Rest of Munich
September 03, 2010

This is not a history of the Black September attack—indeed, that element is given oddly short shrift. Instead, they aim to tell the story of the prepa

Istanbul, Constantinople
May 20, 2010

Turkish residents point to the way these two places of worship – one Armenian Christian, the other Muslim – exist adjacent to each other as historical