Proofing a story of the Liberian President’s financial web of intrigue, Alfred Sirleaf reads the news he has painstakingly printed letter by letter in chalk on message boards of the Daily Talk kiosk at 24th and Tubman in Sinkor. Sirleaf often writes in the Liberianization style, as he calls the Liberian-english spoken and understood throughout the country. “This is the language of the people coming to read my news, and they like to read this way” Sirleaf contends. He points to examples, such as President Weah’s comment “Da what thing I mor do nah? to mean “What do you expect me to do now?” The newspapers, still abundant on the streets of Liberia’s capitol, Monrovia, have mostly switched to western english, partly to appeal to international readers, and partly to report on world news.
The boards are composed inside the Daily News kiosk, a small 4 foot by six foot space, as there would be too much interruption, distraction and impatience from people in the street were the boards to be printed out directly under the public eye. Five boards unfold to present the news. Two pairs of hinged “ears” fold over a main panel, all of which are double-sided, one side facing the street, and the back side holding yesterday’s news to be washed in preparation for next weeks stories. When the news is ready to be unveiled, Sirleaf rotates the five-board set on a central hinge-pin, presenting the newest stories out to the public while at the same time returning yesterday’s display to face the kiosk interior.
It is Sirleaf’s creation, and has evolved over the years, starting out in year 2000 as a simple chalkboard on legs facing a busy street corner. The evolution of Daily Talk is as much Sirleaf’s progress toward the future as it is the reaction of a government at a time when newspapers were owned and run by various bossmen and factions operating during Liberia’s second civil war. His first newsboard was destroyed soon after it appeared by government security forces claiming charges of inciting the public and traffic congestion. “There was a bit of tension”, Sirleaf remembers.
The second structure was more elaborate, constructed in 2002 at its present location fronting the busy intersection of 24th Street and Tubman Boulevard, an upscale neighborhood in Monrovia. Sirleaf’s idea to present truth in reporting, the negative as well as positive aspect of Liberian life, didn’t sit well with the Charles Taylor presidency, and soon Sirleaf had another encounter with Taylor security forces who, according to Sirleaf, “were not friendly in their approach”. “I know the anger in their faces”, he recalled, as he watched the destruction of his second public news station. In September of 2002, Sirleaf was arrested and spent a week behind bars at nearby Airfield Police Station. His absence rallied publishers and reporters throughout Monrovia, who tracked down his plight and pushed for his release. He was given the choice: no more publishing, or only publish praise for President Taylor.
The third version of Daily Talk opened in 2003 with the headline “Daily Talk Not Chased Out of Charles Taylor Empire, Only Technical Adjustment Was Done.” This adjustment was the adoption of Liberianization of the written word, understood and appreciated by persons on the street. Sirleaf’s idea that he could structure the truth in Liberian english that would appear masked and ultimately unprovable to western english definitions bought him little time, and he remembers the warning “little man, your head is high”. Sirleaf soon realized “the deal collapse” and he fled Liberia for Ghana after Charles Taylor’s security forces came looking for him, including threats against his family and friends.
Charles Taylor’s reign ended in August, 2003 with his resignation from the presidency, leading to an end of the civil war. Sirleaf returned to Monrovia shortly before elections in 2005 and rebuilt the Daily Talk in the design it is today.