Liberia 2008 Shape Files

I’ve had a few people ask for this data since the 2014 Ebola outbreak started, so I thought I’d make it public.

This file includes the county boundaries, political district boundaries (not electoral districts), roads, and populated places. This data is from the 2008 census.

This data was originally created by LISGIS and is in the public domain.

Liberia geo data 2008-LISGIS


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Don’t Censor Search

Just because I strongly disagree with the EU’s ruling on the “right to be forgotten.” If someone wants to be forgotten they should ask the organization hosting the content to remove it, not de-list it from a search engine. I also strongly believe the embarrassment is a poor reason to hide things that happened. We’ve all done embarrassing things and we’ve all had to own up to it. That’s life. Germany knows what I’m talking about.

Mario Costeja González news paper article

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A Panel Discussion on Media, Technology and International Development

Today I had the privilege of being a part of a panel that was discussing media, technology and international development. The event was put on by The University of Colorado Denver’s School of Public Affairs and organized by Ms. Susan Abbott, a Sr. Program Development Advisor at Internews. The other panelist were Steve Gutterman, President of Mobile Accord, Chris Spence, Chief Technology Officer for the National Democratic Institute, and Dr. Revi Sterling, Director of the ICT for Development Program at the
University of Colorado Boulder. It was a great group of people and I was excited to be a part of it.

We talked about the importance of using off the shelf software and hardware whenever possible. Dr. Sterling and Mr. Spence talked about their experience using custom made software and how they now prefer to use software that’s already been proven successful in developing or non-developing context. This is a topic that I agree with and is close to my heart. Mr Gutterman spoke about the need for better market research in developing markets and how both for profit and non-profits want to see overall increases in GDP and benefit from the same market analysis. I talked about my thoughts on keeping m-health sustainable and that I believe the trend will move from large databases, to better searching and indexing of the data that’s already out there.

It was really exciting to see such an activity in Denver. I hope more such events happen.

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Liberia – May 2012 update

I was back in Liberia in May of this year for a short visit. Below are my thoughts and observations

ACE Cable

What trip to Liberia would be complete with out talking about the ACE Cable. Since my last trip to Liberia in October of 2011, the ACE cable had landed on Liberia’s shores and is now housed in their terminal station. Dan Brewer, the ACE Project Manager in Liberia, was kind enough to show me around and give me a tour.

I have to admit that I’ve been rather skeptical of the ACE cable process. Things in Liberia usually take longer than expected and don’t always work out as one would hope, so I was especially excited to see the actual cable, pictured above, sitting in a modern, air condition building full of routers, servers, and cabling. All of this is powered by two generators, that can be switched over in case one should fail. Mr. Brewer said that they are hoping to connect to the Liberian Electric Company soon and only use the generators in backup situations.

According to Mr. Brewer, pictured on the left, the Network Operations Center (NOC) has the capacity to handle 20 Gigabits of capacity and that this number could be upgraded to 60 gbps by adding additional hardware. The fiber optic ring that will deliver this new bandwidth across Liberia is also under construction. The ring will provide fiber optic connections to major ministries of the Liberian government and also major ISPs and GSM service providers. Further expansions up country are also planned, but as of yet do not have well defined time lines.

At the moment the cable is planned to be activated in the 4th quarter of 2012. Then it will be up to the members of the Cable Consortium of Liberia(GoL, Libtelco, Lonestar/MTN Liberia, and Cellcom), along with the Liberian Telecommunications Authority to decide on how the bandwidth will be shared, priced, and distributed. I hope all this is done quickly and results in more bandwidth, cheaper pricing, and wider availability of internet and telecommunications services to Liberia’s citizens.

iLab Liberia

I also checked in on iLab Liberia, the computer lab I had the privilege of helping to start. This was the first time since starting iLab that I had been in Liberia with out a major project or event happening. The last time I was in Liberia, I was there for the elections, and the time before that I was there to work with Google and iLab to put on a workshop about how technology could be used to support the electoral process. This time I was able to observe iLab’s day to day operations with out the bias of major events. It was very exciting. I was impressed with the busyness of the lab and the enthusiasm of it’s users.

Our two trainers, Carter Draper and Luther Jeke were busy running classes on various topics to help increase ICT capacity in Liberia. From the basics of Ubuntu and Linux, to creating your own website, these classes were always well attended. They even have to turn away people, and put them on wait lists for some classes.

iLab holds “co-working” hours when anyone can come and use iLab. These hours run Tuesday-Thursday, 12:00pm to 3:00pm each week. It was interesting to see who was using this space and for what purposes. There was a group of expat doctors that work at JFK Hospital, Liberia’s best hospital, who used iLab to communicate with colleagues in the US. When coming back for a visit from the US it’s always nice to be reminded how something as simple as reliable internet and electricity can have such a large impact in a place like Liberia where these two things are hard to track down.

iLab has also recently hired two new staff members, Joy Kazadi, as our Communications Manager, and, Sheku Daboh, as our Office Manager. These two individuals were doing a lot to help us stream line our operations, allowing us to better focus on building capacity and providing the kind of space that encourages the leveraging of and innovations in ICT. All in all, pretty cool and something I’m proud to be a part of.


I’m sorry to say that the surfing just was not very hot this go around. I was able to get one trip in to Robertsport and the surf was OK, but nothing to write home about. It was rather small for rainy season. While in Monrovia the surf was generally blown and rainy, which is consistent with rainy season. However, the sand bars at my favorite Monrovia location, Kendeja, seemed to have shifted around and provided for little more than reliable close-outs.



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Flash 11 on Ubuntu 11.10 64bit


So after the last update to my Ubuntu install Flash stopped working on all my browsers. Which means no Pandora. Which is a no go. After Googling around I couldn’t find any fixes. However, the comments in the Ubuntu Software Center were really helpful. Someone recommended Flash-Aid ( which is a Firefox plugin that automates Flash installation. I ran it on Firefox and then Pandora worked on both Firefox and Chrome. So two thumbs up for Flash-Aid.

Hope this eliminates any Flash induced headaches you might have.


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Ushahidi Trusted Developer

Today I found out that I have the honor of being a Ushahidi Trusted Developer. Ushahidi put out a blog post announcing that I have been their latest developer to achieve such notoriety. The work I have done in both building plugins for Ushahidi, and improving the platform itself allowed me to receive this distincing.

I’m very excited, and honored to be recognized in this way. I’d also like to take this to time to say, “If you need Ushahidi work, give me a call.”




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iLab in Balancing Act

iLab was featured in this weeks issue of Balancing Act as its top story. Check it out:

Balancing Act interviewed me last week asking about the work we do at iLab. It’s pretty exciting to be featured in publications that are so specific to ICTs in Africa.

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Lonestar Vs. Cellcom – Getting connected

I was in Liberia the first couple of weeks of October of this year, and while I was there I visited Lonestar and Cellcom to get a sense of their internet offers, both mobile and fixed wireless. I wanted to visit Comium and Libtelco, but didn’t have the time. Libtelco does have a better than average website for a Liberian celluar company and you can find their pricing here: The main point of this post is to update readers on what Liberia’s two biggest GSM companies are offering in terms of getting you on the internet.

Lonestar Cell:

Data Service on your phone:

Access Point Name: internetlcc
Everything else: leave blank
Length of Time Cost(USD) Limit(Mb) How to Enable
One Hour $0.99 No Limit N/A
One Day $4.99 No Limit Dail *353*1#
One Week $14.99 No Limit Dail *353*2#
One Month $49.99 No Limit Dail *353*3#

You can also dial *353*4# to check your data subscription status and *353*0# to terminate your subscription. Lonestar is also selling USB EDGE Modems for your computer for $40.00.

Fixed Wireless

Lonestar offers the following as part of their iConnect WiMax network, which is only available in Monrovia:

Bandwidth (kbps) Cost per Month
128 $129.00
256 $249.00
512 $449.00
1024 $949.00

Note that it’s not specified how the bandwidth is split upstream/downstream.

Lonestar sells the following devices that you would have to buy to use the iConnect service:

  • USB Dongle – $99.00
  • Tower Max – A stationary receiver, as I recall it can operate at higher speeds than the USB dongle – $159.00
  • WiFi Max – Same as Tower Max but with a built in WiFi access point – $199.00

All of this information was gathered from handouts and fliers at the Lonestar office and talking with Lonestar staff.

Also of note, Lonestar has Liberia’s first mobile money system. Check it out here: For more on Mobile Money you can read a blog post from one of my Liberian colleagues. I also asked Lonestar for a list of the places they had cell towers. I thought this was a reasonable request. Like what if you’re stuck on the road from Fishtown to Harper and need to know which direction to walk in to get a signal. At first they thought I wanted lat,lon coordinates and they acted like this was a big deal, such information seemed super sensitive to them, as though with this knowledge I could bring down their network. Which all seemed rather silly to me. They said they’d send me a list of the towns the towers were in, but never did. I found this on their website which, more or less, answered my question: According to that page they have 77 villages and cities covered, cover approximately 82% of the Liberian population. They’re list of villages/cities covered is: Careysburg, Brewerville, Kakata, Harbel, Salala, Weala, Gbarnga, Suacoco, Gbatala, Totota, Palala, Bong Mines, Botota, Gold Camp, Ganta, Bahn, Kample, Kissipli, Kpen, Yekepa, Zuwuloo, Sanniquellie, Saclopea, Loguatuo, Tappita, Zwedru, Buchanan and Buchanan LAC, Voinjama, Foyah, Zorzor, Kolahun, Greenville, Yenwhen, Tubmanburg, Robertsport, Medina, Gbah, Sinje, Bo Water Side, Lofa Bridge, Sinoe, Harper, Pleebo, Zweinta, Karweaken Salaye, Vahun, Cesstos, Pleebo, Harper, Fish Town. You might have noticed that they only list 55 places here, and some of them are kind of the same, like listing “Sinoe” and “Greenville”, so I can only assume that this list is not comprehensive of all 77 locations they have.


Data Service on your phone:

Access Point Name:
Everything else: leave blank
Length of Time Cost(USD) Limit(Mb) How to Enable
One Day $6.00 100 Dail *4777#
One Week $20.00 250 Dail *4777#
One Month $60.00 1000 Dail *4777#

When I was at Cellcom they were running a deal where you would get a EDGE USB modem, that the flier said, “3G+ ready”, presumably indicating the modem could handle 3G if the network were also 3G, and one months worth of data for $49.00. The flier also said you get a “20% discount on all data packages”, so that’s nice.

I know the limits Cellcom enforces have caused problems for my friends who use the USB Modems for internet on their computers, but if you’re just checking email on your phone, maybe looking at a map or two, and looking at basic, websites, you should be able to stay under them.

Fixed Wireless

Cellcom offers the following as part of their fixed wireless network, which is only available in Monrovia:

Bandwidth (kbps) Cost per Month
128 $170.00
256 $330.00
512 $720.00

Just like Lonestar, Cellcom does not specified how the bandwidth is split upstream/downstream.

Cellcom charges $390.00 to setup and install their fixed wireless service at your location.

All of this information was gathered from handouts and fliers at the Cellcom office and talking with Cellcom staff.

I also asked Cellcom staff for a list of the places they had cell towers, and they reacted just like Lonestar, first acting like that was a major security breach and then promising to send me something and never doing it. I looked over their website for a listing of places covered and couldn’t find anything.

Things to Keep in Mind

With lower costs and no usage limits it would seem that Lonestar is the clear winner here. However, as anyone who’s lived in Liberia knows, the real issue is reliability. How many hours and days of the month will your service be down, how often will it be so slow that it’s unusable? On this trip I didn’t have time to perform any tests to determine these factors.




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2011 Liberian Elections Data

I had the privilege of working with the Ushahidi Liberia team as they helped elections related organizations map and organize their data. As a result of all of this I was able to collect a fair number of elections related data sets. I decided to post them here should anyone want to find them.

KML files for each of the 15 counties
KML of the administrative districts
Polling station locations, KML format
Polling station locations, CSV format
NEC October 11th presidential vote counts per precinct, KML format
Mined from NEC Website by Thomas Smyth
NEC October 11th presidential vote counts per precinct, CSV format
Mined from NEC Website by Thomas Smyth
NEC October 11th Senate vote counts per precinct, CSV format
Mined from NEC Websiteby Thomas Smyth
NEC October 11th House of Representatives vote counts per precinct, CSV format
Mined from NEC Website by Thomas Smyth
NEC November 10th Presidential Run-off vote counts per precinct, CSV format
Mined from NEC Website by Thomas Smyth
Posted in ICT, Liberia, Liberian Elections | 1 Comment

Liberian 2011 Elections

October 11th, 2011, the day of general elections in Liberia, is drawing to a close here in Monrovia and there really isn’t too much to say. The day has passed by peaceably without any major disturbances. There were long lines at most polling stations, but voters waited patiently and I haven’t heard of a polling station that had to stay open later than 6pm. I was able to visit some polling stations and I took the photo above of the people waiting in line, after getting their permission of course.

The Ushahidi Liberia team was all decked out in their election observer garb. I appreciated the one-size-fits-all size of a Liberian polo shirt actually fits me. However, after wearing it straight for 14 hours I wish it was made of cotton and not polyester. Though really I have nothing to complain about.

Today iLab Liberia played host to the Election Coordinating Committees (ECC) data entry clerks. The ECC has 2000 election observers spread through out the country and they’re calling the  data entry clerks who are then typing the data into a Google Form. It started off pretty slow, since there just wasn’t that much to report about, but right now everyone is filing their end of day reports as the counting at polling stations finishes up, so the phone lines are pretty busy. iLab was also visited by a smattering of journalist, election observers, and NGO workers.

Earlier tonight I went to see the votes being counted. It was as tedious and intense as it sounds. By no means was it fast, but I was very impressed with how deliberate, transparent, serious, and seemingly accurate the counting was. One by one each ballot was read, held up for all to see, and then place in the stack for the voted for candidate. Then the stacks were counted. At one polling station the observers demanded the polling staff recount the votes, which took a while. From what I saw at the polling station I was at, which in no way, shape, or form constitues a significantly significant sampling, CDC and UP were neck and neck.

After watching them count the ballots my colleagues and I headed over to the National Elections Commission for their end of day press conference. They pretty much said everything I said at the beginning of this blog post. Things went well, they thanked the donors and organizations that assisted them and then took questions from the reporters. I thought it was pretty cool to get to be a part of all of this. I was really impressed with the NEC’s swank press briefing room. Cold AC, flat screen TVs and lots of chairs, what else would you need?

Finally, I’ll end with this picture of the Liberian sun set from our balcony. Such a beautiful place.

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