Wednesday, 12 December 2012

Why no one's going to Timbuctu these days

Tourism, the livelihood of hundreds of thousands of people in the West African country of Mali, has ground to a halt.    

Since the coup in March and the subsequent occupation of the north by al-Qaida linked militants Mali has virtually become a no-go zone for visitors.

The impact on the economy and people’s lives is profound.  Tamasin Ford reports from the historic city of Segou, 250kms north of the capital, Bamako.

To listen to this report, please click on this link to NPR's website 

Malians angry at delay in military intervention

There is growing anger among the people living in Mali over the loss of their nation's north to Islamist militants. The UN Security Council is expected to meet this week to discuss plans for a 3,300-strong regional force to enter Mali.

But it is unlikely any sort of military operation will happen in the near future.

(Photo credit: Harouna Traore/AP)

The West Africa nation was riven in two earlier this year after a military coup toppled the government and in the power vacuum that followed Islamist militants seized a Texas-sized swath of the nation's north. Tamasin Ford reports from the capital, Bamako.

To listen to this report, please click on this link to NPR's website

Mali civilians vow to take up arms against Islamist extremists

Sitting on the roof of his mud-walled compound on a hillside near Bamako, Amadou Maiga is dreaming of war. As the spokesman for the Gando Iso militia, Maiga says Malians cannot wait for international help to reclaim the north of his country from Islamist extremists. So they are preparing to take matters into their own hands.

"If we wait… we will give time for these terrorists to occupy the area because, according to the information, on the ground, more terrorists are coming," he said, from his home in Boulkassoumbugu, a suburb of the Malian capital.

The UN security council is expected to meet on Wednesday to discuss plans for a 3,300-strong regional Ecowas force to enter Mali, but it is unlikely any sort of military operation will begin before next September. Last week the UN secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, said military force may be required as a last resort, but stressed the importance of dialogue over war.

The militias are angry about the delay, and about the suggestion that Mali's government will offer the minority Tuareg separatists autonomy in exchange for joining the fight against al-Qaida-affiliated insurgents.

"There is nothing to negotiate with these criminals who killed people, who broke everything, who looted everything on the way," Maiga said.

To read the rest of this article, please click on this link to the Guardian's website

Sierra Leone's diamonds still a source of contention

Sierra Leone's "blood diamonds" helped fuel atrocities in the impoverished West African nation in the 1990s. The war has now been over for a decade, and the country's most valuable resource is no longer known as the product of a conflict. But it remains a contentious issue as Tamasin Ford reports from Kono in the eastern part of the country.

To listen to this report, please click on this link to NPR's website

Avoiding a 'wild west' logging sector in Liberia

In the 90s, the forests of Liberia became inexorably linked to arms, violence and bloodshed as civil war raged throughout this small west African state.

For nearly a decade President Charles Taylor used Liberia's 4m hectares of primary forest as a wartime piggy-bank. His trade of lucrative tropical wood for arms and cash helped fund a brutal civil conflict that left the country decimated and 250,000 dead.

Since the end of the conflict in 2003, a new government under the Nobel prize-winning President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has tried to break with the past and clean up Liberia's forests.

Instead of conflict timber, Liberia was to become the epitome of sustainable forestry. The entire forestry sector was overhauled with help from the international community, particularly the World Bank, the EU and the US. Millions of dollars were pumped into creating a sustainable and conflict-free timber industry.

Initial signs were good. Liberia was praised internationally for its efforts to create a strong framework that protected its virgin rainforest and the communities who should be benefiting from it.
Yet in the process something has gone badly wrong.
In recent months, it has emerged that Liberia's forests are being stripped by logging operators who now own more than a third of the country's entire landmass. Campaigning groups say that these companies are working through unregulated private contracts, operating outside Liberia's sustainable forestry laws amid reports of widespread fraud and misconduct.

The situation in Liberia is now threatening wider EU drives to create a more sustainable global forestry industry, with the fear that potentially illegal Liberian timber could be exported directly into EU markets.
The undermining of Liberia's efforts to create a sustainable forestry strategy starkly reveals the faultlines that still exist in the drive to regulate the global logging industry.

Despite its efforts to overhaul Liberia's dark past as a heartland for "conflict timber" and create a sustainable forestry sector that has learnt lessons from its bloody past, Liberia has created a "broken system that never got off the ground", according to Jonathan Gant, a policy adviser at campaigning group Global Witness.

So where did it all go wrong?

To read the rest of this article, please click on this link to the Guardian Sustainable Business website

Monday, 15 October 2012

Pirate fishing in West Africa

The Environmental Justice Foundation claims West Africa has the highest levels of illegal fishing in the world. During a two year investigation, the NGO say they found evidence of bribery and attacks on local fisherman. Journalist, Tamasin Ford, sent this report on the situation in Sierra Leone.

To listen to this report, please click on this link.

Pirate fisherman off Sierra Leone 'export to EU'

Amadou Kamara, the Master Fisherman of Sierra Leone, looks out from his porch as the fishermen bring in the morning's catch.

It has not been a fruitful night; some have nothing to offer the market today. "Illegal fishing affects our livelihoods," he says in his native Krio as people bustle and barter along the harbour below him.

The elderly man, clothed in a long country robe has been fishing the seas since 1942. He says he doesn't know his exact age, but with a smile declares he has seven wives and 47 children; fishing is their livelihood.

He sees what the illegal trawlers are doing to their community. "When they [trawlers] catch these small fish, instead of throwing them back into the water they just destroy them and put them in the water," he says.

Mr Kamara is worried about the trawlers "destroying the hatcheries" by coming too close to land and is calling on the government to "drive [away] these people who bring in badness from the neighbouring countries." To see this story, please click on this link to the BBC News Online website.

Saturday, 13 October 2012

Liberia slowly comes to terms with civil war's impact on mental health

Dakemue Kollie had to shout over the roar of his motorbike. "I am called the crazy people's friend," he said with a smile. "But I don't blame them. I accept the name and then try to change their minds." Kollie, 33, a mental health co-ordinator in Bong county in central Liberia, rides up to 200km a day along potholed, dusty roads visiting patients in rural areas. The majority are women affected by forms of what he calls anxiety or depression. "There were a lot of war[s] fought here," he said, looking out over the ruins of the anti-terrorist unit base, once home to the elite band of paramilitaries who, under the convicted former president Charles Taylor, committed acts of torture and murder. "Even though I was small I remember everything."

More than 250,000 people were killed during Liberia's 14 years of civil conflict and much of the country's infrastructure was completely destroyed, leaving a republic scarred by decades of violence and carnage. A 2008 study by members of the American Medical Association found 44% of adults displayed symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Dr Benjamin Harris, Liberia's only resident psychiatrist, said: "People tend to endure their suffering rather than seek professional help [because of the] lack of conceptual understanding of what PTSD is all about."

The Carter Centre, an organisation that runs a mental health project in Liberia, states that less than 1% of Liberians have access to appropriate mental health services; in developed countries it is closer to half. In a region still reeling from the effects of the war, mental health is low on a long list of priorities.

Kollie's desire to work in mental health was born of his own experiences during the war years. He was just 15 when his father, a cook at the county's hospital, was killed in a 1994 massacre by Taylor's rebels; he later watched both his sister and mother fall sick and die. "My mother, because of the only daughter she had, got depressed and worried on it until she died also," he said. "So from there I really decided to go into the health field."

To read the rest of this article, please follow this link to the Guardian website.

Monday, 1 October 2012

Liberia's failed logging promises

More than 60% of Liberia's virgin rainforest has been granted to logging companies since Nobel Prize winning President, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, came to power in 2006, according to a Global Witness report. It says the majority of these have been unregulated private contracts. Tamasin Ford reports from Liberia.

A mud road, churned into thick, gloopy soup from the heavy rains, sweeps through Henry Town in Gbarpolu county in the east of Liberia.

(Photo credit: Travis Lupik)

It is less than 150km (90 miles) from the capital, Monrovia, but without a single tar road in the county it can take up to 10 hours to reach here in the rainy season. Old cars and rickety trucks quickly get swallowed up by the metre-high sludge, requiring hours of lifting and digging before other vehicles can pass.

Morris Kamara and his wife, Old Lady, sit on the porch of their small shop in the centre of town. An array of brightly coloured plastic containers hangs from the tin roof. "This is my shop. As you can see I sell provisions, rubber dishes, mattresses and other things," he said proudly.

Mr Kamara went on to explain how the price of goods is expensive because of the bad roads, adding that this was one of the reasons they had wanted a logging company to operate in the region. "Logging will bring about some development. They will help to improve the road conditions... I think it's very important for logging to be going on here," he said.

The chiefdom of Korninga, where Henry Town is located, signed a social agreement with a logging company in 2009 which promised a road, a clinic, a school, land rent and even monthly salaries for the elderly. The agreements are part of the requirements for firms to be granted a Private Use Permit (PUP). PUPs, which now cover 40% of Liberia's best forests according to a report by the Global Witness campaign group, were designed to allow private landowners to cut trees on their property.

Activists say that instead they are being used by companies to avoid the new, stricter forest regulation brought in when Ellen Johnson Sirleaf came to power in 2006.

To read the rest of this article, please click on this link to the BBC's website.

Liberia to investigate logging of rainforests

Logging rights to more than 60 percent of Liberia's virgin rainforests have been granted to forestry companies since President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf came to power six years ago. A British advocacy group says the majority of those contracts are unregulated and warns of fraud and mismanagement. The government of Liberia says it is commissioning a full-scale investigation.

To listen to this report, please click on this link to NPR's website.

(Photo credit: Travis Lupik)

Krumping hits the dance floors in Liberia

Krumping, short for “Kingdom Radically Uplifted by Mighty Praise,” is a dance that started in churches in the Afro-American communities of Los Angeles. Now it's caught on in Liberia.

To listen to this report, please click on this link to DW's website.

For Liberian youth, a creative outlet in krumping

Krumping, a form of dance that began in California, has made its way to the West African nation of Liberia. The word KRUMP is an acronym for Kingdom Radically Uplifted by Mighty Praise. The form was founded in African-American churches around Los Angeles.

Dancers would imitate the shaking of people's bodies when they were possessed by the Holy Spirit. Liberia, a nation founded by freed slaves, often embraces new American traditions, and krumping is no exception.

Tamasin Ford went to visit a group of krumpers in Paynesville City on the outskirts of the capital, Monrovia.  To listen to this report, please click on this link to NPR's website.

Liberians reluctantly reactivate army

MONROVIA, Liberia — Liberia is embarking on its first large-scale army operation since the end of its civil war almost a decade ago, with troops being deployed to the border with Ivory Coast in a mission to root out militants that officials also hope will revamp the military's image at home.

Liberians are wary of any buildup of their armed forces because the West African country was riven by civil conflict from 1989 to 2003. Under President Charles Taylor, paramilitary troops dubbed the "Demon Forces" launched a campaign of killing and torture across the country.

A U.N.-backed tribunal at The Hague convicted Taylor this year of war crimes for his involvement in clashes in neighbouring Sierra Leone.

The U.S. stepped in to help build a new Liberian army after Africa's first female president, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, came to power in 2006, but unease about the fighters remains.

"People feel that most of the guys who did cause harm and atrocity in the war times are the same guys within this military," said Cpl. George S. Greene, one of the first of Liberia's newly trained army recruits. "All I can do now is to ensure them that this military is a new kind of military. We'll try to [change] their minds."
Unrest in Ivory Coast has forced the Liberian government to take military action.

A joint force made up of the army, police and immigration officials has been deployed for Operation Restore Hope, a mission to take control of dense forests that observers say are used by rebel Ivorian fighters as a base to launch attacks on the Ivorian army and civilians seen as loyal to Ivorian President Alassane Ouattara.

To read the rest of this article, please click on this link to the Washington Times website.

Tuesday, 28 August 2012

BBC's From Our Own Correspondent dispatch from Sierra Leone

Two religions, one God - and one devotee

Some people argue that the world today is living through 'a clash of civilisations' - between Islam and Christianity. You only have to tune into the news from time to time to see that there are people all over the world who believe these two religions to be utterly opposed. Look at the stories of inter-communal friction – and sometimes violence - between Christians and Muslims in Nigeria, Pakistan and Indonesia.

But in Sierra Leone, a country which has seen more than its fair share of war and devastation, Tamasin Ford has met some people who feel that not only are Islam and Christianity utterly compatible, they can even be seen as complementary. So: what is a "Chris-Mus" exactly, and what does he or she believe?

Thursday, 16 August 2012

Youths need a future - President of Liberia

The Nobel Peace Prize winner has received her fair share of criticism at home in the form of youth riots and allegations of conflict of interest.

Ellen Johnson Sirleaf sees her government's main task as providing an environment that allows the young population to prosper while ensuring that international investors engage with their host communities.

Q: With the recent discovery of oil in Liberia and your admission in the past that corruption at all levels is a problem, how can you ensure transparency when oil revenues will be in the hands of a state company?

A: Let's first of all be very clear about what's happening in the oil sector. There was a discovery, but it still has to be determined whether there are sufficient quantities commercially. By the time they start to drill oil, it will probably be at the end of my administration anyway. However, our responsibility is to ensure that we put in the right laws, the right policies so that the funds from oil will be used for the national interest. We are working – Sierra Leone and Liberia – with the Norwegians to see if we can benefit from some of their experiences, structures and systems. We are working with ASET \[International Oil & Gas Training Academy] and they've already started workshops. And let me say that we've also tackled corruption in almost the same way by adopting different laws, by putting in systems, by putting in structures, by building capacities, by improving compensation. So, today, even though corruption is a problem, it's been addressed and it's largely reduced. Punishment is the only area that we now need to work out with the judiciary.

Q: Already, there have been allegations that appointing your son, Robert Sirleaf, as chairman of the board of the National Oil Company of Liberia is a conflict of interest?

To read the rest of this interview please click on this link to The Africa Report website.

Wednesday, 15 August 2012

Living with HIV in Liberia

                                                                  Liberia has one of the lowest rates of HIV in Subsaharan Africa, a region more affected by HIV and AIDS than anywhere in the world.

Years of civil war through the 90s coupled with high circumcision rates among men reduced the spread of the virus in Liberia while it reached epidemic levels elsewhere.  However, high rates of sexual violence in the West African nation, according to UNAIDS, pose a threat to women.

Tamasin Ford reports from Monrovia, the capital of Liberia.

To listen to this radio package, please click on this link to the DW website.

Liberia's growing pains

President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf faces a fractious political environment and gaping infrastructure deficits as her government tries to attract foreign investors to boost employment.

In the past six years Liberia has seen unprecedented levels of transparency, democracy and press freedom. The small West African nation with a population of just over four million people and a pitted history of dictatorship and corrupt regimes brought Africa's first democratically elected female head of state, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, to the helm in 2006, after 14 years of a devastating civil war. Every facet of society, from infrastructure and human capacity to the rule of law, needed rebuilding. 'Ma Ellen,' as she is fondly called by some, had an enormous task ahead of her.

She has not always taken everyone with her. November 2011's tense and violent election, which ended with opposition candidate Winston Tubman boycotting the second round, hardly delivered a ringing endorsement. For Liberia to extricate itself firmly from the past, where the freed American slave elite who 'founded' the country skimmed riches for themselves and educated their children in the US, Sirleaf's government has to promote inclusion. There is a long way to go. Two peacebuilding projects, the National Palava Hut Programme and the Liberian Reconciliation Initiative headed by fellow Nobel laureate Leymah Gbowee, are yet to take off.

But despite the political differences, Liberia's economy continues to thrive. It was one of the fastest-growing economies in the world with a real gross domestic product (GDP) growth rate of 6.9% in 2011, the highest in West Africa after Ghana's. The national budget has quadrupled, and the country reached the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries initiative completion point in June 2010, ridding Liberia of most of its crippling $4.9bn in foreign debt. Economists expect the real GDP growth rate to climb to 9% in 2012. Vaanii Baker of the International Finance Corporation (IFC) says: "If you look at the resources that Ghana has, Liberia has everything Ghana has and even more."

To read the rest of this article, please click on this link to The Africa Report website.

Friday, 3 August 2012

Liberia's hasty forest sell-off risks more conflict

More than half of Liberia's forests have been granted to logging companies according to figures released to the Guardian from Global Witness – and all of the contracts have been issued during Ellen Johnson Sirleaf's government. "What we've seen over at least the past 18 months is an explosion of logging concessions," said Jonathan Gant, policy adviser at Global Witness.

More than 40% of the Upper Guinea rainforest is in Liberia. Rich, dense forest packed with rare and endangered species sprawls for hundreds of miles over the small coastal country. Sapo National Park, one of three protected areas in Liberia, contains more than 40 endangered species including the pygmy hippo, forest elephant, golden cat and western chimpanzee.

After 14 years of civil war, during which the country was stripped of roads, electricity, hospitals and schools, the revenue from logging concessions is crucial for rebuilding the country. But Global Witness has found evidence that huge swaths of land are being relinquished to logging companies without adherence to local regulations or laws. Most of this land is virgin rainforest.

Conflict timber became the main source of funding for the former president, Charles Taylor, during the war, after the UN imposed sanctions on importing Liberian diamonds in 2001. Despite this, Liberia still has an abundance of forest. Global Witness calculates that, since 2008, 2.4m hectares (5.9m acres) of the country's 4.4m hectares of forest have been granted to logging companies – around 55%.

Logging exports resumed in 2010, after a UN timber ban was lifted in 2006, and are expected to increase as dredging companies deepen the ports in Monrovia and Greenville in the south-east.

To read the rest of this article please click on this link to the Guardian's website.

Liberia's first large-scale military operation since the conflict

Liberia is launching its first large-scale military operation since the end of its brutal civil war. Liberia's army, which has been trained by the U.S. military over the last six years, is going after mercenaries and rebels who are using thick forest as cover from which to launch ambushes in neighboring Ivory Coast.

Tamasin Ford reports from the Liberian border.

To listen to this radio report please click on this link to go to the NPR website.

Liberia launches military operation

In Liberia, army, police, and immigration officials are involved in a major military operation in the dense forests along the border with Ivory Coast. Liberian mercenaries and Ivorian rebels have been using the area as a base to launch attacks on Ivorian Tamasin Ford

To listen this report please click on this link to go to the DW website

Illegal hunters turned protectors

Liberia is home to one of the world's most diverse rainforests. But its wildlife is in danger. Tamasin Ford reports from Sapo National Park where the government is turning to hunters to save the remaining flora and fauna.

To listen to this report please click on this link to the DW website

Wednesday, 30 May 2012

Domestic violence is biggest threat to west Africa's women, IRC says

(A 15-year-old girl seeking medical treatment waits at the Médecins sans Frontières (MSF) clinic in Monrovia after being raped. MSF in Liberia is encouraging get victims to come forward for treatment. Photograph: Glenna Gordon/AFP/Getty Images)

Husbands, not strangers or men with guns, are now the biggest threat to women in post-conflict west Africa, according to a report by the International Rescue Committee (IRC) released on Tuesday.

The IRC report, Let Me Not Die Before My Time: Domestic Violence in West Africa, based on data collected over 10 years by the IRC in Sierra Leone, Liberia and Ivory Coast, said domestic violence is the "most urgent, pervasive and significant protection issue for women in west Africa".

It calls on the international community to recognise domestic violence as a humanitarian issue and to increase funding significantly to address the problem, saying: "If the humanitarian community ignores what has been considered a 'private matter', it will fail to confront one of the most significant public health crises and primary obstacles to women's empowerment in post-war societies."

Sierra Leone passed a domestic violence act in 2007, establishing basic rights for women in the home and entitlements for survivors such as free medical care. Domestic violence is now punishable by a fine of up to 5m leones (£720) and up to two years in prison. But by the end of 2010, only one person had been prosecuted. Amnesty International's report on Sierra Leone last year said: "Women's lack of access to the police, exorbitant fees charged by medical officers and pressure to make out-of-court settlements all contributed to impunity and state inaction."

In Ivory Coast and Liberia, no such laws exist. In Liberia, Africa's first female president, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, amended the penal code to make rape illegal – previously only gang rape was a crime. In 2008, the government established a special court to try cases of sexual violence. But since it opened in 2009, only 18 cases of rape, resulting in 10 convictions, have been tried there.

In a small church on the outskirts of Monrovia, Liberia, an elderly lady from a women's group jumped to her feet. With a smile on her face, she cried out: "Women, O women!" – the start of the chant Liberian women use to unite each other. "Don't just sit down. Do something positive," the group replied with force.

To read the full article, please go to the Guardian's website

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

Taylor verdict absorbed by a region that can forget, but not forgive

Twenty-odd miles from Sierra Leone's seaside capital of Freetown, the tiny hamlet of Grafton lies off a rutted dirt track. In a clearing surrounded by a cluster of low, sand-coloured buildings, three old men idle their time away under the shade of a mango tree, watching goats and chickens wandering past. It's a sleepy rural scene – marred only by the fact all three are missing an arm or leg.

The men are a lingering reminder of the war that gripped this tiny nation of 5 million for over a decade, ending only in 2002. Sorie Sawanah, a former taxi driver, rarely speaks about the day he became one of the statistics of the brutal "Operation No Living Thing", when drug-crazed child soldiers rampaged through Freetown in 1999.

On the eve of Charles Taylor's conviction for "aiding and abetting" such attacks as he and his allies sought control of lucrative diamond fields, Sorie maintained his silence. "I don't want to recall them days," Sorie said, covering his face with a shaking hand.

Sorie's son Ibrahim had nightmares for years about the scene he witnessed cowering behind a bush. "A child soldier give my father 'short sleeves'. A boy 10 years of age carrying a long military knife. He say, I dey chop your arm, your arm go fly! Then he mark," Ibrahim mimes a machete tapping at his elbow, "one, two, three – cut arm final! But the arm no cut right, so he cut again."

"Today it is like we are free. I will sleep well, well today. All these years Taylor lived well, but I can never go to school because my father cannot earn money. Today we can forget, even if we never forgive," Ibrahim said.

Like many in the country ravaged by 10 years of war, money was too scarce to make the short trip to the Freetown-based Sierra Leone special court where several hundred had quietly cheered the downfall of Taylor. Instead, Ibrahim received the news from a friend in the capital, and in turn set about passing the news by text message.

To read the full article, please go to the Guardian website.

In his own country, Charles Taylor still has support

The guilty verdict against former Liberian President Charles Taylor, who was convicted of aiding and abetting war crimes in Sierra Leone this week, is sinking in across West Africa. The historic judgment of the first African president to be prosecuted in an international court leaves Taylor facing a lengthy sentence in a British prison.

More than 50,000 people were killed during the 11-year conflict, and thousands more were left with brutal amputations — the macabre signature of the Revolutionary United Front rebel group. There were scenes of jubilation in Freetown, the capital of Sierra Leone, but the reaction was very different in neighboring Liberia.

Before the verdict was announced, crowds bustled and debated on the streets in downtown Monrovia, Liberia's capital. There was a strong — maybe somewhat naïve — expectation Taylor would be coming back to his homeland.

People cheered and clapped as they saw him appear on television. The man who was president from 1997 to 2003 still commands a lot of support and even adoration here. But as the verdict finally came down, the mood shifted.  To listen to Tamasin Ford's radio report on NPR, please click on this link.

Charles Taylor verdict spurs anger from Liberians

In an historic judgment, the UN-backed court at The Hague found Liberia's former president, Charles Taylor, guilty of war crimes. He was convicted of abetting murder, rape, and the forced enlistment of child soldiers during Sierra Leone's civil war. To hear Tell Me More's Michel Martin talk about reactions in Liberia and Sierra Leone with journalist Tamasin Ford, please click on this link.

Charles Taylor's ex-wife: 'He's not responsible for Sierra Leone war crimes' - video

After a five-year prosecution, the international criminal court reaches a verdict this week in the trial of former Liberian president Charles Taylor, who is accused of war crimes in neighbouring Sierra Leone. Jewel Taylor, his former wife, now a Liberian state senator, says the peoples of Sierra Leone and Liberia need to move on from their pasts.  To watch this video, please go to the Guardian website.

Charles Taylor verdict: 'He should taste the bitterness of the law'

The start of the rainy season in Freetown doesn't dampen the vibrancy of the city. Blue, pink and green houses line its narrow winding roads. Street sellers wrapped in brightly printed cloth swarm through the neverending traffic. People are trying to move on from the horrors of Sierra Leone's civil war. Some can even forgive, but very few can forget, the death and devastation of one of the most brutal conflicts in Africa.

"I wasn't a beggar before. Now I have come to be a beggar. Just to get food for my children, to send them to school," says Kadiatu Fofana, who lives with a constant reminder of the atrocities committed in the war. She sits outside her concrete shack in a wheelchair, having lost both her legs after an attack by the notorious Revolutionary United Front (RUF) rebels.

They came to her village in 1999. As she ran, they started hacking at her legs with machetes. Both legs had to be amputated in hospital.

Between 1991 and 2002, at least 50,000 people were killed across the country, thousands more were mutilated and 2 million displaced from their homes – close to half the population.

For many, there is one man they hold responsible – Charles Taylor, former president of neighbouring Liberia. The first African head of state to be tried in an international court, Taylor will on Thursday hear the verdict of the Special Court for Sierra Leone in his five-year trial on charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity, including murder, rape, sexual slavery and using child soldiers.

Edward Conteh, another of Sierra Leone's amputees who lost his left arm just below the elbow to an RUF axe, wants Taylor punished. "He should never be free to breathe the free air that we breathe again. He once told Sierra Leoneans that we are going to taste the bitterness of war, so Charles Taylor should taste the bitterness of the law."

To read more, please visit the Guardian website