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 villages....as 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