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