Liberian wins top environment award

Huong Ly

BBC Newsday

A Liberian lawyer who challenged the destruction of the country’s tropical forests for palm oil plantation has won the prestigious Goldman Environmental Prize for Africa.

Alfred Brownell is being recognised for his campaigns to prevent more than 500,000 acres of forest from being cut down by Liberia’s biggest palm oil company, Golden Veroleum Liberia (GVL).

Together with local community leaders, Mr Brownell documented the destruction of forests and farmlands in the south-east by GVL.

‘’It’s the time now for big corporations, palm oil companies and investors to invest in communities, to protect them and to empower them’’, he told BBC’s Newsday radio programme.

As a result of his work, the global certification body, the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil, put a "stop work" order on GVL, freezing any expansion of the palm oil plantations and preventing any further forest clearance.

But it came at a huge cost for Mr Brownell. After facing violence and death threats, he was forced to flee Liberia and is now in exile in the US.

"The real winner of the prize are the communities and its leaders, who have been at the forefront of this struggle to protect the forests," Mr Brownell said.

Listen to the full interview here:

Liberian consumers fear end of cheap calls

Jonathan Paye-Layleh

BBC Africa, Monrovia

Woman on phone
Getty Images
People in Monrovia worry they won't be able to afford to use their phones

Consumers in Liberia say they fear they won’t be able to afford to make phone calls when a ban on a call promotion is brought in.

The country’s telecoms authority announced in February that they would bring in a ban on some promotions by the two main companies MTN and Cellcom.

The ban was expected to be implemented on Monday but so far it hasn’t been implemented.

The particular ban is on a promotion where you can pay one Liberian dollar (less than one US cent) for three days of unlimited calls.

The authorities brought in the ban to stop a price war which was blocking other telecoms companies from the Liberian market.

But consumers told Focus on Africa radio that they preferred the promotion.

It is now not clear when the ban will come into place.

Taxi operators arrested in Liberia after riot

Jonathan Paye-Layleh

BBC Africa, Monrovia

Police stand guard near the Supreme Court in Monrovia on November 3, 2017
Getty Images
Police were deployed from the capital to help quell the unrest (archive photo)

Around 100 people, most of them young motorcycle taxi operators, have been arrested following a violent protest on Monday in the central Liberian rubber-growing town of Weala, police spokesman Moses Carter has told the BBC.

The riot - which led to two police stations, a magistrate’s court and a vehicle being set alight - was over the suspected murder of a motorcyclist whose body was found in a nearby bush on 7 March, he said.

Police have so far not made any arrests over the death of the motorcyclist, but were searching for a man whose ID card was found near the spot where the body was discovered, Mr Carter added.

The angry motorcyclists made the town - which had only 25 police officers - “ungovernable”, he said.

The protesters barricaded roads with burning tyres, and there were also reports of looting.

Police reinforcements were sent from the capital, Monrovia, and those arrested have been brought to the city, Mr Carter said.

Weala is situated in Margibi County where the world’s largest rubber plantation, US-owned Firestone Rubber Company, is situated.

It is also located on the main highway leading to the borders with Guinea, Ivory Coast and Sierra Leone.

Under Liberian law, the authorities have 48 hours to charge and bring to court those arrested.

Liberian widow gets $500 after radio plea

Jonathan Paye-Layleh

BBC Africa, Monrovia

In Liberia, Sarah McCauley-Weah, a 63-year-old widow who has for a long time been trying get hold of her late husband’s $15-a-month pension, has received almost $500 (£384) from members of the public who heard of her plight after she phoned into a local radio station.

She told The Costa Show, a popular daily breakfast program on Monrovia's Roots FM, that she had been shuttling between government departments for months to try and get hold of the pension.

"I have been going up and down, up and down," she lamented.

Immediately, host Henry P Costa ordered the station's accountants to release some money to the caller. This kicked off what turned out to become a fundraiser and in no time, the show had raised close to $500 for Mrs McCauley-Weah.

"Ooh, I thank them [the donors] very much," she told the BBC.

"I thank God for them, for coming to my rescue and for even giving me food to eat."

Like current President George Weah (no relation), Mrs McCauley-Weah's late husband, Sylvester Weah, played for the national footballer team, The Lone Star, before moving on to work for the National Security Agency.

She said life has been difficult for her and the family since the death of her husband in 2009.

"I am going to use the money to buy bags of charcoal to sell wholesale and earn some money to try to build a little house," Mrs McCauley-Weah said.

George Weah aide makes Facebook gaffe

Jonathan Paye-Layleh

BBC Africa, Monrovia

An aide to Liberia’s President George Weah has deleted and apologised for photos he shared on social media of a road that he falsely claimed was being built in the country.

Government critics were quick to point out that the images were in fact taken in the Democtatic Republic of Congo and not Liberia’s Lofa County, as Sekou Kalasco Damaro had claimed.

Before the error was called out and he was forced to apologise for "mistakenly" sharing it, Mr Kalasco's Facebook post was widely shared, and attracted praise for the scale of the supposed infrastructure project. He said he was "deeply sorry" for the mistake:

I have corrected it, sorry for any inconvenience this may have caused you. Even renowned newspapers and tabloids sometimes mistakenly use the wrong images.

President Weah remains committed in building roads to the remotest part of our Country. Again, I am deeply sorry for the wrong picture.

We will provide the actual and verifiable pictorials of the ongoing road works in Lofa."

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Mr Kalasco told the BBC on Thursday that the photo had been sent to him by a trusted member of his Facebook team in Lofa County - the area in which his post has claimed the road was being constructed.

The gaffe comes two months after presidential press secretary Isaac Solo Kegbeh published a list of projects he falsely claimed had been initiated by the current government, which were in fact started under former President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.

Under enormous pressure, that post was also removed from Facebook.

Firestone to sack 13% of Liberia workforce

A worker is seen tapping rubber from a tree on a Firestone plantation in Liberia in 2016.

Firestone Natural Rubber Company, one of Liberia’s largest employers, says it will make 800 workers redundant.

It blames the “difficult decision” on the global fall in price of the commodity. It also says Liberia’s past “prolonged civil wars” and “high overhead costs” played a role.

Reuters news agency says Firestone’s parent company, Bridgestone Americas, signed a 99-year contract with the Liberian government in 1926.

Its plantation covers almost 200 sq miles, east of the capital, Monrovia, the agency reports.

Firestone has been accused of funding ex-warlord Charles Taylor between 1989 and 1992, through alleged "secret dealings" that allowed the company to stay in operation.

Firestone denies the allegations.

Naked women dragged through Liberian streets

Anger over Facebook video

Jonathan Paye-Layleh

BBC Africa, Monrovia

There is growing anger in Liberia over a video posted on social media and widely circulated on Facebook that shows two naked women being dragged through the streets as a group of young men call on them to confess to being witches.

The video of the shocking assault was filmed in the south-east Liberian county of Sinoe.

A former Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, Gloria Scott has launched a campaign to get members of parliament in the area to ensure the perpetrators are brought to justice.

Violence against women is common in Liberia but those behind the attacks are rarely punished.

Sierleaf's son charged with economic crimes

A report looked into the alleged disappearance of more than $100m worth of newly printed Liberian banknotes

The son of Liberia's former President, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, has been charged with economic sabotage following investigations into the unauthorised printing and importation into Liberia of tens of millions of dollars.

Charles Sirleaf was deputy governor of the Central Bank at the time.

The former governor of the bank, Milton Weeks, has been charged with the same crimes.

They have not commented on the charges.

The current President, George Weah, has also been criticised after two investigations found there was a lack of accountability for $25m (£18m) imported into Liberia last year on his orders.

It had been widely reported that shipping containers full of banknotes had vanished from Monrovia's port and airport. However, a report, released last week by auditing firm Kroll associates, did not find any proof that this had happened.

Instead, it found that Liberia's Central Bank had acted unilaterally and unlawfully by printing and importing into the country three times the amount of banknotes it had been authorised to do.