SPECIAL FEATURE: Attorney Kofi Woods Address To NGO Coalition On Forest Governance In Liberia

STATEMENT AT THE OFFICIAL LAUNCH OF ADVOCACY STRATEGY OF THE NGO COALITION ON FOREST GOVERNANCE IN LIBERIA

CORINA HOTEL, SINKOR, MONROVIA

OCTOBER 19, 2018

Dear Friends and Colleagues,

I am deeply honored by your invitation to join you in launching your advocacy strategy.

Attorney Kofi Woods - File Photo
Attorney Kofi Woods – File Photo

This strategy I am told seeks to, among other things, address complaints from forested communities on the lack of knowledge on social contracts signed between various forested communities and contract holders. And when fully implemented, host communities will begin to have access to final copies of contracts and social agreements. This will further enable them demand their just benefits as far as their knowledge on the contract is concern.  Additionally, the strategy aims to minimize tension, mitigate challenges in implementation and help community members take ownership of the social agreement between them and contract holders.  These are noble undertakings for a sector that has historically been a contentious aspect of our conflict history and bane to the development of our society. This approach tends to expand the frontiers of human rights advocacy in Liberia.

I would also encourage you to include and interact with lawyers, legal practitioners and law students to encourage their full participation as it relates to legal questions as well as the provision of legal advice and redress of grievances emanating from this sector. On this note, I offer my personal expertise and support as a long-standing human rights lawyer and advocate.

Let me pay tribute to those who initiated this approach and strategy. This is a major first step in developing a coalition or undertaking collective   action to address various anomalies. The significance of a collectivity is to demonstrate that you seek to affirm that the ideals you espouse is far greater than yourself and transcends the narrow bounds of individualism, thereby elevating your discourse to national and international levels.

This strategy must therefore seek to ensure that people, particularly those who are most vulnerable will be in the position to:

  • Have their voices heard on issues that are important to them,
  • Help to defend and safeguard their rights, and
  • Have their views and wishes genuinely considered when decisions are being made about their lives.

Such rights-based approach will require an advocacy that identifies, assesses, and uses evidenced based research findings to inform, educate and influence policy decisions. In this regard, a strategy cannot be effective without a framework to ensure implementation and monitor its impact.  The most important component is to ensure that communities and people can advocate for themselves – and do so based on knowledge.

Aerial Forest View in Liberia
Aerial Forest View in Liberia

The launch of this strategy will fill a long-standing gap in our national advocacy in Liberia.

For years, we have witnessed the sufferings, pains and agony of a large section of the population hidden behind the dark shadows of our forest.  For many years, our communities have remained hapless and sat helpless as they faced deprivations associated with conditions imposed upon them by the exploitative nature of forest mismanagement due to government’s insatiable quest for rent and at times complicity of some community leaders on one hand, and the excessive greed of some concessionaires on the other. -Whether it is through the looting of the 90s, during war and corruption, or  the Private Use Permits, the complicity of government officials and the onslaught of greedy individuals on our forests, the now proverbial “resource curse” stares us in the face. A classic example is the misuse and abuse of opportunities in the forest sector. The ownership of logging companies by government officials, the Carbon Credit imbroglio and other forms of criminal forage in our forests is a bane of resource development and advancement in Liberia.. The bleeding of our forests must come to an end. I know this is a cliché, but our natural resources must cease being a curse; it must be a blessing!

This strategy you are employing should offer our society (the supply chain) and the international community (the demand chain) redemption from years of pillage, plunder and the callous disregard for our communities, our environment, our land use and our forest. Our unique species of wildlife, Flora and Fauna are being destroyed and it is now time to act for the good of posterity.

We as a nation must understand and this strategy must help us appreciate the connectivity between human survival, the use of our forests and our environment in general and the overall impact on climate change and weather patterns not only in Liberia but around the world.

We have failed to realize that the abuse of our forest is an abuse on human civilization and the threat to our forests and environment represents a threat to human civilization.

“Studies have shown that forests provide protection against flooding. Therefore, the unabated loss of forests in Liberia due to the illegal logging which has become common may exacerbate the frequency of flood we are currently experiencing. It may also increase related disasters with severe negative impact on the environment and inflict havoc on the economy. Sadly, illegal logging without reforestation is bad news for glaring and galloping effects of global warming.”

Researchers and other forest advocates have warned that “Liberians should not sit reluctantly and wait for their government to take action first, but instead every Liberian must begin to create an environmental conscious culture through research, education and people centered grassroots initiatives like environmental restoration, ecosystem rehabilitation and planting trees campaign in every community across the country.”

 

The forests are of vital importance for the livelihoods for millions of West Africans and provide key ecosystem services of local and global importanceLiberia’s Upper Guinea forests (about 43-45% of sub-Saharan forest) are exceptionally diverse, with very high rates of endemism. Liberia holds some of the last remaining, intact forests in West Africa and so reducing deforestation quickly and efficiently would be important in global climate change mitigation.

The Land rights bill has affirmed that all land owned and occupied by communities for hundred of years belong to them, and that their ownership is effective upon its passage without regards to whether they have a deed to it or not. It says that these communities do no need deed from the Republic, because the Republic never owned their land, and so the Republic does not have ownership that it will transfer to them.

The law reaffirms the provisions of the Constitution that the mineral belong to the Republic, but says that the ownership of the surface land belong to the communities (as to community land) or private individuals (as to private land) and government (as to government land. The law also says that community land will also be treated equally as private land. These are recent and interesting developments for your advocacy.

Logging in Liberia - File photo courtesy of PBS
Logging in Liberia – File photo courtesy of PBS

Simply banning the timber trade or establishing reserves will not be enough to salvage the worlds remaining tropical rainforests. In order for the forest to be preserved, the underlying social, economic, and political reasons for deforestation must be recognized and addressed. Once the issues are brought into the light, the decision can be made about what should be done. If it is decided that rainforests must be saved, then the creation of multi-use reserves that promote sustainable development and education of local people would be a good place to start. Currently about 6 percent of the world’s remaining forests are protected, meaning that over 90 percent are still open for the taking. However, even this 6 percent is not safe if the proper steps towards sustainable development are not taken. If possible, reforestation and restoration projects should be encouraged if we, humanity, hope to come out of this situation. Contemporary environmentalists have proposed some measures such as:

    • Expanding protected areas
    • Increasing surveillance of and patrols in protected areas
    • Building research facilities for training local scientists and guides
    • Establishing programs that promote sustainable use
  • Compensating displaced people
  • Involve indigenous people, where they still exist, in park management.
  • Promoting ecotourism
  • Ensuring economic success does not result in increased deforestation
  • Encouraging entrepreneurship

I would therefore like to formally launch this strategy with some concluding comments.

  1. We must encourage partnership between our government, communities and interested groups, civil society and investors. We are undertaking an endeavor that affects our lives. Collective investment and participation in advocacy will require shared funding and support.
  2. Government must continue to see itself as providing the needed leadership in regulating the sector. The review of guidelines for negotiations and standard-setting in the areas of infrastructure development, health services, labor relations and dignity, law enforcement to curb illegal logging and mining activities, education and other services are critical to improving the lives of our people and creating wealth.
  3. Our nation, our government and our people must seek to end impunity through the rule of law. Years of pillage whether under the guise of war, looting, historic lack of political will, complicity, lack of integrity, lack of accountability, mismanagement and illegal activities in the sector must not go unpunished.  Justice for this sector is a must. Recommendations on economic crimes in the report of the Truth and Reconciliation Report must be implemented to ensure reparations for affected communities and possible repatriation of profits. No one must be spared: Liberians and non-Liberians past, present and future. I therefore speak of justice for the alleged victims and those accused until proven guilty by a court of competent jurisdiction.
  4. The inextricable link between all elements of nature and the environment is indisputable. Our land, our forests, our wildlife of different and unique species is all connected. We breathe fresh air and live healthy lives when our land, air and sea are treated, as we want to treat ourselves. This is why I advise that our government and all of us must prevent the erratic interventions in our swamps, our wetlands, sand mining in our rivers beds and our forests or we risk an environmental catastrophe. I therefore urge our government to review its decision on the new development intended for the Bali Island, the Sarpo National Park, forest reserves and other areas. Any interventions must take into account proper assessments, analysis and advice on the environmental impact. We must take into account various international agreements and commitments, invite the UN Environmental Protection Agency and other professional bodies to ensure full compliance or risk punishment.
  5. As a long-standing advocate, I am guided by consistency on values and principles. IF IT WAS WRONG THEN, IT IS WRONG NOW! This country and all that lies within it is on loan to our generation by the future generation, we are under obligation to mange it well. Let me now add my voice to what is refer to as the Resource Swap. We should not begin any discussions in the absence of a public assessment, accounting and disclosure of our natural resource endowment.  No buyer should determine our price but rather negotiate our price. We risk intractable conflicts if we proceed without the necessary safeguards required to ensure distributive justice and wealth creation at all levels of our society. We should have a national resource accounting program that evaluates and determine the bankable nature of our natural resources, not leaving our desperation to be exploited by   unscrupulous people. We might be down now but not out. We might be broke now but not poor.
Political Map of Liberia
Political Map of Liberia

In conclusion, my dear friends and colleagues, People cannot be developed but develop themselves.” With the new thinking, development cannot be viewed as a product made by the “unilateral transfer from an agent (whether a donor or a state) to a passive recipient. The delivery approach to development through assistance is disempowering to citizens, which relegates them to the role of  “subjects” to change or transformation. For it to be an empowering process, development must be seen as a social contract (or compact) among citizens themselves, citizens and the State, The State and donors and citizens and donor.

In the abundance of wealth, we cannot be poor!  Our strategy must help address this paradox.

When I was a child – and I believe every child experiences such – whenever I had the opportunity to express my thoughts about an ambition, I was asked the questions “WHY?” It was common for a child to be asked “why” if they expressed the desire for a professional undertaking such a doctor, lawyer or even president. I believe the “Why” question stems from viewing a child’s ambition from the prism of perceived challenges and impossibilities. From now on we must cultivate the notion to ask “why not” when a  child from anywhere tells you he/she wants to be the President of Liberia or Secretary-General of the United Nations, Let them realize and appreciate the possibility of what is possible or what can be. I therefore ask you to say “WHY NOT” in pursuing this noble enterprise.

Our nation, our government and our people must seek to end impunity through the rule of law. Years of pillage whether under the guise of war, looting, historic lack of political will, complicity, lack of integrity, lack of accountability, mismanagement and illegal activities in the sector must not go unpunished.  Justice for this sector is a must. Recommendations on economic crimes in the report of the Truth and Reconciliation Report must be implemented to ensure reparations for affected communities and possible repatriation of profits. No one must be spared: Liberians and non-Liberians past, present and future.

I therefore speak of justice for the alleged victims and those accused until proven guilty by a court of competent jurisdiction.

I thank you!

Speech By Attorney Kofi Woods

West African Journal Magazine

Feature: Liberia Must End Impunity and Side With Justice Now

Liberia President George M. Weah
Liberia President George M. Weah

Liberia is facing increased pressure to bring to book individuals who have been accused of committing serious human rights abuses and economic crimes during the country’s civil war between 1989 – 2003 in which an estimated 250,000 people were killed and another 1 million others internally and externally dislocated.

Governing administrations including that of former President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf and incumbent President George M. Weah have literally brought the intense spotlight on themselves  and the pressure to implement recommendations of the country’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s (TRC) Final Report which was submitted to the Johnson-Sirleaf’s Administration since 2009.

More disappointing is the fact that no one in Liberia has been prosecuted for their alleged criminal actions during the war.

Some supporters of the past President and now President Weah, including some of the accused, are justifying the refusal of government to do the right thing and address the “elephant in  the room” – the outstanding issue of the implementation of the TRC recommendations and accountability for violations of the human rights of civilians and non-combatants.

Former TRC Head Counselor Jerome Verdier
Former TRC Head Counselor Jerome Verdier

In the eyes of the international community and those who stand on the side of justice, the culture of impunity in Liberia is pervasive and contributes to the cycle of violent depravity and criminal activity which sap the moral standing of Liberia and its people.

Also, the public face of  national governance in Liberia is dominated by the same human rights violators and system of impunity. This ridiculous dispensation tells the international community and allied forces of justice, equal rights and morality that Liberia is not yet prepared to be a part of the civilized comity of nations where the country’s past barbarity and bloodletting  are considered hindrances to full participation and respect.

Human Rights

The Webster-Merriam dictionary defines human rights as ” rights (such as freedom from unlawful imprisonment, torture, and execution) regarded as belonging fundamentally to all persons”.

DSG Amina Mohammed
UN Deputy Sec Gen Amina Mohammed Meets President George Weah

The UN Human Rights Commission defines human rights as  “…rights inherent to all human beings, whatever our nationality, place of residence, sex, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, language, or any other status.”

The undeniable expectation is that we, as human kind, are all equally entitled to our human rights without any discrimination; whether you live in Sweden, Argentina, North Korea or Liberia. These rights are all interrelated, interdependent, indivisible and God-given.

The Liberian civil war was a clear choice by some to exact and justify their brand of political, social or tribal domination on defenseless citizens through the use of arms, psychological and physical terror and violence. Some argue that the war was a justifiable armed response to threats against their survival by opposing warring elements.

But how does one justify the use of heavy combat and munitions in civilian areas or the targeting of innocent civilians who are fleeing conflict?

Why was it acceptable to attack peacekeepers for the sole purpose of driving them away because a military victory was imminent?

How does the intentional recruitment of vulnerable children through terror for combat and disposal stand up to scrutiny? When is it ok to plunder the common national resources of for personal wealth at the expense of devastatingly poor citizens?

The shameful reluctance of the Sirleaf government and delay by the new Weah Administration to stand on the side of addressing war and economic crimes in order to bring closure to the bloody chapter in national life is a reflection of the non-existence of a moral compass that is so critical to national unity and human decency.

Liberia is signatory to a host of international treaties, conventions and statutes which obligates it to comply with international law.  In fact, Liberia was a signatory to the founding of the United Nations.

Liberia Civil War Injured Victims
Liberia Civil War Injured Victims

The United Nations Conference on International Organization (UNCIO), commonly known as the San Francisco Conference, was a convention of delegates from  about 50 Allied nation countries which took place from 25 April 1945 to 26 June 1945 in San Francisco, California, the United States.

In 1963/1965, Liberia joined the UN Human Rights Council which is the successor to the original UN Commission on Human Rights.

Liberia has obligations under international law as a signatory who has ratified the Rome Statute which established the International Criminal Court (ICC) . The Court is an intergovernmental organization and international tribunal that officially sits in The Hague in the Netherlands and has the jurisdiction to prosecute individuals for the international crimes of genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes.

The basis for the establishment of a war crimes court and the prosecution of accused individuals are firmly rooted in the Final Report of the TRC. All Liberian fighting factions, as part of the Accra Comprehensive Peace agreement, subscribed to the establishment of the TRC mechanism.

Liberia, by becoming a party to international treaties, assumes obligations and duties under international law to respect, to protect and to fulfil human rights.

That obligation to respect means that Liberia must refrain from blocking, interfering with or curtailing the enjoyment of human rights by its citizens and others within its borders.

Liberia must be reminded that it is failing miserably in upholding its obligations to comply with international law by its refusal to hold accountable those named in the country’s TRC Report as being responsible for serious human rights violations.

The international community and Liberians at home remain resolute in the march to justice.

Liberia TRC
TRC Liberia – Logo

The intentional delay by the Liberian government to stand on the side of justice must have consequences including the realization that their unacceptable action is tantamount to obstruction of justice.

The expectation is that moral men and women with clarity of conviction in Liberia will stand for the voiceless, the dead and their families and the physically and psychologically scarred and  follow the law and international obligations so that history will be kind to their legacies.

Liberia must act boldly to end impunity and exact justice and accountability now. It can be done!

By Emmanuel Abalo

West African Journal Magazine

 

History Feature: Who are the Krahns And Are They linked to Igbos, Ashanti, Akans and Yorubas in West Africa?

In West African history, we learn that three(3) languages evolved by 1 AD in the Niger Delta. These historians named: Mande, Voltaic (Mel) and KWA. The prominent Mande languages in West Africa are the Mandingo, Soninke, Woninke, (Lorma, Kpelle, Mano etc. in Liberia) .

African Kingdoms
African Kingdoms and Empires

The Voltaic (Mel) language group is predominantly (Mossi) resides in Burkina Faso, but spread into other neighboring countries- as is the case with other language groups.

Most Western historians continue to inform us that the Krahns in Liberia, migrated from the Ivory Coast. How can a group of people migrate from their own land and back to the very land all at the same time? The land of the Krahns extends from the Ivory Coast all the way to the Atlantic Ocean in southeastern Liberia.

In fact, the Krus/Klaos, Greebos, the Bassa, all these dialectical groupings belong to the same family. Do you know that the Sea side Greebos located in Maryland County called themselves Krai-Gborho? Interestingly, there is a Krahn section in Grand Gedeh County called Gborho.

Krahn People of Liberia and Ivory Coast
Krahn People of Liberia and Ivory Coast

The Western historians misinformed us when they wrote that around the 16th Century, the present day Krahns migrated from the Ivory Coast. This indeed is not true. When the French Colonial power created an artificial boundary, the Cavala River was used as an official boundary between their colonialized African subjects. The Krahns belong to the KWA groups in Africa.

In Liberia, the KWA speaking people can be found in 11 counties out of 15 and yet they are unaware of their connectedness as one ethnic group.
1. Gbarpolu County, Belle (Kuwaa);
2. Grand Gedeh County, Krahn
3. River Gee County, Grebo ( Glebo or Klipo)
4. Sinoe Counties, Grebo, Kru and Sarpo
5. Grand Kru County, Grebo and Kru or Klao
6. Maryland County, Grebo
7. Nimba Counties, Gbee and Krahn
8. Grand Bassa County, Bassa, Gbee
9. Montserrado County, Bassa, Dei;
10. Margibi County, Bassa
11. River Cess County, Bassa, Gbee

Krahn People of Liberia and Ivory Coast[/caption]Who are the KWA PEOPLE? Better yet–linguistically, like the Mande and Voltaic people, who are the ANTECEDENTS of the KWA PEOPLES in West African history?

Photo_Samory_Toure
Mandingo Legend Samory Toure

According to West African history, the Mande language group founded the first 2 major Empires, namely: Ghana(its prominent King was a Soso man called- Sumanguru. He was killed in battle against Sundiata.
This ushered in the Mali (Mandingo) Empire. The Voltaic (Mel) did not found an Empire- civilization of importance. Why?

The third(3rd) largest and most powerful West African Empire was Songhai. The hundred million dollars question is: Who are the descendants of the Songhai people in West Africa today? History is mute on the answer to this question.

The Kwa languages are divided into two groups. The larger Nyo group comprises 35 languages situated in southern Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana. It includes the Akan Language cluster (more than eight million speakers); the Anyi and Baule languages (almost three million speakers), mostly in Côte d’Ivoire; and the Guang language cluster (about half a million speakers), mostly in Ghana.

The remaining 10 Kwa languages are termed “left bank” because they are spoken to the east of the Volta River of these languages, the Gbe cluster (of which Ewe is the best-known member) is by far the largest, with some eight million speakers (https://www.britannica.com/topic/Kwa-languages).

Emperor Mansa Musa - Courtesy of Youtube
Depiction of Emperor Mansa Musa – Courtesy of Youtube

The KWA language group of West Africa is inextricably linked to the People of Songhai Empire. The name of their prominent King was– Assibai. The name as-si-bai, is a Gao word which means: “the unexpected. ” King Assibai’s Kingdom was captured by Mensa Musa- King of Mali Empire. King Mensa Musa personally toured prosperous Songhai Kingdom and met the defeated Assibai. King Assibai paid homage to King Mensa Musa, thus sparing his life. But King Mensa Musa took two(2) sons: Ali and Sulieman as royal hostages. The boys were in captivity for decades until the death of Mensa Musa. They broke free and founded the Songhai Empire. Ali the older brother became king.

The Songhai people honored Ali with the Gao word: “SOONI” (pronounced as- Zoo-ni which means in Gao “to remove somebody from water. To rescue from drowning) . The prefix- “soo” means to remove. And the suffix- -“ni” pronounced as “nee” means – water, rain or river. Other examples of Gao language as repository exist in history books. Niger- “good/ delicious water, became a Country. ‘”Bani” is another Gao word I came across while reading West African history. It is a used by the Gao people to describe the area where the Niger River split up to form a huge tributary- moat city in the middle of the river. Once again, the prefix
“Ba” pronounced as bah means “father” , the suffix- ni as stated above means, water, rain or river. Hence. “Bani” means father of rivers. This is a brief overview of KWA PEOPLES contributions to West African history that many are not aware of.

Recommendation

There is a need for African nations, especially Western African nations, to invest in Research within their respective University History Departments, to conduct an in-depth studies and understanding of precolonial African History. Western scholars did well, considering, that most of them didn’t understand nor speak the languages in Africa and yet they were able to develop volumes upon volumes of text books on African History. We have an obligation as African scholars, to write the ‘true’ History about Africa.

Map of West Africa
Map of West Africa

According to some Western historians and such medium as britannica.com, Kwa languages are classified as a branch of the family consisting of 45 languages spoken by approximately 20 million people in the southern areas of Cote d’Ivoire, Liberia, Ghana, Togo, and Benin in the extreme southwestern corner of Nigeria .

Yes indeed, the KWA groupings in Liberia, are genetically and linguistically linked to the Igo, Ashanti, Akan, Yoruba, etc., Dr. Barry Fell & Edo Nyland were correct in their research when they reflected in the following: “Igbo is in the family of Niger-Congo languages called Kwa by European linguists, which includes many Nigerian and West African languages like Ashanti, Akan, Yoruba and Benin (Edo).

Igbo Mask -- Courtesy of University of Iowa
Igbo Mask — Courtesy of University of Iowa

Igbo, I find to be closest to the original mother of that language family. In fact my finding is that in order to not let the Igbo know that it was their language that birthed the others, the linguists invented the word Kwa, which was originated from Akwa Nshi (Igbo for ‘First People’, also the local name of the Nigerian monoliths that represent First People on the planet (http://www.faculty.ucr.edu/~legneref/igbo/discussion2.htm).

“A people without the knowledge of their past history, origin and culture is like a tree without roots ( Marcus Garvey).

Sources:

Davidson, Basil, 1966, Africa in HistoryDeGraft-Johnson, J. C., 1954, African Glory – The Story of Vanished Negro Civilizations

De Villiers, Marq & Hirtle, Sheila, 2007, Timbuktu

Harris, Joseph E., 1972, Africans and their History

Mckissack, Patricia & Fredrick, 1994, The Royal kingdom of Ghana, Mali and Songhay – Life in Medieval Africa

Robinson, Calvin R, Edward W; Battle, Redman 1987, The Journey of the Songhai People

Edmund Bargblor
Author Edmund Bargblor

About The Author:

Edmund Zar-Zar Bargblor is an educator. He is a graduate of Cuttington University in Liberia, Howard University in the United States, and the Israel Institute of Technology. He is a former deputy managing director of the National Port Authority of Liberia. He can be reached at Ezbargblor@aol.com

 

“I Refused”: Brave Women And Girls Take A Stand Against FGM

UNITED NATIONS, New York/Ouagadougou, BURKINA FASO – Fourteen-year-old Latifatou Compaoré learned the spirit of resistance from her mother.

UNFPA-logo
UNFPA-logo

Her mother was subjected to female genital mutilation (FGM) as a child in Burkina Faso. “She told me that one of the girls who had been cut the same day as her had experienced serious problems and died following a haemorrhage that no one had taken care of,” Latty explained.

FGM can cause a raft of serious health consequences, including not only haemorrhage but also shock, infection and complications in childbirth.

Yet the practice is widespread around the world. An estimated 200 million women and girls alive today have been subjected to the practice. Some 3.9 million girls were subjected to FGM in 2015 alone. And if FGM continues at current levels, 68 million girls will be cut between 2015 and 2030.

But brave women and girls are taking a stand against FGM, sometimes risking stigma and rejection by their families and communities.

Latty’s mother was one of these courageous women.

“When she became a mom, she made the commitment that if she had girls, she would never cut them,” Latty said. “And she kept her word.”

A voice for change

Latty was 10 years old when she heard her mother’s account. “This story really shocked me,” she said.

“I cannot understand that children can be made to suffer in such a way, that they can be mutilated under conditions with poor or no hygiene.”

She decided to become an advocate for ending the practice. A talented singer, Latty recorded a song about it, called “Excision,” which garnered attention throughout the country, even getting air time on national television and radio stations.

Latty has since recorded two more songs about ending the practice. On a Facebook page she created about eliminating FGM, her videos have been viewed hundreds of thousands of times.

But she has also faced backlash. “There are some who congratulate me and encourage me to go forward, but there are others who bother me a lot,” she said.

“I also receive messages that ask me to stop, to mind my own business.”

The opposition does not discourage her, though.

“It is a cause that I will defend throughout my life,” Latty said.

Around the world, thousands of courageous girls like Latty are calling for the elimination of FGM in their families and communities.

In Kenya, 17-year-old Sharleen Cherop also said no to FGM.

She managed to escape both FGM and child marriage – which are linked in some places, with one practice considered a precursor to the other.

“My family wanted me to be cut and get married, but I refused,” Sharleen said. She ran away from home and found support and safety at a nearby school. She is now an advocate for children’s rights.

In Egypt, FGM is widespread. More than 90 per cent of women have undergone the practice, according to a 2014 survey. The UNFPA-UNICEF Joint Programme to Eliminate Female Genital Mutilation works with local partners and communities to raise awareness about the harms caused by FGM.

Fatmah’s mother heard some of these messages from a local NGO and taught them to Fatmah. Today, at 13 years old, Fatmah has rejected FGM and is a passionate advocate for its elimination. “FGM is wrong and it has lots of harms,” she said. “I convinced my sister not to cut her kids.”

In Ethiopia, 18-year-old Sofia Hussen experienced both FGM and child marriage. She learned about the harms of both practices from a UNFPA-supported adolescent girls group, and today she uses her own story to call for change.

“I am a living example,” she said of her work.

Promise not to cut

Latty, too, has seen real change in her community.

“A little while ago, a friend of my mother came into our yard with her 2-year-old daughter. She said that family members were insisting on cutting the little one,” Latty recalled.

She spoke to the woman at length, explaining the consequences of FGM. “She ended up promising us that she would not cut her,” Latty said.

To date, the girl has not been cut, she added.

“We have to fight every day to try to educate as many people as possible,” Latty explained. “That’s what I’m trying to do.”

Culled from the UN Population Fund (UNFPA)

Special Feature: The Impact Of President Trump’s Attacks On The Media

President Trump Hosts Ceremony Recognizing First Responders In The June 14 Congressional Baseball Shooting
President Donald J. Trump

U.S. President Donald Trump, in effort to erode public confidence in the mainstream media, has stepped up his attacks on the free press in manners and styles uncharacteristic of any leader of the free world in recent memory, by tweeting about “fake media” 141 times from January 10 to the end of October, according to The Washington Post.

Under the cloud of this shameful moment in US presidential history, journalists are being coerced to abandon their sacred duty of objective reporting in favor of normalizing lies, racism, and personality glamorization. You’ve got to fall in line to ingratiate yourself with the chief or risk being branded as a bunch of “fake news media” entities populated by “very dishonest people.” Whether it is his anger during a press conference or meeting with a foreign leader at home or abroad, the message remains consistent – “media organizations are fake and journalists are very bad people.”

That a sitting US president could be at war with the free press at this level and at his own choosing is mesmerizing, to say the least. This situation is so alarming that respected Arizona Senator John McCain recently warned that this sort of behavior is akin to “how dictatorship starts.”

Even Fox News, Trump’s favorite cable news network and an unlikely source of any criticism for him, is at odds with the President on this one. In a live interview earlier this year, Chris Wallace, an anchor at Fox News, confronted the President, accusing him of baselessly calling the free press the enemy of the people. “We fought with (President) Obama here and there, but he never said we were the enemy of the people.”

media
Media News concept

But Mr. Wallace appears to be even more determined to push back on the President’s assault on the media. Delivering a speech at the International Center for Journalists in Washington, DC earlier in November, the Fox News anchor said “President Trump is engaged in the most direct, sustained assault on the free press in our history,”  adding that the president “has done everything to de-legitimize the media, attacking us institutionally and individually.”

Mr. Wallace surmised that President Trump’s purpose for this concerted campaign is “to raise doubts over whether we can be trusted when we report critically about his administration.”

Africa

While the American free press is the main target at the frontline of this war, attention must be drawn to the devastating consequences it could have on the media in emerging but fragile democracies around the globe, particularly Africa.

African Media_1
Africa Media Impact

Most African governments are viewed as corrupt and our leaders, most often than not, take on the posture of tyrants and dictators. There can be no bigger gift to a tyrant orchestrating his next media clampdown than hearing the President of the United States refer to the free press as “the enemy of the people.”

Before the inception of the Trump administration, African journalists had always counted on Washington to come to their aid when the going got tough. And through its various agencies responsible for press freedom, human rights, justice, among others, their cry was heard and supported.

Today, however, African journalists do not see a friend in the White House. They are now the ally of the fighting forces whose powerful “general” once scared away their enemy with a simple warning; just a simple warning! But that “general” has now turned the gun on his own men who are fighting for their own lives, leaving the African continent of the forces isolated with no arsenal.

Country Map of Africa
Country Map of Africa

Nonetheless, this situation as dire as it may be seen, shouldn’t be equated to the inescapable wall before an escapee.  The African media should not be the subject of a permanent dependency syndrome, in the first place. The continent has a vast natural resource base capable of self sustenance without launching “Africa First” policy only to isolate the continent and deprive it of the human capital needed for modern development.

Consequently, we need our leaders to remove the continent from the claws of corruption, ineptitude, inefficiency, and bad governance. We need our leaders to exhibit a high level of fiscal discipline, political tolerance, and transparency. We need our leaders to promote press freedom and consider journalists as partners in democracy, not enemies who pursue scandals.

If our leaders cannot create the enabling environment for our development and prosperity in partnership with the media, who else can?

About the Author: James Seitua is a former Editor of the Daily Observer Newspaper in Liberia

Sierra Leoneans Return To Give Back To Their Communities

After living in the United States for over a decade, Usifu Bangura returned to Sierra Leone to reunite with his family and to do his bit in rebuilding a country still recovering from civil war.

Usifu launched a project to improve access to clean water for people in Kambia, the village where he found his mother after tracing the process of his adoption.

Republic-of-Sierra-Leone
Map of Sierra Leone

Using Hippo Water Rollers or drums that are designed to roll over different types of terrain, residents can now transport up to 90 litres of water per trip.

I decided to come back to my home country to see my family after fourteen years as well as to bring any kind of humanitarian relief that I can.

“I decided to come back to my home country to see my family after fourteen years as well as to bring any kind of humanitarian relief that I can, specifically to the use of hippo rollers, he said”

Usifu gets the tanks from South Africa and has rallied donors to help fund his initiative.
Sierra Leone, ranks among the bottom of the U.N. Human Development Index, and according to WaterAid, third of the population does not have access to safe water.

His Bangura Project has also introduced water filters. He has also been holding discussions with residents to find out more about pressing needs of the community.

They are also been holding discussions with residents to find out more about pressing needs of the community.

“ It reduce child labor and that is very very great,in those days when we do not have it, actually when we want to send our children they cannot go and they are not happy because — They enjoy this roller,” said Kambia resident, Chernor A. Mansaray.

Usifu’s mother, Fatou Sankoh gave him up for adoption in 2004 after Sierra Leone’s decade-long civil war that ended in 2002. His father had been killed and his mother could not afford to raise him and his siblings.

He was in the country for 6 months this year before returning to the states.

Usifo is working on partnering with the government and local organizations on a larger scale to develop community run projects to improve clean water supply in rural parts of the country.

Reuters

STARTFOR Analysis: The U.S. Ignores Sub-Saharan Africa at Its Own Peril

Highlights 

Despite the historically low-priority status of sub-Saharan Africa to the U.S. military, the U.S. security focus on the region will continue to grow given the systemic weaknesses that militant groups exploit there. 

The use of a light footprint strategy — including special operations forces, drones, and cooperation with local partners and allies such as France — will enable the United States to project force at minimal cost. 

Although President Donald Trump’s administration opposes funding multinational efforts such as U.N. peacekeeping missions, the U.S. military will continue to emphasize local partnerships with nations in sub-Saharan Africa. 

US Flag
US Flag

Sub-Saharan Africa has long been a low priority for the United States. Since taking office in January, U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration has confirmed that status, cutting foreign aid budgets that disproportionately affect Africa and turning its focus to other issues and areas. Yet events in recent weeks have magnified the region’s prominence in U.S. foreign policy. On Sept. 24, for example, the Trump administration added Chadian nationals to the list of people facing travel restrictions. Four U.S. service members died in Niger the following week during a mission with local troops. Nikki Haley, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, recently visited Ethiopia, South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. And on Oct. 20, U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis reportedly told senior members of the Senate Armed Services Committee that the military would increase its counterterrorism activities in sub-Saharan Africa, loosen rules of engagement and give commanders in the field more decision-making power. Despite the Trump administration’s actions, the region now appears to be receiving more attention from U.S. policy-makers. 

A Rising Security Priority

U.S. military investment in sub-Saharan Africa has been quietly growing for years. This October, in fact, marked the 10th anniversary of the establishment of the U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM), one of nine unified combatant commands. The continent has been a key testing ground for the U.S. military’s “small footprint” strategy, which emphasizes partnerships with local forces and cooperation with allies such as France. The strategy also stresses the role of special operations forces, drones and training facilities known as Cooperative Security Locations or “lily pads” in an effort to avoid the perception of an overbearing, neocolonial U.S. military presence. (Washington tried to establish a permanent headquarters on the continent when it first rolled out AFRICOM but moved its main offices to Germany after populations and governments in Africa pushed back against the idea.)  

africa-conflict-areas-white
African Conflict Map

As the U.S. military’s interest in sub-Saharan Africa has grown, its priorities in the region have shifted. The United States initially focused on East Africa — and particularly on the fight against the al-Qaeda affiliated militant group al Shabaab. In Somalia, U.S. military trainers have provided extensive assistance to the Somali army and to the multinational African Union Mission in Somalia, or AMISOM. But over the past several years, West Africa has started drawing more of the United States’ attention. The chaos that consumed Libya after the fall of longtime leader Moammar Gadhafi in 2011 spilled over into nearby Mali, along with militants and weapons. In 2013, an offensive from allied jihadist and Tuareg nationalist forces prompted France to intervene to bolster the Malian army and keep the West African country from collapse, with considerable logistical support from the U.S. military. The incident opened the Pentagon’s eyes to the glaring security risks in the Sahel, the ecological transition zone between the Sahara and the savannah that traditionally has fallen in France’s sphere of influence. Putting aside their Cold War rivalry in the region, Paris and Washington began working together more closely in sub-Saharan Africa.  

Resistance From Washington

The Trump administration, however, may set a limit on the partnership. For months Washington has oscillated between wariness and hostility at the prospect of backing the Sahel joint force, a counterterrorism effort made up of battalions from Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger. Though Trump has pledged $60 million to the project, he has also indicated his displeasure with funding multinational efforts. France, which has devoted considerable resources to help establish the force since President Emmanuel Macron came to power, is getting frustrated with the lack of financial and political support from the United States. During a trip to Washington in mid-October, the French defense minister reportedly asked the United States to increase its assistance for the Sahel joint force, stating that Paris was looking for a long-term strategy to ease its security burden in the region. 

 Trump’s distaste for funding programs such as U.N. peacekeeping missions, combined with the reports that the Pentagon wants to increase its activities in Africa, makes for an interesting contradiction. Nevertheless, the current administration is unlikely to break with its predecessors’ policies, which tried to minimize U.S. military action in favor of local solutions. Senior officials in the U.S. armed forces overwhelmingly agree on the need to keep investing in local partnerships, even as Trump pushes for more aggressive action against militant groups around the world. Considering that the Sahel — a region whose vast, isolated terrain falls largely under the governance of poor, weak states — will struggle indefinitely with instability, maintaining this strategy is essential. Increased activity in sub-Saharan Africa, moreover, comes with unavoidable risks for U.S. policymakers.

To strengthen forces in Niger, for example, U.S. service members will have to accompany their local counterparts on potentially dangerous missions, much as they have in Somalia. And the inherent environmental and logistical challenges that await them in the desolate lands of the Sahel will raise the odds of complications or casualties.

The rise of terrorism has driven home the reality that the United States can’t afford to disregard sub-Saharan Africa. Though the continent has long been low on Washington’s list of priorities, the recent proliferation of militant groups in the Sahel offers a stark reminder that the United States ignores the region at its own peril. 

Source: Stratfor is the world’s leading geo-political intelligence platform based in Washington DC