Building the “New Monrovia”: The Need to Plan Well and Protect the Environment

On March 26, 2018, barely two months following his inauguration as president of Liberia, Mr. George M. Weah launched two projects, which, if properly implemented, are likely to have significant impact on national development and enhance the quality life of the Liberian people.

City Map of Liberia
City Map of Liberia

During the early part of that day, President Weah broke grounds for the construction of Liberia’s first military hospital, which is expected to be well equipped with modern  facilities and a highly trained medical staff to cater to military and para-military personnel and their families.

The ground-breaking ceremony was followed by his boat-ride tour of Bali Island,  situated in the middle of the Mesurado River in Monrovia, where a 4,000-seat state-of- the-art international conference hall is planned to be constructed.

While mostly AFL personnel and their dependents look on and cheered, President Weah broke grounds for a 200-bedroom military hospital, which will be located at the Edward Benyan Kesselly Military Barracks in Schiefflin, Margibi County.

The site of the proposed hospital is on the main highway from the Roberts International Airport (RIA) to the Liberian capital Monrovia, directly opposite the main Schiefflin Barracks. A large billboard containing photo of the architectural design of what is set to be a teaching hospital to train men and women in arms in various medical disciplines, give motorists and passers-by a view of a beautiful structure that would enhance the modern architectural outlook of the rapidly-developing Monrovia-RIA corridor.

More importantly, given the urgency to develop Liberia’s broken health system, the need to construct the military hospital could not be more pressing. A military hospital, well equipped and funded, with qualified staff, would greatly help to enhance the quality of life of the men and women in arms and their families, as well as the Liberian population in general.

Even though the cost of the proposed military hospital has not been made public, its establishment provides an opportunity to plan well toward the future, in terms of the human, financial and material resources being harnessed to ensure that Liberians have access to first-rate medical services.

Flag of Liberia

  Flag of Liberia

Since the end of the civil crises, Liberia has struggled with a health care system so dysfunctional that many people continue to die from preventable and curable diseases, such as malaria, diarrhea, typhoid, pressure, heart attack, among others. Due to the dire state of Liberia’s health care system, many Liberians who can afford the cost travel to Ghana for better medical treatment.

The Ebola epidemic that began in 2014, which caused the death of over 4,800 victims and collapse of Liberia’s health system, underscore the pressing need to plan and institute a modern health care system that would ensure accessible and affordable high quality treatment for the people and effectively respond to any possible future epidemic outbreak.

Development of Liberia’s health care system must be undertaken in line with the institution of policies and programs to safeguard the environment. In the stride to develop a modern Liberia, care must be taken to avoid environmental degradation, which could lead to natural and man-made disasters.

This leads to the other topic under consideration, which relates to President Weah’s plan to transform Bali Island into a modern city. Speaking during his visit on the island, President Weah said he intends to transform Bali Island into the “New Monrovia” commencing with the construction of the 4,000-seat state-of- the-art international conference center and other standardized structures.

President Weah indicates the Actual Location of Bali Island on the Map of Monrovia

   President George Weah Identifies Site of the New Capitol Monrovia on Map

According to the Liberian government, construction of the international conference center will be funded by the government of India, under the bilateral relationship subsisting between both countries.
Situated on the Mesurado River, which flows into the Atlantic Ocean just a few miles away, Bali Island and its surrounding areas are naturally beautiful and picturesque. Unfortunately, the breath-taking view of the island and the entire Mesurado River waterfront have been overshadowed by heap of garbage and stench.

Speaking on the island, President Weah said while he was a child “growing up in Clara Town, Bushrod Island, playing just across the shores of the Stockton Creek, I often looked into the direction of the Bali Island, viewed an undeveloped tourist attraction.” Although located on a naturally beautiful riverfront, Clara Town is a slum community.

Whenever he gazed from his community towards the Bali Island, President Weah said: “I wondered what was going on there. I did not know anyone who knew what was going on there. There was no road, no bridge, or ferry to get over here.”
According to the Liberian Leader, his dream to see the island develop began from that moment. He noted: “From here I began to see a New City of Monrovia emerging from the ashes of the Old City of Monrovia.” He explained how he envisioned skyscrapers, office buildings, shopping malls, banks, among others, on the island.

President Weah’s vision and plan to build a “New Monrovia” are notable. However, in the process of national development, the Liberian government and people must focus on what is called “smart growth,” which is an approach that covers a range of development and conservation strategies that protect the health of the people and natural environment, and make the communities more attractive, economically stronger, and more socially diverse.

President Weah Tours Bali Island for the contruction of modern Conference Center.jpg

 Liberian President Tours Site of the New Capital Monrovia

The transformation of Bali Island into a modern city community must reflect a well-developed plan to ensure sustainable progress and to enhance the quality of life of the people. Equally important, a thorough environmental impact assessment must be made to ensure that the area is not exposed to environmental degradation that could cause natural disaster in the future.

Under the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands – the inter-governmental treaty that provides the framework for the conservation and wise use of wetlands and their resources – Liberia, which is a signatory to the convention, has five sites designated as wetlands of international importance. Liberia’s Ramsar-designated wetlands sites, which provide a favorable habitat for a variety of plant, animal and marine species, include the following: Mesurado Wetlands in Monrovia, Marshall Wetlands in Margibi County, Kpatawee Wetlands in Bong County, and Gbedin Wetlands in Nimba County.

Bali Island is located in the Mesurado Wetlands, which according to a Ramsar report, provides a favorable habitat and feeding grounds for several species of birds, and it also hosts the vulnerable African dwarf crocodile, the Nile crocodile, and the African sharp-nosed crocodile, as well as mangrove already being devastated due to human activities.

According to the Ramsar report, the Mesurado Wetlands is already facing environmental degradation as a result of being used for firewood collection, as a dumping site, for car washing, as well as threat from pollution.

There are also reports that other wetlands and mangrove in Monrovia and its environs are being destroyed rapidly due to poor urban planning. Widespread unregulated construction in wetlands and water channels, cutting down mangrove forests for firewood, and turning drainage into dump sites, are some of the challenges threatening the future wellbeing of the environment and bio-diversity in Liberia.

More wetlands and mangrove forests across Liberia are reported to be increasingly impacted negatively by human activities. Even more disturbing are reports of the continued use of dynamite, which is exploded in the water to kill fish and other marine species. There is an urgent need in Liberia to regulate the use of dynamite, which is clearly seen to have a destructive impact on the environment and bio-diversity.

President Weah Disembarks Liberia Coast Guard Boat when he left Bali Island (1)

                    President Weah and Entourage Disembark from Coast Guard Boat

What was seen as a manifestation of government’s commitment to the preservation of wetlands in Liberia, President George Weah issued a proclamation declaring February 2, 2018, as “World Wetlands Day,” which was observed throughout Liberia as a working holiday. This year’s observance was held under the theme: “Wetlands for A Sustainable Urban Future” and under the national theme: Save the Wetlands, Save Our Future.”

According to the proclamation, the observance was intended to raise public awareness and highlight the vital roles of healthy wetlands in reducing the impacts of extreme events such as flood, drought, and cyclones on the communities and to help build resilience to such conditions.

It is hoped that the government would back words with actions through increased support to empower Liberia’s Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to enforce environmental regulations, as well as institute public awareness programs on environmental conservation.

Through proper urban planning and adherence to environmental regulations, Monrovia would escape environmental disasters similar to the 2017 mudslides in Freetown, capital of neighboring Sierra Leonean, which killed over 1,140 people and left widespread infrastructural destruction.

Following several days of torrential rainfall, devastating floods and mudslides occurred in and around Freetown on August 14, 2017. According to reports, the destructive behavior of the mudslides was exacerbated by a number of factors, including poor infrastructure, cutting down of trees, and ineffective drainage system.

Let’s hope that in the construction of the military hospital and the transformation of Bali Island, care would be seriously taken to plan well for Liberia’s future and to protect the environment.

By Our Correspondent

West African Journal Malazine

Amnesty International (AI) 2018 Report Cites West African Countries

AI 2017-2018 Report

The international London based non-governmental organization dedicated to human rights advocacy worldwide has released its 2017-2018 State of the World’s Human Rights Report. Amnesty International (AI), in releasing its report, noted that, ” over the past year, leaders have pushed hate, fought against rights, ignored crimes against humanity, and blithely let inequality and suffering spin out of control. This provoked mass protests, showing that while our challenges may never be greater, the will to fight back is just as strong.”

West Africa Regional Map
West Africa Regional Map

Globally, AI affirmed that world leaders abandoned human rights but that although their report is shocking, people across the world have come together to stand and make their voices heard. Among the 159 countries covered in the report were countries in West African which include Sierra Leone, Guinea, Liberia, Cote d’Ivoire and the Gambia.

Sierra Leone:

According to AI, “Restrictions were imposed on the rights to freedom of expression, of peaceful assembly and of association. Hundreds of people died and thousands were left homeless following a mud-slide. Prison conditions fell far below international standards. Pregnant girls were excluded from school.”

Sierra Leone President Mr. Ernest Bai Koroma
Sierra Leone President Mr. Ernest Bai Koroma

A human rights campaigner Abdul Fatoma and several local journalists were either arrested or summoned for criticism of the Ernest Bai Koroma Government. Prison conditions in the West African country are below international standards and over-crowded. Pregnant girls are unable to return to mainstream, education and civil society groups have asked the government to resume access for them.

The death penalty continues to be handed down with the conviction of six police officers who were “…sentenced to death by firing squad for conspiracy and robbery with aggravation..”

A mud-slide disaster in the capital Freetown in August, 2017 killed over 400 people. There has been no formal investigation or report on the cause of the disaster and survivors are struggling to make ends meet.

The Sierra Leone government, during the reporting period, rejected over 100 recommendations of the Constitutional Review Commission which included the abolition of the death penalty. President Koroma is stepping down in March after two terms as President. The opposition led by a former military officer is hoping to succeed him while the President and the ruling party have hand picked a staunch ally of President Koroma to succeed him.

The international community has warned against campaign violence in the country in the lead up the elections in March.

Guinea:

In Guinea, “The security forces continued to use excessive force against demonstrators.Journalists, human rights defenders and others expressing dissent were arbitrarily arrested. Impunity was widespread. The right to adequate housing was not fulfilled,” AI says.

Guinean Pres Alpha Condé
Guinean Pres Alpha Condé

Freedom of Assembly and right to freedom of speech were curtailed by the government. 18 deaths were reported and dozens others injured by crackdown against demonstrations by the Alpha Conde government.Long delayed local elections were recently held and the government won a majority of the seats with the opposition crying foul.The country’s National Assembly adopted legislation which could effectively abolish the death penalty when it becomes law.

Security members accused of rights abuses were not held accountable, according to the report.

Liberia:

In Liberia, AI reports that, “Domestic violence, and sexual violence against women and girls remained widespread. Impunity for human rights violations persisted. Prison conditions did not meet international standards and individuals were frequently held in prolonged pre-trial detention.” The report cited Liberia for failing to implement the recommendations of the country’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) which was set up as part of the Accra Peace Conference to review human rights abuses and war crimes committed during the country’s civil war. To date, there has been no movement towards the setting up of a war crimes commission to criminally prosecute those identified as bearing the most responsibility for atrocities committed.

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

On Freedom of Expression, the report mentions the introduction of a bill in the National Legislature to de-criminalize libel offences by journalists. Women and girls continue to be subjected to sexual and domestic violence, genital mutilation practices, rape and childhood marraiges. Gay people in Liberia, the report said, continue to experience discrimination, harassment and threats.

The new Weah Administration which was inaugurated in January is under local and international pressure to address the implementation of the TRC recommendations, a declining economy, provision jobs for young people and basic amenities.

Cote d’Ivoire

AI says, “Around 200 detainees, loyal to former President Laurent Gbagbo, awaited trial in connection with post-electoral violence in 2010 and 2011. Killings in the context of mutinies and clashes between demobilized soldiers and security forces were un-investigated. The rights to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly were restricted; some protests were prohibited. Simone Gbagbo, wife of former President Gbagbo, was acquitted of crimes against humanity and war crimes.The ICC tried Laurent Gbagbo and Charles Blé Goudé.”

Ivorian President Alassane Ouattara
Ivorian President Alassane Ouattara

Legislation to clamp down on free and critical expression which offended President Alassane Ouattarra and promoted ” fake news” was introduced and adopted. The government arrested and tried supporters of former President Laurent Gbagbo. They were accused of human rights violations while supporters of the current President faced no account for rights abuses.

Mutinees by security forces including demobilized soldiers led to the deaths of over 10 persons and scores of others were wounded during AI’S reporting period.

Gambia:

In the Gambia, which saw the democratic removal of long time dictator Yahya Jammeh, AI reports that, ” The new government committed to reforming several repressive laws and reforming the security forces. Steps were taken to begin a transitional justice process.” The Barrow Administration cancelled plans by the Jammeh government to withdrawn from the International Criminal Court (ICC).

Gambia President Adama Barrow
Gambia President Adama Barrow

Prisons in Gambia did not meet international standards, but the new administration has released scores of political prisoners held by the former government. Progress at loosening restrictive freedom of assembly laws lagged. Same sex marraige is still banned in the conservative West African nation and gay people are discriminated against.

Although Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) laws have been passed, the practice remains wide-spread in the Gambia.

Universal Human Rights Declaration

In citing the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, AI stated in its latest global report that, “… the year in which the Universal Declaration of Human Rights turns 70, it is abundantly clear that none of us can take any of our human rights for granted. We certainly cannot take for granted that we will be free to gather together in protest or to criticize our governments. Neither can we take for granted that social security will be available when we are old or incapacitated; that our babies can grow up in cities with clean, breathable air; or that as young people we will leave school to find jobs that enable us to buy a home.

Universal Declaration of Human Rights
Universal Declaration of Human Rights

The battle for human rights is never decisively won in any place or at any point in time. The frontiers shift continually, so there can never be room for complacency.”

Although democratic changes are happening across Africa, the pace of keeping up with with the protection of the rights of ordinary citizens by government remains slow or declining instead.

By Emmanuel Abalo 

West African Journal Magazine 

 

UNHCR Reports $269.6 Million Funding Gap for Its West Africa Operations

The UN office responsible to catering to world refugees says there is a huge funding gap for its West Africa operations.

West_Africa_map
Map of West Africa

According to its 2018 Funding update issued on Tuesday, the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) disclosed that of its target of $289.1 million dollars, it has received only $19.4 million representing only 7 percent of its overall target.

The funding gap is $269.6 million for its West Africa sub-regional offices:

Burkina Faso –  8% funded. Gap is $22.9 million
Cote d’Ivoire – 7% funded. Gap is $14.8 million
Ghana – No funding. Gap is $8.1 million
Guinea – No funding. Gap is $653,401
Liberia – No funding. Gap is $11.6 million
Mali – 7% funded. Gap is $19.8 million
Niger – 8% funded. Gap is $79.9 million
Nigeria – No funding. Gap is $80.3 million and
Senegal Regional Office – minor funding. Funding gap – $39.1 million

Germany, the European Union, Italy, Sweden, UN Peacebuilding Fund, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, UNESCO and private donors in Italy made restricted contributions with Germany making the bulk of the contribution – $1.9 million dollars.

Burkinabe Refugees
Burkinabe Refugees

Their combined contributions to West Africa refugee assistance totaled $19.4 million.

Other international major donors who made un-restricted and regional funding include:

Sweden – $98 million
Norway –  $43 million
Netherlands -$39 million
United Kingdom – $32 million
Denmark – $25 million
Australia – $19 million and
Switzerland – $15 million

Another 26 donors, including  the only African country of Algeria, also made un-restricted and regional funding to the mission of the UNHCR in West Africa.

Food insecurity, migration from conflict hot areas including some early instances of climate change are forcing people into long term refugee situations in the African sub-regional which could be further destabilized unless adequate funding is secured. Donor fatigue and internal economic pressures on donor countries are challenging the ability of the UN to easily raise the needed funds to provide assistance for refugees.

One major donor missing from the UNHCR latest update is the United States.

The UNHCR, which was  founded in 1950, works to protect and assist refugees around the world.

Liberia

In a separate development, the National Public Health Institute of Liberia (NPHIL) and the World Health Organization (WHO) have released their Integrated Disease Surveillance and Response Bulletin for the period between January 29 – February 4, 2018 .

Political Subdivision Map of Liberia map
Map of Liberia

According to the bulletin,  a total of  274 suspected cases of immediately reportable diseases was made with 31 deaths.

Of this number, Nimba County in northeastern Liberia is reported to have a measles outbreak with 202 suspected cases with the next highest occurrence of 58 in Montserrado County, the seat of the capital.

Eight maternal deaths were reported from Bong (2), Montserrado (2), Maryland (1), Nimba (1), Margibi (1) and River Gee (1) Counties.

Reported causes of death were: Postpartum hemorrhage (3), Eclampsia (1), Abrutio placenta (1), Sepsis (1), Pulmonary embolism (1) and Cardiac pulmonary arrest (1)
All eight deaths was reported to have occurred in the health facility.

Of the recent meningococcal outbreak in the West African country, all contacts remain in medical surveillance.

By Emmanuel Abalo

West African Journal Magazine

 

 

 

Ecobank Group Research Reveals Three Key Emerging Trends for Africa

The 2017 version of Ecobank Research’s Fixed Income, Currency and Commodities (FICC) Guidebook, which provides expert knowledge and analysis on African markets for investors and businesses, was launched today at AfricaFICC.

EcoBank
EcoBank

A press statement issued Thursday by the APO Group for Ecobank and copied to West African Journal Magazine says, indicating a positive outlook for the continent, three key trends are forecast to take hold during the next 12 months. and include economic rebound in sub-Saharan Africa driven by a recovery in the region’s economic heavyweights, Nigeria and South Africa, and ongoing growth in the top performers, Ethiopia, Côte d’Ivoire and (more recently) Ghana.

  • Growth will be driven by a rise in oil production (notably in Ghana, Republic of Congo, Nigeria and Angola), strengthening infrastructure investment across West and East Africa, and improved weather conditions which bode well for crops.
  • Strengthening economic activity, plus a moderate improvement in oil and mineral prices, will help narrow the current account deficit, but pressure on SSA currencies will remain.
Oil Drilling
Oil Drilling

The second emerging trend points to West Africa’s gas sector becoming a hive of activity in 2018 from Senegal to Angola, with the development of gas pipelines, floating liquefied natural gas (FLNG) platforms and major gas field projects.

  • Governments in the Gulf of Guinea and across West Africa have ramped up efforts to secure gas supply in order to boost domestic power generation and diversify their revenues away from crude oil.
  • Deregulating the gas market and allowing market-driven gas prices will be key to unlocking further gas infrastructure investment across the region.
Africa mobile users
Mobile Phone Users

The third trend suggests Fintech innovation in Africa picking up speed in 2018  buoyed by a new generation of Africans who are ‘digital natives’. The proliferation of tech hubs across Africa (notably in South Africa, Kenya, Rwanda, Nigeria, Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire) will nurture the next wave of African start-ups and help connect them with investors, the release said.

  • Digital innovation in SSA is being driven by the explosion in mobile phone usage, enabling African consumers to leapfrog existing business models and technologies.
  • African Fintech firms are increasingly driving this innovation, deploying digital tools to build credit profiles for the previously ‘unbankable’, providing electricity to rural households that were previously off the grid, even using artificial intelligence to diagnose health problems remotely.

Incorporated in Lomé, Togo, in 1988 Ecobank Transnational Incorporated (‘ETI’) the parent company of Ecobank is the leading independent pan-African banking group. It currently has a presence in 36 African countries, namely: Angola, Benin, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cameroon, Cape Verde, Central African Republic, Chad, Congo (Brazzaville), Congo (Democratic Republic), Côte d’Ivoire, Equatorial Guinea, Ethiopia, Gabon, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea Bissau, Kenya, Liberia, Malawi, Mali, Mozambique, Niger, Nigeria, Rwanda, Sao Tome and Principe, Senegal, Sierra Leone, South Africa, South Sudan, Tanzania, Togo, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe. The Group employs over 20,000 people in 40 different countries in over 1,200 branches and offices.

Ecobank is a full-service bank providing wholesale, retail, investment and transaction banking services and products to governments, financial institutions, multinationals, international organizations, medium, small and micro businesses and individuals.