Demonstrating the power of the sanctions and the evidence Siakor exposed, the first presidential order issued by new President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf canceled all of Liberia’s forest concessions. Johnson-Sirleaf, the first democratically elected female president in Africa, vowed that new forest use agreements will not be issued until a range of forest reforms has been carried out.
Liberia’s forests cover 11.8 million acres, an area twice the size of Vermont, and include the last remaining closed-canopy tropical rainforest in the Upper Guinea Forests of West Africa. They are home to nearly half of Africa’s mammal species, including the pygmy hippopotamus, Liberian mongoose and West Africa’s largest forest elephant population.
When he was president, Taylor raided the valuable hardwood forests by entering into secret agreements with a favored lumber company and awarding it the largest logging concessions in the country. The company’s private militia committed egregious human rights abuses including rape, beatings and indiscriminate destruction of entire villages.
Siakor worked amid this chaotic and dangerous environment to steadily document and disseminate evidence that would end the plundering of one of Liberia’s greatest natural resources. Siakor hired observers at three ports, collecting information on 80 percent of logging exports. The observers found that the actual exports greatly exceeded official reports—and that arms shipments were being unloaded at the ports by timber company workers.
Siakor, the director of the Sustainable Development Institute, is coordinating civil society’s participation in the forest sector reform, as mandated by the U.N. Security Council. Siakor organizes workshops and written proposals that outline forest sector reform priorities, emphasizing transparency, civil society input and sustainable forest management. His work led the interim government to protect 3.7 million acres of forest.
Despite his outstanding achievements to date, Siakor is still fighting powerful forces that want to tap into Liberia’s forests as a source of income. The U.N. Security Council is under intense pressure from China, the new Liberian government and others to lift the timber sanctions.
Siakor is currently working on a program which trains forest communities to track and report illegal logging using an innovative smartphone application named TIMBY (This Is My Backyard). The goal is to provide these communities with the tools to combat deforestation from palm oil development in Liberia. This program is being supported by the Jewish Community Foundation and the Goldman Environmental Foundation.