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Liberia's Land Rights Act Would Hand Control to Communities

It’s no secret that natural wealth in many African countries often sparks conflict and precipitates decades of the suffering of local populations. Liberia’s ‘resource curse’ is no different.

With more than 40 percent of the remaining Upper Guinean rainforest, the West African nation’s timber was the currency that financed a bloody 14-year civil war. Now, nearly 15 years after the end of the violence, the country continues to struggle in sorting out how best to use its forests to provide a boost to one of the world’s poorest economies.

“The stakes are pretty high because there’s this link back to the conflict,” said Michael Beevers, a professor of environmental studies at Dickinson College in Pennsylvania who studies the conflict. The concern, he said, is that “if forests aren’t managed well, perhaps there could be a reversion back to conflict or lots of low-level conflicts.”

Charles Taylor, who led the rebellion that began in 1989, funneled revenue from selling timber, as well as diamonds, iron ore, and rubber, into weapons purchases and building his own wealth. When he was elected president of Liberia in 1997, Taylor maneuvered so that eventually he had near-full control of Liberia’s resources, and he struck deals with companies willing to overlook an on-going civil war that killed 250,000 people and the human rights abuses of his regime.

Cameron Zohoori

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