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Undercover Investigation Reveals Illegal Logger’s Criminal Acts    


Top: A poster showing the illegal logging activities by Michael Feika in Totoquelleh, Gbarpolu County. The DayLight/Rebazar Forte

By James Harding Giahyue

TOTOQUELLEH, Gbarpolu County – “If [it is a] container, I give you my price. You buy it from me in the bush,” Michael Feika, an illegal logger, told his new client.

Feika is a broker of kpokolo, squared, compact timber whose trade the government “banned” just over a year ago but has reemerged, with authorities yet to act.

Feika shared several of his past and present operations with Joemue Wortee when they met in Paynesville on March 8. The pictures were equally revealing as Feika’s verbal pitch to Wortee, the assumed client.

“I will bring [the kpokolo] to town. It is only left with you to pay me because I got the document,” Feika said as he tried to convince Wortee of a deal.

“This thing [is] my business from day one.”

In his late 30s and with a Sierra Leonean accent, Feika sent Wortee to his network in Totoquelleh in the Bopolu District of Gbarpolu County.  There, Wortee saw Feika’s setup—production sites, an earthmover, timber and a gang of chainsaw millers and haulers.

But Wortee was no businessman.  He was an undercover reporter whose mission was to uncover Feika’s illegal logging activities. The reporter’s mission set off as evidence of fresh kpokolo activities began in the western countryside.

The DayLight used undercover techniques because it appeared impossible that Feika would submit to an open probe, particularly after our previous report on the return of kpokolo. Also, such investigation in a forest best guaranteed the reporter’s safety.


The DayLight’s undercover reporter under his assumed name traveled to Totoquelleh, some 62 miles north of Monrovia.

Michael Feika, aliased Mikelo, a prolific kpokolo logger, poses near a tree he just felled. Photo credit Michael Feika

When the reporter arrived at the destination, Feika had already informed a member of his network about the assumed businessman’s mission. The undercover reporter did not know this so, he went asking the townspeople for the teenage member named only as Morris.

Just as Feika had said, everyone the reporter asked in Totoquelleh said they knew Feika and his operations. The people call him Mikelo, a play on the words “Michael” and “Kpokolo.”

Feika and Morris live in a mud hut from where the former serves as the ringleader for their wood trafficking network of over 20 operators. At times he hosts Sierra Leonean illegal loggers for months in Totoquelleh. Feika claims that he hails from Margibi County but his Facebook account lists Freetown as his home city. Other Feikas listed as his friends on Facebook also come from Sierra Leone. This means Feika is not even qualified to conduct small-scale logging activities in Liberia, set aside for only Liberians.

The undercover reporter went to Feika’s house in search of Morris. That search took him to the home of Abadulai Fofana, another kpokolo producer in the forest-enveloped community. It was here the reporter met Morris.

Up: Fresh kpokolo Michael Feika harvested in few months ago. Here: Old kpokolo Feika harvested in 2022. The DayLight/Esau Farr

The short, black teenager, who is also a motorcycle taxi driver, then took the undercover reporter on a guided tour of Feika’s kpokolo world.

As they took a footpath leading to a farm, Morris told the undercover reporter that they produced a lot of kpokolo in 2022. Their production has slowed down in the last two years and they only produce when a customer approaches them.

As they walked deeper, the undercover reporter saw some abandoned kpokolo on the floor of the dried, dim wooded area. Morris disclosed that it was one of the many locations where Feika worked.

Morris’ comments corroborated Feika’s account and that of the picture he shared with the reporter in Paynesville. Feika had said that he harvested the wood in 2022 but backed off after the supposed ban.

Feika’s new worksites in the pictures were too far for the reporter to venture even for a client. The reporter and Morris decided to head back to the town.

Nevertheless, the pictures already took the undercover reporter to Feika’s new locations. They show piles of kpokolo in the forest, felled logs waiting to be milled, targeted trees for harvesting and timber at a portable sawmill.  One particular picture showed Feika posing for a picture next to another felled tree.  

Logs cut by Michael Feika. Photo credit: Michael Feika

“The ones standing there, I [cut] one down before I could come to Monrovia,” Feika said back in Paynesville, referring to a gigantic tree. “This one is Iroko the white one,” he added, citing a first-class tree species scientifically known as Milicia excelsa, which kpokolo traffickers prefer.   

‘It is easy’

About a 10-minute into their journey back to Totoquelleh, the reporter and Morris saw a score of 12-inch kpokolo that Fofana, Feika’s competitor, harvested.

Not far, lay five others in the middle of a dirt road close to the K.J. Village.  The kpokolo appeared to have fallen off the vehicle transferring them from the forest. Tire impressions show clearly in the sunbaked mud.  

Fofana had disclosed he kept more kpokolo in their conversation before the undercover reporter met Morris.

“The sizes are 50X50, 40X40 and 30X30,” Fofana said at the time. He meant the timber’s dimensions range from 30 to 50 inches in thickness, up to 25 times the authorized size.

“It was produced last month,” Fofana added. 

“When somebody [has a] contract for me, I can do it. That business is a contract. It can come and we discuss it before we do it.” Fofana’s comments had confirmed Feika’s suspicion that other kpokolo operators in Totoquelleh would try to snatch the assumed businessman.

The leftover of a tree harvested by illegal loggers somewhere in Liberia. Photo credit: Michael Feika

Upon his return to Totoquelleh from his Morris-guided tour, the undercover reporter photographed an excavator parked near a truck in an open field.

“You see that car over there,” Fofana said, pointing to the excavator. “It is the one that can hook [the kpokolo and put them in the container].”

‘Not small money’

Thankfully, the pictures Feika shared with the undercover reporter show the entire container-packaging process. Several pictures show the wood being measured with a tape rule. One shows a crane shoving kpokolo into a container, while another reveals two men sealing it up.

“Some of the containers allow eight, 14, 16 and 20 pieces of wood to go in, depending on the sizes of the wood,” Feika said back in Paynesville. He revealed the kpokolo measuring three inches and four-and-a-half inches were the ones now in demand.

Feika said he had stopped producing larger kpokolo due to the ban but was open to cutting them once he got the right offer. “If you want [them]…, it is not small money you will spend,” he said.  

The prices for a container filled with kpokolo are based on the class of the wood. Prices range from US$7,000 to US$12,000, including transportation to Monrovia, according to Feika. Feika’s favorite first-class species apart from Iroko are Afzelia (Afzelia spp), Ekki (Lophira alata), Lovoa (Lovoa trichilioides) and Niangon ( Heritiera utilis). These species are expensive and produce hardwood used for shipbuilding, railroad ties and outdoor construction.

If a client wants just one container, they must pay Feika at least half of their negotiated amount. If the client wants multiple containers, they pay for at least one container upfront.  However, the client must pay the FDA US1,200 for an annual export permit, US$1,000 for the paper and the balance for paperwork, Feika said. Those figures are the same as the ones on the kpokolo permit the FDA issued before the so-called ban.  

Once the container is filled and sealed, Feika makes phone calls to FDA rangers posted on the Bopolu-Monrovia highway via Klay. Feika would not share the rangers’ contact or say their names.

“When I reach the checkpoint, I will say, ‘Yes, I am the one [who has] the wood. Everybody knows me because I have a document from the FDA with a license number assigned to me. I will give them my container serial number and they check it and we pass.”

But Feika warned against double-crossing him to deal with rangers directly. He recounted the story of two Korean illegal loggers, the police commander and other accomplices who were arrested in Klay, Bomi County.

“If the [authorities arrest] you, you are finished because some FDA [agents] will tell you, ‘Come, I will carry [them] for you.’ If you depend on them, you will lose,” Feika said.

Ironically, Feika did not know he was speaking to a reporter of the newspaper that exposed the syndicate. The DayLight would go on to assist a police investigation that led to the men’s arrest and the dismissal of the police commander and an FDA ranger.

Feika’s contacts and influence do not extend to the Freeport of Monrovia but he offered some valuable information. Smugglers must acquire an export permit and find a customs broker at the Freeport of Monrovia to help export the timber. It costs US$1,200 to obtain the export permit certificate from the FDA—US$1,000 for the permit and the balance to secure the document.

Two illegal loggers closing a container. Photo credit: Michael Feika

Once they obtain the permit, they will have to pay the container’s owner US$200 per container and  US$100 for each truck to transport them.

“Forget the shipment of the wood,” Feika reassured. “Once you get money, it is easy.”

His disclosure was not news to the undercover reporter. After all, The DayLight has published illegal permits, receipts and claims by kpokolo exporters in previous investigations. Those publications also revealed the mode of the illegal trade and its ringleaders.

Faika advised his presumed client to ship the wood to Turkey or Germany. “If it is Germany, I will be happy,” he said, “because I have some of my friends in Germany.”

This was a production of the Community of Forest and Environmental Journalists of Liberia (CoFEJ). Funding for the story was provided by the Kyeema Foundation and Palladium.

Kpokolo: Report Reveals Latest Illegal Logging Threatens Liberia’s Forests


Top: Kpokolo seized at the FDA checkpoint in Klay, Bomi County. A report by U.S.-based Forest Trends launched today says kpokolo threatens Liberia’s rainforests and undermines the country’s climate change efforts. The DayLight/James Harding Giahyue

By James Harding Giahyue

  • “Kpokolo,” a new form of illegal logging threatens Liberia’s rainforests, provides little benefit for the country and undermines its climate efforts.
  • Kpokolo harms small-scale loggers, who are the sole suppliers of wood to the domestic markets. Big companies are taking advantage of the illegal trade
  • The report calls on President-elect Joseph Boakai to take clear steps in banning kpokolo and punish violators of the ban

MONROVIA – Thick, four-cornered and expensive timber produced illegally across the country and smuggled in containers, are a threat to Liberia’s forests, and undermine its efforts to combat climate change, a report launched today by the US-based Forest Trends, has found.

The report—“‘Kpokolo’: A New Threat to Liberia Forest”—found that block wood or kpokolo, as it is commonly called, has no legal basis and harms small-scale loggers, rural communities and the country. It calls for a ban imposed on the illegal logging earlier this year to be made clear and official.

“The illegal exploitation takes advantages of weaknesses in enforcement, corrupting officials and compromising processes…,” Arthur Blundell one of the report’s two coauthors, told The DayLight.

“The newly elected president should take immediate steps to halt this illegal exploitation by confirming an official ban of kpokolo, including devoting resources for the enforcement of the prohibition,” Blundell added.

Based on interviews and media reports—including from The DayLight—the report suggested that kpokolo might have begun in the 2010s. It operates within the plank subindustry. However, the size of planks, which are two inches thick, differs sharply from kpokolo, which can be up to 12 inches thick, the report said.

Between October and December last year, researchers interviewed 267 community dwellers, chainsaw operators and wood dealers in eight counties for the kpokolo report. It is an update to a 2016 report on the wood market in Liberia.  

The Forestry Development Authority (FDA) did not immediately respond to questions for comments on the report. The agency had, at least officially, sanctioned the illegal operation, collecting fees from operators to transport the wood.

‘Economic sabotage’

The report did not find sufficient evidence on the scale of kpokolo but found enough cases where the new form of illegal logging posed a threat to the country. It said kpokolo undermined Liberia’s climate change efforts, and the protection of the country’s forest, West Africa’s largest remaining rainforest. Liberia has pledged to the United Nations to reduce deforestation by 50 percent by 2030 among other commitments.

The coauthors of the report called for the entire industry to rally against kpokolo.

“Without such a whole-sector approach, Liberia risks allowing illegal logging to undermine not just [sustainable forest management] but governance in rural areas more broadly as kpokolo has a corrupting influence on local authorities and community leaders,” Blundell said.

The report gathered evidence that large companies were exploiting the kpokolo situation to “squeeze out artisanal operators who supply the local wood markets.”

Operators, known in the industry as chainsaw millers, perhaps need to promote a recently adopted regulation to limit kpokolo, the report suggested.

Though chainsaw milling has been largely unregulated since its emergence in the 2000s, the subindustry has been allowed to supply much-needed wood to the domestic markets. One FDA report dubs it a “necessary evil.”

Squared timbers, commonly called “Kpokolo” illegally harvested in Grand Bassa County. The DayLight/James Harding Giahyue

People researchers interviewed said companies were exporting the wood to Ukraine before its war with Russia. Researchers learned that kpokolo timber were being exported for railroad ties, which matched the dimensions of the illegal wood. 

The report quoted people stating companies were smuggling kpokolo through containers, one of them Akewa Group of Companies, a Nigerian-owned firm that has violated nearly every forestry law. There is a mention of Askon Liberia General Trading Inc., which was debarred from forestry over its illegal operations, with its Turkish owners arrested in May. Akewa did not respond to questions over its alleged involvement in kpokolo.

In February, three months before the ban, the FDA had announced that it had banned kpokolo. In June Liberia also discussed the ban at an annual forestry meeting with the European Union.

Those steps were not enough and that kpokolo could still be ongoing as operators could claim they are unaware of the ban, according to the report. Forest Trends recommends that President-elect Joseph Boakai makes a detailed announcement of the ban, capturing legal instruments supporting the ban, the definition of kpokolo, and penalties for violating it.

“If the ban is not carefully detailed and widely disseminated, it is unlikely to be effective in the face of powerful business forces involved,” said Kristin Canby, a senior director of Forest Trends’ Forest Trade and Finance Initiative that led the report.

“The ban must be followed by a clear demonstration of enforcement,” Canby said in a press release.

David Young, the other coauthor of the report said violators of the ban should be punished in line with forestry laws and regulations, “including economic sabotage for complicit officials.

“As part of a renewed commitment by the FDA under the new administration, enforcement should include punishing kpokolo operators and buyers of their wood, as well as the corrupt officials that allowed the illegal exploitation,” Young told The DayLight.  

EPA Shuts Down Carbon Deal Over DayLight’s Investigation


The headquarters of the Environmental Protection Agency of Liberia in Sinkor. The DayLight/Mark B. Newa

By Esau J. Farr

MONROVIA – The Environment Protection Agency (EPA) has disapproved of carbon credit negotiations between an American-owned company  BlueEarth Capital and rural communities following an investigation by The DayLight that exposed irregularities with the deal.  

“[The EPA] has thus issued an immediate resolute call to all communities involved in discussions with the company (BlueEarth) to cease all engagements without delay or risk drastic actions,” said the agency in a statement over the weekend.

“EPA’s involvement and approval are non-negotiable pre-requisites in carbon credit deals in Liberia,” it added. 

The agency further expressed “profound dismay” over the ongoing illegal carbon negotiations between BlueEarth Capital and residents of Ziadue Clan, River Cess County.

The release came on the back of a DayLight story on  BlueEarth’s proposed MoU with Ziadue to save carbon credits on more than 55,000 hectares of forestland.  

The DayLight reported a number of illegalities associated with the proposed deal.

The investigation showed BlueEarth induced community leaders to consent to the deal by underwriting their transportation and food costs.

It proved that ordinary townspeople and some community leaders were still unaware of the deal despite emerging in March, a violation of locals’ right to free, prior and informed consent (FPIC).  (FPIC is guaranteed in the Community Rights Law, the Land Rights Act, and the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples)

The deal sought over 55,000 hectares, more than 8,000 hectares of the uncontracted area Ziadue has.

It was illegally intended to last for 25 years, 10 more than the legal duration of a community forest contract, based on the Community Rights Law. 

EPA, one of the agencies responsible for regulating the carbon industry, said it was caught unaware by The DayLight’s investigation.

BlueEarth Capital intended to capture carbon credits in more than 55,000 hectares of forestland in Ziadue Clan, Central River Cess District in River Cess County. The DayLight/Carlucci Cooper

“Their intent is to exploit these forests for carbon harvesting and subsequent trading of carbon credits on the international market,” it said. BlueEarth has also engaged communities in Nimba, Grand Cape Mount and Gbarpolu.

Ziadue Clan’s land leadership said they would now focus on getting its ancestral land deed, a process it has almost completed.

“We are customary people. What we are running after now is our confirmatory survey to get a deed from the Liberia Land Authority (LLA),” said Emmanuel Roberts, the chairman of the Ziadue’s community land development management committee (CLDMC).

“If we have anything to do with BlueEarth Capital, it will not be hidden from the national government, civil society organizations and our consultant.”

Augustine Jarrett, BlueEarth’s American owner and former presidential adviser, did not answer questions for comments on the matter. However, he defended his institution in a statement on Monday evening.

“We are deeply committed to the principles of transparency, integrity, and community engagement,” Jarrett said.  

Alleged Bribery, Fraud and Arrest: Liberia’s First Carbon Deal 

created by dji camera

Top: Carbon Harvesting Corporation (CHC) proposed a carbon credit deal for 400,000 hectares of forest in River Cess that would have left Liberia US$2.2 billion poorer. The DayLight/Derick Snyder

By James Harding Giahyue

MONROVIA – Many would believe that the current negotiation between the Liberian government and Blue Carbon of the United Arab Emirates is Liberia’s first attempt at a carbon credit deal.

Well, that is not true. Liberia’s first carbon trading discussions occurred more than one-and-a-half decades ago with a Carbon Harvesting Corporation (CHC), based in the United Kingdom, and worth US$2.2 billion.

The CHC deal went on to become one the biggest scandals of the administration of then President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. It sparked cross-border investigations, with Monrovia requesting London to extradite a British businessman involved.

Liberian investigators found officials connived to grant CHC the carbon concession without any bidding. Evidence showed that Liberia would have lost millions of dollars, the Forestry Development Authority (FDA) board of directors and violated Liberian procurement law.

The CHC cross-border scandal had all the ingredients of a crime story: fraud, bribery, other violations of Liberia’s concession-related laws, and even plagiarism of an American study.

The four-year criminal activities ended with the arrest of the British businessman, a presidential pronouncement for the prosecution, reprimand and dismissal of the officials involved, and the impeachment of the senator.

From a carwash to the Office of the President

In 2007 about this time of the year, George Antwi, a Ghanaian, approached then River Cess senator Jonathan Banney about a carbon trading investment in the county. Antwi had been hired by Michael Foster, the owner of Carbon Harvesting Corporation (CHC), a firm based in Liverpool.

The deal appeared simple to Banney: CHC wanted to sequester carbon on 400,000 hectares of forestland in the southcentral county, obtain carbon credits and then sell them on carbon markets to companies wanting to offset their own carbon emissions. It would take eight years for the world to adopt carbon offsetting as a way to combat climate change at the Paris Climate Summit. However, experts, some in Liberia, were setting the pace for the global carbon trading market, a process still being done today.

Banney bought Antwi’s proposal right away.

“[Antwi] informed Mr. Foster about my eagerness of wanting investment to go to River Cess,” Banney would later tell investigators.

“Thereafter, I got an email. I informed the President about this investment proposal and that I wanted to extend [an] invitation to the investors. She agreed,” Banney would add.

In December of that year, Banney arranged a meeting between President Sirleaf and CHC represented by Foster, Antwi and other members of the company.

Things moved with lightning speed thereafter. By July 2008, there were meetings with the President and John Woods, the Managing Director of the Forestry Development Authority (FDA) at the time. A memorandum of understanding (MoU) with the chiefs and elders of Yarnee District, River Cess had been signed and Banney paid the FDA approximately US$15,000 for a biomass study.

Then in July 2008, CHC presented its proposal to the Liberian government to sell carbon credits on the unregulated and unverified carbon market at the rate of US$4 per tonne. It claimed that it had to trade below the international estimate of up to US$15 per tonne because Liberia’s rainforest was not recognized by the Kyoto Protocol, the UN operational mechanism for reducing carbon emissions.

That was followed by an analysis cost and benefits of its investment CHC claimed to have done, which found Liberia would benefit more from carbon credits than from commercial logging.

UK Police Arrests Foster

Then in February 2009, Woods informed the board of directors of the FDA and asked for the Public Procurement Concession and Commission (PPCC) for the CHC contract to be single-sourced, which was granted in December that year.

It was Woods’ efforts to get the green light from the Inter-ministerial Concession Committee (IMCC) that coincided with the demise of the CHC deal.

The Chairman of the National Investment Commission Dr. Richard Tolbert question the legality of the FDA negotiating the CHC instead of the IMCC. Tolbert suggested that the CHC proposals be sent to all members of the IMCC, including the Ministry of Justice and Finance. “I assume that the IMCC, constituted by the President for forest management contracts is the same body to act on this matter,” Tolbert said in a letter to Woods in early 2010.  

Michael Foster faced extradition from the United Kingdom to Liberia between 2010 and 2015 for alleged bribery, fraud and criminal conspiracy over a carbon credit deal. Picture credit: Liverpool Echo

Tolbert’s communications on the CHC deal continued until President Sirleaf requested him to constitute an IMCC negotiation of the CHC deal.

But it did not happen. In June that year, police in London arrested Foster for allegedly paying a bribe to seal the deal. The U.K.-based Global Witness, investigating the deal for two years, had told police Foster referenced an alleged US$2.5 million payment when they interviewed him.

It emerged that the company had calculated that Liberia would save 423 tonnes of carbon emissions in each hectare of the River Cess 400,000 hectares of forest. That meant 162 million carbon credits to Liberia, the Guardian of the U.K. reported.

But it emerged Liberia risked losing over US$2 billion if the CHC deal had gone on.  Thomas Downing, an expert with the Governance and Economic Management Assistance Programme (GEMAP), told the Guardian he had advised the FDA against it. 

Downing said the carbon credit figures were “unreasonably high” and had “no commercial value” for Liberia. GEMAP was created by Liberia and the international community to help combat corruption after the country’s civil wars.

“I had understood that the Carbon Harvesting proposal had been definitively rejected. Thus, I was surprised to hear that it still enjoyed some support,” Downing said.

“The proposal, if adopted, would be quite damaging to the FDA. Indeed, it could cost [Liberia] hundreds of millions of dollars,” he added.

Liberia investigates the CHC deal

Back in Liberia, hell broke loose. President Sirleaf set up an official inquest into the CHC scandal. The head of the CHC Investigation Committee was Cllr. Negbalee Warner, the future dean of the Louis Arthur Grimes School of Law at the University of Liberia. Future deputy police chief Rose Stryker and one William Massaquoi completed the team.

“The President’s communication to the committee suggested that certain procedural requirements relative to the granting of such [a] concession might not have been followed,” Warner told the Guardian at the time. “For example, the proposal was recommended to the inter-ministerial committee without any open competitive bidding process.” 

In roughly four months, Warner’s committee was back with its findings. It interviewed 19 people and institutions, including forest watchdog Global Witness and the United Nations Panel of Experts.

The committee recommended Banney be impeached as senator for abusing his legislative functions and bribery. CHC paid Banney over US$20,000 for arranging a meeting with President Sirleaf, getting River Cess communities’ consent for the project, running errands and pressuring the FDA and other entities to grant the concession.

Minister of Internal Affairs Ambulai Johnson was recommended to face prosecution for allegedly soliciting a US$2 million bribe from CHC. The committee heard the company asked him for help when it faced “obstacles” from other officials.

The committee recommended the dismissal of the Executive Director of the PPCC Peggy Meres. She allegedly influenced the procurement process through which CHC, a gaming company until now, single-sourced the concession.

The committee asked that Augustine Johnson, the agency’s geoinformation service manager, and Joseph Neufville, an adviser at the PPCC, be dismissed immediately. It found the duo allegedly solicited and accepted bribes and committed a procurement offense.

Woods, who was now replaced at the FDA over his poor health, was asked to be reprimanded over his alleged role in the scandal. “The MD has been paid and is on our side as he is dependent on us in the future,” the investigation found CHC officials bragged among themselves.

The committee also found that Woods had allegedly ignored the pieces of advice from Downing and Silas Siakor, the executive director of the Sustainable Development Institute (SDI), and others.

The Carbon Harvesting Corporation deal plagiarized a study from the United States Forest Service estimating that it would capture 423 carbon credits in one hectare of tropical rainforest in Liberia. It was exposed following an investigation by a special presidential committee headed by Cllr. Negbalee Warner. The DayLight/James Harding Giahyue

Downing’s case was more startling. The committee found that he had informed Woods that CHC’s so-called cost and benefit analysis was plagiarized from the United States Forest Service’s study on a California rainforest. Downing shared copies of the plagiarized study with Woods severally and both men even viewed the two documents.

Minister of Planning and Economic Affairs Amara Konneh was reprimanded for issuing CHC a concession certificate in breach of the procurement law. Konneh denied any wrongdoing, saying the report was politically motivated.

The committee recommended Foster and Antwi face the law in Liberia for alleged fraud, bribery and criminal conspiracy. Both men denied the allegations.

President Sirleaf agreed with the committee’s recommendation and took the actions it had suggested. She called on the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to request the extradition of Foster and announced additional restrictions on presidential visits.

But President Sirleaf later rescinded her decision against the Liberian officials. About a month later, she dismissed her entire cabinet, except for one minister.

Foster extradition case lingered until 2015 when police dropped all charges against him. U.K. police said they could not obtain evidence in key areas of their investigation.

The story was a production of the Community of Forest and Environmental Journalists of Liberia (CoFEJ).

Sinoe District Wins Global Environmental Prize


Top: Members of Kpanyan’s community land development and management committee (CLDMC). Picture credit: IDH

By Emmanuel Sherman

MONROVIA – The community land leadership of  Kpanyan District in Sinoe County has been named one of the 10 winners of the Equator Prize. The United Nations-led award recognizes the efforts of indigenous people and local communities globally to meet environmental, economic and public health challenges.  

UNDP, which leads the  Equator Initiative that issues the prize, praised Kpanyan’s CLDMC for setting aside 40,000 hectares of forest for conservation.

It also celebrated  the district for embracing “sustainable agriculture interventions to improve food security, diversify income streams, and adapt to climate change.”

“Equator Prize winners inspire us to reimagine our approach to sustainable development, reminding us that real progress lies in empowering Indigenous people and local communities, embracing their invaluable wisdom…,” said Haoliang Xu, UNDP’s associate administrator and director for policy and program support.   

People in Kpanyan jubilated when news of their victory broke, according to Alfred Clarke, the chairman of the CLDMC or community land development and management committee.

“Inasmuch we win that prize, we will increase the awareness and the community that is closer to the forest we are talking about, we will engage them to be the watchdog…”

Kpanyan’s CLDMC was formed in 2019, a year after Liberia established its Land Rights Act. The landmark law recognizes customary land ownership. It calls for the creation of a CLDMC to handle the affairs of communal lands across the country.

With the first CLDMC in southeastern Liberia, Kpanyan completed its land use plan—the second after Foya nationwide—for over 100,000 hectares across the seaside district. About 84 percent of Kpanyan’s land is dense and regenerating forest.

To manage that resource, Kpanyan established a production, protection and inclusion (PPI) pact. The partnership among local communities, NGOs, the private sector and local authorities tackles climate change, food insecurity and the disregard of ancestral land rights. The PPI also confronts deforestation, illegal forest activities and poor infrastructure.

The pact is a revolution in a country saddled for decades by large plantations that overlook the participation of local communities.

Kpanyan is a witness to that. In 2020, Golden Veroleum Liberia (GVL) signed a 65-year agreement to develop oil palm on 350,000 hectares of land across Maryland, Grand Kru and Sinoe, including Kpanyan District. However, the agreement did not seek villagers’ consent, leading to protests.  

“Our project has laid the foundation for conflict-free investment and inclusive development…,” said Silas Siakor, the country manager of IDH, a Dutch NGO that works with Kpanyan.    

“With the prize, Kpanyan CLDMC is poised to launch a community-led conservation initiative that serves as a model for other communities,” Siakor added.

Gregory Kitt, the executive director of Parley Liberia, which helped established Kpanyan’s CLDMC, expressed the Bong-based NGO’s delight.  

Kpanyan District in Sinoe County has set aside 40,000 hectares of forest for conservation. The DayLight/James Harding Giahyue

Kitt said the townspeople’s decision to seek customary land rights as a district—rather than individual clans—contributed to its victory.

“This enabled the Kpanyan CLDMC to extend effective land and forest governance at scale throughout their territory,” Kitt told The DayLight. “The result is the extraordinary conservation outcome recognized by this Equator Prize.”

The other nine winners of the award came from Brazil, Bolivia, Burundi, Guatemala, Philippines, Zambia, Nepal, Greenland and Ecuador. They were selected from over 500 nominations from 108 countries, according to the Equator Initiative.

All 10 winners will be awarded US$15,000 and get an opportunity to attend key environmental events, including the UN General Assembly, the UN climate conference in Dubai and the Sustainable Development Goals summit.

Winners will receive their awards at a UNDP event in November. They will become part of a network of 275 communities that have helped combat climate change and poverty.

Gongloe’s Party Wants Blue Carbon Deal Halted


Top: A forest and a village in River Cess County. Pictures by William Q. Harmon and Derick Snyder Graphic by Rebazar Forte

By Esau J. Farr

MONROVIA – The Liberian People’s Party (LPP) of Cllr. Tiawan Gongloe has called on the government of Liberia to discontinue a carbon credit deal with Blue Carbon of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), as the agreement fails to recognize the rights of indigenous people and exceeds the area threshold for a forestry concession.   

“Blue Carbon must therefore discontinue negotiation with the government of Liberia until it is presented with evidence that would-be affected communities have given their free, prior, and informed consent as required under Liberian law,” the party said in a statement on Tuesday.   

“The Government has an obligation to protect the land rights of customary communities across the country – entering into this agreement with Blue Carbon would contravene that sacred responsibility,” the statement added.

The Ministry of Information Cultural Affairs and Tourism did not immediately respond to queries for comments.

In March this year, Liberia signed a US$50 billion memorandum of understanding (MoU) with Blue Carbon to implement carbon removal projects on more than 1 million hectares of Liberia’s rainforests for 30 years.

“We are honored to sign this MoU with The Republic of Liberia,” said Sheikh Ahmed Dalmook Al Maktoum, Blue Carbon’s chairman.  

“This bilateral association marks another milestone for Blue Carbon to enable government entities to define their sustainable frameworks and help transition to a low-carbon economical system…,” he added. Blue Carbon’s mission is to use bilateral agreements to help governments and UAE-based firm’s clients achieve a de-carbonized economy in line with the Paris Climate Agreement, according to its website.

Minister of Finance and Development Planning Samuel Tweah, Jr. stated the deal would help Liberia prevent forest degradation and deforestation. “We are confident that this collaboration is another step forward for us to mark an era of sustainability…,” Tweah said.  (President George Weah  proposed to the  United Nations climate conference in Scotland in 2021   the establishment of an African Carbon Credit Trading Mechanism.)

But the deal would violate a number of Liberian laws, including on land and forestry as it fails to recognize local communities’ rights.

Under Liberia’s Land Rights Act, communities have the right to control the use, protection, management and development of forest resources. The law guarantees local communities’ right to consent.  

A draft of the MoU, seen by The DayLight, has provisions for local communities’ consent but after the agreement would have been signed.

That is a red flag, as the consent principle, emphasizes the participation of the indigenous people prior to an agreement. It is a major pillar of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which Liberia signed into Law.

Also, one million hectares of land would contravene the National Forestry Reform Law, which restricts a forestry concession to 400,000 hectares.

“Allocating one million hectares under a single contract and including communities’ customary land in [the] said contract would violate the forestry law,” the party, vying to unseat the government in October, said.

On Monday, a group comprising several civil society organizations, the Independent Forest Monitoring Coordination Mechanism, also criticized the deal.

It expressed concern over the Blue Carbon MoU’s possible breach of a 2014 climate agreement between Liberia and Norway, which requires to halt deforestation nationwide for US$150 million.  

Under the deal, Liberia would give Blue Carbon exclusive rights to manage several protected areas and proposed protected areas. That includes the Sapo National Park and the Krahn Bassa Proposed Protected Area. The firm would singlehandedly run reforestation, ecotourism and conservation programs, and trade carbon credits.  

“The status of that agreement is currently unclear given the Norway funds have not been fully utilized and the agreement remains in effect until 2025,” the group said.

Violations, Community Benefits Dominate Forest Forum


Top: A drone shot of a log yard in Greenville, Sinoe County. The DayLight/Derick Snyder

By Mark B. Newa

MONROVIA – Forestry violations and delayed payments of benefits to logging-affected communities were the major issues at the just-ended forest conference hosted by the Liberian government.  

The “Forest and Climate Resilience Forum” was expected to reassess the commitment of the Liberian government and the international community to the protection of the country’s rainforest, the largest in the west African region.

The event came on the backdrop of reports of widespread irregularities and impunity in Liberia’s forestry sector. Associated Press recently reported that President George Weah ignored calls from foreign partners to tackle illegalities in the forestry sector.

“Current situation in Liberia`s forest sector is worrying,” said Laurent Delahousse, the head of the European Union (EU) Delegation, at the close of the event over the weekend. “It is characterized by [……] too short rotations, by the lack of proper forest management plans, and by illegal logging, which are real threats to forest regeneration and which affect the commercial and the global value of the forest,” Delahousse added.

On Thursday, the first day of the conference, more than 20 international nongovernmental organizations said the Liberian government was failing to control the illegal logging and undermining the systems in place to control it. They come from China, Germany, the United Kingdom, the United States of America, the Netherlands, Belgium and Finland.

“We call on the government of Liberia to ensure all timber exports go through the LiberTrace, the traceability system, and to close down all existing routes for laundering illegally sourced timber,” the group said in a joint statement.

The Managing Director of the Forestry Development Authority (FDA) Mike Doryen brushed off criticisms, promising to grant access to public information. He blamed communities for the situation.  

“Illegal logging activities usually begin with forest communities. These communities are undermining our efforts to deal with violations,” Doryen said.

“People go in the communities and take money from other people to harvest and transport timber to town… outside what is required law, it is illegal logging,” Doryen added. He, however, promised to set up a task force to monitor and regulate unlawful activities in the forestry sector.

Communities’ Benefits

There were a lot of concerns about communities’ benefits during the two days of the event.

European Union Head of Delegation Laurent Delahousse flags illegalities in Liberia’s forest sector during the Forest and Climate Resilience Conference. Photo credit: Mark B. Newa/The DayLight

By law, communities hosting large-scale logging concessions and former small-scale ones set aside exclusively for Liberians, are entitled to 30 percent of the land rental fees companies pay. But this is not the case. The government, which receives the payments, owes communities US$6.6 million. 

Outside the hall at the Ellen Johnson Sirleaf Ministerial Complex, where the event took place, people from those affected communities protested. The protesters carried placards with inscriptions: “Pro-poor for the poor but not against the poor,” “Government of Liberia pays our land rental fees and the forestry law is clear on community benefits, among others.”

“This money is not forthcoming, with at least over US$6 million still outstanding. The little money that has come through was [either] late or meddled in corruption,” said Loretha Pope-Kai the chairperson of the National Civil Society Council of Liberia, the largest conglomerate of pressure groups in the country.

“Our forest communities live on the forest for their cultural, social, economic, and all other needs. Forests are therefore key to all considerations of Liberia’s… future,” Pope-Kai added, receiving huge applause.  

National Benefit Sharing Trust (NBST), a watchdog that oversees communities benefits,  said the delayed payment made it difficult for the group to function. It is largely funded by payments communities get. It has spent US$1.8 million on 53 projects nationwide, it reported last year.

“Funding gap is undermining the long-term sustainability of the NBST,” Kollie said.

The theme of the two-day forum was “Catalyze renewed commitments and strengthen partnerships in sustainable forest management as key strategies supporting the Government of Liberia’s Pro-Poor Agenda for Prosperity and Development (PAPD).”

US165K Clinic Funded By Community Logging Benefits Stalls Over Furniture


Top: The Tiah Town Clinic was funded by benefits affected communities received from a logging concession between the Liberian government and International Capital Consultant (ICC). Construction works have been completed but the lack of furniture supplies means the clinic cannot serve its people. The DayLight/Eric Opa Doue

By Eric Opa Doue for The DayLight

TIAH TOWN, Nimba County – Fifty-two-year-old Elizabeth Zialue traveled 55 kilometers from Tiah Town in Nimba to Boegeezay Town in River Cess County to seek treatment for her two-year-old grandson. Medical services in the Boegeezay community are free but Zialue has to pay LD3,500 for a motorcycle taxi to get there, and the same amount to get back.

Zialue had lost her daughter, the boy’s mother, two years ago. “My daughter was sick when she delivered. There was no money to go to the hospital in Boegeezay or Tappita so she died,” she recalled.

But Zialue’s daughter could have survived if a clinic in Tiah Town was operational.  In 2017, communities around here received US$125,000 to construct a clinic here in Tiah Town. The money was a portion of their benefits from a logging concession between the Liberian government and a logging company called International Capital   Consultant (ICC). The concession, known in the forestry sector as Forest Management Contract Area K, covers 266,910 hectares in both River Cess and Nimba. The community’s leadership added another US30,000 for other utilities such as water towers and an insinuator.

The clinic’s construction started in April 2017 and was expected to be completed, dedicated for full operation in March 2018. The Nimba County Health Team was supposed to provide the workforce and medical and non-medical supplies for the running of the facility. Due to its strategic location, it was supposed to serve both River Cess and Nimba Counties when completed.  

Healthcare workers’ resident at the proposed Tiah Town Clinic. The DayLight/Eric Opa Doue
The Tiah Town Clinic project was funded by logging funds. The DayLight/James Harding Giahyue

Five years after its completion, nothing has happened according to plan. The National Benefit Sharing Trust Board, a watchdog that manages communities’ funds from forest concessions disbursed US$10,225.25 plus L$5.3 million to purchase furniture and drugs for the clinic. The fees come from logging-affected communities’ share of land rental fees companies pay to the Liberian government. However, the community’s forest leadership used the fund to build a guesthouse instead.  

Jerry Gbaye, the head of the leadership at the time, told The DayLight his decision to divert the fund was backed by all affected towns and villages in Gbi, Gbiagloh and Doru chiefdom, where the clinic is located. The clinic is meant to provide thousands of people access to healthcare in one of the remotest places in Liberia.

“It was not the CFDC’s decision to use the money for a guesthouse,” Gbaye said. CFDC means community forest development committee, a body of villagers that co-manages a certain logging concession alongside the Forestry Development Authority (FDA).

“The people of Gbiagloh and Gbi said the people of Doru already had the clinic in their area so that money should be used to construct a guesthouse for them to benefit, too,” he added.

Alfred Zelee, an elder responsible for Tiah Town’s development matters, refutes that claim. “If a decision was reached to use the money on the guesthouse, I don’t know,” said Zelee.” “All I know is that Gbaye took the money and used it on the guesthouse.

“We are suffering here because few people decided to use the money from the land rental fees that they were supposed to use to put medicine in the clinic,” he added.

The National Union of Community Forest Development Committee (NUCFDC), a group that advocates for the benefits for villagers affected by logging concessions, is investigating the matter. 

Gbi-Doru District is one of Nimba’s remotest communities, with no access to healthcare. The DayLight/James Harding Giahyue

“We are now investigating whether the project was identified by the citizens and, and the project was awarded to a competent company,” said Andrew Zelemen, the national facilitator for the group in an interview with The DayLight. “Since it is established that the money was diverted, the NUCFDC is now contemplating what punishment awaits the [community’s leadership.”

The Trust Board has also said it would not give the community’s leadership any more money unless it accounted for the furniture fund for the clinic, the most expensive of 53  projects it has funded countrywide since 2015.

“The board has the intent to release additional funding for the Tiah Town project and all other uncompleted projects across the country, under conditions,” said Roberto Kollie, the head of the secretariat. “The first criterion is the [community’s leadership] must be able to present an assessment report to the board.

“The Assessment report will include the project that was approved, the cost of the project, and the total amount that was disbursed for the implementation of the project and they must be able to provide a reason to the board why those projects were not completed.”

Zialue in Tiah Town is unaware of the unfolding. Her grandchild was treated but she had to spend additional days in Boegeezay before going back to Tiah Town.

“Ever since the people talked about the hospital to build, everybody was happy, but today no head, no tail,” Zialue said. “We [are] still doing the same thing.”

The Media May Have Lost Thousands Over Abandoned Logs


Top: Burned and decayed logs that were abandoned by African Wood and Lumber Company in Compound Number Two, Grand Bassa County. The DayLight/James Harding Giahyue

By Mark Newa

MONROVIA – The Liberian media may have lost up to an estimated US$63,250 over the failure of the Forestry Development Agency (FDA) to auction logs, timber and timber products abandoned by concession companies, according to an investigation by The DayLight.

Nearly every logging company in the country has abandoned logs—Masayaha, International Consultant Capital and Sing Africa Plantation Liberia Limited, just to name a few. They can be found in large and small-scale concessions, plantations and community forests across the country.  Some are being used for firewood, charcoal, planks and defecation. Others have even been used as an insurance bonds in a lawsuit.

“Logging companies have left [a] huge quantity of assorted round logs unattended or abandoned at various bush landings and log yards over the years…,” an August 2020 FDA report, covering River Cess, Grand Bassa and Nimba, said. A bush landing is where logs are piled after felling, while they are stored in log yards to be transported for export.

“Valuable time species are continuously being harvested by logging companies without first securing sales contracts, only to leave those logs unattended,” the FDA investigators said at the time.

The Regulation on Abandoned Logs, Timber and Timber Products prescribes penalties for the offense, ranging from fines to forfeiture of forest licenses. But the FDA has not punished any companies or individuals amid plenty of evidence.

Under the regulation, logs are considered abandoned when they are unattended between 15 and 180 working days, depending on their location. It was created in 2017 to replace a previous one, which narrowed the definition of abandonment to logs outside contract areas and without tracking numbers.  It was the country’s response to the demands of the global timber market for legal and sustainable logs.

The current regulation mandates the FDA to make a number of radio announcements and publications in newspapers—from a notice of abandonment to a public auction and to the declaration of the winner of the auction. So far, not a single one has been done in the five years of the regulation.

To arrive at the estimated total loss, The DayLight used US$100 for the average cost of a quarter-page newspaper publication and US$5 for a radio announcement, based on our analysis of advertisement rates. We multiplied those costs by the 22  newspaper publications and 66 radio announcements required by the regulation. And then we added the two products. That gave us US$2,530 the income for the media on a single auctioning process.  Then we multiplied that by 25 incidents of abandoned logs, judging from the cases we have flagged, those reported by the FDA itself and others, to get the US$63,250.  

But there is a possibility that some of these cases would not have made it to public auctioning, as some of the logs had decayed and some could have been redeemed and there could have been no bidder. In the case of redemption, the media would have generated just US$2,500 from all 25 processes. And if no company bided for the woods in all the cases, the media would have generated US$45,750.

The amount could help cash-strapped media institutions meet challenges that have undermined the fourth estate’s role as watchdogs, and promote things like free speech and giving voice to victims of human rights abuses.  

How the media benefits

Some of the logs Sing Africa Plantation Liberia Limited abandoned at its sawmill in Zorzor, Lofa County. The DayLight/James Harding Giahyue

When the FDA is notified of suspicion of abandoned logs, the regulation requires it to investigate for seven working days and inform the company or the community leadership of the forest. Logs left in the forest are considered abandoned after 15 working days, and 180 for the ones in log yards.  

If a company or community claims the logs, then the FDA must publish administrative fees it incurred during its investigation—including transportation, storage, and the cost of the publication, for example.

But if no one claims the logs, the agency is required to publish a notification of abandonment in a newspaper for five days and announce the same on local and national radio stations for 14 days.   

Once it finds out that the logs are abandoned, it must announce its findings on national and local radio stations for another 14 days.

If a claimant does not come forward or prove they own the logs, the FDA must publish a notice of abandonment in a newspaper for five days.

Thereafter, the FDA is mandated to seek a court order to auction the logs. When that petition is granted, it is required to publish an auction notice in a newspaper at least once for five days. It must run that same announcement for the same period on national and local radio stations.

The last round of mandatory publication is the announcement of the result of the auction for seven days in a newspaper.

Communities Protest for Forest Benefits


Top: Members of the communities affected by logging concessions protest before the Ministry of Finance and Development Planning in Monrovia. Daily Observer/Tina Mehnpaine

By Tina Mehnpaine, with the Daily Observer

MONROVIA – Communities affected by logging concessions across Liberia have staged a sit-in action in demand of over US$5 million in land rental the government of Liberia owed them, the second year in a role for such protest.

The protesters gathered before the Ministry of Finance and Development Planning with placards. The group consisted of the leaders of logging-affected towns and villages under the banner of the National Union of Community Forest Development Committee (NUCFDC).   

By law, 30 percent of land rental fees the government collects from companies should go to communities. The fee is the product of the total size of the concession, US$2.50 for large-scale forest management contracts (FMCs), and US$1.25 for small timber sale contracts (TSCs). However, the payments have not been regular since 2017.

“Our people are affected every day by these companies and the only way to give us some relief is by paying us our percentage. So we demand our benefit, ” said Andrew Zelemen, the national facilitator of the NUCFDC.  

Zelemen added that the protest would continue if the government fails to provide the money allotted in the budget was not paid by the end of the year. NUCFDC represents logging communities from Lofa, Gbarpolu, River Cess, Nimba, Grand Gedeh, Sinoe, River Gee, Grand Kru and Maryland. Grand Bassa, Grand Cape Mount and Gbarpolu counties complete the list.

Those debts amounted to US$5.5 million between 2007 and 2019, according to a report by Forest Trends, an American NGO promoting sustainable forest management.

Last year, the government paid US$200,000 after the communities protested. It allotted US$2.7 million in the current National Budget for the payment but barely three months before the end of the fiscal term, it has only paid US$500,000.

Janga Kowo, the Comptroller General of Liberia, said on OK FM Thursday that the government would pay another US$1.5 million.   

A recent report published by the National Benefit Sharing Trust Board shows that delayed payments have stalled projects in communities.   

“Political commitment is weak despite some positive actions taken by the government in responses to pressure from stakeholders,” the report said.

This story was produced in collaboration with the Daily Observer.