This is Mark Doyle’s first post from Liberia.
I’m in the mountains of Liberia, west Africa. It’s a place of towering forests and tangled greenery. There are majestic mountains and fast-flowing rivers. I love being here; the air is clean and the views are amazing.
As I look north from Mount Tokodeh I can see Liberia’s neighbour, Guinea, shrouded in low cloud. To the east of a forested plateau is another neighbour, Ivory Coast.
Everything looks green and verdant and pure.
Two days ago I was in the Liberian capital, Monrovia. What a contrast! Monrovia is built around a swamp and is, architecturally at least, an ugly little city. But I have always liked visiting the place – even during the years of Liberia’s war in the 1990’s – because Liberians themselves are almost unfailingly friendly and frank. Journalists like that.
“Africa is not poor; it is poorly managed”. The quote is from an interview with the Liberian president, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, who I met two days ago to help answer the question I am posing in the forthcoming BBC radio documentary series with the (admittedly rather provocative) working title “Why Is Africa Poor?”.
Mrs Johnson Sirleaf was on her usual form during the interview – she was coherent and convincing.
At this point I should declare an interest. I rather like Mrs Johnson Sirleaf. I knew her as an opposition leader and I have followed her progress to power. I like her plainspoken style in interviews. I admit to not knowing enough about internal Liberian politics to know whether she has full control over the Bad Guys – of which there are many in Liberia – but I freely admit to thinking she is one of the Good Guys. End of declaration.
As Africa’s first elected female head of state I reckon that her take on poverty – as a former international banker, exiled opposition leader and, today, as a President, matters. If you listen to the interview in my series (to be broadcast from August) you may agree or disagree with her views. Or indeed you may disagree with my questions to her.
I’ve come to the mountains of northern Liberia to look at a huge foreign investment project here in the iron ore mines in Liberia’s Nimba County.
My question here is – will big foreign companies like the one planning the iron ore extraction in this region help stop Africa being poor? Is it investment or exploitation? Who wins?