Yesterday, all eyes were turned on Africa – and this mighty continent rarely makes the headlines – with the fifty-year sentencing of former Liberian leader Charles Taylor in the International Criminal Court at The Hague. Mr. Taylor was charged with aiding and abetting war crimes in neighboring Sierra Leone. There is undoubtedly a sense of relief and of “moving on” from the years when Taylor served as the 22nd President of Liberia (1997-2003).
Educated in the United States and trained as a guerrilla in Libya, Mr. Taylor was responsible for many horrors – including two periods of civil war in the country of his birth, in 1989 and 1999. When President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf requested Taylor’s extradition from Nigeria, where he was exiled, Taylor tried to escape to Cameroon, but was arrested and transferred to the United Nations Mission in 2003. In 2006 Taylor pleaded not guilty to the eleven crimes he was eventually found guilty of in the Special Court for Sierra Leone. The crimes included rape, murder, acts of terrorism, enlisting child soldiers and enslavement.
So, justice has been seen to be done and, despite some mixed reactions in Liberia itself, Sierra Leone has greeted the sentence with joy. The rest of the world sees this as a stern warning to would-be dictators and despots, wherever they may be. We know the stories of blood diamonds, amputations and other horrendous human rights violations. Now, can both countries take a deep breath, swallow hard and start to move on from that era of pain and trauma?
In Liberia, a little hope comes from a perhaps unlikely source. Like modern-day gypsies, surfers roam the globe, surfboards tucked under their bronzed arms, seeking new places to ride the waves. And Liberia has gorgeous, largely unspoiled golden beaches blessed with deep, deliciously rolling waves. Here is a blog post from a few days ago from the town of Robertsport - only about ten miles from the border with Sierra Leone - which brings good news. A small community-based organization, Robertsport Community Works, founded with money from overseas, not only encourages surfing but has also engaged in income-earning and environmental projects in the area.
More than a decade after wartime aid workers left surfboards with a few eager young men in Robertsport, Liberia has been declared a “surfing nation” by the International Surfing Association. This official designation means that Liberian surfers are now eligible for ISA support, including contest support and scholarships, through the association’s wide network.
Our thanks to partner Surf Resource Network for helping to make this longstanding dream a reality. We are certain that this important step will benefit Liberian surfers as they promote the sport and as they seek out wider recognition in the region. This official designation will also raise the profile of surfing in Liberia and further attract surf tourists interested in sustainable tourism that directly benefits the local community.
At Robertsport Community Works, we have been mentoring and supporting local Liberian surfers since 2009 by co-organizing the annual Surf Liberia Contest, helping to connect surfboard and gear donations to surfers in need, and mentoring surfers to finish secondary school and move on to university or vocational training.
Congratulations to all Liberian surfers and to those working hard to raise the profile of surfing in Liberia!
Related articles and links
Charles Taylor sentenced to 50 years (guardian.co.uk)
Charles Taylor’s heavy sentence a stark warning to world leaders (theglobeandmail.com)
Joy in Sierra Leone, mixed feelings in Liberia after Taylor sentencing (theglobeandmail.com)
http://www.surfliberia.com/ Surf Liberia
http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/in_pictures/8092112.stm: In pictures: Surfing in Liberia