Liberian Environmentalist Wins Top International Award

Silas Siakor smiles as his received the Black World Prize to the Fraternity from the Spanish magazine Mundo Negro and Comboni Missionaries on February 2, 2019 in Madrid Spain 

Monrovia – Silas Siakor, founder of the Sustainable Development Institute (SDI) and winner of the Goldman Environment Award, has added another to his incredible haul of international recognition for his work in Liberia’s natural resource sector.

Report by James Harding Giahyue, Contributor

Siakor on Saturday received the Black World Prize from the Mundo Negro magazine and the Comboni Missionaries at an elaborate ceremony in the Madrid, Spain.  The groups said they gave Siakor the award for defending rural communities and nature against concession companies and politicians. 

The prize money for the award is €10,000.  

“Silas Siakor stars in a fight against illegal logging and political corruption in his country, Liberia,” said the Mundo Negro in a statement on its website.  “His work highlights the desire and power of people who want to change the world, even if they sometimes face the interests of groups that accumulate money and power,” it added. 

Under the theme: “We are from the Earth”, the award ceremony was part of Mundo Negro magazine’s annual XXXI during Africa Encounter, an annually will serve to reflect on the ecology in Africa and the world. 

The award was granted last year to Spanish journalist, writer and activist Helena Maleno, and Eretrean priest P.Mussie Zerai for their work with migrants on the southern border.  The Cardinal of Bangui Dieudonné Nzapalainga and the Imam of the central mosque of Bangui Kobine Layama were given the award in 2017 for their struggle for peace in the Central African Republic. In 2016 it went to Ugandan youth activist Victor Ochen for his efforts for reconciliation in Uganda and his messages to youth.

In an emailed interview with FrontPage Africa on Tuesday, Siakor said receiving the award was helping to raise public awareness about the problem of environmental degradation, especially deforestation in Liberia and across Africa. 

“For example, the Spanish media has been awash with stories about our work in Liberia,” Siakor, 48, said. “I am currently touring Spain, speaking in universities and hosting public seminars in major cities.” The film was co-directed by Canadian Anjali Nayar and Ghanaian Hawa Essuman.

Despite Siakor’s advocacy for better governance in the natural resource sector across nearly two decades, exposing corruption, including the 2013 Private User Permit (PUP) scandal, he said there was still a lot to be done. 

“The laws and regulations governing forest have changed significantly and the conduct of companies in the natural resource sector have improved over the years,” he said. “However, we must also acknowledge that the implementation of the progressive laws and policies we have developed in the last decade has been weak and oftentimes the practices do not match the good intentions of the law. 

“What needs to be done now is for civil society, the government and private sector to work much more closely to close the gap between good laws and poor implementation on the ground,” he said. 

Siakor in 2006 landed the Goldman Environmental Award, the world’s most prestigious environmental prize, for exposing the Charles Taylor-led government’s use of illegal logging to fund Liberia’s brutal civil war that left 250,000 dead and more than a million displaced.  

He also won the Whitley Award for Environment and Human Rights; and Alexander Soros Award for Extraordinary Achievements in Environmental and Human Rights Activism. 

Siakor also stars in the 2017 80-minute film, “Silas” about his work, which has been screened at a number of film festivals across the world, making him share podium with people like Leonardo DiCaprio.   

Siakor stepped down from his role in SDI in 2016 to focus his advocacy at the national level. 

“Leaving has afforded me the opportunity to be more involved in national policy formulation working with various government agencies, such as the FDA and the EPA, as well as providing advise and guidance to private sector operators on how to improve their relationships with communities through improved practices on the ground,” he said.

He participated in the 2017 representative elections for the Bong County District #5 seat in the Legislature but lost to incumbent Edward Karfiah.