14 November 2012

Liberia: Scramble for Liberia's Resources

Photo: Tullow Oil
Offshore drilling.


It is indeed an unarguable fact that Liberia is richly endowed with mineral resources, water, tropical rain forest and climatic conditions favorable to agricultural activities. The country has got beautiful landscapes, marvelous creatures, fabulous natural habitats, abundant timbers, historical melegueta peppers and gigantic dark green forests. Besides, the budding oil and gas sector clearly demonstrates the country's vast assets. As a matter of fact, African Petroleum, one of the several companies drilling for oil off the coast of Liberia revealed that it has identified a potentially large accumulation of light good quality oil at the Turonian level as well as excellent quality oil in the Albain.

From the very inception and up till present, Liberia's natural resources have attracted too many capitalists and tourists and even expansionists. As a result of the Grain Coast, as it was called, not being a sovereign state with enormous assets created avenue for leading colonial nations like Great Britain and France to continually encroach on the territorial land of the country and refused to recognize constituted authority let alone respected rules and regulations. Moreover, even before the Declaration of Independence, the country's affluence enticed scores of European explorers, who were in search of hidden treasures, adventures and perhaps discoveries to improve human existence. The discovery of precious commodities or geographic features resulted to many explorers referring to what is today known as Liberia with all sorts of names that commensurate with one of the goods or features which turnout to be admirable and profitable. For instance, the Portuguese called it the Melegueta Coast while the British termed it as Grain Coast and so forth.

Notwithstanding, it was not only Europeans who tussled over the country's fortunes from the very beginning, the settlers or Americo-Liberians who were emancipated from the iniquitous Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade and aboriginal or natives who also settled earlier due to famine, destabilization and other societal vices as well scuffled over land resources. This sort of deep-rooted affray lasted for far too long and its relics still persist in spite of all the reconciliatory endeavors being instituted from time immemorial. The quest for acquisition of the nation's treasures soon began an integral part of the body politic and created a great deal of segregation among various segment of the population. There was discrimination and probably serious confrontation between darker skinned blacks and mulattos. This situation led to grave clash between two former presidents of the Republic of Liberia, Edward James Roye - a pure descendant of the Ibo tribe and Liberia's first black president - together with Joseph Jenkins Roberts - a mulatto and the country's first president.

The struggle to unite various groups was difficult which paved the way for countless political instabilities and uprisings, simply because one group or the other wanted to prove supremacy and ownership of a piece of land or natural resources. Even William V.S. Tubman under whose regime the iron ore was exported and shipping registry began in next to no time fell prey to the notion of self-aggrandizement and greed for wealth. Regardless of President Tubman's policy of unification and integration among other rudimentary ideologies; the President's thirst for prolonged power and quest to amass world goods like yachts, extravagant vehicles and luxurious mansions along with lavish lifestyle caused the legendary pamphleteer and altruistic advocate, Albert Porte a good number of times in custody. In addition, Didho Twe, a nationalist and human rights advocate organized a legitimate political party to change the status-quo, but was denied participation of 1951. Both illustrious and astute campaigners for social justice and equitable distribution of the country's resources over and again chose to remain steadfast and resilient to disclose the lapses and corrupt deeds that impeded ordinary citizens from obtaining their fair share.

On the other hand, in the late 1970s, an influential and Western schooled group of young Liberians, who acquired such education through international partners from countries with great interest or national government initiatives transitorily, formulated far-reaching institutions upon returning home. Being energized and fascinated with Western principles, development and system of government, these calibers of young people identified themselves as "progressives". The progressives' profound and insurmountable convictions rapidly wrecked the political system with the formation of Progressive Alliance of Liberia coupled with the Movement for Justice in Africa. These establishments mobilized cross-sections of the population, particularly thousands of young people from across the country comprising mostly of university students, who were nurtured and inculcated with 'revolutionary tactics' and 'democratic change' mentality. In an attempt to obtain state resources through getting hold of political leadership, the progressives orchestrated numerous rebellions; notably the Rice Riot of 1979. At long last, the revolutionary minded progressives toppled the regime of William R. Tolbert, who was the first Liberian to speak a tribal vernacular fluently. Thus, Tolbert was murdered in a coup d'état on April 12, 1980 and the mantle of authority shifted to "native or aboriginal" which constitutes majority of the population inclusive of the very so-called progressives. The military regime took over political leadership and offered nearly every professed "progressives" lucrative job. However, to a large extent, the action of the self-proclaimed progressives did not help to foster peaceful coexistence, social cohesiveness, political stability as the scramble for political jobs ensued and the quest to exploit state resources began unending. There were reported gross human rights abuses, massive corruption, usurpation of power and a more divisive politics.

Nonetheless, because of greed and selfish motive, some self-styled progressives and other influential Liberians who fell out with the military command turned civilian government of Master Sergeant Samuel K. Doe rapidly kick-started the process of vehemently dislodging his leadership. The aftermath of this situation brought untold and inhumane suffering, which resulted to the murder of approximately 250,000 lives and destruction of basic infrastructural facilities. Doe was captured and slaughtered by Prince Johnson, the rebel leader of the defunct Independent National Patriotic Front, rewarded and turned Senator of Nimba County. In no span of time, after Doe's demised a lot of power thirsty and egocentric individuals immediately organized many warring factions to reap all sorts of benefit by attending peace conferences, placement in well-to-do and strategic positions during interim governments' arrangements, confiscation of looted goods and as well being a part of the governance process as evident in the number of warlords elected or appointed to policymaking positions.

Yet again the death of Doe and numerous numbers of warring factions did not resolve the long lasting conflict. In 1999 during the administration of Charles G. Taylor another insurgence occurred in Lofa County along the border with the Republic of Guinea. The rebellion which was overlooked from its initial stages turned out to be actually serious in 2003 when the Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy and the Movement of Democracy in Liberia battled in parts adjacent Monrovia. While thousands of internally displaced people were dying of starvation and diseases, warlords were wining and dining in Accra, Ghana reviewing the Accra Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA). With no point in time after the signing of the CPA, those who destroyed innocent lives and damaged properties were given top-ranking positions as all of the government's ministries, agencies and public corporations were being apportioned. In fact, most of the warlords and financiers have gained prominent status in present-day society through the use of ill-gotten wealth and most often swiftly move upward to the highest political, economical and social strata in the society. Regrettably, their ascendancy to prominence and eminence in the country has caused considerable number of young people to resort to violence and destructive radical approaches as a recipe and shortcut to obtain fame and glory. Such a condition is disheartening, disappointing, frustrating and threatens the future of a post-war country increasingly emerging from a failed state to becoming a relatively stable nation. It is only prudent for government and its international partners to institute appropriate programs and take timely actions to eradicate this primitive concept that has for far too long plundered and bred conflicts.

The Scrambles Continue

In this 21st Century when almost every nation on Earth is increasingly and significantly improving in all aspects of development and moving steadily in an upward direction, an array of Liberian Government officials and citizens alike have chosen to remain adamant and focused towards wrangling for the same old political leadership and squabble for the nation's resources. The Government under the stewardship of one of the world's acclaimed mogul, President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, is against itself as the Legislative and Executive branches tussled and engaged in war of words for greater portion of the country's resources most especially, the nascent oil and gas industry. For the most part, the last few weeks have been marked by intense claims and counter claims through mass media publicity about the emerging oil sector. It can be recalled that on October 30, 2012 Representative Edwin Melvin Snowe of electoral district number 6 Montserrado County, addressed a press conference and revealed a wide range of issues in which he outlined that Liberia's embryonic oil sector was at a threat of being a family affair. Representative Snowe alleged that Robert Sirleaf, son of the President Sirleaf and Chairman of the National Oil Company of Liberia (NOCAL) was domineering in the decision making processes. Besides, Representative Snowe, who is widely believed to have amassed ill-gotten wealth at the detriment of the already poverty-stricken Liberians, disclosed that Robert Sirleaf was not serving as a 'pro bono' Chairman of NOCAL as being perceived. Instead, the Chairman received remuneration in the form of travel allowances among other arrangements. Representative Snowe pointed out that Robert Sirleaf holds Liberian and American passports.

Within a short span of time, Robert Sirleaf hosted another press conference to debunk Snowe's assertions. Roberts expounded that he possessed a Liberian passport and has worked towards the completion of the Petroleum Sector Reforms. In fact, he further asserted that he did not know of any country that gives visa to its own citizens. He went on to say that he has an American Visa in his Liberian passport. But, Robert Sirleaf woefully failed to allude to the fact that as a Liberian government official, it will be very convenient for him to enter America with his Liberian passport. Hence, prompting the need for an American Visa. While the U.S. law does not mention dual nationality or require a person to choose one citizenship or another, it does recognize that by obtaining U.S. citizenship by naturalization one does not lose the citizenship of his birth according to U.S. State Department Services Dual Nationality. So, by Robert Sirleaf acquiring an American Visa does not mean that he is not in possession of an American passport; the issue he failed to address. Although, Robert Sirleaf, a self-proclaimed reformist administered a bogus, cruel, and awful petroleum policy and expended over half a million United States dollars under the disguise of 'consultation forum'. Since the both press conferences, there have been different types of pseudo civil society organizations and purported activists taking side. Every now and then, the tug of war is visible and heard through the media and placards in Monrovia and its environs. It has intensified to the extent that two friends have turned foes and foot soldiers travelled long distances just to fabricate and provide disinformation about the situation. The pocketed civil society organizations and money-driven activists are working twenty four seven to sustain the debate, because it somewhat provides a source of livelihood.

Amidst the vigorous fight and enormity behind the hidden agenda, one thing for sure is that the two officials of government are tussling over greater and dominant control of Liberia's natural resources. After all, it would shortly be swept under the carpet as soon as all modalities for reaching the price of equilibrium are being worked out. This should not be a surprise, because it has been the old-fashioned method of confusing the people in order to reap their God's given and alienable benefits.

Again, the Government of President Johnson Sirleaf is faced with administrative ineptitude, extreme divisiveness, deceit, hatred and lack of inter-sectoral collaboration and coordination all because of greed for state resources and the quest to dominate the corridor of power in order to be perceived potential candidates' for elected political offices. Nowadays, some cabinet ministers have deliberately refused to speak to each other let alone to work for the common good of all. As a result of the entrenched odium, some ministers go to the extent of using pay agents to castigate other higher-ranking officials of government without any remorse of realizing that each and every officials of government should work together to promote the developmental agenda and policy frameworks. More to the point, in most government ministries, agencies and public corporations, there seems to be consistent, persistent and insistent internal power wrangling among top level officials, a situation which obstructs the growth and development of any entity. Anyway, ineptitude in the public sector is even more than corruption owing to huge capacity gap among government ministries, agencies and corporations which have led to low productivity of government resulting to hiring of more consultants being paid enormous salaries and accompanying benefits.

Even the National Legislature is engulfed with similar problems. Most legislators adapt a 'don't care' posture and instead cultivate self-interest above the people's business and paramount issues of national concerns. To the degree that one of the newest Senators from Rivercess County, Dallas Gueh submitted a letter to Plenary of the Liberian senate in the June 2012 to complain of constant delinquency on the part of senators in the discharge of their duties. Then again, the Speaker Alex Tyler of the House of Representatives, threatened to take punitive measures against lawmakers in the habit of recklessly attending sessions. These sorts of deportment on the part of honorable men and women have over and again resulted in the passage of dubious concession agreements, which often end up into public outcry. Then, every so often, when electioneering is approaching some legislators usually called for certain concessions to be reviewed and ratified primarily geared towards deceiving their own people through ridiculous utterances while extorting resources from the concessionaires. Some legislators even go to the extent of poisoning another lawmaker and carry out all kind of devilish acts as testified by Representative Richmond Anderson of electoral district number 12 and Senator Joyce Musu Freeman-Sumo of Montserrado County. It is without doubt that the motive behind these unscrupulous behaviors is aimed at clashing for state resources.

Time to Rethink

Make no mistake, the political confrontations are good principles of democracy, but the hatred, deceit and ineffectiveness have got to stop. Therefore, the legislators must begin to rethink and put Liberia's first above the sum of their ambition or greed or wealth. Senior officials of the Executive Branch of government should do the most respectable thing to desist from antagonist attack against each other; wholeheartedly work together to ensure that optimum goals and objectives are accomplished. Likewise, the Executive and Legislature branches, which are two distinct and well-defined components of a single government should forge ahead and disregard the petty jealousy and recrimination to offset adversities and adversaries. Through a more cohesive and patriotic spirit, the Executive and Legislative branches of government can defeat poverty, disease and hunger. Both branches can go beyond the ordinary to ensure that every family, community, village, town, district and county are part of the developmental agenda and help in whatsoever way possible to drive the change Liberia most desire. With the believe that this country has tasted the bitter swill of civil conflict, all officials of government and citizens and foreigners alike residing in the territorial boundaries of Liberia should and must begin to work together to transform the country better than what is it now.

As Africa's oldest which was in the limelight and citadel of topnotch education, quality health care delivery system, innovative businesses, state-of-the-art facilities, indispensable agricultural products and exploration of minerals, Liberia has got to regain and take its rightful place among the comity of nations. From this moment upward, Liberians must begin to work assiduously so as to resolve the issue of knowledge gap. The country can no longer afford to have a more educated older generation while bulk of the young people who constitute over half of the entire population are basically playing lotteries with 'Winner' and 'Premier Sports' and yet still others are busy enjoying 'Super Friday'. The country can no longer afford to have foreigners controlling every sector of the society predominantly the private sectors. The country can simply not afford to continue begging for handouts and bailouts. Now is the time, for every Liberian, no matter the name or color or age or sex or religion or social status to wake-up, shakeup and standup to begin the work of remaking Liberia. There should and must be absolutely no turning back to the status quo.

The time has come for Liberians to begin to advocate for the change in the system of governance so as to ensure accessible, affordable, effective, efficient and premium education for all. With education for all, young minds would be harnessed to build new roads, bridges, schools, and hospitals across the country. Education for all would ensure the construction of factories and production of high-tech industrial equipment. Education for all would also create avenue for the erection of basic infrastructural facilities to better the standards of living and improve clean energy and water. In addition, education for all would fill the knowledge gap through the development of human resource capacity of young people thereby yielding more medical practitioners, engineers, business tycoons, entrepreneurs, social workers, educationalists, agriculturalists, scientists and other specialists.

Now is the time for Liberians to stop the scramble over state resources and begin to emulate the country's historic and longtime partner that explores the talents and skills of every human race and ethnic group residing within its borders and even beyond. The United States of America has capitalized on African-American to demonstrate their might in sports, Jewish-American to play a leading and prominent role in industries such as finance, merchandising, apparel, textiles, entertainment, media and publication. Mohawk Indian-American to construct skyscrapers and so on. From this classic example, Liberians should now begin to move upward and utilize its rich and diverse culture of over sixteen ethnic groups to become a stronger nation to compete and surpass other countries. Every segment of the population matters a lot and is more important in this quest to further gravitate from a fragile state to a more consolidated nation, where the court system works, hospital functions, living standards improve, workers get their just benefits in a timely manner, and education is up to standard.

The American presidential election of 2012 should and must serve as a hallmark and fulcrum to proceeding elections. There should be a reform in the laws and standard operating procedures to reflect current realities. Liberians who have lost elected positions should try as much as possible to assimilate Mitt Romney's posture and likewise those who become victorious should adapt President Barrack Obama's attitude. There should be no more boycotts and any kind of trivial disputes just to be compensated behind close door. Liberians should now begin to accept government properties as their own and desist from destroying them. Government officials should take the lead and stop misusing hard-earned taxpayers' resources for personal use. Together, Liberians must work to put an end to the scramble of state resources.

About the author: Mr. Stephen B. Lavalah is an advocate and the Founder/Executive Director of Youth Exploring Solutions (YES).

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