Monrovia — In 1923, a delegation from Marcus Garvey's Universal Negro Improvement Association and African Communities League (UNIA-ACL) paid a visit to Liberia to seek President Charles D.B. King's approval to allow the purchase of land for settlement and agriculture purposes as well as assess conditions in Liberia for UNIA members interested in living in Africa.
Nearly 100 years later, Michael Duncan, brother of First Lady Clar Duncan-Weah is leading a movement to revisit the arrangement in hopes of rekindling a promise which President King later reneged on to Garvey.
The First Lady's brother, Michael, currently the President General of the UNIA-ACL, was in the news recently amid allegations the Armed Forces of Liberia was using troops and resources donated by the government of China to mine gold on behalf of Duncan and the First Lady.
The AFL issued a stern denial that it's troops are not working on mines but building roads.
In his capacity, as head of the UNIA, Mr. Duncan, who has led the organization since August 2016, is responsible for the entire working and carrying out of all commands.
Last week, talk show host Henry Costa, in a Facebook Live displayed photographs he says showed the use of recently-donated trucks by the Chinese government to the AFL being used to mine gold in Grand Kru County. "I have evidence that Mr. Weah and his brother-in-law, Michael Duncan, the brother of Clar Duncan Weah are engaged in illicit gold mining.
Mr. Costa alleged that the mining operation is taking place in Grand Kru in a village called Ma Mary Village, Parluken City, Forpoh District.
'My Interest is Farming, Not Mining'
But speaking to FrontPageAfrica Monday via phone from his farm, Mr. Duncan who launched an unsuccessful 2013 bid for the 31st Council District seat in New York, has been frequenting Liberia of late pursuing various interests.
Said Mr. Duncan: 'Since I was 17-years-old - after reading Marcus Garvey's book, it was my vision to live in Liberia. I first visited in 2015, and prior to that, I traveled to South Africa in 1996. It has always been my dream to not just visit but to live and become a citizen and spend to rest of my life in Liberia. We have to work to bring back the Garvey mission. We are not interested in mining, We are interested in agriculture. My idea is to help develop Liberia anyway I can; to develop our people and use the Garvey vision to self-empower Liberians to work with the people as Mr. Garvey prescribed."
Mr. Duncan explained that he learned about Marcus Garvey in high school and has been a Garveyite ever since. At that point I learned about Garvey's interest to form a city or start a program in Liberia as it relates to the black man," Mr. Duncan said Monday. "What we did in 2015, we started the UNIA local Division, James Stewart." Stewart, from the US state of Ohio, moved the Association' s headquarters to Monrovia, where it remained until his death in 1964, when it was again moved to Youngstown, Ohio. But by then, the organization was a shadow of its former self, and disoriented.
Asked whether he has made any effort to reach out to the Senate or the national legislature, Mr. Duncan said: "This is not to deal with the government. We are working through the people. It is our idea to build it from the ground up. I am the 11th President General of the UNIA. We are taught to respect the local laws and we intend to respect the laws of the government and abide by those laws. Everything we do we will make sure it is legal. We want to reach the common men and women and help them realize their fullest potential. Now, I have farm that I am working on right now. We do not have an office per se but we intend to have an office space soon. we have a structure on the farm where we can take care of the community."
Farm Producing Watermelon, Cabbages, he says
He further explained that the emphasis is on the elders and the indigenous people. That's why we are here for. My objective here is to reach the common men and women and from there, we will grow. We are not only doing this in Liberia but in other countries as well. We are in Ghana, Sierra Leone, working in Guinea, Zambia, South Africa and in Zimbabwe. Our objective is to organize humanitarian programs to build communities in countries wherever we are. It entails creating local missions and influencing people to control their economies. Liberia has a very fertile soil. Agriculture. There was a lot of farming here before but the war took a toll. Currently, we have hired 27 people and as we growing. We will hire a lot more people. We are doing this jointly with the chiefs, the community elders to help make their communities better, that's the main objectives."
Asked what kind of farming he is involved in, Mr. Duncan said: They currently have 15,000 heads of cabbages, 4,300 of kilos of watermelon, 15,000 plants of cucumbers and 7,000 heads of sour-sour.
According to him, twenty percent of the sour-sour is being processed for export. While the others will be used for the communities. "I have a local business in the US and the produce from the farm will be used to supply that business. We have a distribution business in US and we can supply them from right here. The rest of the produce, including corns, is for the local market. We already started distributing and we will soon start harvesting the cabbage. So, our concentration is on agriculture because it can help the local people and connect the local villages. We are working and training them to farm. What we have done so far is to train the local with seeds so they can farm on their own."
All this, he said is aimed at "steering the local people back into agriculture again."
Who Owns the Land? What the Law Say
It is unclear whether the property was purchased from the villagers or obtained through concession rights.
Under Liberian law, only Liberian citizens or qualified foreigners can own land. Foreign companies investing in agriculture in Liberia may sign a long-term lease, renewable for the life of their investment.
In September, 2018, President George Weah, who took office in January, 2018, signed a land reform law giving local communities greater rights over "customary land" and lets foreigners and charities own property. First drafted in 2014, the Land Right Act has nonetheless been criticized by some who say it weakens the rights of Liberians who live in rural areas, notably women. Previously, the government could grant private companies long-term leases on non-titled lands that cover most of the west African country settled by former slaves from the United States and Caribbean.
Under the new law, local communities can now claim ownership of customary land based on oral testimonies of community members, maps, signed agreements between neighboring communities and other documents.
The law allows foreigners, missionaries, educational and charitable organisations to own land as long as it is used for the purpose given at the time of purchase. Previously, the Liberian constitution provided that only "people of colour" can become Liberian and only Liberians can own property.
During his inaugural address in January 2018, President Weah, described archaic clauses in the land law as as 'unnecessary, racist and inappropriate for the 21st century and pledged to push for all races to apply for Liberian citizenship and for foreigners to be allowed to own property.
Liberia, Africa's oldest republic, was established by freed slaves from the United States and declared independent in 1847.
Garvey's Failed Quest
The UNIA-ACL) is a black nationalist fraternal organization founded by Garvey a Jamaican immigrant to the United States. The Pan-African organization enjoyed its greatest strength in the 1920s and was influential prior to Garvey's deportation to Jamaica in 1927. After that its prestige and influence declined, but it had a strong influence on African-American history and development. The UNIA was said to be "unquestionably, the most influential anticolonial organization in Jamaica prior to 1938."
The organization was founded to work for the advancement of people of African ancestry around the world.
In the 1920s the organization worked to arrange for emigration for African-Americans who wanted to go to African countries like Liberia.
Four years after the UNIA-ACL's mission to Liberia, then Chief Justice of Liberia, J.J. Dossen wrote to UNIA conveying the government's support:
Dossen wrote: "The President directs me to say in reply to your letter of June 8 setting forth the objects and purposes of the Universal Negro Improvement Association, that the Government of Liberia, appreciating as they do the aims of your organization as outlined by you, have no hesitancy in assuring you that they will afford the Association every facility legally possible in effectuating in Liberia its industrial, agricultural and business projects."
Two months later, however, President King unexpectedly ordered all Liberian ports to refuse entry to any member of the "Garvey Movement".
'26 Firestone Deal Crushed UNIA
In the days that followed, Liberia entered into an agreement with the Firestone Rubber Company's agreement with Liberia for a 99-year lease of one million acres (4,000 km²) of land.
The deal allowed Firestone to extract and processing rubber for the world market. The land deal had been assisted by American and European governments.
Dr. Fred Van der Kraij, an economist, specializing in the economics of African countries, says besides, the negotiations with Firestone - leading to the 1926 Planting Agreement, were held on behalf of the Liberian Government by Edwin Barclay, Secretary of State, suggesting that US and other international powers pulled the rug from under the UNIA.
King had originally intended for Liberia to lease the land to UNIA at an unprecedented dollar an acre ($247/km²). The commercial agreement with Firestone Tire dealt a severe blow to the UNIA's African repatriation program and inspired speculation that the actions were linked.
In his book, "The Open Door Policy of Liberia. An Economic History of Modern Liberia' (2 volumes, Uebersee Museum, Bremen, 1983), Dr. Van Der Kraij asserts that initially President King welcomed the Garvey Movement, notably the mass-emigration of blacks to Africa. But Later, King refused cooperation with the Marcus Garvey Movement - after being put under pressure from the French and British Government.
Things took radical turn when inn 1924, emissaries of the Universal Negro Improvement Association, who arrived in Monrovia on July 30, were deported the following day. It was the plan of this Association to establish a great Negro Empire, with one Marcus Garvey as President General, and which with Liberia as a centre was to extend over the entire Continent, to which were to be brought Negroes from all parts off the world. The act of the Presidential deporting these persons was approved by the legislature.
King had reportedly been warned by neighboring powers that they would not tolerate the presence in Liberia of an organization working for the overthrow of European supremacy in Africa."
This still makes it possible that the French and British governments exerted pressure through the US government.
At the time, the UNIA had launched the Black Star shipping line among other business ventures and began to look to Liberia as the only independent state in Africa, as the site of a Pan-African empire that would work for the upliftment, redemption and empowerment of people of African descent all over the world in the long term, and the decolonization of Africa in the short term.
Garvey had previously launched the Liberian Construction Loan program to raise two million dollars, for the UNIA settlement in Liberia and a sizable loan to the government aimed.
Some historians say, Garvey and the UNIA fell victim to US interests in Liberia and this may have contributed to Liberia breaking its promise to Garvey.
At the time, the UNIA loan was seen as an alternative to a US5 million loan offered Liberia by the US. Although Garvey and his supporters managed to raise almost 150 thousand dollars worth of bonds to finance the scheme, but it did not materialize as the US intensified its hold on Liberia, dashing the UNIA's hopes.
Years later, President William Tubman imposed severe restrictions on the immigration of Black Muslims and other American and Caribbean Nationalists.
As the Garvey's vision nears 100 years, the interest is resurrecting.
In February 2019, members of the UNIA-ACL), led by Duncan paid another visit, from January 27 to February 2, to Liberia and issued a statement in which it said it was on a mission complete the mission set out to be accomplished by its founder and first president general, Garvey, in 1920.
The statement said Liberia was the place chosen by Garvey to launch this mission in 1920, and although he did not achieve the desired success, all was not lost. "Today, nearly 100 years later, present members of the organisation see this mission as timely and very relevant at this time to help realise the hopes and aspirations of people of African descent," the group said.
During that meeting, the delegation met with President Weah and his Jamaica-born wife, Clar.
According to the statement, the delegation also held extended discussions with the minister of agriculture to look at establishing cooperation between the UNIA-ACL and Liberia.
Meetings were also aimed at strengthening relationships between the UNIA-ACL and the various indigenous groups in the country, were also held during the visit.
Duncan at the time, expressed confidence and pride that the UNIA-ACL is determined and fully committed to realise Garvey's hope and dreams of a better place in the world for people of African descent, and he is urging these people to start coming together in any way they can and work towards achieving their goals for the future.
Garvey's group was also behind the founding of the Citizens Nonpartisan League, in defense and support of Didhwo Twe and Thomas J.R. Faulkner and were instrumental in exposing the Fernando Po forced labor crisis which raised entrenched the King-Yancy, American-Grebo, Monrovia-Cape Palmas power structure. The Citizens Nonpartisan League led by Justice Frederick Johnson and Gabriel Johnson, held huge rallies in the streets of Monrovia and forced the Legislature to compel King and Yancy to resign.
In his quest to make Liberia his home, Mr. Duncan is hoping that his venture in President Weah's hometown will appease villagers although many are unsure to what end it justifies the means considering the timing and family ties, so close to the powers. "I just want to say that I'm an African born in Jamaica, who grew up in the US - and now in Liberia. I expect to Make Liberia my personal home. Since I read Garvey's book, I fell in love with Liberia. The villages and people have accepted me. So, I would like to make this my personal home where I intend to spend my last days. I want to make a difference and say I helped everyday people. I think I've been able to do that with the hiring and employment of people in the communities. Within the next year, we will be hiring two to three hundred people."