A group of Nimba youth known as the “Concerned Nimbaians Calling for Re-signing and Renegotiation of the Arcelor Mittal Mineral Development Agreement (MDA)” with the Government of Liberia on Tuesday, April 29, blocked ArcelorMittal’s railroad in demand of changes to the MDA.
The obstruction of the railroad brought a sudden halt to the movement of trains and also stopped the maintenance work along the rail as well.
There was no damage done to the railroad by the youths, but they placed a barricade on several areas of the rail to avoid the movement of trains.
The Concerned Nimbaians blocked the railroad around the boundary between Bong and Nimba in the Town called Duoh where tension has been mounting over the unsafe condition of the bridge over the St. John River.
The group of young men was seen sitting on the rail playing cards with a barricade beside them as the Liberia National Police backed by the Police Support Unit looked on.
There were no tussles reported between the police and citizens over the blockage during the time of this reporter’s visit. Everything appeared peaceful as the youth waited for the government to respond to their demand.
Saye Musa, the head of the group, said they were operating under an action called: “Hear Nimba Cry and Weep Her Tears.” They explained the point of the action is to make sure the Government of Liberia talks to the people and the Concerned Nimbaians.
“Rather than damaging the track, we felt we could get our point across by blocking it to stop the movement of the train,” he said.
He said their action would continue as long as the government refuses to address their concerns.
“Until the government can come, we will not stop,” he added.
In February 2014 the group carried out a peaceful demonstration in Ganta City over the failure of ArcelorMittal to address their plight concerning the MDA.
Before the February protest, the group met with the CEO of ArcelorMittal in Yekapa on the 15th of February, where their petition was submitted.
In response to their petition, ArcelorMittal requested for a month to review the petition before responding.
The deadline of March 15th was set to meet with the Concerned Nimbaians and respond to their petition. However, according to the youth, the March meeting was a ‘fiasco,’ because the steel giant’s managing team couldn’t give any concrete response.
Saye Musa told this paper that due to the disappointment they left the March meeting with, Nimba Superintendent, Fohn Zuaglay, asked for two weeks to negotiate with ArcelorMittal so they could address them. Up to this date, the superintendent is yet to respond.
The group accuses ArcelorMittal of violating the MDA, and failing to implement what was enshrined in the MDA.
Among projects that are yet to be implemented is the renovation of the Yekapa Hospital, the Yekapa Areas Schools, and the vocational training center in Yekapa as well as improvement of the living conditions of workers and giving greater employment opportunity to Liberians.
Presently, large parts of Yekapa including “Area T” and other areas remain in ruin, while greater parts where workers live are yet to be renovated or electrified. These conditions persist almost 10 years after ArcelorMittal took over the Mount Nimba Concession in 2005.
Up to the time this reporter visited the railroad— around 14 hours GMT— neither the local officials nor representatives from ArcelorMittal were seen trying to address the situation.
“With this kind of situation, we expected the authority from this county to be here to find a peaceful solution,” former Nimba Lawmaker, Jackson Fiindor, expressed with dismay.
Neither officials of government or ArcelorMittal’s management responded to the situation. Efforts to get their views remained futile as all of their phones rang without responses.