Who’s to Blame for the Recent Violence in Nimba?

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When President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, reacting to the violent demonstration which destroyed ArcelorMittal’s facilities at Mount Tokadeh in Nimba, announced that Nimba would shoulder the cost of the damages, it really touched the minds of many Nimbaians. 

They wondered why the President would be so quick to blame Nimba when the government knew all along what had been going on.

The recent situation in Nimba had long been simmering since mid-2013, with the knowledge of the local administrations of Nimba, both past and present.

Since early 2013, the youth of Nimba had begun advocating against ArcelorMittal, first by criticizing the Mineral Development Agreements (MDA) between the Government of Liberia and ArcelorMittal-Liberia.

After months of consultations with lawyers and some personalities, who could better explain the MDA, the youth began engaging Mittal constructively through dialogue.

In July 2013, a group of Nimbaians, under the banner “Concerned Nimbaians for Resigning and Renegotiation,” petitioned the 53rd Nimba  Legislative Caucus with calls for the abrogation of the MDA with ArcelorMittal.

In their petition, which was signed by 200 youth members from across the county, they said, among other things, that the MDA was done without the collective inputs and participation of the affected communities and it was very ambiguous and not time- conscious.

They said, “The indefiniteness of the agreement had raised serious confusion in the minds of Nimbaians [who wanted to know] when the concessionaire would commence and complete the major projects mentioned in the MDA since 2005.”

They also claimed that the MDA failed to define clearly when would the 25-year  duration begin and elapse and also when would the first revision of the agreement commence?

According to them, the MDA did not consider generational changes because in article 34 it called for no other amendments.

“A statement which provides that the MDA remain unchanged indicated that any malpractice by the concessionaire under the MDA would be binding on Nimbaians and Liberians at large,” the petition said.

“Confidentiality and non – disclosure in Article 6 of the MDA; an amendment to Article VII of the MDA violates the Public Information Act of 2009 and it denounces transparency, accountability and has the ability to promote corruption, dishonesty bribery and among others,” the concerned citizens noted in their petition.

About the issue of the social contribution to affected counties, the group quoted Appendix H of the amended MDA since 2007 by saying that the present social contribution was done without considering exploration, production stages, increase in environmental hazards and degradation, growth in return on investment of operation, thereby leaving affected communities victimized and underdeveloped while the company exploits the people and leave the land dusty as had happened in case of LAMCO.

With all of these claims, the citizens continued to press on the company through the county leadership, including members of the 53rd Legislature representing Nimba in the Liberian Legislature.

 On 17th August 2013 about 500 of the youth assembled in the town of Zolowee, which sits at the foot of Mount Tokadeh, which was also the scene of recent violence, to raise alarm over the failure of the government to address their petition.

The youth carried a banner, placard and printed “T” shirts with inscription, “Nimba wants full involvement in the MDA, social contribution, based on return on investment, a  modern hospital and clinic and Liberians employed over foreigners.” 

They shouted the slogans: “No turning back! “Mittal Steel Agreement must be changed. “

All of this was done constructively in the knowledge of the Government of Liberia; but it appears as though the government was complacent in addressing the youths’ concerns.

The youth did not stop there but continued to press on until on the September 6, 2013, when the CEO of ArcelorMittal, along with his entourage, were forced to attend another meeting organized by the  Concerned Nimbaians and some citizens so as to formally present their petitions and also get a response from ArcelorMittal’s management.

At the September meeting ArcelorMittal CEO, Antonio Carlos Mario, disclosed that within the period of six months ArcelorMittal would   be carrying out full employment of Liberians in some key managerial positions which were occupied by expatriates.

At this meeting the so-called Tokadeh Progressive Youth for Development, who were at the center of the recent violent demonstration, presented their petition requesting improved of water and health facilities, among others things.

The meeting did not end in Zolowee; it extended to Yekepa where on the September 7, 2013, ArcelorMittal committed itself to rehabilitate some facilities, including the hospital, schools and the vocational school in Yekepa, based on the youths’ demands.

Based on the commitment made by ArcelorMittal, some Liberians were employed into some key positions of the company upon the departure of the Ghanaian Mining Film “E&P” in December 2013.

It was also observed that continued changes are taking place in Yekepa in terms of development.

These activities were done with concern and involvement of the then County Superintendent, Madam Christiana Dagadu, and the County’s Legislative Caucus.

There were no meetings that the county’s authority would not be part of. Any attempt made by the youth group to do anything, the Superintendent and some members of the caucus would certainly be there to contain it.

The recent lawless behavior of the youth group began in March upon the appointment of Fong Zuagele as Superintendent of Nimba County.

During the Concern Nimbaians’ last meeting with ArcelorMittal on March 15, 2014, Supt Zuagele, prior to his induction as Superintendent, appealed to the youth to give him a chance to study their concerns as well as the MDA, since he was new in office.

Accordingly, he didn’t respond to the youths’ petition until the youth seized the railroad in April and during the seizure the Superintendent as well as the county officials, did not reach there in time to bring the situation under control. It was the police, backed by Emergency Response Unit (ERU) that arrived first, before the arrival of Nimba Caucus and ArcelorMittal’s officials.

Again, when the railroad incident was brought to an end, another meeting planned by ArcelorMittal involving the youth, the local county officials as well as members of the Nimba Caucus was held at the Royal Hotel in Monrovia where, according to the youth, all their counts could not be discussed.  It was decided to end the Monrovia meeting with the youth and continue it in Nimba so as to discuss the remaining portions of the counts which were not touched in Monrovia.

But again, Superintendent Zuagele, failed to convene said meeting; and then the recent violent demonstration that left properties destroyed.

The youth formally informed the county authority through a written letter which Supt. Zuagele confirmed having received.  Yet, the Superintendent and his closest officials, including Assistant Superintendent for Development, Teeko Yorlay, the County Inspector, Reginald Mehn, preferred to attend a  development meeting in other parts of the county instead of attending to scheduled  demonstration.

Although Supt. Zuagele sent the County Attorney to put a halt to the demonstration, others said Attorney Hector actually went to the scene of the demonstration and tried to dissuade the youth from demonstrating. But in times of crisis, citizens prefer to listen to the County Superintendent rather than any other county official.

Some citizens within the community confirmed massive destruction and looting, but again can we say that the disgruntled behavior carried on by these youth was not known to the county leadership, who are the President Sirleaf’s eyes in Nimba County?

Complacency in leadership leads to many problems and destruction.  This is what has happened in the case of ArcelorMittal. This problem had long been knocking at the door of government, but the government took it lightly until it blew up.

While it is true the disgruntled and violent behavior of some Nimba youth brought great destruction and disgrace to the county at large, we should keep in mind that it is always better to deal with issues at the initial stage and finish it once and for all, rather than wait to see it blows up as it did in Nimba.

So who takes the blame for all of these damages that we are trying to repair–the government, or the aggrieved demonstrators or the county in general? And if it is the youth, what was the government doing from the onset of the entire troubles?

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