The beloved family, friends loved ones, fellow Liberians ladies and gentlemen. It is with deepest sympathy that I stand here in the midst of this memorial service to pay tribute to the late Al Brown Sr. – the African-American businessman who, in his life, manifested nothing short of a devotion to the African Continent and an upliftment of its peoples, through the insurance business, whether in Liberia, Cameroon, Togo or elsewhere on the continent, as far back as the 1960’s.
My tribute today is in my capacity as former Minister of Commerce and Industry of the Republic of Liberia over the period of April 2006-2007 September when the Administration of the new Government of Africa’s first democratically elected female President Her Excellency Ellen Johnson Sirleaf was faced with a major crisis that threatened to derail the security of the state- that crisis is referred to as the “Rice Saga”
In Liberia, as we all know, our staple food rice, was what led to the fall of the first Republic and mutated into a civil war that lasted some 14 years, destroying in its wake the social fabric of our country’; let alone some 250,000 deaths; destruction of basic infrastructure and services as well as the flight of our human resources in the wake of the carnage that ensued.
Nature of the Crisis
• Upon assumption of my portfolio as Minister of Commerce and Industry on 6 April 2006, I met with the major Suppliers of rice in the country-primarily foreign traders.
• Only 1/3 of the normal monthly requirements of 350,000 bags of rice needed in first half of the year had been ordered by Suppliers.
• There were also no pending orders, i.e. no orders in the pipeline.
• The implications were that there would be people in the streets of Monrovia by August or September, as there would be shortages of rice.
• The traditional Suppliers wanted to increase the price of rice (at the time $22.00 per bag for the popular butter rice) but we refused. It would have been suicidal.
• We needed urgent action to source critical supplies in order to avert the looming crisis.
• I met with Liberians in Washington, D.C. in July 2006 where I lead the Liberian delegation to the AGOA conference, at the Liberian Embassy in Washington, D.C.
• I also met with Al Brown, the African-American businessman, who was able to meet the capital requirements necessary to respond to our needs under certain conditions and made us an offer.
That we were able to weather the storm- nothing short of economic sabotage against the interest of the nation- what I call “commerce under siege” by the foreign traders that basically controlled the economy and in particular rice, a strategic commodity, was due to the implementation of the offer from the late Al Brown, through his company Sinkor Trading!
Ladies and Gentlemen the late Al Brown saved the day; He provided us 6 months supply of rice at a stable price when the major importers were holding GOL hostage for an increase in the price of rice with no orders, in the pipeline, he provided us two months’ strategic reserves of rice, that had never happened before; under the arrangement we had a unique opportunity that was not only 100% Liberian owned but arrangements were worked out for other Liberians to participate for the first time in the rice market under new modalities.
Above all we were able to make available rice to the southeastern part of the country with the assistance of the UNMIL vessel Katarina at affordable price as never before, during a period of heavy rains when there were severe shortages of food in the Southeast, i.e. Cape Palmas and Sinoe.
At the end of the day, this entire experience that I have just related represents an act of Patriotism by Al to his adopted country (Liberia). This act avoided a crisis that would have taken the country back almost 30 years. Indeed not only did he genuinely believe in putting the economy back in hands of Liberians; in Liberians regaining our pride and dignity, but he took concrete action (that cost him) to make this a reality in a strategic sector of the economy. We believe then and still believe that is was and remains unacceptable that a strategic commodity like rice remains in the hands of powerful non-Liberian interest. In this regard, when I left the Ministry of Commerce in September of 2007, there were 6 importers of rice, 5 of whom were Liberians – a first in the history of our nation!
As I close, I want to say to Al, “thank you Al” – thank you plenty for what you did for our country – Liberia- your adopted country. To the bereaved family, we say “never mind yah”- To Al, our nation owes you! May God rest your soul and may light perpetual shine on you!
I ask the congregation to stand and Salute this fallen Patriot by singing twice the refrain of our foremost patriotic song “The Lone Star Forever” by the late Edwin J. Barclay, the 18th President of Liberia!
The Lone Star forever,
The Lone Star forever!
O Long may it float
Over land and o’er seas!
Desert it! No Never!
Uphold it, forever!
O shout for the lone starr’d banner-all hail!
Former Minister of Commerce and Industry,
Former Minister of Foreign Affairs,
Republic of Liberia
11 April 2015
Reston, Virginia, 2015