A Critical Challenge for President Weah

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This newspaper’s attention is drawn to a report carried in its Friday, February 22, 2019, edition under the headline, “CSOs Seek Support for Residents ‘Victimized’ by LAC, SRC’s Operations”, written by the Daily Observer’s community reporter, Hannah N. Geterminah.

According to the reporter, several Civil Society Organizations in collaboration with a Swiss-based development charity, Bread for All (BFA), have launched a report calling on the Liberian government to provide a remedy to the problems faced by community members who were forcefully evicted from their lands in order to make way for the planting of rubber.

According to the report entitled, “Struggle for Life and Land”, affected communities have lost their source of livelihood, along with a resultant sharp deterioration of the food security situation, worsened by a critical lack of access to safe drinking water.

It can be observed that a major problem inherited by this government is the caseload of grievances of local communities, sparked by their forceful eviction of ancestral lands, by rubber and oil palm concessionaires under arrangements in which they were neither consulted nor involved in discussions that would see them deprived of their lands.

It is indeed a problem heavily laden with full conflict potential. This newspaper maintains the view that, in situations where local communities find themselves helplessly pitted against the big corporations and with absolutely little or no protection coming from a government that is generally perceived as corrupt, resentment builds and can easily lead to violent and extremist forms of violence.

And there are many examples the world over to support this claim.  A May 2002 OECD working Paper on International Investment entitled: “Multinational Enterprises in Situations of Violent Conflict and Widespread Human Rights Abuses ” acknowledges that there is a growing body of empirical literature that supports the view that factors underpinning the dynamics of civil strife and human rights violations bear a direct relationship to the level and structure of income and with the degree of development of the country’s political institutions.

What we have in Liberia are weak political and state institutions with over an estimated 64 percent of Liberians living below the poverty line, of whom 1.3 million live in extreme poverty. With pervasive and runaway corruption taking a heavy toll on the nation’s resources, there are indications that such conditions could contribute to the possibility that the country could re-experience civil strife, especially given the very corrupt behavior of public officials and the inflammatory rhetoric coming from both sides of the divide.

This newspaper shares the view that in an economy such as ours, heavily dependent on the extractive industry, multinational corporations provide the revenue flow which makes it possible for the managers of a rentier state such as ours to procure the material and organizational requirements to employ the use of mindless violence as a matter of public policy.

And such are bound to have repercussions simply because the people become incensed and imbued with a spirit of resistance. Perhaps runaway corruption and the arrogance and profligacy of corrupt officials can explain why the Afghan government (ranked by Transparency International as the 172 least corrupt nation out of 175), despite billions of foreign economic and military assistance, has been unable to quell the resurgence of the Taliban.

And it can be similarly said of Iraq where a very corrupt Iraqi government has inadvertently aided the resurgence of the violent and extremist Islamic State.

It is against this outlook that this newspaper urges the Weah administration to act urgently, to come to grips with the existing problems between the rubber giants, Liberia Agricultural Company(LAC), the Salala Rubber Corporation(SRC) and local communities. Admittedly, these problems and like those of the Golden Veroleum in Sinoe and Sime Darby in Cape Mount, are linked to the past government.

It has appeared that the Ellen Sirleaf administration apparently had a charge to concession out the country legally or illegally. And the records show that more than two-thirds of concession agreements signed were illegal, according to the Moore Stephens report.

But whether we like it or not, the charge is now President Weah’s to address as the successor of the past government. This is by no means an easy undertaking; yet it must be done.

And this must be done sooner than later; if needs be, review concession agreements, especially since most were illegally concluded. The grievances of local communities must be addressed in a meaningful way that will not leave communities sullen, resentful of government and prone to violent and extremist behavior.

Too much is at stake for the survival of this nation. This newspaper holds the view that President Weah should consider the idea of a national dialogue or, better still, the convening of a sovereign national conference to trash out burning issues with the view to deriving a national consensus on addressing key and critical issues. This is indeed a critical challenge for President Weah.

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