GVL’s Oil Palm Mill Is Good News, but Will the Company Keep Its Promise?

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Several years ago, when Golden Veroleum Liberia (GVL) and Sime Darby, Malaysian palm oil companies, entered Liberia, they pledged to introduce value-added products, such as cooking oil, Vaseline and other cosmetics products for export to world markets.

The Daily Observer hailed this pledge. For too long, Liberian raw materials, especially rubber and iron ore, have been exploited solely for export.

In 2026, which is less than a decade away, the Firestone Plantations Company would have been producing and exporting Liberian rubber as pure raw material for a century, and still the country cannot yet produce a simple rubber band!

How the Tubman and Tolbert administrations, which ruled the country since 1944—that is only 14 years after the advent of Firestone in Liberia—and were manned by educated people, could have allowed Firestone to treat the country like that, is mindboggling (unbelievable).

The only explanation we can give is that Firestone got away with this corporate rape of a country simply because it encouraged top Liberian officials to plant rubber, making them rich. These included President C.D.B. King, during whose administration Firestone came. King’s grandchildren insist that the former President started his farm long after leaving office—1935. King’s Secretary of the Interior, James (Jimmy) Francis Cooper, was already in the mid-1940s reputed to have become the first Liberian to “cry” millionaire.

Other top government officials who made serious money from rubber included President W.V.S. Tubman, whom Firestone helped plant huge rubber farms in Totota, Bong County, and Boneken, Maryland County.

Other Liberian officials who also became rubber planters also included other Coopers, Vice Presidents C.L. Simpson and W.R. Tolbert, the Dennises, Brights and Shermans.

The king of all these Liberian rubber planters was, of course, Harry L. Morris, who started planting rubber in his late teens or early 20s, following the death of his father, John Louis Morris. Harry was yet a high school junior in the United States when, in the early 1930s, as the eldest of several children, he had to return for his father’s funeral and to care for his aging mother, Mrs. Maude Morris. Harry did not return to the USA, but remained to manage his father’s small rubber farm and to develop Harry’s own rubber plantation in Kakata and Todee. Shortly following the outbreak of World War II, when rubber was in great demand, Harry and several other Liberian rubber planters struck it rich. By 1955, Harry Morris was declared “the Rubber King of the World,” and had more than 10,000 acres planted in rubber. The farm, which today exceeds 25,000 acres, is still the world’s largest by one family. It is now operated by Harry’s son, Bill.

Harry Morris had the power to help the Liberian government convince Harvey Firestone to start adding value to rubber. But he and his family were close family friends of the Firestones. A photograph of Harry, his wife and Bill, then a boy, with Harvey Firestone is displayed at the farm home.

So Harvey Firestone had a free ride in Liberia, and almost a century later, after trillions of tons of exported rubber and billions of US dollars in earnings, Liberia cannot produce a rubber band or latex glove.

The same thing happened with our iron ore beginning 1946 through 1990 with Landsdell Christie’s Liberia Mining Company (LMC) of Bomi Hills, Bomi County, and later LAMCO, in Yekepa, Nimba County, and Bong Mining Company (BMC). Since then, until now, Liberians have had to import all their steel rods and other steel products, at exorbitant prices.

As we said in an earlier Editorial, “Let this not happen to Liberia’s oil palm!”

We hope that the incoming administration, following the 2017 elections, will work with all the oil palm companies—GVL, Sime Darby, Equatorial Palm Oil (EPO) and Maryland Oil Palm Company (MOPC), etc.—and encourage them to keep their promises to add value to Liberia’s oil palm and begin our palm oil-based industries.

In that same Editorial, we mentioned a young, enterprising Liberian woman, Maisie Dunbar, who runs a successful cosmetics company in the United States. We mentioned also two other young Liberians, Richelieu Dennis and Nyema Tubman, who are also running a great skin care products enterprise in New York and have made millions. Another Liberian, Mahmud Johnson, is making waves with his locally produced Kernel
Fresh body lotion, made from palm kernel oil. Like Mahmud, the others should be encouraged to return and use Liberian palm oil to expand their industries, right here in Liberia.

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