Rubber Product Manufacturing in Liberia in Sight at Last

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Liberia, Africa’s first independent and sovereign Republic, has also been, since the early 1930s, the continent’s first rubber producing country, and yet in nearly 90 years has not yet been able to produce a single rubber band, glove or any other rubber product.

That seems to have been the plot or scheme of Harvey S. Firestone who, in 1926, signed agreement with the administration of President Charles D.B. King for one million acres of land to grow natural rubber in Liberia.

Mr. Firestone first attempted to grow rubber in the Philippines, but they turned him down for fear that if they allowed Firestone in, it would signal a death knell to Philippines’ quest for independence.

Firestone’s next stop was Liberia, in his determination for the United States of America (USA) to grow her own rubber and break the British monopoly on rubber in the world.

Mr. Firestone found Liberia’s rich soil, rainfall and climate to be, as he put it in his own words, the best place on the planet to grow rubber successfully. He immediately opened the Firestone plantation along the Farmington River in what is now Margibi County.

Firestone did two things more to ensure that Liberian officialdom and Liberians were on his side: first, he encouraged most Liberian officials to grow rubber, which he bought, making many leading Liberians rich; second, he employed thousands of Liberians and became the country’s first major concession and largest employer besides the government.

In the process, Harvey Firestone and his family became very rich—billionaires.

Firestone was good for Liberia except for one thing: the company deemed Liberia fit only for a rubber plantation that produced ONLY raw material to feed American factories, and nothing else. That is why in Firestone’s nearly a century of operation in Liberia, it has manufactured absolutely nothing here, but rather, until this day, June 7, 2018, shipped every ounce of its rubber to the USA and other foreign parts. That is why we say that Firestone saw Liberia as simply fertile ground for producing raw materials— nothing else.

Two questions arise: first, how was it possible for Firestone to treat Liberia, a country that has been so good to Firestone, so badly and so contemptuously? The second question is, how have Liberian officials and successive Liberian governments allowed Firestone to do this—treat Liberia so badly—for nearly a century—92 years to be exact?

We can venture a third question: how was it possible for all these Liberian rubber planters, from James (Jimmy) Francis Cooper, the first Liberian rubber planter, to many other Coopers, Dennises, Shermans, Freemans, Jacksons, Tubmans, Tolberts and the biggest rubber planter of them all, Harry L. Morris of Kakata and Todee, yes, how did all of rubber planters to allow Firestone to get away with this—slaving after this company’s US dollars and remaining naked as purely producers of Firestone’s raw material—rubber, and nothing else?

But as the saying goes, nothing lasts forever. Today, we have another Cooper, whose name was also James, from Sinoe County, son of Henry Cooper—Henry is a popular name among the Coopers, who hailed from Sinoe, built a several hundred acre rubber farm in Bomi County. Today, the son of this James E. Cooper, also called James the II, has decided to brave the century-old powerful current by dreaming a serious dream. Young James E. Cooper, Jr., son of a Sinoe Cooper and an American mother, is dreaming of adding value to Liberian rubber by manufacturing rubber gloves, boots, adhesives (glues, gums, pastes), solvents (thinners), gaskets, rubber roofing tiles, re-threaded automobile tires and later freshly manufactured automobile tires.

This is nothing short of revolutionary and we appeal to the government of President George Manneh Weah to give its firm backing to this great and historic initiative.

Mr. James E. Cooper, Jr., tells us that he is not alone. Several other rubber planters have already started constructing rubber processing facilities in various parts of the country, including Kakata, Margibi County, and Nimba County.

Mr. James E. Cooper, II says not only will these rubber processing and manufacturing enterprises produce finished products; they will also cause thousands more people to be employed in the rubber sector. They will not just be tappers, but engineers and technicians working in manufacturing plants.

Presently, Mr. Cooper’s processing plant is producing TSR 10 rubber for export to Malaysia and the USA where it is used to manufacture automobile tires. He also produces smoked sheets for export.

Mr. Cooper is in negotiations with Sri Lankan manufacturers to come to Liberia and join him by bringing in their technology to start rethreading tires, and later the real thing—brand new automobile tires for export to the Mano River Union and ECOWAS markets.

Mr. Cooper and his fellow rubber processors have an even bigger dream: the Free Trade Agreement, spearheaded by Rwandan President Paul Kagame, which was signed in Kigali last week by 48 of the 53 African nations.

Cooper and his colleagues are on to creating Liberia’s industrial revolution. Let us all join in this great endeavor by giving Mr. Cooper and all his colleagues our fullest cooperation and support. The media must play their part, and so, we fervently pray, will the Liberian government.

Authors

6 COMMENTS

  1. Thanks Daily Observer for the rewrite of this story because the previous one from yesterday was not quite clear. This story is a bit clearer now as to what this plant is intended to do initially by exporting TSR 10 to Malaysia and US manufacturers in the short run to be followed by domestic manufacturing of the latex into finished products for the long-term.

    While it is true that the government needs to create the environment for Liberian businesses such as this company to thrive, the government just can’t do it all as the government has competing priorities. This company will need public & private funding to succeed and this is where those of us in the diaspora need to but our mouths where our money is.

    We remit hundreds of millions US dollars back home annually to families, maybe is time to change that strategy and invest in start-ups and manufacturing businesses like these. We need that paradigm shift from the old and see what a difference that will make not just for us in the diaspora in terms of return on investment, but for our families back home in terms of employment.

    Again, creating investment pool that would be used to fund investment opportunities like these back home is no brainer. All we need is the audacity…!

    • John; thanks! Yes indeed, Mr. Cooper needs to sell stocks to the Liberian Public; both at home and abroad, to raise the necessary funding for his endeavors. I hope Mr. Cooper strongly consider manufacturing “Industrial Strength Garbage Disposal Containers” for domestic as well as export. There is a huge market. He can not go wrong. One reason why the streets of Monrovia is filled with liters, is because there are no trash “DISPOSAL CONTAINERS”. The City Of Monrovia will be Mr. Cooper’s first major customer. Government will/should make it mandatory; that every household have a GARBAGE DISPOSAL CONTAINER. *All LANDLORDS should be held responsible for removing GARBAGE from their premises. That should be a LAW. Thanks! Mr. Cooper. It’s about time. Once the shares become available, I’d like to INVEST. I also urge my fellow Liberians to invest with Mr.Cooper. He sounds very promising. Thanks!

  2. Thanks John. As you stated we need to pool funding to succeed in this regard. Some of our professionals need to be bold and brave enough to partner and cooperate with the Natl Bank and the MFDP to come up with, for now, a rudimentary financial market (like a wall street-like structure) that can cater to this idea. we need to start from somewhere. Secondly, we need a commodity exchange market if we are serious about uplifting the agricultural sector and thereby uplifting the poor.

    It is difficult going into details here but I am researching to better explain my ideas that has to do with the commodity (or agriculture products) exchange and pricing. This would be great for local farmers in enhancing their capacity and leveraging the local economy.

    Great idea, John, but lets think more of the how and hope we will avoid the “crabs in the bucket attitude” as is always the case.

  3. At least we have someone who help us to understand the founder of these farms.
    We are tired been a slave in our own Country for centuries. Liberian can’t enjoy their own fruits from our own country.

  4. Hey Bai Best, you say that “the company (Firestone) deemed Liberia fit only for a rubber plantation that produced ONLY raw material to feed American factories, and nothing else.”

    BUT hey, isn’t Firestone is in business to make profit. So do you think if it were profitable for
    Firestone to produce rubber shoes, rubber gloves, or condoms in Liberia, would Firestone be that dumb not convert its raw material(rubber) into finished products ??

    Whatever the case is, converting raw materials into a finished product is a BUSINESS decision and, NOT a political decision.

    If you don’t like Firestone’s business decisions, that’s fine. But there are NOW other privately-owned rubber farms (like the ones you mentioned in your editorial) in Liberia who are willing to convert latex (rubber) in finished products, and pay their employees U.S salary scale wages! More power to them.

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