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.