The recent violence by Nimba County youth against Arcelor Mittal was a reprehensible act that deserves the condemnation of not the President and the Nimba Legislative Caucus, but all Liberians.
The whole matter should be thoroughly investigated, and the perpetrators brought to justice. The government has to set an example this time and make it unmistakably clear that violence in the settlement of disagreements will not be tolerated and will be punished.
Surely, not only Nimba youth, but all Nimbaians and most Liberians, are not happy with Arcelor Mittal’s handling of its concession agreement.
The company has been accused of not faithfully executing the full agreement. Several months ago when Nimba youth occupied the railway in Nimba, preventing the shipment of ore, this newspaper, the Daily Observer, called the attention of the nation to what aroused the youth’s anger. We mentioned the accusation that not much is happening at the center of Arcelor’s operations, Yekepa, where there is hardly any evidence of development taking place there, but only the rush to get the iron ore out. Even the first-class hospital which LAMCO operated is still in disrepair, several years after Arcelor took over the operations.
There were also complaints of joblessness, even though we acknowledge that many of the youth lack the technical skills the company requires. There is also the issue of the Ganta-Yekepa road that the company agreed to pave. But several Dry Seasons have passed and we see no action there.
So there is a lot to complain about against Arcelor Mittal. In our editorial, we warned the company, as we have done with most concessionaires, including China Union in Bong Mines and Golden Veroleum in Sinoe County, that it is one thing to sign a concession agreement with government, and another to WORK WITH THE PEOPLE ON THE GROUND. These LOCAL PEOPLE, not the bureaucrats in Monrovia who signed the agreement, are the first to feel the impact of the agreement. The company must, therefore, work with the local people for the sake of peace and progress.
One concessionaire which has finally learned this critical lesson is Golden Veroleum. In the beginning and for some time, there were constant and intense quarrels between the company and the Sinoe people. But the company finally came to realize that in any work environment, peaceful coexistence is crucial, otherwise the work will be impeded. Today Golden Veroleum and Sinonians people are working harmoniously together and things are smoothly progressing on the oil palm plantation.
China Union, too, seems to have learned this lesson. They have considerably eased the tension between themselves and the local people in the Fauma Chiefdom by making serious progress on the Kakata-Bong Mine-Haindii highway, and despite other remaining issues, the people are reasonably pleased.
We cannot, unfortunately, say the same thing about Arcelor Mittal. Is it Indian stubbornness, mean-spiritedness, or what? Why is this company so impervious to people’s legitimate complaints? Why can‘t this multibillion-dollar enterprise take care of the minimal concerns of the people whose resources they have come here to exploit. Did this company really do no research to find the truth of what happened in Yekepa in the 1960s through the 1980s—how the Nimba and the Liberian people got very little out of LAMCO, which departed with billions of dollars from our iron ore, leaving Nimbaians— Liberians—impoverished?
Surely, the public saw Arcelor Mittal’s impressive and colorful spread in yesterday’s newspaper; but nothing of the Ganta-Yekepa road, nor did the photo of the hospital repair tell much.
Yet the Liberian government is especially good and kind to Arcelor Mittal. Recently the government, in return for US$75 millilon, gave it mining rights also to Mount Tokadi in Nimba.
Arcelor Mittal must, therefore, understand that the Liberian government is serious about doing business with her. By the same token, the company must realize that it HAS TO WORK WITH THE LOCAL PEOPLE, and engender peaceful coexistence in their area of operations—and with all Liberians.
Let us be unmistakably clear, however, that as much as we criticize the Indians in Yekepa, we also unreservedly and emphatically condemn the violence perpetrated by the Nimba youth and urge the Liberian government to set an example this time.