The Way forward for Liberian Raw Materials

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Our young reporter Gloria Tamba reported Tuesday that China Union was shipping out to China 15,000 tons of iron ore from the Bong Mountain Range.  Her story carried a vivid photo of  raw ore being shipped out of the country.  It was a photograph all too familiar in Liberia.  The identical photo could have been retrieved from the archives of the Liberia Mining Company  nearly seven decades ago—68 years to be exact—when this American company shipped its  first  consignment of iron ore to the United States from Bomi Hills in now Bomi County.

Today, nearly seven decades later, we are still shipping our iron ore abroad and, amidst a cruel and twisted paradox (inconsistency, absurdity), we, Africa’s oldest independent republic, are unable make a single steel rod  or sheet of zinc!

The time has come in this country for us to say NO MORE OF THAT!  As we say in our popular Quadrille dance, “Reverse the whole,” we need to step back and start demanding that we are no longer prepared to allow all of our iron ore shipped out of here lock stock and barrel.  WE MUST HAVE SOME VALUE ADDED to the bountiful blessings that the God of nature has bestowed upon us.  After nearly seven decades, it is about time.

But how do we do it, when this government, thanks to Richard Tolbert and others, in the rush bring in US$16 billion investments,  have signed away our natural resources to foreign companies to do anything they wish—and of course, we know exactly what they wish: to develop their own industries and leave Africa as the perpetual raw materials supplier.
For true?  Is that what God ordained for us, or is what we, shortsighted, listless (lazy) and unpatriotic, have ordained for ourselves?

The Chinese are our friends.  Why do we say that?  Because not long ago they were  exactly where we are today, poor, underdeveloped, deprived.  But the Chinese have three things we Liberians lack: the Chinese are patriotic, they are hard working and they have a sense of personal and national purpose.

He was here not long ago, but we have already forgotten him and the candid and serious advice he gave us before departing.  Chinese Ambassador Zhou Yuxiao advised Liberians to use our natural resources to go into manufacturing.  Few Liberians, including the Daily Observer, thanked him for his advice; but we apparently forgot it immediately after he left. Two weeks ago this newspaper reminded Finance Minister Amara Konneh to make good his pledge to equip all government offices with locally produced furniture.  But a year later we see bid after bid calling for imported furniture for GOL offices.  Yet the National Carpenters Union, including the branch in Ganta, Nimba County, is ready to produce furniture for local consumption.  Yes, the Union is, admittedly, like all Liberian cabinet makers, handicapped by lack of modern training and inexperience.  Yet so is China even today.  We right here in Liberia, like people in other parts of the world, including America, we complain about “these cheap Chinese goods.”
But guess what: the Chinese are proud and happy because the goods, however cheap, however inferior, are made not in America, Italy or Japan, BUT IN CHINA!
It is about time that we start making things in Liberia and being proud of them.  That is beginning in industry, the beginning of self discipline, the beginning of self reliance. Today, China is the world’s second largest economy, next to the United States!  And the Americans are not taking kindly to the prospect that the People’s Republic will one day soon become  the world’s leading economy.

We Liberians must realize that WE HAVE GOT TO START FROM SOMEWHERE. The Ellen administration, which brought in the current investments, China Union, the Western Cluster, the oil palm investments that have swapped up millions of hectares of Liberian land, must begin NOW  to renegotiate these agreements, so that some value added will be established and Liberians will, at long last, begin to MAKE SOMETHING and cease from being perpetually on the receiving end of industry.

This is the way forward for Liberian raw materials.  But the matter is in our own hands—nobody else’s.

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