Simply put, it is because he has been milling around the country doing what no one in Liberia’s history has ever done: empowering ordinary Liberians everywhere to assert their economic independence by opening and operating their own businesses.
In short, it was Central Bank of Liberia Executive Governor J. Mills Jones who initiated the US$5 million soft loan for Liberian-owned businesses, administered by the Liberia Business Association (LIBA). Secondly, he initiated the US$7.5 million Agriculture Sector Support loan for smallholder Liberian farmers, being implemented by Afriland Bank.
Third, the CBL provided the ongoing LD400 million soft loan for village savings and loan associations, of which LD364 million has already been disbursed, mostly to women across Liberia’s 15 counties.
Fourth, the CBL has awarded to the Liberia Bank for Development and Investment (LBDI) US$5 million for Liberia’s first mortgage banking initiative to empower Liberians to build and own modern homes.
Liberians have been in serious business as far back as the mid-1800s. The first ships to fly the Liberian flag in the English Port of Liverpool were those of businessman Edward J. Roye. A University of Ohio graduate, he came to Liberia in 1844 as a businessman.
Many of our serious business people were farmers from up the St. Paul River in Montserrado County. It was Clay Ashland farmers who in 1869 founded the True Whig Party (TWP), which wrested power from J.J. Roberts’ Republican Party that had ruled Liberia since independence.
One of the great 1900s Clay Ashland merchants was John (Johnny) G.A. Richards. Mr. Richards, whose last surviving son is former Lands, Mines and Energy Minister Joe Richards, owned ships. They crossed the Atlantic transporting Liberian coffee and other goods to Europe and the Americas. John Richards also operated stores in White Plains, then a very busy river port, and in Monrovia, selling textiles, dry goods and produce he grew on his farms in Clay Ashland. The wealthy Mr. Richards reportedly lent the government money during hard times.
Other successful past Liberian businessmen include John Howard, J.L. York, Varmunyah Conneh, Solo Baby (Brownell), Mr. Richards of Sambo on Benson Street, Kakata’s Samuel Smith and T.J.O. Gooding. Another was Sophie Dunbar, an ice cream entrepreneur who built modern houses in Monrovia.
Probably the most successful Liberian businessman was Steve Tolbert, C.E.O. of the Mesurado Group of Companies, who in the 1950s through the 70s made millions selling fish, lobster, building materials, automobiles, etc. Another prominent businessman during that era was Jones Wareibi, importer of new Nissan automobiles.
But today, leading Liberian businesspeople are missing in action. There are a few in the petroleum business, including the Aminata Brothers, Sherif Abdallah, Musa Bility, Abraham Kaydea and George B. Kailondo, who is also in the hotel business.
Other Liberian hoteliers are Sam Gibson, Sam Mitchell and Ben Garnett. But the construction, hotel, road building, and most other industries as well as grocery, mercantile businesses and supermarkets, are dominated by Lebanese and Indians. Fula businessmen from Guinea are also making serious inroads in business.
There are also a few Liberians in the road construction business. They include Solid Rock Construction (William Seton), Westwood, (S.B. Cooper) and MDMC Construction (John Youboty). But none matches the Lebanese-owned construction company, SSF, or the Chinese-owned Chico, who have received the lion’s share of road construction projects.
Another serious Liberian businessman is emerging. Fomba Trawally has recently opened a multimillion dollar toiletries factory in Paynesville.
In the general business field, however, Liberians are largely on the periphery (sidelines).
Yet there are reports of a few Liberians who have over the past few years, because of political connections, become very wealthy. But their businesses, if any, are invisible.
It is, therefore, heartwarming and highly encouraging, that every time he opens his mouth, the CBL Executive Governor stresses the need to develop a “Liberian Middle Class.” He says he strongly believes that Liberians must one day become the leading players in their economy.
The Governor says he believes, as do a few other patriotic, forward-looking and assertive Liberians, that this is the surest security this country can ever have. The real fear is that if Liberians continue to remain impoverished, sidelined and at the bottom of the ladder in their own country, while only a few Liberians and most foreigners become filthy rich, it spells danger and trouble. One day the people will rise up again in anger and lead us back to war. Who can afford that? Nobody.
It is for this reason that we believe that Governor Jones is on the right tract, sowing seeds now to empower all Liberians to become, one day soon, RELEVANT IN THEIR OWN COUNTRY, by taking control of their economy.
Nothing is more important today than that.