New York, NY – It was recently reported in the BBC News that Liberian communities are being pressured, or forced, to sell their land to make way for palm oil plantations. Global Witness, an organization existing to expose corruption and environmental abuse, has reported extensively on this issue. We have also heard directly from affected Liberian victims.
In a recent item Global Witness reported on the abusive treatment endured by Liberians when they take a stand against the Golden Veroleum, one of the world’s largest palm oil plantations. To make matters worse it appears that state officials are said to be helping Golden Veroleum (GVL) intimidate and threaten communities until they sign over their land. The sad truth is the national royalties from these concessions only benefit a few people (about 0.1% of the country’s 4 million population) in the Liberian government through organized corruption and public theft.
During the 2014 Ebola breakout GVL accelerated their efforts, taking advantage of poor citizens while they were preoccupied trying to stop the spread of the deadly disease. GVL’s plantation nearly doubled in size during this period.
The promises made by not only GVL but also the Liberian government have not been kept; evidence of the benefits offered cannot be found. More troublesome is that the current government’s development strategy is centered on agriculture and its repeated assurances that the palm oil transaction would lift communities out of poverty have so far remained unfulfilled. What has been consistent is the bullying and pressuring of communities to effectively hand over their land. The Liberian President has gone so far as to call those who speak out against GVL as ‘unpatriotic”.
Since Liberia’s devastating civil war many land deals were made with the government’s blessings but without the consent of the people who lived on the land. Rather than alleviating poverty, as the government promised, these deals appear to have made situations worse for individuals and communities. Many communities complain that food is scarcer than before and fertilizers have polluted fishing ponds and drinking water; residents have been displaced and sacred sites have been destroyed.It’s important to note that nearly 90 years ago the Liberian government allowed the sale of one million acres to a large corporation for only 6 cents per acre; we are in an era of fair trade and yet the Liberian government continues to make the same mistake.
Liberia needs to employ its rule of law to assure communities and residents are not being taken advantage of. It needs to make certain that it’s elected officials, national and local, put all Liberians first and not the large corporations and to make sure that it investigates all acts of violence and intimidation. Where the appropriate law does not exist, one must be passed. We need to make sure that Liberians and their communities are protected and receive the just rewards for any deal they are a part of.
Jones Nhinson Williams is President & CEO of the New Liberia Foundation, an organization dedicated to improving the lives of all Liberians and to make Liberia a better place to live, work and invest.