Tag Archives: natural resources

Charles Taylor and Firestone

The part of the PBS/ProPublic documentary Charles Taylor and Firestone that was really shocking was the extent to which Firestone supported Taylor in the early 1990s. They could not operate without his permission, so (in hindsight, I guess, though the decision seemed pretty black and white at the time too) they really should have just not operated until things stabilized. Instead, they chose to cooperate with Taylor, who was of course at the time a warlord and not president. From the accompanying article:

The company signed a deal in 1992 to pay taxes to Taylor’s rebel government. Over the next year, the company doled out more than $2.3 million in cash, checks and food to Taylor[...].

While Firestone was operating:

Taylor used [Firestone] for the business of war. Taylor turned storage centers and factories on Firestone’s sprawling rubber farm into depots for weapons and ammunition. He housed himself and his top ministers in Firestone homes. He also used communications equipment on the plantation to broadcast messages to his supporters, propaganda to the masses and instructions to his troops. [...]

For Taylor, the relationship with Firestone was about more than money. It helped provide him with the political capital and recognition he needed as he sought to establish his credentials as Liberia’s future leader.

The effect of Firestone’s cooperation with Taylor on the war is unknowable. After all, Firestone needed to cooperate with him precisely because he already controlled so much of the country in 1991. In the short term, though, it seems clear things would have been more difficult for Taylor had they just stayed out of the country for a few more years.

On land and executive dominance in Liberia, and Global Witness awesomeness

Last week Global Witness, the Save My Future Foundation, and Sustainable Development Institute released a report on how foreign companies in Liberia are using Private Use Permits to clear forests without abiding by laws meant to protect the environment and communities.

Private Use Permits are awful in practice. They require no competitive bidding and companies with these permits are not forced to comply with regulations meant to make logging sustainable. Further, the report documents forged deeds, including one that is dated 1924 and signed by President Edward Barclay, who was not yet president. In some cases community members are convinced their land has no deed, yet a Private Use Permit has been sold through a  deed ostensibly held collectively by the community. The land is sold sometimes at less than 1% of what its value would have been through a competitive bidding process.

Many people are to blame, including Minister of Agriculture Florence Chenoweth, who ordered a moratorium on Private Use Permits earlier this year, but then continued to issue them. Companies tied to Samling, a Malaysian logging firm with a horrible track record, now control 10% of Liberia’s land.

Sirleaf has responded, and has ordered an investigation into the permits. In fact one tangential takeaway from this report is that government officials have been fired for corruption related to logging. This is of course positive. But my suspicion is that Sirleaf is always the one to make this decision, a hunch based on many, many interviews on government accountability in Monrovia this summer. The power of the presidency in Liberia is stunning. Executive dominance is of course a problem in many African countries, but it is so extreme in Liberia. To give just one example from this report: “In Liberia, most [land] deeds must be signed by the President.”

This report, like all reports that involve Global Witness, is incredible. I am amazed at how researchers for this report wrote each sentence. Getting information in Liberia is so difficult, and yet they get so much of it. Short little sentences like, “Our investigation has identified 16 different companies holding Private Use Permits” mask what must be many interviews, much travel, and lots of digging.

Indian mining firms in West Africa

The latest issue of Africa-Asia Confidential (published by the same group as Africa Confidential, focusing on political and economic relations between Africa and Asia) has a [gated] article on Indian mining firms in West Africa.  Here’s the lede:

India-linked mining companies have had less luck than their Chinese counterparts in breaking into the West African market, arriving later on the scene than Chinese companies. However, a handful have managed to snap up iron-ore concessions that were missed by other Asian competitors. Chinese companies are backing iron projects in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea, while Indian mining companies have tried to get a foothold in Côte d’Ivoire, Liberia and Mali.

Liberia gossip

This African Confidential article on Liberian politics is the Page Six of Liberian gossip.  Or to mix metaphors, Harry Potter for Liberiaphiles. (h/t to Jairo)

Unity insiders say US diplomats had told Sirleaf about alleged connections between members of her security apparatus, including her son Fombah Sirleaf, Director of the National Security Agency, and a mysterious Russian businessman.

The Russian, Victor Bogosyan, was deported in May 2009. A source close to the presidency says he ‘had a line of government people waiting to see him’. Money-changers in town said he paid massive premiums for loans, while he set up a popular nightclub run by attractive Peruvian women. The US officials are said to have linked Bogosyan to drugs deals. A Unity Party insider said that the President then summoned an informal meeting with all her security chiefs, at which [former Minister of Justice] Banks’s officials explained that they knew all about this, and ‘it was not something Madam President needed to know about’. Banks was soon fired.

Other highlights:

  • Sirleaf is credited for breaking up the Lebanese monopoly on importing rice, but this article says the Liberian who Sirleaf’s government helped enter this market is Allen Brown Jr., the son of a former Charles Taylor associate.
  • The article explains how the the merger among the Unity Party and other parties further cements Americo-Liberian rule.
  • Apparently Varney Sherman (a main contender against Sirleaf in 2005, strong ties to Lebanese) is legal counsel for ArcelorMittal in Liberia.

Public Procurement Concession Commission head killed

Keith Jubah, the guy responsible for awarding contracts to exploit natural resources in Liberia, was killed last night.  (h/t to Glenna Gordon.)  From the BBC:

Keith Jubah was shot repeatedly on Sunday night as he approached his house in the Morris Farm Community, 60km (37 miles) from the capital, Monrovia.

I’ll post more when more information is available.