AN OPEN LETTER TO THE DIRECTORS OF OLFINCO GROUP OF COMPANIES
The Board of Directors
SOLFINCO Group of Companies, Belgium
Owners of the Liberian Agricultural Company (LAC)
I, the writer of this open letter, am a native of the first village listed on LAC’s Notice of Assessment/Eviction, dated August 25, 2004 . My mother and father are buried in that village. My brother and many first cousins were among the old men and children inhumanely treated; our shrines were desecrated on the orders of Chairman Charles Gyude Bryant’s Minister of Justice. That Minister’s order continues the horrific brutalities and dishonor of Liberian sodalities during the war, most especially in Lofa County , by the erstwhile LURD, of which he was a member.
The Analyst newspaper of January 14, 2005 , page 12, confirmed the persistent reports that the Justice Minister ordered the arrest and attendant brutalities, citing the UN Mission’s civilian police detachment in Buchanan.
Perhaps directors also want to know that the Bryant administration is very corrupt, as the UN Secretary General’s Special Representative in Liberia , among others, have amply documented. What unfortunately is not as well known is that the NTGL’s human rights records are as atrocious as Taylor’s. In fact, if it commits the crimes against humanity that it does with tens of thousands of UN peacekeepers in Liberia , one wonders what prevail were such a mission not in Liberia .
A significant message of this letter is that as corruption and abuse of rights entrain Liberia under previous predatory governments to the humanitarian catastrophe that Liberia initiated across West Africa , the Bryant administration is setting the stage for more of the same, perhaps even before the UN mission departs. Believe me, we eschew violence and are not calling for violence, but continuation of blatant human rights abuse and unconscionable corruption predestines Liberia to return to its violent past. Can a corporation like yours not assist us prevent that eventuality?
LAC and its Concession Agreement
I am constrained to write an open letter because, to the best of our knowledge, Liberian laws do not obligate SOLFINCO to disclose to the public when it acquired the Liberian Agricultural Company (LAC), formerly owned by an American concern that had itself purchased LAC from its original owners in a management buy out. Having no access to the information that would have made a private communication possible, I used this medium. But, given the subject matter of this letter, perhaps an open letter would still have been our choice medium even if your address and other particulars were in my possession. I believe there is no doubt that SOLFINCO are the current legal owners of LAC.
I presume that SOLFINCO is aware that since 1989, Liberia has been intermittently in a deadly crisis. I presume SOLFINCO also knows that since various Liberian parties signed the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) at Accra on 18 August 2003, the world community has invested considerable resources in activities to terminate the Liberian crisis. The activities at present focus disarmament, demobilization, rehabilitation and resettlement (DDRR). Finally, I assume that your company knows of on-going, difficult efforts to hold elections in Liberia in October, 2005. I presume SOLFINCO knows this, if for no other reason, then because SOLFINCO’s Liberian attorney is running to be president. What SOLFINCO may not know is the prevailing belief among the people of Grand Bassa County that the decision to summarily evict the people and the crisis it has generated has ties to electoral politics, as it does to the apparent intent of the corrupt officials of the NTGL, contrary to the provisions of the CPA, to have a member of Chairman Bryant’s party succeed him, probably to ensure a cover-up of the administration’s corruption.
Along with DDRR, a significant component of the international effort has been expended on repatriating thousands of Liberians from refugee camps as well as returning thousand others from displaced person camps, to their original places of residence. Yet, in total, unconscionable disregard for these efforts and the attending humanitarian concerns, the management of your company on August 25, 2004, issued an “Assessment/Eviction Notice” to an estimated 65,000 in situ residents of 75 villages laying between the St. John and Cestos Rivers, fortuitously claiming that the Concession Agreement between the Government of Liberia and LAC, signed on March 3, 1959 empowers it to do so. Your company’s notice unconscionably gave a people who first occupied the land circa 1450, six (6) days to vacate their ancestral home.
Perhaps I should state that the legal validity, per se, of LAC’s Concession Agreement is not at issue, since it can be traced to the Ducor Contract of December 22, 1822, under which “freed men” of color from North America and recaptives were granted rights to a territory “140 miles long and 40 miles wide”. Later, these rights were expanded through means identical with those European colonizers employed in their African territories. What is at issue, as Dr. Jeremy Levitt painstakingly documents in his The Evolution of Deadly Conflict in Liberia: From “Paternaltariansim” to State Collapse—1822-2003, is that the internal colonialism established by the Ducor Contract and subsequent, discriminatory laws and practices primarily explain the nearly one hundred “deadly conflicts” Liberians fought between 1822 and 2003, the first two of which were fought in 1822. Perhaps you also want to know that what John Gay described as The Long Day’s Anger explains why the CPA was the thirteenth Peace Contract to terminate the war that started on Christmas Eve, 1989. The likelihood that activities such as those engaged in by LAC would continue Liberian instability.
According to LAC General Manager George Quarteng-Mensa (see his letter dated November 10, 2004), during the peaceful period between 1959 and 1989, LAC only developed 30,000 of the 300,000 acres of that part of its concession lying in Grand Bassa County. The company made no efforts whatsoever to develop any part of the 300,000 acres in today’s Grand Gedeh/River Gee Counties. What is LAC’s plan for the 300,000 acres in Webo that it acquired by the said agreement? LAC has so far only developed five (5%) of the total six hundred thousand acres. Did your IFC financing include plans for that portion, or is being held for speculative purposes?
According to the public records, the Tubman Administration on March 3, 1959 , granted LAC a concession agreement covering six hundred thousand acres. As other colonialists did in the old South Africa , Kenya , Namibia , Rhodesia , etc., native occupiers of the land, without consultation or compensation, became subject to summary eviction. The injustice includes the differentiated treatment of “natives” compared to “civilized” persons whose lands are alienable only under eminent domain.
Material Violations of Concession Agreement ab ignitio
The laws of Liberia then required that concession agreements be ratified by the Legislature of Liberia. According to LAC’s said letter of November 10, 2004 , its Agreement was ratified by the Legislature on February 18, 1966 , the seventh year following signature. Additionally, Article II thereof obligated LAC to survey and select suitable areas within each of the three hundred thousand acre plots and to inform the Government of its choice(s) within eighteen months of the March 3, 1959 . Note that LAC’s “Concession areas are NOT the respective 300,000 acres, but areas within each respective 300,000 acres plot surveyed, chosen and notified to the Government. LAC failed to honor this significant obligation of Article II of the Concession Agreement. With the statute of limitation in many transactions in Liberian laws being seven years, LAC would not appear to have a valid Concession Agreement except that successive Liberian governments so recognized it.
What happened in the case of LAC is basically true in all cases where affiliates of transactional corporations have operated in Liberia under concessions granted them pursuant to the Open Door Policy. The ODP was initially adopted by the True Whig Party beginning in the 1870s essentially as a political instrument, not the economic policy it is erroneously touted to be, based in the grant of patronage, to evict the commercial class that was the mainstay of Joseph Jenkins Roberts’ Republican Party. Under the patronage network of the ODP, foreign entrepreneurs were favored under Liberians, because as non-citizens, credible threat of summary deportations cowed the foreign business persons. Patronage then bred corruption but it also evolved impunity, as a leg of the reciprocity process. The exploitative relationship based in the symbiotic relationships between corrupt politicians of our successive predatory Liberian governments and concessionaires skewed income and wealth distribution over the years. Under this unholy relationship, an estimated seventy families now control the Liberian economy. Sixty of the current “controllers” are foreigners, and the ten are corrupt politicians whom the sixty pay for their protection.
Without valid legal rights to the 300,000 acres per se but to “surveyed, chosen areas notified to the Government”, LAC possesses no legal rights to summarily evict people from their ancestral home. LAC would not have had a valid Concession Agreement when it failed at the beginning to implement a material provision of the Concession Agreement it claims became the law of Liberia when it was ratified seven years after it was first signed, but for the incestuous relationship between corrupt politicians and “investors” under the Open Door Policy.
Suffice it to note that LAC during the crisis worked very closely with Charles Taylor. LAC seconded its American Financial Comptroller, Glenn Christian, to the NPRAG as advisor to Taylor ’s Minister of Finance. LAC effectively engaged in Liberian politics, and there is suggestion that it continues to do so today, by opening supporting a presidential candidate in the forthcoming elections, although concessions are expressly barred from participation in Liberian politics.
That LAC continues to actively participate in post-conflict politics is revealed in its support for Robert Vonyeegar whose choice as superintendent of Grand Bassa County was roundly rejected by the people of Bassa but whom Chairman Bryant described as his choice. There are questions about the Chairman’s rejection of the recommendations of a committee of elders constituted by him? Why, we ask, does a “power sharing government” reject the advice of respected elders? Any wonder he was not received well on his last visit?
In this letter of November 10, 2004 , General Manager Quarteng-Mensah calls a people who have occupied their ancestral home since the 1450s, SQUATTERS. Quarteng-Mensa, relying on the support of the current predatory government, perpetuates a practice consistent with and promotive of the internal colonialism that is a foundational cause of Liberia ’s repeated deadly conflicts and inherent instability.
For a company owned by shareholders of a modern European state, we wonder if SOLFINCO directors approved the “Assessment/Eviction Notice” issued by your General Manager. Are directors in support of apparent connivance between the current predatory government whose Minister of Justice (Injustice?) sent soldiers into peaceful villages then mercilessly beat kids, some as young as ten years, “naked” adults and then jailed nearly 100 adults and kids in a filthy, mosquito-infested room, 10 feet by 10 feet? The UN Mission to Liberia ’s “CivPOL” described the detention environment as “inhumane”. Are directors in favor of LAC’s continuing illegal role in Liberian politics, and do directors favor financing such illegal activities?
There is an added issue for us, natives of the area. That issue is the desecration of the shrines of our vaunted sodality, or cultural society. Incidentally, a recent assessment of feasible approaches to restoring Liberia , funded by the World Bank and the UNDP, identify Liberia ’s so-called “Secret Societies” as having more potential to rebuild the state than the mis-trusted local government structure. The discretion reportedly was carried out by officers of the Liberia National Police on the orders of the Minister of Justice whom we recall is an executive of the erstwhile LURD that committed the same despicable acts against Lorma shrines in Lofa.
We eagerly await your public reaction to our query, but whatever it is, let it be know that Liberians, not only the people of District #4 in Grand Bassa County , will no longer acquiesce in the exploitative
activities of questionable legal basis that sustains a predatory government whose corrupt politicians remain insensitive to the plights of their compatriots. We are no longer willing to accept and condone the internal colonialism that is at the root of Liberia’s instability.
Kindly let me know, publicly, whether or not you approve of these actions. If not, what do you plan to do?
Very truly yours,
17 January 17, 2005
Tel. +231 6 536 531