By E. Quilly Boyoue
There have been persistent reports about the expropriation of rural land, and the increasing dispossession of its inhabitants by the government of President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf. For example, on January 20, 2012, the New York Times published an article detailing how the government has been giving away tracks of ancestral land to foreign corporations without any consultation or the consent of their indigenous owners. It is believed 70% of indigenous land is said to have already ceded to these multinational corporations.
The inhabitants of these giveaway tracks of ancestral land have been deeply concerned about the degradation of their environment and the looming threat to their subsistence.
I would like to add my voice to the unheeded cries of these indigenous Liberian victims, and would like to call on the Sirleaf government to stop mortgaging the Liberian people’s land. I am particularly calling on President Sirleaf and her profits-driven foreign friends to stay clear of Rivercess. I must point out to her that Rivercess is the ancestral home of the Bassa people. It is not for sale. Hands off Rivercess!
The trouble is, president Sirleaf is doing business as usual. In her ingrained insensitivity and her shameless defense of these multinational corporations, she has been chastising these rural folks instead of empathizing and reasoning with them. She’s invariably serving the business interests of foreigners instead of the interest of the nation.
“When your government and the representatives sign any paper with a foreign country”, she reportedly told some aggrieved villagers in Grand Cape Mount County, “The communities can’t change it.” She added: “You are trying to undermine your own government. You can’t do that. If you do so, all the foreign investors coming to Liberia will close their businesses and leave; then Liberia will go back to the old days.”
Is doling out other people’s land the same as signing government-to-government agreements called treaties? I would have imagined, no. The president’s power to sign a “paper” with foreign countries does not cover snatching away people’s means of subsistence production, and dashing it to some profits-driven foreigners. The history of Liberia is replete with how these so-called investors in collusion with Liberian government officials have dispossessed and uprooted indigenous Liberians, depleted their mineral resources, and polluted their waters with nothing to show for their investments. Does the name ‘Bomi holes’ rather than Bomi Hills ring a bell to anybody?
No, I am not against foreigners investing in my country. I am thinking of Nyanboland taken over by Firestone and other companies in Maryland County, the depleted rainforest of River Gbe in what is now River Gee County, Margibi land awash with rubber trees, the depleted Goland, etc. Sirleaf should be stopped from snatching land from our people. I for one strongly advise her to stay clear of Rivercess. That part of Liberia is not for sale!
I am a native of Gbokon, Borh Section, and Rivercess County. Far before I was born, my father like many young men of his generation migrated to present-day Margibi to work for the Firestone Rubber Company. Working in outrageous conditions, he earned a $1 a month. He later met my mother who soon realized that they could not survive on the meager income. My mother thus persuaded my father to return with her to Gbokon.
Yes, when Firestone, an American investor, could not provide sufficient income for my parents, they turned to Gbokon, the land of my ancestors in Rivercess. They gave birth to me and my siblings there and were able to raise us without the help of the Liberian government whose officials occasionally showed up to extort money from them in the name of taxes. It was here we were nourished, clothed and treated of childhood diseases.
Gbokon is part and parcel of Rivercess, an ancestral Bassa land. The land is endowed with dense rainforest crisscrossed by clean rivers, streams and creeks – all adding to the fertile farmland it is. The land has been the main means of subsistence production for the inhabitants. For centuries, they have grown rice, cassava (Yucca), eddoes, potatoes and other tropical crops on it in abundance. They have hunted, fished and subsisted on whatever nature serves up. For recreation and leisure, they have simply roamed the dense forest, swum in the unpolluted rivers, streams and creeks. They have even befriended animals. They trained and are still training their children in Poro and Sande schools.
Rivercess is therefore the heritage of the Bassa or Kwa-speaking people. It has been handed to them by their venerated ancestors who spilled their blood for it en mass. It has provided shelter, food and even clothing for generations of Bassa people. The land is part and parcel of their existence. The Rivercess people, and only the Rivercess people have the authority over their land – not Sirleaf and her so-called representatives. As did our ancestors and generations before mine, my generation should be able to pass it on to our posterity. I would rather die then to see foreigners take over Rivercess through the instrumentality of a government in Monrovia.
Neither President Sirleaf nor the so-called representatives can decide how our ancestral land can be used. Such decision ultimately lies with the traditional authority, the sole custodians of the land.