The Corporate Colonialism Ravaging Liberia

The Corporate Colonialism Ravaging Liberia

In the last twenty years since this 2005 deal was signed, ArcelorMittal has retained vicelike control of Liberia’s iron mining and the railway line. This constitutes a form of economic subjugation. The control of vital transportation arteries by foreign entities diminishes Liberia’s autonomy and perpetuates a cycle of dependency.

There are two foreign companies that are giving the people of Liberia a raw deal. They must stop.

The first one is Blue Carbon, a UAE company that is in the process of acquiring ten percent of Liberia’s territory – more than one million hectares – for a massive carbon offsetting project. This contract will last for thirty years and will supposedly help the United Arab Emirates to meet its climate commitments. Blue Carbon is also in talks with Zambia and Tanzania for similar carbon offsetting shenanigans.

Carbon offsetting involves compensating for carbon dioxide emissions by supporting projects that reduce or remove an equivalent amount of CO2 from the atmosphere. Carbon credits are obtained from conservation or reforestation projects.

This Emirati Company will market and sell carbon credits generated from conservation of this one million hectares. It will then share 10 percent of the proceeds with the Liberian government. The communities will supposedly receive 30 percent of profits generated.

As for UAE itself, it will offset its carbon emissions and tap itself on the back.

This company’s patron is Sheikh Ahmed Dalmook Al Maktoum, a senior member of the Ruling Royal Family of Dubai. And that’s okay.

What’s not okay is that there are thousands of Liberians living in parts of this one million hectares who will not benefit from this arrangement. What’s not okay is that UAE’s per capita carbon emissions are a hundred times those of Liberia. Now they want to sanitize their emissions through this carbon offsetting project.

The second foreign company giving the people of Liberia a raw deal is ArcelorMittal, the World’s second largest steel producer. It’s owned by Indian billionaire Lakshmi Mittal. In 2005, ArcelorMittal Liberia (AML) signed a 25-year mining Mineral Development Agreement (MDA) with the Liberian government. This MDA grants it exclusive rights to operate and maintain the 255-kilometre railway from the iron ore mines at Yekepa, Nimba County to the Buchanan Port. As per this MDA, no other entity can use the railways without explicit approval from AML. Imagine not owning the key to your own house?!

Since 2011, AML as the line’s primary user, has shipped around 5 million metric tons of ore per year. Clearly, they are smiling all the way to the bank. Making billions.

Although AML is one of the largest employers in Liberia; although it has also been lauded as one of the largest taxpayers in the country, its absolute control over this railway line has chipped away at Liberia’s sovereignty. Quite disturbingly, successive Liberian governments have enabled AML’s hegemony.

As far back as 2006, a report by global witness revealed that Mittal Steel, which later metamorphosed into ArcelorMittal was offering Liberia an extremely unfair deal by essentially creating an oppressive state within a State.

The Report highlighted major areas of concern as follows, “Liberia has ceded important sovereign and economic rights to a foreign multinational ... Mittal has control over all major decisions, company and capital structure, taxation, royalties, transfer pricing, rights to minerals and confidentiality. In an investment of this scale and of this strategic importance this cannot be an acceptable position”.

Almost twenty years after this Report was written, it’s clear that the 2005 Mining Development Agreement was a devil's pact, stripping Liberia of its economic sovereignty.

ArcelorMittal controls Liberia’s iron ore pricing through opaque ‘transfer pricing’, incentivizing it to siphon value from this broke nation. It receives a lavish five-year tax reprieve, leeching funds the state desperately needs. Insult meets injury as Liberia hands over national assets - its railways, ports, pride - into corporate clutches that care only for plundered gain.

The deal's ‘stabilization clause’ is corporate overreach of the highest order, ArcelorMittal essentially asserting dominion over Liberian law and regulation. This molten slag of an agreement melts away Liberia's human rights, its environmental protections - its very autonomy dissolves in the scorching pursuit of profit. Even transparency falls to the perfidy, the contract remaining shrouded in dangerous secrecy.

And for this indentured servitude, this auctioning of its peoples' very birthright, what recompense does Liberia receive? A paltry $3 million (its not clear if this figure has since increased) corporate social responsibility payment - a meaningless pittance in this age of towering greed. ArcelorMittal plunders with an uncaring soul, stripping the poor nation's dignity alongside its mineral wealth.

The wretched of Liberia were promised riches but received only bondage. This deal encapsulates the age of oligarchy, where nations are mere disposable resources to feed the insatiable appetite of corporate gluttony. Liberia signed away its future, its people shackled to a new Master's brutal dominion. And the only steel on display is the soulless cage clamped around an entire country.

In the last twenty years since this 2005 deal was signed, ArcelorMittal has retained vicelike control of Liberia’s iron mining and the railway line. This constitutes a form of economic subjugation. The control of vital transportation arteries by foreign entities diminishes Liberia’s autonomy and perpetuates a cycle of dependency. Economic sovereignty demands that Liberia takes back control of its infrastructure, ensuring that its resources serve its people's interests first and foremost.

True economic sovereignty empowers local economies and communities. It entails fostering domestic industries, creating jobs, and investing in human capital. Liberia's growth cannot be sustained by foreign investments alone; it requires a robust foundation built on local innovation, entrepreneurship, and inclusive growth strategies. By prioritizing economic sovereignty, Liberia can unlock the full potential of its people and resources, leading to more equitable and sustainable development.

Thankfully Liberia’s President Joseph Boakai seems to be facing the steel bull by the horns. He has called out ArcelorMittal for holding on to the country’s only railroad and refusing multi-user system of the railway. But will he truly renegotiate ArcelorMittal’s exclusive control of the railway, or will it simply be business as usual. The business of multinational arm-twisting governments and exploiting local communities. President Boakai also needs to tackle the numerous other exploitative clauses in the existing Mining Development Agreement between Liberia and ArcelorMittal Liberia. The same vigilance and people-centric renegotiation should also be applied to the outrageous carbon credits agreement between Blue Carbon and Liberia. How can a country sign off ten percent of its territory to a foreign entity!

P/S. Similar injustice and exploitation has been experienced in Liberia’s rubber sector.
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