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Pres. Boakai’s Bid To Woo Investors’ Confidence Undermined: As Sponsored Protest Disrupts AML’s Operations In Nimba

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By Julius T. Jaesen, II
coyies2004@gmail.com +231886661061/+231777661061

In the wake of the ongoing protest at ArcelorMittal’s operation site in Nimba County marked by corporate clash and economic interests, Liberia finds itself at a crossroads as President Joseph Nyuma Boakai seeks to woo much-needed investment to bolster the nation’s economy. Currently attending the US-Africa Business Summit in the United States of America, Boakai’s presence signifies a concerted effort to court international investors and instill investment confidence in Liberia’s economic potential. However, as Boakai endeavours to showcase Liberia as a prime destination for investment, dark clouds have gathered on the domestic front. Allegations have surfaced implicating key figures, including Bioma Morgan, a staunch ally of President George Weah, Vice President Jeremiah Kpan Koung and their accomplices, in a campaign to sabotage Boakai’s efforts. Reports suggest that they are actively sponsoring protesters aimed at disrupting the operations of ArcelorMittal Liberia, the country’s largest postwar investor and leading taxpayer.

Background to the Conflict

It can be recalled that the ongoing dispute began when the government of Liberia, then led by former President George Manneh Weah, awarded an exploration license to Solway Mining Company, allowing the company to operate within a portion of the concession area already under the control of ArcelorMittal Liberia. The move by the Liberian government to grant Solway Mining Company access to the concession area stirred controversy from the outset. ArcelorMittal Liberia, a subsidiary of the global steel giant ArcelorMittal, had been operating in the region for years and considered the area in question as integral to its operations. The granting of the exploration license to Solway was seen as encroaching on AML’s territory and raised concerns over potential conflicts of interest and legal ramifications.

The Nimba County concession area rich in iron ore is a key resource for both companies. ArcelorMittal Liberia had invested significant resources into the region, including infrastructure development and community initiatives, to support its mining operations. As Solway Mining Company began its exploration activities within the concession area, friction between the two entities escalated. AML raised objections to Solway’s presence, citing its existing rights and the potential negative impact on its operations. The situation reached a boiling point when AML in response to the government’s actions, issued a stern warning, threatening to seek recourse through international arbitration against what it deemed as a breach of its concession rights.

The dispute over the Nimba County concession area has wider implications for Liberia’s mining sector and its relationship with foreign investors. The government’s decision to grant a license to Solway Mining Company raised concerns about transparency and regulatory oversight in the licensing process. But in the waning days of the administration of former President George Manneh Weah, Bioma Morgan’s Solway Mining Company, a player in Liberia’s mining sector, initiated discussions with ArcelorMittal. Solway sought to settle a contentious issue surrounding the concession area, advocating for ArcelorMittal to compensate them with $25 million for their investments made since acquiring the concession license to operate in Nimba. When the government of Liberia got the news, it stepped in and warned AML not to give a dime to Solway as it was the same government that granted the license to Solway and the very government has the power to revoke the license and turn it over to ArcelorMittal. In the negotiations, the government requested 50 million from AML.

After months of negotiations and contentious debates, ArcelorMittal finally acceded to the demands, agreeing to pay a total of $50 million. The agreement stipulated that $17 million would go directly to Solway Mining Company, while the remaining $33 million would be paid to the government of Liberia to facilitate the handover of the concession area to ArcelorMittal. Initially, ArcelorMittal provided the first $25 million with the expectation that the Liberian government would allocate $10 million to Solway Mining Company and the balance was contingent upon the ratification of an extended Mineral Development Agreement (MDA) by the legislature, granting ArcelorMittal an extension for its operations in Liberia. However, tensions escalated when the Liberian government defaulted on its commitment to give the 10 million from the initial amount to Solway. Despite public pressure, the government disbursed only $500,000 to Solway Mining Company, significantly less than the agreed-upon amount and further went on to controversially transfer the exploration license issued to Solway back to ArcelorMittal.

In the midst of this turmoil, the government of President Joseph Nyuma Boakai after meeting with executives of AML, and unaware of the action of his predecessor, signaled its intention to send ArcelorMittal’s new MDA to the legislature for ratification. This development prompted Solway Bioma Morgan and his associates, including former Maritime Boss Lenn Eugene Nagbe who had connections with Mr. Ibrahim Mahatma, the brother of John Mahatma from Ghana, to take action by sponsoring protest in AML’s concession area to forestall the MDA from ratification. Under the pretext of holding ArcelorMittal accountable for alleged breaches of the MDA, Bioma Morgan and his accomplices orchestrated protests for days in Nimba County, particularly at the ArcelorMittal concession site. Their objective is to disrupt the company’s operations and leverage the situation to advance their selfish interests.

In another startling revelation from our unimpeachable sources, Vice President Jeremiah Kpan Koung whom was also introduced to Mr. Ibraham Mahatma is also involved with the ongoing protest in Nimba County. The protest, which has rocked Nimba County in recent days, was initially believed to be a grassroots movement against the operations of ArcelorMittal, Liberia’s largest investor and taxpayer. However, new information has emerged suggesting that the Vice President’s support for the protest may be driven by personal interests rather than genuine concern for the welfare of the citizens.

According to sources close to the Vice President, businessman Mr. Ibrahim Mahatma has promised to bankroll Vice President Koung’s presidential aspirations in the 2029 elections in exchange for his assistance in stalling ArcelorMittal’s Mineral Development Agreement (MDA) in Liberia. This alleged quid pro quo arrangement has raised serious ethical concerns, with many questioning the Vice President’s integrity and commitment to the rule of law.

Furthermore, Koung’s failure to intervene in the Nimba protest stands in stark contrast to his past actions. The Vice President is on record for intervening in situations that once threatened Liberia’s hard-won peace, including the Armed Forces Day Celebration on February 11, 2024, when widows of the Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL) took to the streets, blocking roads. Similarly, Vice President Koung intervened recently to abort the police’s proposed no-go zone restriction on motorcycles and tricycles from plying main streets, demonstrating his willingness to take decisive action in the face of potential unrest. However, his apparent and conspicuous reluctance to intervene in the Nimba protest, which has the potential to undermine President Joseph Nyuma Boakai’s efforts to attract investors’ confidence at the US-Africa Business Summit, has raised eyebrows.

Investors, both domestic and foreign, look for stability and predictability when deciding where to invest their capital. The deliberate obstruction of a major investor’s activities undermines Liberia’s credibility as a safe haven for investment, casting doubt on the country’s economic prospects and future growth potential. As President Boakai strives to showcase Liberia’s potential on the global stage, such sponsored protest threatens to derail these efforts. Liberia, still in the nascent stages of post-conflict reconstruction, relies heavily on foreign investment to drive economic growth and development. The targeting of ArcelorMittal sends a chilling message to investors, both domestic and international, about the perceived risks of doing business in Liberia. It undermines confidence in the country’s regulatory framework and raises doubts about its ability to safeguard investments.

The significance of ArcelorMittal’s presence in Nimba County cannot be overstated. As one of the largest foreign investors in Liberia, the mining giant plays a pivotal role in driving economic growth, creating employment opportunities, and fostering infrastructural development. Its operations not only contribute substantially to the national GDP but also provide vital revenue streams for local communities and the government. However, the orchestrated disruptions spearheaded by Bioma Morgan and covertly sponsored by VP Koung and their cohorts are unraveling years of progress and investment. By targeting ArcelorMittal, they are effectively striking at the heart of Liberia’s economic lifeline. The ramifications of this assault extend far beyond the confines of Yekepa; they resonate throughout the entire nation, threatening to plunge Liberia into a state of economic uncertainty as over 5,000 Liberians jobs are at risk if the company’s operation remain stalled. Furthermore, the long-term implications of this crisis are deeply concerning. If the situation persists, Liberia risks alienating existing investors, deterring prospective ones, and undermining its credibility on the global stage. The scars left by these orchestrated attacks will take years to heal, hindering Liberia’s economic recovery and impeding its path towards sustainable development.

In light of these developments, urgent action is imperative. The government must demonstrate unwavering commitment to restoring law and order, safeguarding investments, and preserving Liberia’s economic future. Swift and decisive measures are needed to hold accountable those responsible for instigating violence and destabilising the nation’s economy. As the nation grapples with this crisis, one thing remains abundantly clear: the sponsored protest and attacks on ArcelorMittal are not merely an assault on a single company; they are an assault on the economy and the future of Liberia itself.

The stark contrast in annual budgets between neighbouring country Côte d’Ivoire and Liberia has prompted scrutiny and introspection on development strategies. According to recent fiscal reports, Côte d’Ivoire boasts an annual budget of a staggering 16.8 billion, while Liberia’s budget languishes under 1 billion. Last year, Côte d’Ivoire attracted over 4.5 billion in investment whilst Liberia attracted zero. Côte d’Ivoire GDP is around approximately 75 billion whilst Liberia struggles under 3 billion in GDP bagging the question “What are we not doing as a country that Côte d’Ivoire is doing?” This question reverberates across Liberia, prompting soul-searching among policymakers, stakeholders, and citizens alike. While both countries share historical legacies of conflict and post-war reconstruction, the paths they have charted towards prosperity diverge significantly. The Ivorian model emphasises proactive governance, inclusive economic policies, and strategic investments, whereas Liberia grapples with systemic challenges, including corruption, inadequate infrastructure, and a lack of investor confidence. As Liberia seeks to unlock its vast potential, there is a growing consensus on the need for holistic reforms, transparent governance, and targeted interventions. Leveraging its natural resources sustainably, fostering a conducive business environment, and prioritising human capital development are cited as imperative steps towards realising the nation’s aspirations for prosperity and progress.

In a comprehensive assessment released by the US Department of State recently, Liberia’s investment climate comes under scrutiny, revealing alarming practices that deter potential investors and hinder economic growth. The report sheds light on various systemic challenges that undermine the country’s attractiveness to foreign investment. One significant finding highlighted in the report is the government’s discouraging stance towards investors. Despite rhetoric promoting investment, in practice, government actions often serve as barriers rather than facilitators for investment. Business leaders have reported encountering difficulties in engaging with government representatives, with meetings often contingent upon offering bribes.

Furthermore, the report points to a weak legal and regulatory framework, coupled with a lack of transparency in contract awards, as major obstacles to foreign direct investment. Widespread corruption permeates various sectors, hindering the establishment of a conducive environment for investment. Perhaps most concerning is the revelation that government officials view foreign investors primarily as opportunities for short-term graft, rather than as partners in fostering long-term economic growth. This mindset not only undermines investor confidence but also perpetuates a cycle of corruption that undermines the country’s development prospects. In addition, the report highlights the stark disparity in treatment between businesses operating within the bounds of the law and those operating illicitly. While some businesses find it easy to operate illegally by aligning with political interests, law-abiding enterprises face bureaucratic hurdles and, at worst, become targets of government officials seeking bribes or unofficial payments.

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