Reason, Public Policy and Violence: The Case of Butaw, Sinoe County

By Bai M. Gbala, Sr

The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia
June 3, 2015


Damaged Vehicle
- courtesy of FPA

Indeed, the reported events of May 26, 2015 in Butaw, Sinoe County, Southeast Liberia, “mirrors” (according to FPA) similar events that occurred in Tokadeh, Nimba County, Northeast Liberia, in July 2014, of mob violence – hostage-taking, injury to individuals, looting, destruction of properties and counting; who or what county is next and what are the root-causes of this repeated or repeating mayhem?

What are the facts?
According to the Front Page newspaper (FrontPageAfricaonline, May 28, 2015), “Butaw was a scene of chaos . . . when angry residents staged a protest demanding to meet a visiting, senior official of the Golden Veroleum (Liberia) Company, a protest that resulted to the throwing of stones and destruction of some of  GVL properties. Ghost Town: 20 arrested, hunt for loots in concession Town”.                                      
Eye Witness’ Accounts
A security guard, Gray Doe, reported that the GVL farm warehouse was also a target for the protestors. The angry youths took away bags of rice for the employees and the company’s power saw. Doe said the protesters were carrying rocks and stones, setting road blocks, and that a South African expatriate was held hostage, but released. According to the Police, twenty protesters have been arrested, currently in detention in Greenville, awaiting trial. Eye witnesses account that “the protest grew as the result of the management's refusal to allow the Butaw youth to meet the Chief Executive Officer of the company”.

Deahnna Wolo, a mother of two children, said “my father and boyfriend were among those arrested, but my boyfriend was not involved in the violence but ended up behind bars at the prison in Greenville. They took my boyfriend yesterday around 6:00 PM, they flogged him and took him away, he was in the house when they arrested him, when I came home they told me that they took him.   They took all the men from this village, they beat them, last night we never slept”. Like Wolo many other women in the village shared similar stories about their husbands been beaten and others hiding in the bushes. According to other sources, “all of the expatriates working with GVL are currently in Monrovia with only Liberian staffers left to run the plantation. At the plantation two vehicles were destroyed, the home and dining hall of the international staffers ransacked, window classes broken, phones and laptops reported missing”.

A day later, after the protest, the towns and villages in the district were deserted with only Police presence, the Police Support Unit (PSU) and the Emergency Response Unit (ERU) who carried out a house-to-house search for any “looted” properties. Men were hiding in the bushes, afraid of arrest by the Police; several, other towns and villages were quiet, with only women and children moving about. The PSU officers, with a bailiff of the court, were searching the homes of the locals to make further arrests. They, with bailiff, held a writ from the court displaying it to every villager requesting entry into homes; villagers who were not present, their homes were forcibly broken into by the Police.

The Butaw Youth Association (BYA) “requested to meet an official of GVL in a letter dated May 24, 2015, received on the same day by Nehemiah Jabbah, Community Affairs Officer at GVL, but the request was delayed by the GVL administration”. That letter, from the BYA states, “Sir, please be inform that the BYA leadership want to hold a meeting with you on Monday, May 25, 2015 at the head office of GVL in Butaw at 8:00 am to please address our plights (the unfolding situation in Butaw between the citizens and the Golden Veroleum Liberia Butaw estate management in order to bring total resolution. Your failure to hold this meeting with us, anything outside of that, you may be doing things at your own volition and Butaw people will not be responsible for your operational failure. The employees were violently protesting against low wages and bad labor practices amid reports that GVL is facing serious financial crisis. In response, the GVL requested that the meeting be held next week but did not state the exact day”.

GVL Reply: “Accept my compliments as I acknowledge receipt of your letter dated May 24 2015 which is requesting a meeting with the CEO of GVL. It will be a pleasure to have this meeting with you, but will like to suggest that such meeting be held on any day in next week at 10:00 am prompt. There are other emergency situations that are being handled by a senior management team of GVL for which we are not in the position to honor your request as per the date & time mentioned in your letter. Please note that we will treat it as a matter of urgency and management will be represented at the highest level even if Mr. Matthew A. Karinen, Director of GVL is not present. The venue for the meeting will be at GVL, Butaw’s head office. Thanks for your usual understanding as we await the meeting with you on the anytime specified next week, signed: Flomo P. Molubah, General Manager, Sustainability, GVL”.

The citizens (BYA) in a counter letter informed GVL that “We are in receipt of your letter dated May 25, 2015 requesting for the rescheduling of the meeting to hold with the GVL CEO. Sir, your failure to permit us to hold the meeting with the CEO of GVL, (the investor who is investing on our land Butaw) you should immediately close your operation in Butaw and vacate the land occupied by you GVL”, signed: Prince Dargbeh, General Secretary, D. Jerry Payonnoh, Vice President and G. Gary Doegmah”.

Liberia National Police at GVL, Butaw
- courtesy of FPA

A member of the Butaw community reported that after the management of GVL rejected their request, they (Butaw Community) decided to gather peacefully in front of the company entrance to claim the attention of the visiting official but while in the process the Police came in to prevent them, which sparked the situation”.
Special Statement by the Government of Liberia on the disturbances in Butaw, Sinoe County
“As a government, we cannot allow a few people to undermine the interest of this country; to run investors away and to make sure that we do not attract what need to achieve our development goals” – President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf.

Monrovia - “The government of Liberia regrets the mayhem, looting and destruction which occurred on the Golden Veroleum Oil Plantation in Butaw, Sinoe County, on Tuesday, May 26, 2015. As expected, this act of violence, looting and the wanton destruction of properties will not go unpunished. The violence in Butaw does not only threaten our peace and security, it undermines our collective livelihood, and unfairly portrays our country as an unsafe destination for foreign investment”.  

“As such, the Ministry of Justice through the Liberian National Police has begun a thorough search and seizure operation in Butaw for the looted properties of the GVL. Wherever they are properly identified and found, the homeowners will be arrested and the looted properties retrieved, logged and returned to the company.  All persons said to be responsible for the Butaw Mayhem are being arrested and will be prosecuted in keeping with the law. The Justice Ministry has also been instructed to pursue the additional charge of economic sabotage against such persons wherever applicable”.

“The relevant authorities have also been directed to work with GVL on a full assessment of the damage to the concession. Consistent with the practice of this administration, when determined and agreed, the cost of the assessed damage will be offset by the social and or county development funds of Sinoe County”.

“Let it also be known that the Liberian Government takes seriously its commitments to all international protocols, as well as acceptable procedures and practices. However, this Government will not accept the misuse or abuse of international protocols to undermine its sovereign duties and responsibilities, thereby making it difficult, if not impossible, for the Government to meet the needs and fulfil the expectations of its people”.

In an Executive Mansion release, President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf stated that the Liberian government will respond to this in a very effective way.  “When I returned the last time you may recall, I said to Liberians that we cannot continue to go out and attract investment, bring people to do business and create jobs and then when you have these kinds of violence, it takes away from our effort and people run away from the country; Money only goes to the place where it’s safe . . . not where they’re frightened”.

GVL Response: Rules out Use of County Funds, No Plans to Leave Liberia
According to Mr. Virgil McGee, GVL Corporate Communications Manager, “The government of Liberia says the social or the county development fund of Sinoe County will be used to pay for the properties damaged at the Golden Veroleum site in Butaw, the government of Liberia declared in a statement issued Thursday. Well, that is something that is not on the table, the county development fund is for the county, the government has not offered that to us and we are not asking for that, the likelihood of us accepting this is small, although the company has not done any assessment to determine the value of loss at the Butaw operation site. We will assess the damages and come up with a way forward, we do not know the damage that has been done, we are conducting an assessment which has not been completed. There has been no assessment done and that will be done in the coming days to know the extent of the damages and cost of any repair that may be done.”

No plans to leave Liberia
“Despite the violence, the company has no plan to leave Liberia. I want to make it very clear that GVL does not have a plan, whatsoever, of leaving Liberia, we absolutely have no plan of leaving Liberia, GVL is using the protest by locals to re-evaluate its activities. What we have planned to do is to re-evaluate our activities in Sinoe County and other areas and reassure our workers and the local community that we are going to stand by them, giving information to the public in a timely manner and addressing grievances quickly, are some of the new plans that will be developed by GVL”.

“The Liberia National Police has reserved the company site as a crime scene, that non GVL employees have been asked to stay away. He praised the intervention of UNMIL personnel and the officers of the LNP. “We have gotten a lot of assistance from UNMIL and the Liberian government, they deployed troops to evacuate our people from Butaw, since then the farm has been described by the LNP as a crime scene”.

“The government release added that the Ministry of Justice through the Liberia National Police has begun a thorough search and seizure operation in Butaw for the looted properties of the GVL. Wherever they are properly identified and found, the homeowners will be arrested and the looted properties retrieved, logged and returned to the company, the government stated”.

“The LNP is there and they have designated the area as a crime scene, but the Company is still operating and we want to reassure our people that they don’t have anything to fear, without the local communities the company will not exist. The youths were complaining about the slow rate of progress in development by the company, we had an agreement and there is a timeline for things that should be done, unfortunately where we find ourselves is a boundary dispute, if there is boundary dispute we will not extend our operation, and refuted claims that the company was preventing the youth from meeting the visiting executive of Golden Veroleum”.

“We did have an international person, but we did not tell them that they could not meet this person, everything will be conducted under the law, we do not condone any mob violence.   The government said, it will not accept the misuse or abuse of international protocols that undermine its sovereign duties and responsibilities”.

Meanwhile . . .

There are discontents and anger at every level of our society and country – conflicts, confusions, contradictions, protests, demonstrations, distrust of our leaders, no-where-to-turnism, dee-deebahs, mango-mangos and . . . violence?

From the first branch of government, the National Legislature, comes this complaint that the Capitol Hill Building, the home offices of the nation’s lawmakers, “stinks”. The building was designed and built without central plumbing and running water, made no provision for modern installation of such plumbing, electricity, jacks for landline telephones, yet . . .   

The Executive Mansion, home and offices for the nation’s chief executive has been, and still is, a ghost house, reportedly looted of its valuable furnishings, since the mysterious fire that gutted the building about ten years ago; yet . . . 

The City of Monrovia, the nation’s capital, is breaking at its seams, if it is not, already broken, due to lack of elementary, city services – efficient, safe urban transport, electricity, safe drinking water & sewer, police protection, sanitation, street address and mail delivery, yet . . .

And yet, we have been, and are spending billions of US dollars on non-productive projects –expensive foreign vehicles, excessive demand for other imports (including rice & cooking oil, our national staples), foreign travel, buy homes and maintain families in foreign countries, while we build mansions and maintain “second” families here at home (all with stolen, public resources) and, in unholy alliance with “investors”.   

Executives of State-owned, revenue-generating Enterprises have been, are being charged, repeatedly, with their “hands in the cokie-jar (treasury)” of their respective organizations with impunity, recent examples are the NPA, LPRC and the celebrated case of the RIA.   In the case of the mighty NOCAL, which has not produced a single barrel of oil, yet, the Executives are spending millions of US dollars on foreign trips, high salaries, questionable allowances, bribery, kick-backs, and sole-sourcing, in flagrant violation of PPC laws, also, with impunity. Importantly, State-owned Enterprises are havens for former Liberians who are citizens of foreign countries - dual citizens - and the major vehicle for continuing complete, comprehensive control-domination of the nation’s Political Economy.

There is, now, a tug-of-war over the GAC audit of the millions (reportedly, 5 million US dollars) donated for the Ebola Epidemic. The audit claims to have discovered and documented the usual shenanigans by the Honorables entrusted with the financial management-reporting of the donated funds, and the usual denials.

Then, there is, in the “grapevine of the rumour mills” deep discontent about control and use of the annual, social development grants to the Counties, the Nation’s regional, administrative sub-divisions. The reported discontent indicates that, more often than not, this grant feathers the nests of Honorables and their cronies, rather than the social needs – roads (to facilitate production of food), schools-education, healthcare, electricity, city streets, etc, etc. The discontents are concerned with choice of projects financed and absolute control of the decisions by the Honorables from Monrovia. Experience shows conflicting grants management reports, and demands GAC, comprehensive audits.

Cold Water Has Come . . .
Now, the “cold water has come from the Alligator’s mouth” - the Honorable Amara Konneh, Liberia’s current, Super Minister of the Super Ministry of Finance & Development Planning, foresees, Bloodbath. ‘This has to stop, Minister Konneh cautioned on how the Sirleaf government expends revenue generated, and warned if revenue generated is not equitably expended across the population (on priority projects – poverty, hunger, disease, education, safe, efficient national transport/communications), he foresees another April 14th Rice Riot-style incident in Liberia” (In Profile Daily, April 28, 2015).

In response to the Butaw violence, the President of the Nation advised, rightly, that Money only goes to the place where it’s safe . . . not where they’re frightened”. To this advice, we add the following:  No prudent, honest, sincere investment promoter will go to and invest in a country, community in which there are:

Under these conditions, the only available “investors” are international “crooks, criminals and hustlers” for the fast dollar, in alliance with local “crooks”, at deadly cost to the poor, hungry and uneducated-uninformed citizens and the nation.

Our Conclusion
So, when Human Reason and Public Policy fail and/or refuse to seek to be educated on the “whys” and “hows” for occurrence of, seemingly, unreasonable, deadly, costly events, but (Reason, and Public Policy) become management tools for development, prescription, presentation and implementation, through deceit, lies and thievery captioned in fancy, academic-scholarly language, above and beyond the comprehension of the average Liberian, for the benefit of a very few and robed in dictatorship of and by the very few, with vigor and diligence, then Violence becomes the Reasonable option – to the relatively-uninformed majority.

sylvester moses
Well said, as always, Brother Bai M. Gbala, Sr., Mrs. Ellen Johnson – Sirleaf loudly complained in the mid 1980’s of being a prey, but she has now become a predator. For Christ’s sakes where is the evidence of Dr. Martin Luther King’s oft – quoted “content of character” in this milieu? Anyway, since “the best lack all conviction”, the rest should just “keep on keeping on” if that's any comfort.
sylvester moses at 06:08PM, 2015/06/04.
Volusion Custom Development at 03:07AM, 2017/09/12.

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