A Beautiful Small Town In Liberia

By Abdoulaye W. Dukule

The Perspective

November 6, 2001

Once upon a time, there were two little towns, in Liberia. They were cities by themselves, bustling and dynamic, immaculate, with thousands of people traveling in and out every day. Yekepa and Harbel, in the past represented two poles of the Liberian economy, the iron ore and the rubber capitals of the country. Experts, both local and expatriates looked over the smooth operations of the mines and the rubber. Getting a job in one of those little cities guaranteed a leap into the world of middle class Liberia. These two cities, like the rest of the country fell to the war. Yekepa is now a ghost town while Harbel somehow has become a shadow of what it used to be.

That was then, now, there is a new pole of economic dynamism. It is called Kilo 83. Like Yekepa for the iron ore and Harbel for rubber, Kilo 83 reflects the economic reality of the day. Timber! Kilo 83 is the capital of timber exploitation in Liberia. But unlike Yekepa and Harbel where any one could go and look for a job, Kilo 83 is not accessible to everyone. It takes connections at the highest level to reach there. Those who dare venture into the forest to hunt disappear.

Unlike Yekepa and Harbel that were open cities and served somehow as a showcase for the companies that build them, Kilo 83 is a very guarded secret. Not many people know its location and even fewer people know its location. Kilo 83 is seating in the middle of the jungles, with its manicured lawns, its satellite dishes, its beautiful houses and its small army.

To get to Kilo 83, you take the road leading to Buchanan, after Buchanan, you keep going towards Rivercess. After 45 minutes drive, you reach an intersection. The road to Rivercess leads you towards the south. If you go north, you run into a gate, manned by tough-looking guys, armed with AK-47. You are asked to show an ID card or a laissez-passer. If you don’t have an identity card or a laissez-passer, you are turned back, if you are in luck, otherwise, you may be taken away and disappear in thin air.

The guys at the gate only know two types of documentation. The ID card is the original identification card delivered to the original fighters in 1990-1992. Fighters who joined after Octopus do not qualify. The second form of identification emanates from Fox, the young man who has become the right hand of Gus. He towers over every operation at Kilo 83. At 23, he is very dynamic, sleeps little and is always flying between Monrovia and Kilo 83, either with Gus or very important guests going to take a look at the operation at Kilo 83 or management of the site flying to Monrovia for R&R at Hotel Africa where everything awaits them.

In Harbel, there were mostly Americans, mixed with Liberian technocrats. In Yekepa, there were Germans, Canadians, Liberians and people from everywhere. At Kilo 83, there are Malaysians, former military personnel, escapees from the various political and military upheavals. There are also a few Lebanese. The Liberians who work there are not mid-level managers like in Harbel or Yekepa. They are cooks, guards, or hired hands who come in for a week or so work and go back to where they came from. They do get paid, well paid compared to salary levels in the rest of the country. Flomo was able to purchase a new color television and a VCR the last time he was in Monrovia. . One does not need a satellite dish to capture the signals from television stations across the globe. He is also building a house for his aging mother in Smell-No-Taste.

Flomo came to Kilo 83 just a few months ago. He had been in Monrovia, navigating from the security detail of one VIP, struggling to make ends meet. Once in a while, he would go to General Momo Giba, his friend from way back. Momo got tired of supporting him and referred him to Fox. Fox gave him a laissez-passer and he went to the gate. He was screened. He had his original NPFL identity card. He spent a night at Kilo 83, in a small guesthouse, with four other people. They watched war movies and later on watched South African television by satellite. In the morning, he had a healthy breakfast and was put on a pick-up. They traveled a few hours and arrived at a small hamlet. It had all the training facilities he had seen in Mataba, Libya, ten years ago. For two weeks, he re-acquainted himself with guns, and with good nutrition and vitamins, became strong and healthy again like a fighter should be. At the end of the conditioning, he was surprised when instead of Kilo 83, he found himself on a truck, going to Lofa.

Flomo and his companions spent three weeks in Lofa, chasing rebels, taking over village and sleeping in the jungle. When his tour of duty came to an end, he returned to Kilo 83. He had earned his job. Now he works with one of the Malaysian truck drivers. He cooks for him, cleans his quarters, and once in awhile, goes to Buchanan to find girls for him. He receives $150 a month. He has free housing. Water and electricity run 24 hours, 7 days a week. Every three weeks, he has a day off and goes to Buchanan or sometimes, travels to Monrovia. Finally, the years of fighting and killing in the trenches for the NPFL are paying off.

Kilo 83 is the dispatching center for logs coming out of the Sapo forest, the greatest mass of rainforest in the country. When logs come to the central station, some are marked with the RTC symbols for Gus while others are stamped with the sign of OTC. Kilo 83 is worth all the investments because it produces some of the greatest logs in world. The Sapo forest is full of quality trees. The huge trunks are then hauled to the ports from where they are shipped to China or France. When Malaysian ships come for the logs, they also unload fuel that is needed to run the generators. New samples of log tree from Malaysia are now growing in the nursery. The streets have not yet been paved.

There are basketball and tennis courts in Kilo 83. But there are no children and no women. Women who are allowed in have to leave as soon as their chore is taken care of, which usually is simply to spend the night enteratining the Malaysian or Lebanese men working in the dow. Every one has an AK-47. It’s a town for men.

There are always rumors that former fighters of LPC - Liberian Peace Council of Dr. George Boley - would attack and take over the camp for Oscar Quiah or burn it down. This anticipation creates and maintains a continuous state of anxiety. But so far, things have been calm. Kilo 83 is well and alive.

Maybe, someday, this model of development would extend to the rest of the country. Everyone would get paid on time. Everyone would have light, water and medical care. All for free. Of course, with all that, we would have to accept other side of the coin.

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