With a history of corruption, land grabs, and poor governance, Liberia’s natural resources frequently do the country more harm than good.
Between 1989 and 2003, Liberia experienced two bloody civil wars that killed over a quarter of a million people. Global Witness investigations revealed how President Charles Taylor used diamonds and timber to bankroll brutal campaigns against the people of Liberia and neighbouring Sierra Leone.
Today, Liberia is at peace and Taylor has been convicted for his crimes. There are positive signs of Liberia’s development: President Johnson Sirleaf has adopted laws to fight corruption and natural resource mismanagement, and international donors have committed over US$ 6.5 billion in aid.
But Liberia’s efforts to jump start the economy through well-managed resource deals have been very mixed. Since the war, Global Witness has shown how mining companies have negotiated inequitable contracts, loggers have secretly and illegally grabbed huge swathes of the country, and oil companies have bribed government officials. Corruption in Liberia is pervasive.
The government’s investment in large-scale palm oil plantations has had a devastating impact on agricultural communities and the land on which they depend. Collaborating with local Liberian NGOs, Global Witness has helped communities affected by these plantations gain a better understanding of their rights. In 2013, we worked with residents living next to the Equatorial Palm Oil plantation in Grand Bassa County who were assaulted and arrested after protesting the expansion of the concession.
The Liberian government has taken some steps towards harnessing its resource wealth for development. Liberia has renegotiated or cancelled some contracts, issued criminal indictments against some officials who broke the law, and struck agreements with the EU and Norway to save the country’s forests. However, it remains unclear whether the Liberian government has the capacity – and sometimes the will – to manage the immense number of companies exploiting the country’s natural resources.