By Maazi Obinna Agommuo,
Executive Director, ESGADIA.

Liberia is Africa’s oldest republic, but it became famous in the 1990s for its long-running, ruinous civil war which saw the devastation of many of her public assets. A coastal county in West Africa with a population of over 5.18 million people is one of the least developed countries in the world. More than half of the population lives in poverty. The Ebola epidemic precipitated a prolonged economic crisis, which in turn created serious political and social tensions in 2019, but today the country is set for development as her economic growth rate is projected to recover to 4.1% on average during 2021-2022.
A low-income country that relies heavily on foreign assistance, Liberia is today recorded as one of the 14 countries with the highest gain in Human Development Index.

But Liberia has all it takes to launch herself into the very orbit of Nations with the highest GDP per capita as her small population size puts her at an advantage if she’s able to harness her few yet very strategic Natural Resources; Diamonds, Gold, Iron ore, Rubber, Oil Palm, Timber and good source for Hydropower, I mean harness them to their full effect on the Liberia’s economy.
Back in 2006 I made a trip to Liberia on the invitation of Firestone Liberia Inc., an indirect subsidiary of Bridgestone Americas Inc and saw for myself the huge Rubber Plantation operated by Firestone as I went round the counties that play host to these plantations without commensurate benefits to the host communities and this really got me thinking, when would African Governments ever protect their own?

The American owned Firestone Liberia is the world’s single largest contiguous Natural Rubber producing operation in Liberia since 1926 when the company signed a 99 year concession agreement with the Liberia Government who ceded the land originally owned and inhabited by the Mamba Bassa tribes to Firestone who in turn evicted the Natives from their ancestral land and the Government of Liberia during the signing of concession agreement, did not consider any benefits to these local inhabitants.

The total land concession covers an area of approximately 405,000 hectares of land. This total concession area of Firestone Rubber Plantation represents 4% of Liberias territory and nearly 10% of its arable land. The 405, 000 hectares of land was leased for a fee of six cents ($0.06) per acre for a total annual price of $60,000. In 2005, Firestone signed a new 37-year Agreement with the Transitional Government in Liberia to lease the land for a fee of fifty cents ($0.50) per acre. Between 2000 and 2003, Firestone exported 167,165 tons of Natural Rubber to her Ohio, USA Tire Plant.
Let it be known that Natural Rubber represents between 19% and 34% of Tire components depending on the type of tire and therefore it’s importance in tyre manufacturing can not be underestimated.

Tyre manufacturing demands a good number of Employees. As at 1931 when Bridgestone Tyre was founded in Japan, only 144 employees were engaged by the organization but as of December, 2018, a total consolidated 143,509 employees were engaged by Bridgestone with Plants in Americas alone employing 55,000 workers yet Liberia is only good for producing cheap laborers whom Firestone uses as mere Rubber Tappers in their Plantation, yet we say Slavery is over?
The market for Tire is here in Africa as the demand for it is unprecedented and not a single tire manufacturing plant is recorded in West and East Africa, meanwhile Nigeria alone has the market capacity to host four tire plants with capacities of say Three million tires per annum each and even at that Nigeria will still be importing tires let alone the demand by the rest of African countries.
His Excellency, President George Weah of Liberia must now call for such employment that’s created by Bridgestone on the American soil to be generated on the Liberia soil by renegotiating with the owners of Firestone Rubber Plantation; Bridgestone Corporation to establish their Tire Manufacturing Plant in Liberia. The President and indeed the people of Liberia must now stop Firestone from shipping their processed Natural Rubber to Ohio and other Bridgestone Tire plant locations overseas for their tire manufacturing.
When this happens and Bridgestone builds Tire Manufacturing Plant in Liberia, Liberia would have become the only Tire Manufacturing Country in the West and East of Africa as the few recorded Tire manufacturing plants are in Southern and Northern Africa as at today. With the size of her Rubber Plantation ranking as the single largest in the world, Liberia would definitely become the Tire Manufacturing Hub of Africa.
As the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) gears up for operation, Liberia should reposition herself by bringing Made in Liberia Tires to the African inter-trading platform.
President George Weah must now call Bridgestone to the negotiation table. Liberia needs all the jobs she can create, Liberia have all it takes to rub shoulders with small countries with the highest economic growth rate in the world like Luxembourg, Ireland and Switzerland.
President George Weah should emulate President Nana Akufo-Addo of Ghana who courageously told the President of the Swiss Confederation, H. E Simonetta Myriam Sommaruga that Ghana is no longer going to be shipping their raw Cocoa to Switzerland rather would want to process their cocoa into chocolates and other derivatives like the Swiss do.
The African Union must back President George Weah in his negotiation with the American Bridgestone.
Liberia and indeed Africa is meant to lead the rest of the world economically not the other way round.