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When we hold back our progress A reflection on Sime Darbys arson attack

Jacob N.B. Parley (jacobtheancestor@yahoo.com)
 A burnt portion of the plantation.
A burnt portion of the plantation.

Sunday evening I received a call from my professional colleague, Alphonso G. Toweh, Managing Editor/ Publisher of the New Republic Newspaper to join him the next day, Monday, April 11, to form part of a team of journalists to visit   the Sime Darby Plantation-a Malaysian oil palm company operating in Liberia.

The planned trip came just a few days after the media reported that a woman who earlier sought medical attention at the Company's facilities was missing and that some angry individuals were pointing fingers on grounds that certain people may have abducted the woman for alleged ritualistic reasons.

The situation led to an arson attack on Sime Darby Plantation’s three estates by some elements, or it could have been the very group that had gone there to seek the Company's approval to conduct a search among the palm trees.

After wide media reports that the woman in question got missing, she was found a few days later.

However, the damage had already been done to the company- I. “Jacob,   we have not spoken for some time now, but I realized that you have been covering stories from Sime Darby since 2010, so could you join us tomorrow for us to try to establish through investigation the extent of damage done to the company.” Alphonso said on the phone.

         A partial view of the plantation before the incident.

“Well, thanks, Alphonso, but let me see how my schedule will look like tomorrow.” That’s how I responded.

I didn’t really have any tight schedule on that day and so I joined my colleagues to go on the scene and to report the story by talking with Bomi County citizens- youth, women, traditional leaders and the superintendent of the County, Samuel Brown.

All of them condemned the incident and called for legal action against those who will be found guilty of the act.

We also talked with several top-level managers of the plantation, especially with those managing some of the oil palm company’s estates. They include Messrs. Augustine Allie, Zolu Seh and James Kpenkel.

We equally sought the company's approval to drivethrough the plantation to see for ourselves the level at which the fire affected the company and the way forward in terms of prevention and what was the company's position be in the wake of the increasing violence at its facilities.

My observation:

When we started driving through the plantation, I was actually disappointed after noticing how the fire affectedSime Darby, a company that has been helping to provide jobs for thousands of Liberians.

Only a detailed investigation will establish exactly who may have set the palm trees on fire.

Nature of destruction:

We were told that the April 5 arson attack left 113 hectors destroyed, meaning  a little over eighteen thousand  palm trees in the three affected estates.

Authority at Sime Darby also told us the palm trees had already reached maturity state and were now ready for harvest. What a set back!

Just imagine how long it took the company to plant those palm trees, how much they investedinto the 113 hectors, both materially and financially, to get to the level at which the reported arson took place.

Is it that we have not realized that increasing lawless practices, including arson attacks, have the propensity to scare away potential investors and hold back our own progress as a nation?

Since the inception of the Unity Party-led Government, headed by President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, efforts continue to be made to move Liberia forward.

Such efforts include constant discussions with the international community to identify with our country in various aspects such as job creation, capacity-building programs tohelp boost or build the country’s broken human resource capacity, scholarships, and image-building opportunities, among others.

But it seems that some individuals are not prepared to see a better Liberia, where law and order will triumph over lawlessness, where the cultural and religious values of others are respected, where public facilities and those of concessionaires are protected by all of us, and where prosperity- through   great employment opportunities, and economic viability will triumph over poverty and frustration.

Let’s get the records straight before going further in this opinion. I am not suggesting that people do not have the right to seek redress whenever they feel offended, but what always sets my heart on psychological fire is, when some people, in the name of advocacy,   adopt the wrong approach, perhaps to make their concerns known to government or relevant authorities.

Stabbing ourselves in the back?

It is dangerous for people to always do things that amount to stabbing ourselves in the back as a country while at the same time crying for help from others to help restore the years eaten by the locusts.

Recollection of arson and mob violence:

Some time ago, it was in Nimba County- where violent activities affected the facilities of Mittal Steel, the other time it was at Golden Veroleum in Sinoe County, though not arson related.

At another point police depots were set ablaze in River Gee and Bong Counties.There have been numerous other cases of attacks, including mob actions,on public facilities in many parts of Liberia, just to cite a few. 

For those who may see me as trying to cry for Sime Darby, or crying more than the bereaved, as the old adage goes, you have the right to your opinion, but what I always like to mention every time my colleagues give me the space in their papers, including the online version of the Liberia Broadcasting System, to share my idea on crucial national issues, I am one of the many proud Liberians who love this country, not only through words, but through deeds as well. 

In this way, I will always use my skills to help educate, inform and enlighten the public on practices that could stop the ship from peacefully sailing through to the land of unending opportunities for all of us, irrespective of any status in society.

I will not stop writing and offering my good pieces of advice and ideas to help make Liberia a better place for all of us, especially as a journalist  with  some experience in International Relations, with focus on  Development Diplomacy.

Again, let’s stop stabbing ourselves in the back, for these vices will always paint a gloomy picture of Liberia and portray us a people who are unserious and unready to make progress.  A hint to the wise is quite sufficient!

The author JACOB N.B. Parley: +(231) 886-560-455 /777-604-576 

Email: jacobtheancestor@yahoo.com


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