VP Koung’s Statement: A Warning to Persistent Illegal Protests by Economic Obstructionists

MONROVIA: Vice President Jeremiah Kpan Koung’s recent statement during his visit to ArcelorMittal Liberia’s concession in Yekepa serves as a clear warning to those persistently engaged in protests against ArcelorMittal Liberia (AML).

By condemning the unlawful actions of protest organizers, VP Koung emphasized that grievances should be addressed through proper legal channels, not through disruptive and illegal means, signifying that the government will not tolerate continued lawlessness and misinformation campaigns led by figures like Grace Barrie and Boima Morgan and others.

During his last week appreciation tour in Nimba County, Vice President Jeremiah Kpan Koung visited ArcelorMittal Liberia’s concession in Yekepa. He spoke to both the company and residents in the area, addressing a recent protest by traditional leaders using “poro masters,” also known as “bush devils,” to halt operations at AML’s mines.

Despite a week-long protest that disrupted production, Vice President Koung did not comment during the unrest. However, some protest organizers, including Grace Barrie, falsely assured the local population that they were backed by the VP and other prominent stakeholders in Nimba. This misleading information led the protesters to believe they were acting lawfully and would be praised for their actions.

Grace Barrie had previously gone to Lugbehyee in Yarmein to persuade traditional leaders to use all means necessary to stall AML’s operations. As an agent of Boima Morgan, owner of the former Solway Mining Inc., Barrie has been involved in a sabotage mission against AML because the Government of Liberia granted ArcelorMittal a license to explore the Blei and Dehton Mountains, where Solway’s license had expired. Barrie assumed that her vigorous campaigning for the Vice President exempted her from the law.

However, the narrative changed with the Vice President’s visit to Yekepa on May 17, 2024. Koung candidly cautioned the local population against taking the law into their own hands and urged them to follow proper channels to express their grievances. He condemned the sit-in by the traditional “poro devils” and their followers, advising, “Don’t make your own case turn against you. If you have a case, reach out to your daughter, the Superintendent. If it cannot be settled, go to the Nimba Legislative Caucus, and if it cannot be resolved, come to me and I will take it to the President, and appropriate actions will be taken.”

Due to the incitement by Grace Barrie and others over the Blei exploration issue, some individuals, influenced by financial inducements, recently presented a vague petition calling on the government not to extend AML’s mining deal. This petition was presented despite there being no ongoing negotiations for AML’s extension. The government and lawmakers refused to accept the petition on Capitol Hill. During his visit, the Vice President emphasized that ArcelorMittal Liberia remains the biggest investment partner of the Government of Liberia and that the company would not be removed. Instead, discussions would be held with AML to ensure they do what is right and beneficial for the local communities.

VP Koung stated, “Mittal has spent 20 years here now, and the MDA from 2004 after the war must be looked at to change some things that don’t reflect, that are not the reality of today but that time when the country was just returning from war. Mittal is our biggest partner, and we don’t want it to go anywhere, but our people should equally benefit. But when you tell the cat not to eat the fish, the fish too must not smell. So, don’t take the law into your hands.”

Reassuring the people, the Vice President mentioned that the CEO of ArcelorMittal is willing to listen to the local population, and both parties have agreed to meet periodically to discuss matters that would benefit the community. He also praised the Phase II concentrator project at Tokadeh, noting that it would create jobs for Liberians and boost the economy.

The Vice President urged AML to prioritize hiring local people since the mining activities impact their land and lives. He emphasized that providing local people with jobs would enable them to support their families and gain dignity and respect in their communities.

The Vice President’s statements not only condemned the actions of the traditional protesters but also countered the dangerous narrative propagated by Grace Barrie and Boima Morgan. They had misled the people into believing that AML was not beneficial to them, despite AML’s significant contributions, such as the $85,000 clinic in Gbapa, the $40 million Ganta-Yekepa Road project, the $45,000 renovation of the G.W. Harley Hospital in Sanniquellie, the $35,000 renovation of the Zolowee Public School, and road rehabilitation efforts.

With the Vice President making his position clear, Grace Barrie and her associates must understand that their rebellious actions and smear campaign against the country’s biggest taxpayer are unwarranted and unsupported. They should cease their efforts to disrupt ArcelorMittal Liberia’s operations.

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