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Johnson Sirleaf Responds

In January, Rachael Knight, Community Land Protection Program Director, and Silas Siakor, of the Sustainable Development Institute, published an op-ed in the New York Times exposing the controversial land practices of Ellen Johnson Sirleaf’s government.  The op-ed also received a response from the Ford Foundation, in a Letter to the Editor.

This article originally appeared in Africa Confidential.

February 17, 2012: President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf is taking action on her green credentials after featuring in a New York Times piece headlined ‘A Nobel Laureate’s Problem at Home’. The op-ed accused her of being soft on incoming multinationals and hard on the communities they inconvenience. Veteran Agriculture Minister Florence Chenoweth and Minister of Justice Christiana Tah set off for Madina in western Grand Cape Mount County to meet community activists protesting against the Malaysian palm oil multinational Sime Darby Berhad.

In 2009, Sime Darby won a 220,000-hectare concession, spread over four counties. Company boss Tun Musa Hitam (also head of the World Islamic Economic Forum) pledged investment of US$3.1 billion over 16 years. Local grievances against Sime Darby cover the destruction of productive farmland and forestry, purchase of timber and land at knockdown prices, desecration of sacred sites and a lack of job opportunities for local workers.

The Kuala Lumpur-based Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil is considering the complaints, which a growing coalition of local and international environmental groups are taking up, including the Forest Peoples Programme and the Rights and Resources Initiative. Sime Darby strongly refutes all accusations against it but has discreetly hinted at a rethink before it starts planting elsewhere in Liberia. The President is indicating that she won’t be held to ransom, warning local environmental group Green Advocates not to antagonise investors or stir up unrest. She has set up an inter-ministerial task force on the question.

March 14, 2012 | Namati

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