By Tom Kamara
December 5, 2000
The end of the Cold War and the collapse of command economies have placed emphasis on private investment as the locomotive necessary for economic efficiency and thus political stability. So developing countries, former Cold War client states, are slowly realizing that the era of grants and aid is gone. Private investment is now the new religion with certain conditions for believers, among them stability, transparency and the rule of law in the game of survival within the global economy using "Globalization" as the new Bible.
To catch up and rebuild the foundations of investment wantonly destroyed during the war through massive looting and theft of properties belonging to international investors, the Liberian government has advanced methods aimed at wooing investors. This, in itself, is a tough job because the "born again capitalist", to use Taylor's self-description, courting investors was the same man who spearheaded the looting of rubber plantations, iron ore mining conglomerates, foreign-financed agricultural entities, etc. To succeed, he allegedly mortgaged some resources for years in return for funds to finance the war. Western sources quoting intelligence reports say Taylor's payment to Libya for financing his war machine is being monitored. Amidst mass protests, Taylor said he was taking US$26m. from state funds to pay his war debts. During the war, he saw no future economic hurdles when he trucked Liberia's second largest generator, used to provide electricity when the hydro dam was inadequate during the Dry Season, to Burkina Faso. His rebels destroyed the hydro plant itself. To complete the looting circle, Taylor, along with Alhaji Kromah and backed by the Nigerian dominated ECOMOG peacekeeping force, launched the April 1996 terror in Monrovia. What was left in terms of public, private properties and infrastructure disappeared in smoke or landed in Lagos, Conakry or Accra.
Nevertheless, the presidency means new responsibilities and the president is determined to make amends. He has therefore launched a media blitz to encourage "investors." Upon reading one of the many websites, I was convinced that Liberia was indeed ready for some investment. So I immediately wrote to the man, Mr. R. K. Gulati, (an Indian, I believe) charged with the onerous task of getting Liberia back on its feet. The following e-mail exchanges tell the story:
I am interested in opening a media establishment in Liberia with an independent posture. It will be objective and factual. It will not sing the songs of the Government. It will be professional and independent. Can you help and guarantee protection?
I have received your e-mail. Let us know what type of media you wish to pursue (paper, radio, tv), and the general content direction (general, news, social, entertainment, etc.). Also, what type of external investment would you be seeking. And lastly, other than a media content mandate that would give you the flexibility you need, what other type of protection would you seek. My partners and I would be interested in any opportunity that is correctly positioned.
R. K. Gulati
Dear Mr. Gulati,
The type of protection I need is the type that does not exist in Liberia. In 1996, the President, Charles Taylor, instructed his thugs to burn down our building, printing presses, computers, generators, etc. Although we at the New Democrat managed to restart production after this huge financial loss and under extreme difficulties, the paper was again intimidated and staff ran out of the country. Can you assure me, under these conditions, of protection? With the experience of media outlets like ours, and Star Radio, are you really serious of attracting investment for Liberia? Do you, in your own mind, and in all honesty, believe that Liberia is prepared for private investment on the scale you advertised? I await your suggestions and answers for further contacts in providing more information on our investment.
There was a disturbing silence, which compelled me to re-send this letter:
Dear Mr. Gulati:
I am resending my letter to you regarding possible investment in Liberia, just in case, for some reasons, you did not receive the first one. We respectfully await your answers in order to make some decisions regarding our plans. We have also contacted persons interested in doing business in Liberia and forwarded your address to them, although they are raising the same questions of protection and the rule of law. You must understand the demands for protection and security when it comes to investment. Hope to hear from you very soon.
Dear Mr. Kamara,
Thank you very much for your e-mail.
I apologize for not responding the first time when your e-mail came. I do understand your concerns. Naturally I am sure you can in turn appreciate if some flexibility is called for on how sensitive ventures are organized, chartered, and its positioning with the appropriate officials, in the interest of securing profitability. I am in some discussions relating to Liberia, and will respond with further details in due course.
R. K. Gulati
Dear Mr. Gulati,
This is to acknowledge receipt of your note. I hope to hear from soon on our investment project. As you know, time is money, and the faster we receive clarifications on the questions we raise, the better. Regards.
Tom Kamara At 01:54 AM 10/26/00 -0400, you wrote:
The communication stopped. I have not heard from Mr. Gulati since then. No investment! No security guarantee.
But no doubt the burden confronting many African states like Liberia is the absence of guaranteed political environment necessary for private investment. In this, the first test is security for peasants to invest their labour into food production to feed themselves, gaining freedom from ever growing refugee camps. Corrupt leaders, the ones English Historian Basil Davidson calls "pirates in power", are not interested in creating such conditions and advancing transparency, since such factors affect their pockets and those of their cronies. Underworld figures, with no investment means or wishes, have taken over national economies and imposed poverty. Such shady characters like Leonid Minin, a Ukrainian with an Israeli passport (who also resides in Monrovia), who was reportedly arrested recently in Italy with over US$1m. worth of diamonds discovered in his hotel room, need no security because they have no intention to invest, only to rob Liberia. Long-term, economically viable investments take years for the materialization of profits and criminals have no patience, no honor. An African-American lulled into Liberia by the profit motive learned this basic lesson in distress. He said he abandoned medical studies in the US to invest in Liberia for minerals. Soon, he fell in the familiar trap. He said although he received a letter, which Taylor purportedly signed, the President later denied the signature just as he denied signature on one of the many peace agreements ending the Liberian war. Left in the cold, he sought the assistance of the press. But that was all, perhaps. There was no remedy.
The latest example of obstacles for investment is the flogging of a former Liberian interim president Dr. Amos Claudius Sawyer, one of the few employers in the country. His pro-democracy offices were thoroughly looted, making it clear that if such men are not beyond state terror campaigns, no one is. In agony, Sawyer vowed to spread the message that Liberia was not ready for investment. Whether the political scientist should have known this long before he became a victim is something else. But in Africa, the general belief is that Evil is harmless until it touches one's hands. Several Liberian institutions employing hundreds of people have been forced to close down in the midst of intimidation. Offices of internationally funded Star Radio, the New Democrat, etc., have been forced to close down. So when the Indian-Liberian "investment expert" failed to guarantee security, it was just a way of facing the uncomfortable truth: there are no guarantees for security. You invest at your own risk.
Liberia is not ready for investment except you belong to the Underworld. In any case, the Indian Liberian investment specialist should have known this long before embarking on selling deception.