Jobless Without Qaddafi: Withdrawal of Libyan Investment Spurs Unemployment

Foya, Lofa County – Theresa Fallah, a 26-year-old mother of two, worked in this green, mountainous region tilling the soil to grow rice, a Liberian staple, under a Liberian-Libyan partnership launched in 2007. Now Fallah, like other workers, is unemployed as Libya withdraws its investments in Liberia.

Once a field laborer with the rice production facility, jointly run by the African Development Aid (ADA) and its Switzerland-based partner, Libya African Portfolio (LAP), Fallah now earns a living selling biscuits and candy from a makeshift stand in Foya.

The rice project came to a standstill in February just before opponents of Libyan President Colonel Muammar Qaddafi’s government rose up and began a war against his rule that is now in its seventh month. Fallah is among the more than 200 workers who lost their jobs after Libya stopped sending money for the USD $30 million rice project.

“I feel very discouraged since ADA closed because ADA was helping a girl  like me who never went to school before. The job was helping me to send  my two children to school because my husband is sick.” –   Theresa  Fallah, a 26-year-old mother of two

Rice Project At Standstill

“The rice project is still at a standstill with all our machines parked at our work site in Foya until we can get word from our overseas offices in Libya,” said Elwood Dennis, an ADA/LAP spokesman.

But that word is unlikely to come. President Qaddafi’s forces have been forced to cede large parts of Libya to opposition forces and the president has faced intense international pressure to step down. His government has stopped sending millions of dollars to investments in many countries in Africa.

Even if the Libyan government were able to send the money it would no longer be welcome in Liberia. In June President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf followed many international countries by withdrawing the Liberian government’s recognition of Colonel Qaddafi as the legitimate president of Libya and breaking diplomatic ties.

The loss of Libyan investment is a significant blow to Liberia. Libya’s promised investments totaled $110 million since 2007. That’s nearly one third of the total $293 million invested by the World Bank since 2003. President Johnson Sirleaf’s unilateral action angered many in the opposition parties who accused her of acting under American influence.

Libya’s investments came from the country’s USD$53.3 billion sovereign wealth fund, generated from sales of Libyan oil. Gaddafi’s plan was to offer African governments an alternative to the World Bank and International Monetary Fund, which he said were tools of Western domination of Africa.

He encouraged African governments to break away from the influence of the U.S. and Europe with his financial support. International analysts now say Libya’s civil war could drag on for month or years. It is unclear who will lead the country in the event of Qaddafi’s overthrow. Many of the fund’s assets are now frozen under the international sanctions against the regime.

Investments Largely Symbolic

“The adverse impact on the Liberian economy from the cancellation of the projects is limited,” the analyst said. Though Libya’s promised investments were large, the Liberian economy is not likely to feel much of an impact now they are gone according to one economic analyst who has closely observed the Liberian economy over several years.

(He asked for anonymity as he is not authorized to speak to the press.) Experts said the investments were largely symbolic, designed to win the loyalty of Liberians for the Qaddafi regime but not generate much revenue for Liberia. The investments in Liberia include the USD $30 million rice project in Lofa, the USD$65 million Ducor Hotel renovation and the Gbarnga rubber processing project valued at USD$15 million.

President Johnson Sirleaf, who a little over a year ago visited the ADA Rice Project In Lofa And spoke highly of it, had a different message in an exclusive interview with FPA during a recent visit to Dakar, Senegal. Madame Johnson Sirleaf said the money had not been coming from Libya for some time. “Libya defaulted on the agreement signed by both countries,” said the President.

“The ADA Rice Project in Foya, Lofa County, was also defaulted on because after the first year, we found out that nothing was going on out there. If you compare what they have done in Liberia to other countries, they have done very little. We have been on the Ducor Project for three years, but it never got started,” Madam Johnson Sirleaf said.

“In no way do I regret breaking diplomatic ties with Libya,” said the President in one of her recent press briefings.  The break-up has manifested in debate on every street corner, with some questioning the constitutionality of the President’s unilateral decision to end relations with Libya.

Nobody Questioned Doe

The constitution states that the President is “empowered to conclude treaties, conventions and similar international agreements with the concurrence of a majority of each House of the Legislature.” The president’s action wasn’t unprecedented. In 1981, former Liberian President Samuel K. Doe cut off diplomatic relations with Libya without the consent of Liberia’s then foreign minister, Barcus Matthews.

“President Doe made the news official by calling some journalists to declare that the Libyan [consulate] was closed and their diplomats were expelled and given 24 hours to leave the country, and nobody questioned him,” said former Minister of Information Rev. Emmanuel Z. Bowier. Liberia has had a mixed diplomatic relationship with Muammar Qaddafi, who on top of investing millions of dollars, also supplied arms and training to Charles Taylor for his 1989 invasion and then throughout his regime.

One of the Libyan’s past investments in Monrovia is the Pan African Plaza that is now used for the United Nations Regional office in West Africa. The 8-story building was constructed and completed during the William R. Tolbert regime through a 1980s Liberia-Libya project. That investment made the U.S. apprehensive about Libyan influence in Liberia, according to Bowier. The U.S. then sent Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Richard M. Moose to visit.

“He came to Liberia in a military jet filled with military uniforms and M-16s and AK rifles brought to the government of Liberia, with a trunk full of $11 million in cash,” Bowier said. The uniforms were for Liberian soldiers and the money was to help stabilize the country and build a new army barracks, Bowier recalled.

Seed Rice Was Given

The Lofa project had been at an experimental phase when it came to a stop in February, with about $42,000 in seed rice sold to the Ministry of Agriculture to distribute to rural farmers, according to Hassan Kaiwu, a spokesman for the Ministry of Agriculture. Mr. Kiawu said the seed rice was given to their partner Corporation Development Agency (CDA), and CDA in turn gave the seed rice to rural farmers who planted and sold the clean rice back to the Ministry.

The 10-story Ducor Palace, a luxury hotel firebombed during the war, remains in a dilapidated state. In 2008, squatters were evicted from the building forcibly to give way for Libya to carry out the renovation but it never began.

Mr. Eugene Peabody, who serves as the government’s general overseer of the Libyan projects, said he could not comment on the matter because it was a diplomatic issue that had to be addressed by Vice President Joseph Boikai, who he said heads the entire project. The communication director of the VP’s office said the Vice President could not speak on the issue because it had been taken up by the Justice Ministry.