Vice President Calls on ArcelorMittal to Recruit Unskilled Laborers from its Concession Areas

YEKEPA, Nimba – Following recent protests by residents of communities near ArcelorMittal’s mining sites in Nimba, Vice President Jeremiah Koung is calling on the company to prioritize hiring residents of affected communities for unskilled jobs that he claims foreign nationals are currently doing.

Addressing Yekepa residents during his recent Thank You tour, Koung said ArcelorMittal did not need to hire Indians and other foreign nationals to serve as “flag boys” who give directions up the mine when youths of the affected communities could be trained to do such jobs.

The Liberian vice president said hiring locals from the concession communities would allow ArcelorMittal to empower people who will protect the company’s interests.

“If you go to work in the community as an investor, the first people you want to befriend – the first security you want to look for are your neighbors because it is only those people that will give way for someone coming from outside to intrude,” he said.

Koung noted that people in other parts of the country can earn money from selling their farmlands or making farms; however, residents of communities near the mining operations cannot do so because the company is occupying their lands. Therefore, they need alternative means of providing for their families.

Koung also addressed traditional leaders who used traditional methods to halt operations at the company’s mining sites, calling on them to stop. Earlier in May, several traditional leaders from concession communities invaded the company’s mining sites and offices to protest its failure to uphold an agreement they say was reached in 2021. That meeting was presided over by former internal affairs minister Varney Sirleaf and former head of the National Council of Chiefs and Elders Zanzan Karwar.

During the May demonstration, protestors said the company had failed to employ their children, provide safe drinking water, pay for crops damaged by its activities, or improve the ArcelorMittal Hospital in Yekepa.

While he called the protestors’ concerns “genuine,” the vice president said their approach was counterproductive. He urged them to channel their grievances through local leaders instead of resorting to violence and threats.

Koung disclosed that he had held talks with the mining company’s chief executive officer, who promised to address some of the protestors’ issues.

“We encouraged Mittal to work with our people,” he said. “I want to tell my people that we cannot take the laws in our hands. To have taken unto yourself to shut the company down for five to six days without them working, I think it was wrong. We cannot brand this place that we are violent – we are peaceful people, we are progressive people. There’s a room for dialogue. Your leaders are here, and when you get issues, raise them with your leaders.”

Koung distanced himself from media reports claiming he orchestrated the protest against the company, noting, “I am the vice president, and I can call Mittal anywhere I am, and they will come, so why should I mastermind a protest when I have such power?”

The vice president also commented on ArcelorMittal’s failure to renovate houses left behind by the former LAMCO that operated the mine before the war. Koung said that although ArcelorMittal had agreed to renovate 1,800 homes 20 years later, most houses have yet to be renovated because the Mineral Development Agreement did not specify when that renovation should be completed.

The vice president promised that his government would work to ensure speedy implementation of those renovations. Even if ArcelorMittal cannot complete the renovation, Koung said the government would privatize the renovation works and have the mining giant rent the accommodations.

Vice President Koung in conversation with Arcelor Mittal’s CEO during his tour in Yekepa. Photo: Jerry Myers

Koung, born and raised in Yekepa during the height of LAMCO’s operations, also promised to prioritize access to electricity and safe drinking water in the mining city.

He expressed disappointment that trucks regularly distributed bottled water to ArcelorMittal’s employees while other Yekepa residents lacked safe drinking water. To resolve this issue, Koung promised to engage the Liberia Water and Sewer Company to explore the possibility of providing pipe-borne water to the city.

Regarding electricity access, Koung promised to engage Jungle Energy Power, which supplies electricity only to ArcelorMittal, to start serving Yekepa residents who are unaffiliated with the mining company.

Many Yekepa residents welcomed Koung’s visit and his promises to resolve their various grievances with the mining giant. His speech was largely greeted by cheers.

Featured photo by Jerry Myers

Jerry Myers

Jerry T. Myers, Jr. is a student of the Nimba County Community College, studying Natural Resource Management. Since 2008, Jerry has worked in the media sector, including at the Voice of Tappita community radio station, ELBC Radio, Radio Nimba, and New Public Trust Media Group. He is the current secretary-general of the Nimba Community Radio Association and a full member of the Press Union of Liberia.

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