August 6, 2009

Of course, no description or discussion of Liberia is complete without referencing Firestone.  Many approach it from the orientation of exploitation; however, I think a different take is more productive..or at least provides an opportunity for being productive.  Calling it simple exploitation is like condemning a donkey for not being a horse.  Capitalism generally doesn’t pretend to be the most socially responsible system.  It is fed by land, labor and capital!  If you develop, it is because you are in a position to do such.  That’s it…these days throw in a little technology and you’ve got yourself a system.  Capitalism does its thing…and it is the responsibility of others to look out for their own interests…this is not a value statement or an endorsement…it is simply an observation.  Similar to when I went to Ghana in 2007.  We came across people who had been harvesting the leaves to make chocolate all their lives but who had never seen a chocolate bar.  Yes, it is difficult for those caught between traditionalism and modernization to look out for themselves.  But, what is the reason why deals are signed year after year by those in leadership who know better…well, I’ll let you fill in the blanks.  Maybe the relationship is mutually beneficial…maybe it is not.

Just keep this in my mind as you consider the growth of developed or developing nations or for that matter…post-conflict…particularly when you see a ‘Tree Hugger’ leave a protest in an automobile…those tires made out of rubber came from some where 🙂

Ok,  when you get to the Firestone plantation…the terrain is totally different.  We drove through Firestone and it took over an hour…and I don’t even know if that was the shortest or the longest part…but, it was certainly fascinating.  This is the main plantation…but, rubber stations are set up all over the country…and with China’s exponentially growing demand…they are setting up a plantation also.

Firestone Gate

Of the top of my head, I’m not sure how many acres are involved…but just know the rubber trees go as far as the eye can see.  You may want to save this pic and blow it up so that you can see more of the particulars.  Since non-native Liberians can not own Land in the country…huge lease deals are generally how this gets set-up…they extend over long periods of time.  When you study African history, you will see that these set ups require huge amounts of labor.  This contributed to the shift towards modernization because there was a need for men to work the fields.  Thus, they could not just sit in their villages and do what they had traditionally done.  Now, they could go work at Firestone…this certainly contributed to a shift in the cultural make-up…particularly when you consider that young people no longer had to submit to the elders having control of their labor…and young people no longer had to wait to receive their rewards from the elders…they could go outside of that process to exchange labor for a wage on the market.  Obviously, this disrupts some aspects of cultural transference and contributes to generational/cultural tension.

Firestone Facility

Going through Firestone is an amazing experience…as far as you can see there are young rubber trees…rolling over the hills.


And obviously, if given enough time and attention they become mature Rubber trees…they are tapped similar to the way we get the liquid from tree’s to make syrup…

Old Trees

As you can imagine, an operation of this size requires one serious Labor force.  To this end, Firestone is set-up like a city.  They have schools, a hospital, homes for laborers…

Worker Housing

And of course a transportation plan 🙂  The yellow buses are utilized to transport laborers into and out of the fields to work the land…

Worker Buses

Draw your own conclusions…Liberia is a country rich in agriculture..obviously, but there are huge deposits of Iron Ore…and many other valuable deposits…gold, diamonds…the market potential is phenomenal…expansive forests…etc.  Some of the original deals put in place date back to a time when the settlers/chiefs needed to cut deals with some of the private corporations in order to raise funds so that they could govern.  As time progresses…thoughts on how to best function in capitalism must also progress…government is government…but, business is business 🙂


2 Responses to “Firestone”

  1. Althea said

    wow! intense and enlightening!

  2. Dionne Hoskins said

    This is an excellent piece on Firestone that points out how gray issues can be when liberalism attempts to make capitalism black and white, and vice versa. Ultimately people’s hierarchy of needs influences their politics.

    signed, a steak eating, leather belt wearing, 100% deet bug spraying, dog owning, pro-choice fiscal conservative

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