BOPOLU, Liberia — In rural villages here, the role of “stranger-father” holds a key place in traditional community life. An outsider wanting to move into a village must find such a person to introduce him to leaders and take responsibility for his behavior. As trust builds, the outsider may be allowed to put up a hut and plant subsistence crops. Eventually, he may become a recognized member of the community, sharing a customary right to the land where the villagers live and farm.
American and Malaysian palm oil companies found a ‘stranger-father’ in the Liberian government. But in its zealous hospitality, critics say, the government violated international law and citizens' human rights.
Instead of fostering trust by consulting the affected communities, the government unilaterally signed sweeping deals. For many villagers, their first introduction to the newcomers came in the form of bulldozers clearing their crops.
In 2009, Liberia leased 771,000 acres of land to the Malaysian palm oil company Sime Darby for 63 years. In 2010, Golden Veroleum, owned by US private equity fund Verdant Fund LP, received 865,000 acres for 65 years.