Liberia: Ecobank Finally Leaves Lofa County
Voinjama, Lofa County – Ecobank, the last in a series of out-of-town commercial banks to operate a branch in Lofa, a geographically isolated county In Liberia, closed its doors to residents of Lofa County on February 7, 2020.
Posted on the wall of its entrance is a notice that tells visitors to patronize the bank’s branches in Ganta, Nimba County, and its ATM machine in Gbarnga, Bong County.
The trouble is, those locations are 40 and 45 miles away respectively. “We apologize for any inconvenience,” the notice reads.
The local branch’s closure has been a major blow to residents of Lofa. Local business owners no longer have a place to deposit cash, nor anywhere nearby to apply for a loan.
Many senior citizens, especially those uncomfortable with digital banking, have felt an outsize impact.
The absence of a commercial bank branch in Lofa also makes it harder to attract new residents, said Jallah Akoi, owner of a popular night club in Voinjama, whose family has lived in the area for more than 10 years.
Lofa’s experience of the closure of Eco bank illustrates how much the closing of the sole local commercial bank branch can mean in a rural community, even to residents who were not particularly pleased with their branch before it was shut down.
And it foretells a worrisome future for many other small rural towns and villages.
“Since the bank closed things have become difficult for us. Where do we go from here? We are calling on the management of Eco bank to reconsider its decision because we are going through hell in Lofa. We can’t access our account because there is no commercial bank in Lofa. This is a huge loss to the local population.”– Koluboi Guwor, Resident of Lofa County
The economic implications are enough of a concern to the senator of the county, Steve Zargo, who has one of the biggest hotels in Voinjama. Senator Zargo told FrontPage Africa that it is regrettable that residents no longer have access to a local commercial branch. “The loss of Eco bank branch has a ripple effect on Lofa County as a whole,” Senator Zargo said.
“It’s about time the Lofa caucus put aside the petit differences and ensure that commercial banks come to the county,” he said. “It’s about time we as caucus put our acts together and work in the general interest of the citizenry.”
FrontPage Africa’s Selma Lomax has been sampling the views of some customers who hit out at the closure, calling the bank an “essential” asset to the county, which they say is always busy.
“The closure of Eco bank is a sad day for us. This is a big loss to us. Since one week since the bank closed we have not had the opportunity to save our money, something that is worrying us as business people. We are kindly asking our leaders to intervene because if this continues it will affect our business.”
Amos Akoi of Vezali Town:
“From my town to Gbarnga is about nine hours journey depending the vehicle you are boarding. I am a government employee. The closure of the bank means you can’t access your account in Lofa. From my village to Gbarnga is LD$4,000. I earn LD$ 20,000. How I am going to live without a bank in Lofa is my concern. This is so disturbing. I can’t imagine living without a bank and I can’t imagine going as far as Gbarnga or Ganta to access my account. This is totally unacceptable.”
Since the bank closed things have become difficult for us. Where do we go from here? We are calling on the management of Eco bank to reconsider its decision because we are going through hell in Lofa. We can’t access our account because there is no commercial bank in Lofa. This is a huge loss to the local population.”
“The closure of the branch was not a good move in my eyes but my objections are not going to change things. We are feeling the pinch of not having a commercial bank. I live in Kolahun District, which is about 10 hours walk to travel to Gbarnga or Ganta to access my account. And what I earn is merger. I hope the government will see the need to address this matter the soonest to bring this nightmare to an end.”