Liberia: Gbarpolu Men Say Ghanaian Miners Are Snatching Their Women

Two women walk on the main road in Henry Town in Gbarpolu County on Nov. 21, 2019. FrontPage Africa/James Harding Giahyue

HENRY TOWN, GBARPOLU COUNTY – John Joshua had suspected Hannah Barry (not their real names for fear of stigma) of having a relationship with a Ghanaian miner he identifies only as Ernest. A lot about her had changed. She had a new phone, 21-inch portable DVD player and frequently bought clothes and imitation jewelry on credit—all too expensive for Joshua to afford on his schoolteacher’s salary of L$10,000.

Joshua will never forget the details of that Saturday night, November 16, of last year. It was 9:45 p.m. He sneaked into Barry’s room in her parents’ house, a few yards from where he lives. Though rumors about her and Ernest had swirled for months, he still did not believe them. He pushed open the door and caught his girlfriend and Ernest lying together on her bed. He left the room heartbroken and struggled to sleep that night. 

The next morning, Joshua’s uncle called for a familial settlement of the matter. Snatching someone’s girlfriend/boyfriend or spouse is prohibited in Henry Town, with a L$25,000 fine or banishment for the violator. Ernest did not pay a fine, though. Barry’s family denied she had a relationship with Joshua, and that was the end of the case. 

Joshua, 24, is one of several townsmen in Gbarpolu’s largest mining community who claim their girlfriends have left them for Ghanaian miners. The situation is a major topic in public discussions here in the Korninga chiefdom of Bopolu district. 

“More boys are complaining that the people are taking their girls, but they have not filed a formal complaint so far,” says community mining chairman Mark Sampson, who works with other locals and elders to settle disputes here related to mining. He says he is aware of Joshua’s story. “It was not concrete; there was no evidence.”   

“We are always trying to intercept problems like that because we told [the Ghanaian miners] in the first place that, in this chiefdom, we have strong laws,” says Varney Kpehe, general town chief of Henry Town. 

There are 79 Ghanaian miners in Henry Town (as of November 21, 2019), according to the Bopolu office of Liberia Immigration Services (LIS). They began arriving in the town in June last year, locals say. They came to mine gold for Bopolu Mining Cooperative Society, which comprises 60 local class “C” license holders, according to information from the town’s mining agency run by the Ministry of Mines and Energy. Foreign miners—reputed for their strong work ethic—are in huge demand in the artisanal and small-scale mining industry in Liberia. 

Moses M. Siafa, the mining agent assigned by the ministry, discloses that the Ghanaian miners have not yet started work because they have not completed all their paperwork. However, six of them tell FrontPage Africa that they are dredging for gold on the Butulu River, a tributary of the Lofa River. Loud engines can be heard on the river as men are seen from afar, rowing canoes on the riverbanks. It is barely a month since the ministry banned the use of dredges, known among the Ghanaians as “galaxy,” and still their presence continues. It is less costly, requires less manpower and is more profitable to mine on riverfronts than on land, geologists say. 

“Cash Violence” 

Joshua and other men say their West African compatriots are splashing the cash to steal their girlfriends. On average, Liberian men give their women L$500 for daily meals, but the foreign miners triple that amount, they say. 

“They are not better than me, but these guys use cash violence to take away your girlfriend,” exclaims 23-year-old Harris Kerkula, who says he lost two girls to the newcomers in the space of one month. “As for me, if my girlfriend asks me to buy her a phone, I will [take] time to get the phone, but…[the Ghanaians] don’t even scratch their heads and the phone will come.” 

Townspeople tell FrontPage Africa that women from nearby villages and faraway places have flocked to Henry Town for “opportunity.” Kerkula, a motorcyclist, says he gave three Monrovia women rides from Bopolu to Henry Town. “The place is very packed with young girls, and they are not finished yet,” he says, pointing to two women who have just come out of a nightclub. 

The two women walk into a thatched hut down the road, where they meet another woman they have come to visit. The three women praise the Ghanaian miners for the displays of love and attention with which they shower them. 

Liberian men can do well if they don’t have [money], but when they have, they turn their back on you,” says Joyce David, 31, one of the women. “[My Ghanaian boyfriend] takes care of me and caters to me when I am sick. He gives me up to US$400 to go and see my people in Monrovia.”

“To say the Ghanaian boys are using cash violence is not true,” says 24-year-old Jessica Coleman (not her real name). “It is we the Liberian girls who are giving ourselves to the Ghanaian boys.” Corroborating the accounts of Joshua and Kerkula, she says that her boyfriend provides three times more money than locals pay for daily meals. She shows this reporter a Samsung Galaxy Note 7, for which she says he paid US$350, and says he gives her at least US$300 whenever she decides to visit her parents. 

At the road to the river, a woman who only identifies herself as Catherine, offers no sympathy for men like Joshua. She and other women set up a roadside market targeting passersby, including the Ghanaians. “[Liberian men] have been [cheating on] us for a long time, so it makes no big deal,” she chuckles with a shrug. 

Not all townsmen sympathize with the men who allege the Ghanaians are breaking up their relationships. “[These local men] are lazy; that’s why they are complaining,” says a passerby who does not want to be named. “They don’t have any shame.” 

“Everyone goes for higher opportunity,” says John Bowee, a resident of Monrovia who is visiting his uncle.   

Owners of nightclubs and motels are excited about the influx of women in Henry Town. Women and men sit together and drink at Destiny Entertainment—the most famous of the town’s five nightclubs—while loud music is played. Some dance with the DJ, who alternates between the club’s narrow dance floor and his computer. The club sits just a few yards from the main road of this hilltop mining hub. 

“More boys are complaining that the people are taking their girls, but they have not filed a formal complaint so far,” says community mining chairman Mark Sampson, who works with other locals and elders to settle disputes here related to mining. He says he is aware of Joshua’s story. “It was not concrete; there was no evidence.”

– Joshua, a miner in Gbarpolu County

The nightclub’s Ghanaian owner, Pius Kingsley, blames Joshua and other locals for creating the “loophole” that his countrymen are “tapping.” “Liberians believe too much in the Casanova kind of relationship,” says Kingsley, in reference to townsmen who live with women for years without marrying them. “I don’t think they would have problems if they paid the dowries of these girls or married them.” His assertion strikes a chord with the experience of Joshua, who did not formalize his relationship with Hannah in the 10 months that they were together. Kingsley says the Ghanaians are more calculative and caring because they are using their relationships with local women for “protection” in a foreign land. 

Several Ghanaian miners interviewed deny using cash violence, though. They say they are just appealing to the townswomen and not buying their love.  

“Some of the girls love us for the way we behave,” remarks Abraham Oman, who says he has had a relationship with a local woman for two months.  

“I laugh with everybody; that’s why the girls like me,” observes another Ghanaian miner, who prefers to be only called Samuel. “I have [a] woman in Ghana. How can I give [a Liberian] woman L$1,500 for food money every day? Am I a crazy person?”

Daniel Kokoroko, another of them, says the townswomen deceive them. “When you approach them, they don’t tell you that they are married or have boyfriends.” 

It is clear that the Ghanaian community is concerned about the allegations against them. Oman reveals that the Bopolu Mining Cooperative Society warned them to stop chasing other men’s women, and that those allegations have ceased for a week now.  

That doesn’t seem to be the case. Some townsmen prefer to find a solution to the situation themselves. Some say they are planning to impregnate their girlfriends, while others say they are sending them to distant relatives until the Ghanaians leave Henry Town. It is unclear when they will leave. 

Other townsmen issue threats

“If they try it, then I will take spiritual step against them to kill their private part,” exclaims Victor Mulbah, a farmer in the nearby town of Gainkpa. Mulbah says the girlfriends of two of his friends left them for Ghanaian men. “If you want to use cash to take my woman from me, I can’t be lying down feeling bad.”  

Joshua, the schoolteacher, has plans, too. He says he will begin rebuilding his relationship with Fatu, the Monrovia-based girlfriend he abandoned when his relationship with Hannah blossomed. He says she is on her way to spend time with him.

“I will mark her like [Gennaro] Gattuso,” Joshua quips, in reference to the retired Italian footballer who was known for his high-pressing, man-marking and hard-tackling that kept strikers at bay during his career. More seriously, he explains, “I will advise her by explaining to her about the temptation in Henry Town, that Ghanaian guys are willing to throw money at girls to have them anyhow.”  

This story was a collaborationwith New Narratives as part of the Excellence in Extractives Reporting Project. German Development Cooperation provided funding. The funder had no say in the story’s content.