Dr. Charles van Santen during his stay in Liberia

Van Santen's houses and guests
in Liberia

In the pictorial story of Lofa County pictures have been included  of the three houses Van Santen occupied during his stay in Liberia. The reason for this is that after the Liberian revolution in 1980 the situation drastically changed in Liberia. Consequently, the images of his private residences may have some historical interest. In particular, living as a foreigner in Foya was a unique experience in those days: living in the middle of the Kissi with only four other western people around - two young Swedish missionaries and two American Peace Corps volunteers - some 300 miles from the capital Monrovia. The FAO project headquarters in Monrovia could only be contacted twice per day by two way radio contact, if weather conditions allowed it and provided sufficient fuel was available to run a vehicle to
charge the battery of the radio set. This was often not the case, as all fuel needed for the project had to be shipped from Monrovia, which shipments were rather irregular.




Only 35 years at that time, Van Santen was the senior resident foreigner in Foya with the duty to receive any senior official who cared to visit the area. Among them James Phillips, the Secretary of Agriculture, who visited Foya twice per month on Sundays to combine visiting his special project while taking his flying lessons. During lunch at Van Santen's house and when showing Mr. Phillips around in the project area in his car, they had many good discussions.

Initially, Mr. Phillips had the strong opinion that the only way to produce rice in Liberia was through mechanized irrigated rice schemes. By showing him each visit also the potential of improved upland rice farming as well as the serious problems encountered with the large scale irrigated rice scheme (as described in 3. Assessment of The Foya Rice Development Project) Van Santen gradually managed to convince him that there also were other suitable ways to produce rice. Another hot issue in their discussions was the need for a market co-operative. On this topic they shared more ideas as compared with how to produce rice.

Other visitors who came by air and parked their plane in front of his house were officials from the World Bank and other international donor and agricultural research
agencies. He also received frequent visits of seven FAO colleagues, who came by car.

Van Santen's house, a local style house, was upgraded with an electric generator, a water tower and a tiled floor. In spite of the simple conditions he managed to receive his frequent guests with a reasonable level of comfort. Behind the house he had established a large vegetable garden to supply his kitchen. Production was even sufficient to bring fresh vegetables to his friends in Monrovia on his monthly visits to the FAO project headquarters. On the Saturday market Van Santen was given the first choice of meat from the weekly slaughtered cow. Other supplies were brought in from Monrovia on his visits to the capital. Bread was home baked as the nearest bakery was 200 miles away...


Mr. James T. Phillips was among the 13 high-ranking government officials who were publicly executed on the beach of Monrovia in the aftermath of the 1980 coup. They had been put on trial by the People's Redemption Council and sentenced to death with no right to be defended by a lawyer and no right to appeal the verdict.















About the author

The rural economy
Lofa County 1970's
A pictorial story