Monrovia – Amid land disputes nationwide and the absence of a law that fully recognizes undocumented land rights, the current case between the Government of Liberia and Mandingoes in Nimba could be just the beginning of many more cases at the ECOWAS Court, the Sustainable Development Institute (SDI) has warned.
Under the banner Ganta Support Group, the Mandingoes and one Sekou A. Sanoe earlier this month sued the government at regional court for US$500 million on behalf of more than 800 people in Ganta and its environs.
“The issue in Nimba is the tip of the iceberg,” SDI’s Ali Kaba told FrontPage Africa on Monday. It could be one of the few cases in West Africa, but Liberia actually has other cases that are in the pipeline,” Kaba said. “It tells you the situation that we are in as a nation. The local courts are overwhelmed and individuals, groups, and communities are aggrieved. It could be a prelude to something bigger.
“There is a case around Fendell, there is a case around Todee. Most of the concessions have been taken to international bodies for arbitrations. It is creating the lack of confidence in the legal system of the country, it can undermine investment climate and provokes communal conflict.”
Kaba added that, “in the Nimba Land Case, the government’s dispute mechanism was meant to prevent conflict it was a short-term political settlement with a weak foundation and trappings of conflicts. Obviously, the case at the ECOWAS court showed that the solution was “not practical or sustainable”. He added that the payment process was “politicized” and excluded some people.
“There should have been a technical process for both the person that is occupying the land and the person that is claiming the land to have a say on how the money was paid, and agreed on a mechanism – incentives and penalties – to reward or hold parties accountable” he Kaba said. “It became politicized.
“Unfortunately, without clarity on land rights, people are now seeing the state as weak or a partial entity to address their problems and grievances…,” Kaba added. “In this case, some people have gone to ECOWAS, but in other cases people have taken the matter in their own hands.
“This makes the Land Rights Act important. However, Kaba believes that the version of the Act passed by the House of Representatives in August 2017 needs few but highly important changes. The version passed by the lower house “lackadaisically maintained elements of the status quo: state control of vast areas and resources while providing easy access to a few group people with wealth or close ties to the State.”
Kaba stated that provisions related to tribal certificate, gender equity, and the expropriation community land, “unduly undermines the land rights of ordinary Liberians and community residents.”
The Land Authority completed collection of tribal certificates across four counties: Bong, Margibi, Bomi and Grand Cape Mount. Kaba acknowledged the effort of the Land Authority but added “People are trying to address these issues in isolation, instead of the broadest context we are in.
“We need a pro-poor, a pro-community Land Rights Bill. If you pass the version of the law that was passed in 22017 [by the House of Representatives] without the knowledge of how many tribal certificates are out there and how much land they are claiming, you are sowing seeds of conflict,” Kaba said in reference to the tribal certificate as related to the current version of the Act.
SDI and a horde of national and international civil society organizations, including www.landrightsnow.org, are expected to petition the Liberian Senate on Tuesday for the passage of a community-centered Act. Nearly 70,000 people have signed the petition, including over 40,000 local Liberians.