Liberia: Ruling into Long-standing Land Dispute Sparks Anger and Destruction in Nimba

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Ganta, Nimba County – A one-day demonstration fueled by some angry residents over the burning of a warehouse Tuesday paralyzed the commercial city of Ganta in Nimba County.

The city wore a deserted look with vehicles staying off the roads, government offices, banks and schools remained closed while business establishments kept their shutters down.

The burning of the warehouse came a day after the 8th Judicial Circuit Court in the county ruled in favor of a resident of Ganta, Fred Suah, against four different family members believed to be from the Mandingo ethnic group in a land dispute case that had lingered for over 12 years.

On Monday, court officers were accompanied by officers of the Executive Protection Service (EPS) to effect the demolition of 10 houses owned by four different families on the two blocks of the disputed land situated on the Saclepea road.

During the process, some of the victims, mainly from the Mandingo ethnic group, vowed to “die for their land”, while others threatened to go after Suah for “influencing the court” to rule against them”, claiming to be legitimate owners of the land.

Following the destruction of the warehouse, angry crowd, mainly Gio and Mano people, gathered before the main mosque in Ganta and threatened to set it ablaze before their plans were averted by police officers.

Some residents of the city pointed accusing fingers at Jabateh family for being the masterminds for the destruction of the mosque, but the head of the family rejected the allegations, describing it as a diabolical lie.

Police IG Sudue halts ongoing demolition

Meanwhile, The Inspector General of Police, Patrick Sudue, Tuesday put a halt to the ongoing demolition process in the city following Tuesday’s tribal violence “to allow government carry on investigation into the burning of the warehouse”.

Sudue called for peaceful co-existence between Mandingo ethnic group and other tribes in the county. 

“Violence will not benefit anyone. The only way forward is to have a dialogue,” Sudue said.

“Before the Ganta Incident Tuesday, the Mano,Gio and Mandingo people have been living together in a peaceful manner in Nimba County and there is a need for them to continue to do so”.

He added: “This case is between Fred Suah and and a few group of the Donzos Sando Koroma and Jabateh Families, not the rest of the other tribes”.

Unending land dispute cases in Nimba 

Several attempts have been made to resolve land dispute cases in the county, but none has yielded any significant final result. 

In 2008, the UN Office for Project Services (UNOPS) and the Swiss based organization, Inter-peace, launched a project aimed at supporting reconciliation in Nimba County in order to contribute to the process of sustaining peace in Liberia.

The project recommendations in its report that the previous government of former president Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf addressed the: 

“(1) urgent and more explosive land disputes as recommended by the Ad-Hoc Presidential Commission on Nimba (2) develop a sound policy framework for the development of a community-based mediation capacity and (3) promote political inclusion of Mandingoes, among others.

The work of the Ad-Hoc Presidential Commission on Nimba chaired by businessman and politician, Musa Bility and membered by religious, tribal and local leaders did little to savage the situation.

The Special Presidential Nimba Land Commission was set up Johnson-Sirleaf. 

The commission included all lawmakers from the county at the time as well as other prominent citizens.

On June 30, 2010, the commission presented its report to the President. In it, it recommended that government provided one million dollars as compensation to people illegally occupying people’s properties.

While many condemned the recommendation as compensation for wrong acts, others saw it as a fine way to resolve the dispute.

So, the former president endorsed the recommendation. Some monies were disbursed and payments were made to some illegal-occupiers; yet some refused to leave.

So, they occupy people’s land, received payment from government, but still refused to vacate.

In any case, no arrest was made. No charges were brought on people that received payment but refused to vacate, and no eviction order was issued by the court. Only an injunction was placed.

For those who had a piece of hope that they would soon receive their properties after the payment, hope soon vanished as people defied government and went scot-free.

A 2010 report by FrontPageAfrica quotes Bility as urging people of Nimba to do all they could to support the process; saying “It was not about winners or losers; it was about reconciliation.

The Commission did not look for who was right or wrong; it was meant to reconcile the people and bring peace.”

People in Nimba remain unreconciled as a result of the land dispute. Even former Pres. Sirleaf herself admitted to this challenge.

“The land dispute in Nimba has dragged on for too long, sometimes creating constraint for some of the things we want to do.

Peace cannot be legislated. Peace cannot be commanded. Peace has to come from inside oneself and their willingness to accept things; to mediate, to collaborate; to reconcile, to compromise.”

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