A coalition of civil society groups in Liberia are predicting a re-awakening of the country’s deadliest civil wars should the government fail to pass the much-needed Land Rights Act, which calls for the rights of rural communities to take ownership of their ancestral lands.
The draft, which was submitted to Liberia’s Senate in 2014, remains undebated as civil organizations fear that should the bill not be tackled before Senate’s recess in August, it is likely to stand in wait till the end of next year’s elections.
The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) reveals that most of Liberia’s population live on ancestral lands under a public customary tenure that does not bear a legal title.
Unfortunately, many with such land arrangements have been victimized by the commercial elite who have seized their ancestral lands.
“Failure to recognize the rights of millions of Liberians to their customary lands jeopardizes peace and security, and could fuel a slide back into the conflicts that devastated our country for decades,” 18 civil society groups said in a statement Thursday.
Liberia’s government is reported to have prioritized the passage of long-standing policies that had previously granted natural resource concessions to foreign companies and multinationals.
Despite such a move, concerns are rife over the neglect of concessions regarding logging, mining, and agriculture that has so far fueled tensions between affected communities and foreign companies: for example, 237 mining and agriculture concessions in Liberia took over nearly 40,000 square kilometers (15,450 square miles) of land that was already occupied by local established communities.
“If its [Liberia’s] leaders try to fuel development by selling off community lands to the highest bidder, the price will once again be instability and conflict,” Solange Bandiaky-Badji, director for Africa at the RRI, warned.
So far, close to 90 percent of Liberia’s civil court cases are reported to be linked to land disputes,with 63 percent of violent conflicts documented to be rooted in land rights issues — a troubling situation which begs the question of whether the West African country is prepared to defend the peace it has enjoyed after many years of civil war and strife.