At a ground-breaking event in the city of Saniquelle, Blei Forest outlying communities in Nimba have self-identified as first step in supporting customary tenure recognition as stipulated under the Land Rights Act 2018. The primary targeted communities are: Bassa Village, Gbapa, Gbobayee, Suakarzue, Yolowee, Zolowee and Zortapa
Green Advocates International- Liberia is implementing the six steps project ranging from self-identify, adoption of bylaws and land use plans, create communal governance structures, and obtain formal documentation of their community lands.
The auspicious event of November 27th in the hall of the County Administration marked the closure of the first step.
GAI Project Manager in charge of the USAID Tetra Tech supported pilot intervention John N Brownell said that all actions envisaged to be concluded in fifteen months, fall under the Integrated Land and Resource Governance scheme. To set the stage of the planned program that had in attendance an array of local stakeholders and two lawmakers, John Brownell provided an update of actions that preceded the signing of the memorandum of understanding.
These actions started with community entry stakeholders meeting that had in attendance County Officials.
Commissioners, Paramount Chiefs, Clan Chiefs, the Liberia National Police, County Land Administrator, officials from the Forestry Development Authority and even the concession companies among others, where there. At the inception stage of the project the community entry actions step was an imperative to debrief all relevant actors in the process and get their buy-in for the roll out. The same category stakeholders witnessed the signing ceremony where they generally endorsed the signing of the MoU and the eventual deed acquisition for the customary lands. The chiefs were all excited and thankful.
John Brownell further disclosed that to buttress the transparent and participatory design of the project, further meetings were held in each of the primary and neighboring communities. These meetings were held with a view to deepen the understanding of the community members about issues relative to boundary demarcation and the ultimate goal of securing deeds at the climax of the project. In all of these meetings, gender was factored with women inclusive in the stakeholders mapping.
Community animators, male and female, two each per targeted towns, were also trained and provided with tools and incentives to educate their respective communities on land rights and the process set in motion. This decision was to fill gaps in knowledge transmission when Green Advocates International-Liberia was not on the ground.
In the profiling of communities, the Liberia Land Authority provided a special template captured crucial details including statistics, livelihood patterns and general challenges.
It also came out from the overview that communities were trained on the legal frameworks relative to land rights, gender, customary and inheritance rights.
This action led to the nomination and training of fourteen Interim Community Coordinators, (ICC) to be liaison between their respective communities and the GAI, until at the latter stage, when the land governance structure will be formally institutionalized for all primary targeted communities. This ICC arrangement was done in Suakazo and training recipients received insights on the land rights and the role of women in the process.
To strengthen the harmonization safeguard of the scheme, community land boundary committees were also set up without hitches. Land Tech Solution using mobile phones was also introduced that has been able to delineate private land, customary land and the forest reserve boundaries.
In the process of Community Self Identification towards the acquisition of deeds, critical descisions were taken when some towns agreed to merge. This means the merged towns of Bassa village and Gbapa, have agreed to be referred to as Gbassa in obtaining one land deed at the end of the day. The same was done by two communities Gbobayee, Suakarzue that would be in their yet to be acquired land deeds be referred to as Gbosua-Gbeleyee- Blein
In the intervening days following the planned mid-term elections slated for December 8, John Brownell disclosed that the next step will be pursued when GAI lawyers will come and train the communities on the process of crafting the bye-laws including ideas on alternative based reconciliation. This approach will accommodate the incorporation of customary and national laws and within the bye laws structures, will be set for the governance of the land for the interim committees to cease to operate.
The project overview and background actions elicited immense interest and curiosity that were expressed in questions and comments.
Lawmaker Prince Togba of District two, Nimba County…. Questioned whether the stakeholders reported their decisions to their people. The people generally acknowledged that they have their stakeholder’s arrangements, constitutive of youths, chiefs, women and elders that are representative of the wider community in building consensus on the decision reached to self-identify and opt for customary land deed.
Clarification was also sought on who is youth, which was determined to be under 35 years as provided by law. The right of women to land inheritance was also stressed as something that must not be ignored.
Another Lawmaker of District 2 Joseph Nyan Somwarbi cautioned: “those to be installed in the Land Governance Committees must be people of integrity; they must not people that the subvert the good intentions of this process….that is why we thin there is need to continue the awareness on the essence of coexistence by those who have agreed to obtain one land deed.”
A moment of reckoning set in when the Chairman of the Lands Authority Atty J. Adams Manobah, Sr. –threw in a question: Is there anyone here opposed to the signing of the MoU? The response was a mass acclamation in support of signing the MoU.
The LLA chairman also clarified concerns: “the decision to join town applies to the project objective of securing customary land deeds but that must in any way alter existing laws that relate to political and administrative boundary delimitations.” He warned: “if there would arise any contention about the arrangement there is bound to be an LLA review of the process for harmony to thrive.”
In the reasons provided by the communities to self-identify as stage of the program that was presented by the GAI Gender Specialist Windor Smith, communities generally stated:
“We want to protect our lands for future generation and get our due benefit from concession companies are now showing interest to invest in our communities.; we want to live in harmony without neighbors and be assured of socio-economic good when we have documents that support our claims to our lands…”
Joining other speakers who lauded the effort of GAI for making the signing of the MoU possible, the County Land Administrator, Eddie Beangar, said: “if such as system that is about to be put in place was considered the problems associated with the ArcelorMittal concession agreement would have been averted.”