P4DP Launches UN SG’s Peace Initiatives -In Sinoe & Grd. Ged Counties

The Platform for Dialogue and Peace (P4DP), a Liberian research and  Peacebuilding Civil Society Organization with support from the UN Secretary General’s Peacebuilding Fund, through the United Nations Development Program(UNDP), has launched peace initiatives in two leeward counties under the project; “Delivering Peace Dividends in Liberia: Consolidating Local Reconciliation and Social Cohesion Opportunities in Grand Gedeh and Sinoe Counties.”

The official launch which took place in the last week of May 2022 in Greenville and Zwedru cities respectively, brought diverse stakeholders together and also provided opportunities for individuals from  the public, private and non-profit sector to appreciate the  scope and goals of the project, solicit local inputs consistent with the overall project objective of engendering national ownership  and identify new conflict triggers and dynamics that have the propensity to undermine peace, security and social cohesion in both counties.

Our local correspondent in  Southeastern Liberia who covered the launch in the counties observed that the organization conducted a number of consultations in what is called ‘Participatory Diagnosis’ aimed at identifying hotspots and conflict sensitive issues as well as trying to get the buy-in of local stakeholders. Feedbacks obtained from various consultations concerning peace, reconciliation and social cohesion informed the official launching agenda, which were discussed in town hall and under the tree plenary manner. Key stakeholders in both counties enthusiastically participated in the launching ceremonies and validated some of the issues that emerged from the ‘Participatory Diagnosis’ exercises while at the same time providing more information on county specific hot-spot issues.

Launching the project in Sinoe County, Mr. Darwin Berry, Head of the County Service Center who represented the County Superintendent, commended P4DP and partners for the project and noted that the Superintendent is quite pleased with the intervention and spoke of the protracted boundary dispute between Sinoe and Rivercess counties, citing the timeliness of the initiative and previous efforts that the Superintendent was involved with, which did not yield results. According to the proxy, they are thankful to UNDP and the UN Peacebuilding Fund for such initiative and looking forward to working together with P4DP and the PBO in trying to address the issues of boundary coordinates and harmonization.

Mr. Berry also mentioned that the youth leadership conflict is something that needs urgent attention, according to him, it is breeding tension politically, socially and even economically, a development that the participants attributed to the political rivalry between Senator Milton J. Teahway and Representative Matthew Zarzar as the 2023 general elections approach. 

    The participants also flagged up the apparent “Cold war” between the Kru and Sarpo ethnic groups which they attributed to the dominance of the Kru ethnic group in both appointive and elective positions. An elder who has been in the area for a long time and a former County Chair of the defunct National Democratic Party of Liberia (NDPL),Charles Mennoh asserted that prior to the 14 years of civil conflict, there were no conflict between the Sarpo and Kru, but the crisis erupted after the civil war, stressing that during the 1985 general elections, he being a Sarpo, but supported three Kru persons, Fred J. Blay, Swen Dixon and Peter Nyensuah and Emmanuel Tolbert to the national legislature. He lamented there is no single Sarpo in the leadership structure of the local authority and confirmed that there exists rivalry between Senator Teahjay and Representative Zarzar

In the view of Charles Tarpeh, Butaw youth Head, there is indeed a grave Sarpo and Kru tribal conflict which has a spillover effect in all sectors including job opportunities for youth and even benefits from the concession companies. According to him, the Kru ethnic group wants all of the appointed and elected positions at the behest of the Sarpo, something which is fueling the tribal conflict in all spheres in the county

Other areas of concerns include Butaw and Morrisville (in Butaw and Greenville Districts) land and boundary disputes and sand mining by a company  and in Butaw GVL -social corporate benefits issues and Bannah and Du-wolee ( Greenville district)- land and boundary disputes.

Also, in a very strong voice, Chief Wesseh, who is the Head of the traditional rulers in the county was quick to mention how their constitutional rights as Chiefs are been breached over the years by the Government of Liberia by not conducting chieftaincy elections instead chiefs have been appointed which according to him undermines the peace and co-existence of the local citizens.

At the end of the discussions, the participants put forth several recommendations, which P4DP meticulously noted.

Also, similar ‘Participatory Diagnosis’ was conducted in Zwedru prior to the launch. During the official project launch, Mr. Olaska Barh, the Administrative Assistant to the Superintendent, pointed out that the project resonates with the current County authority peace and reconciliation ambition and noted that the county is  currently challenged with so many sensitive conflicting issues which need the expertise of P4DP and partners to help resolve, and promised to  create the space, provide any information that will buttress efforts in facilitating the various training and dialogues.

The participants identified some hotspots that are key to resolving conflicts in the county especially in the Tchien and the Gbarzon Districts areas and the County Reconciliation Action Plan among which was the illegal occupation of land by Burkinabe nationals in the B’hai and Gbao Administrative districts, where according to the participants the Burkinabee crossed from Ivory Coast into forest areas of Grand Gedeh. Participants said that Burkinabees are planting cash crops and engaging in pit sawing and scaring local farmers away, which according to them has provoked tension between Grand Gedean youth and the Elders who are accused of selling farmlands to Ivorians and Burkinabees. They also spoke of weak ‘ police and citizen relationship’ that once provoked the  youth led Mob violence, stressing  that ‘delay or not providing redress to citizens on account of major crimes in the county including death and mysterious disappearance of individual constantly provoked youth led mob violence and destruction of properties and lives. The issue of the disappearance of the local staff of the National Elections Commission (NEC) repeatedly came up followed by the prevalence of SGBV in the county and the lack of accountability etc.

Mr. SK Sobue Wulue, Commissioner of Tchien Administrative who spoke mostly on the Burkinabe issue said the development is disturbing, especially when the Burkinabes are moving in without checks and the traditional activities taking over civic authorities and breeding serious conflicts and called on P4DP to conduct serious research in the areas.

In the view of the commissioner, the Burkinabes and cross border movement will certainly be a threat to Liberia 2023 presidential and legislative elections. Burkinabe. “People can truck people from Monrovia what about people already living in the county, so we need P4DP and partners to take this matter seriously, issuing resident permit will make more Burkinabe to come, I don’t think this is what the MRU and ECOWAS treaty are talking about, no war, nothing happening in Ivory coast then Ivorians just crossing in their numbers and our leaders talking about allowing it, this is wrong and must stop”, he said.

The local chapter of the National Civil Society Council in the county lamented the wave of corruption in the local leadership which has been fueled by the lack of accountability, transparency in the management and administration of the County Social Development Fund (CSDF). The local CSO body said the last time county sitting was held was in 2019 with disclosure of 40% of total amount allotted to the county, adding that since then no report and actions regarding how CSDF is or has been applied. He said citizens have demanded the county authorities, both Lawmakers and local Leaders, to account for the operations of companies that received resources and CDF allotted by central government over the years but to no avail. This is fueling conflict especially between the youth and elders of the county.

According to Dixion Leabah, the National civil society representative, police don’t easily account for the Deaths, murders, disappearance of citizens in a timely and responsible fashion based on rule of law.  He further stated that harmful traditional practices are also inducing youth mobilized mob violence in Zwedru. “We thought MIA barred trial by ordeal, but our chiefs are still practicing this and this is promoting violence as well’. He narrated that accusers of witchcraft are the ones the chief are using trial by ordeal to establish facts and this is coming under stiff resistance from youth led mob violence.

The participants expressed serious dismay over the continuous predicament of Alfred T. Dunner, a local staff of the National Elections Commission (NEC) who went missing in unknown circumstances and observed that the delay in finding him poses serious threat to the peace and stability of the county as can be seen in the aftermath of incident when youths and women took to the streets demanding that efforts should be exerted to bring him back to town alive. They noted that the relative peace being enjoyed in the county in recent times may likely erupt into chaos, if nothing else is done to bring the situation to an end.

Madam Rebecca Dougbeh, who is referred to as Cross Border Chairlady, asserted that GBV/GBV are very common against ordinary women and cross border women without any redress either by the police and the local authority. “Liberia cannot produce goods, so the marketers especially the women risk to go across to Ivory coast, sometimes ride motorbike and trucks to look for good just for our people to survive but the border securities especially from the Ivory coast side will harass and sometimes force the women to sleep with them against their will but nothing happen to address these issues, we complain to our authorities but nothing”. She further explained, the Mano River, especially the ECOWAS protocol of trade and free movement of cross border traders are constantly being violated but none of our local authorities care to pursue these issues.

“Gender and inclusion of women is a serious problem- no regard for the protection of the rights of women in this county. UN women’s voice about making sure women are protected and included in everything is not adhered to” She said. According to a female participant, all the noise about the Burkinabe and the land crisis in the county, no one cares about the views of women because the notion about land ownership is deep rooted in the culture and  all the rights about land and properties are for men, especially the chief and Elders.  The plenary meeting ended with some very good recommendations, which the Platform for Dialogue of Peace jotted. 

P4DP is a leading nongovernmental organization (NGO) that is involved in research and participatory action activities aimed at strengthening the capacities of State and Non-State Actors to prevent, manage and transform conflict through collaborative action. As part of effort to support the Government of Liberia in fostering peace, national reconciliation and social cohesion in Liberia, the UN Secretary General’s Peacebuilding Fund (PBF) through the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) awarded a grant to P4DP to engage local stakeholders in community dialogue and peace initiatives in Grand Gedeh and Sinoe Counties to help in consolidating reconciliation and social cohesion in the counties.

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