MONROVIA – The Platform for Dialogue and Peace (P4DP) in collaboration with UNDP and Center for Humanitarian Dialogue, recently made tremendous contributions towards promotion of reconciliation and social cohesion in Grand Gedeh and Sinoe Counties by setting up Peace and Learning Centers for youth and women groups in four districts as part of effort to consolidate peace and stability in Liberia in line with the National Reconciliation Plan of 2020. The centers were established in Zleh and Toffie Towns in Gbarzon and Tchien Districts, in Grand Gedeh County as well as in Butaw and Greenville in Butaw and Greenville Districts, Sinoe County, respectively.
In recent times, agrarian related conflict between local Burkinabe migrants and host communities in Grand Gedeh County has escalated occasioned by the influx of Burkinabe farmers and contestation over the process in which lands are sold for farming activities. Some of the local residents see the Ivorian migrants as intruders while others use the Burkinabe migrants to help make farms with minimum labor cost. To understand the underlying factors responsible for growing tension between the host and migrant population, P4DP with support from its partners organized dialogue sessions in Gbao Administrative District bringing together key community members and Burkinabe migrants.
Speaking at separate occasions in the counties, P4DP Program Manager, Mr. Kennedy Berrian said his institution is working under the auspices of a project which is being funded by the UN Secretary General’s Peacebuilding Fund through the United Nations Development Programs (UNDP) dubbed as ‘Delivering Peace Dividends in Liberia: Consolidating Local Reconciliation and Social Cohesion Opportunities in Grand Gedeh and Sinoe Counties’. One of the objectives of the project is to work with local community members in fostering peace and social cohesion. He indicated that the newly established resource centers are intended to empower the youth and women in their districts through self-help initiatives to promote messages of reconciliation and social cohesion among the youths in the communities. He urged the audience to utilize the centers efficiently to improve social relations and promote tolerance and commitment to ensuring peaceful presidential and legislative elections in the counties, noting “this approach will help to strengthen relationships and reduce potential conflict triggers.”
The ceremonies were attended by peacebuilding expert facilitators who cautioned youth leaders to take charge as agents of change worthy of developing a positive attitude and ready to mobilize other youth into positive actions. They also challenged the youth to work toward having a community free of disturbance or violence. One of the facilitators, Mr. Clement G. Weaye framed peace as absence of disturbance, stressing that “peace denotes a community in which all exist irrespective of religious or political persuasions, whereby everyone is free to go about his or her normal life affairs without any physical, emotional and psychological problems.” He admonished the youth to see themselves as key players in any community peacebuilding framework and discos. Mr. Weaye specifically told the youth that the world is struggling with transforming youth into taking positive actions especially in post war countries such as Liberia where youth are challenged in many forms. “Unemployment is high, substance abuse is very common, addiction is high among youth, peer pressure sweeping away precious future leaders and so forth”, he said.
In separate responses, the youth leaderships of the districts expressed their gratitude for the support provided by P4DP and partners. Mr Doe Manyeah, Tchien District youth president, said despite the challenges they have as youth with different competing interests which sometimes tend to divide them, they as leaders will ensure they use the tools provided to unite the district youth,and then reach out to community leaders and local authorities. “In this way, we can build consensus on some of the issues the youth should discuss at the center,” he said.
He lauded P4DP and Partners for their continued support in uniting the people of the district. He promised to reach out to the 4 clans of Tchien District to begin awareness on the role of youth in keeping peace especially as everyone moves toward the elections.
The team also engaged the local authorities and citizens as it relates to the alleged illegal migration of Burkinabee nationals in parts of Grand Gedeh County and the farming activities carried on by the aliens. The P4DP team said as part of their findings, land encroachment related conflict is induced by the economic value offered by cultivating coco, yam, plantain, pepper, bitter balls, and other crops with support from the Burkinabee farmers. The team noted that prior to the coming of the Burkinabees, local farmers had limited knowledge, skills, and farming technique to produce these crops for commercial purposes but with the arrival of the aliens and the support of Burkinabee farmers many local citizens are turning toward farming. “We can now grow and harvest plenty of crops and sell to take-care of ourselves and our children. The Burkinabee cocoa farmers by themselves don’t really have a problem, they came to look for money and living. They don’t just go brush bush or farm. It is we Liberian landowners that ask them to brush and plant the crops.
“What bringing the confusion is Individuals and families are encroaching on each other’s land because everybody wants to make some arrangement with the Burkinabee farmers to plant crops because these guys can work fast”, indicating that “the Burkinabees are peaceful, once you notify Burkinabee farmers that they are brushing portion of land that would spark confusion, they will stop and wait for you the land people to settle it,” said Olivia Neewary, a female farmer who hired a number of Burkinabees as laborers on her farmland.
Some of the local citizens spoken to said one of the Major challenges the Burkinabee farm workers residing in Grand Gedeh County face is the issue of proper documentation, especially the lack of resident permit which have subjected them to harassment and harsh treatment by security personnel.
“Immigration and other security personnel don’t want to issue these our West African brothers permit but instead harass them continuously. Some securities go as far as abusing them by undressing these Burkinabees with the intent of extorting money from them. They sometimes seized all their personal belongings.” The local citizens said during the past July 26 and December 25, 2022, festival seasons, the securities entered entertainment places and harassed and arrested a couple of Burkinabee farmers without any redress up to present. These actions on the security personnel are terrifying and undermine the peace of our communities, stressing that “the Burkinabee farmers have come to buttress the efforts of our local farmers and our local farmers are now benefiting from shared experience in coco, plantain, and other crops.” They said they can use the Burkinabe migrants to help make farms with minimum labor cost. The community members also said farmers can benefit from a new breed of coco seedlings which is outstanding on the market than the traditional Liberian breed.
“Burkinabee farmers undergo frequent threat and harassment from Liberian security Personnel at community checkpoints and movement in between communities as they go about normal daily activities. Harass at local shops, food centers and entertainment places. So, Local hosts extort money from them in the name of preparing documents that will legitimize their stay in the country but provide fake documents in most cases. With the involvement of Burkinabee farmers in local farming, abandoned lands are now important, more urban to rural migration for farming, youth that once live languishing in cities, such as zwedru are now returning to communities thus competition for land ownership to plan crops is becoming key source of local conflict between family members. Some challenge youth (ZoGOs) have taken the opportunity to return to the local village to start farm work to earn a living. Zogo are automatically transformed by farm work. No more waste land due to the presence of Burkinabee farmers. Land now has economic value and increased”, said Dasley Geneyan of AMENU Farmers Group.
According to the farmers interviewed, the conflict is further exacerbated by elders and chiefs wrongly demarcating land and issuing land certificates to individuals supposedly those who have money and power, a situation the farmers believe should claim the attention of the Land Authority by working with the chiefs and elders to blend the traditional and scientific method to harmonize and demarcate the land to reduce the conflict.
P4DP is a leading Liberian non-governmental organization (NGO) dedicated to 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. In collaboration with national and international partners, P4DP has over the years supported the development agenda of the Government of Liberia (GOL) as espoused by the Pro Poor Agenda for Prosperity and Development (PADP) by working with relevant line ministries and agencies of Government, communities and local leaders to build customized local and national partnerships that meet the country’s increasing need for research, peacebuilding, social cohesion and development.