The International Land Coalition (ILC) Africa, a platform of 79 CSOs across 24 countries in the continent working together to secure people centred land governance, has joined the Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) Working Group on Land Rights Reform in Liberia to demand for a people-centred land bill.
The platform urges President George Weah and the Senate to revise the Land Rights Act so that it ensures tenure security for millions of vulnerable citizens.
In recent years, Liberia has witnessed several episodes of land related unrests. Mr Shadrack Omondi, Chair of the ILC Africa Platform, blames weak land tenure for driving conflicts.
“Land disputes mostly arise from weak land and natural resource tenure, which causes power imbalances and pushes different groups to their limits,” says Mr Omondi.
Mr Omondi believes Liberia’s new leadership has a chance to use the Land Rights Act to support development. All it needs to do is to review the bill to ensure community land rights are respected and sign it into law.
“The President and the Senate can use this opportunity to build a strong, peaceful, just and equitable Liberia-and ensure that it can attract investments for development that is sustainable,” states Mr Omondi.
In 2014, former President of Liberia, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf presented the Land Rights Act (LRA) and in 2017, the Lower House of Parliament of Liberia voted the bill. However, with some newly added and amended provisions, Mr Omondi fears the bill could undermine community land rights and create future tensions.
So his platform is recommending for the Senate to review the bill and ensure the new improved version passed into law unites Liberians and makes the country proud.
The LRA, Liberia’s land reform bill, was expected to promote “sustained and inclusive growth”, by recognising “customary land ownership” as Liberia’s Land Authority mentioned.
But the new bill voted in August 2017 did not keep to that promise. Instead, it offers a weak protection for community lands, women, Indigenous Peoples, and youth.
Mr Levi Jarteh, land rights defender and Town Chief of Lower Kulu Clan, in Tarjuowon, Sinoe County wants change for his community.“The land is my living,” Mr Jarteh says. Just like Mr Jarteh, 85 per cent of Liberians live in rural areas and depend on land for shelter and as a source of food and wealth. Insecure tenure therefore makes their lives uncertain.
There are two more steps for the LRA to officially enter into Liberia’s legal system. The Senate has to endorse it and the President has to sign it into law. Mr Omondi is optimistic about the future and calls for Liberian policy makers to form a multi-stakeholder platform that includes all relevant actors to review the bill.
“By including all stakeholders, and especially communities, in finalising the land bill, Liberia can move to truly people-centred land governance and improve the lives of its population,” he argues.
“Without doubt, we know this can be done. As members of ILC Africa, we offer our solidarity and support to Liberia to achieve this noble goal”.