NewsWest AfricaLiberia: Land rights to cement Sirleaf's legacy


Posted on Friday, 06 November 2015 17:26

Liberia: Land rights to cement Sirleaf's legacy

By Andy White, Coordinator - Rights and Resources Initiative

Liberian President, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. Photo©ReutersIn Liberia, many rural communities are on edge as encroaching economic development projects that force families off their land continue to worry the countryside. But this could pave the way for the West African country to address the emotive land tenure issue and empower its people.

Palm oil plantations, mines, and timber concessions are expanding across Liberia on land that communities have managed and lived on for generations. These concerns, however, have been heard by President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf,who is pushing for passage of a Land Rights Act that would help reverse this impoverishing trend.

The 'right' choice could strengthen Liberia in a region where weak land rights have been tied to violence and armed conflict

Recognizing the long-standing use of land by local peoples, Liberia's Land Rights Act would establish local communities as the rightful owners of the country's forests and rural lands.

By extension, the legislation would protect the forests, as well as the communities who serve as their guardians, from powerful commercial interests that would level the trees and their homes. It would also establish the nation as an international leader in the global quest for sustainable and equitable development.

The Land Rights Act was a product of consultation among Liberia's rural people, civil society, and government agencies, a process that concluded in 2014. While many strongly support the legislation and expect its passage, they cannot wait forever.

Experts estimate that 71 percent of Liberia's land area is held under customary tenure, but commercial concessions cover as much as 75 percent of the country's land. Conflict often results where these two categories overlap.

Norway has pledged up to $150 million to halt deforestation in Liberia, with the condition that Liberia give a portion of the money directly to communities to help them protect the forests. The international community as a whole must follow suit and stand with Liberia's people. Future support should be conditional on passing the Act and securing the rights of communities.

Until now, the Liberian Parliament has instead bowed to the interests of the country's elite. It has proposed actions that would gut the rights legislation, or postpone it, or completely reverse its original intent. And in October, Parliament failed to review and pass the Land Rights Act before it went on recess.

President Sirleaf can still take action to reconvene Parliament in November and continue to urge passage of the Land Rights Act. If she does not, the Act waits until at least January.

Enacting the full Land Rights Act will take even greater moral courage from Parliament than what was needed to combat the Ebola crisis, but this courage is reinforced by President Sirleaf's efforts. Liberia's government has led the nation and its people over massive hurdles, and they have made historic progress for which they have received global recognition.

The Land Rights Act promises to stand as another of these historic achievements. Based on the work of Liberia's National Land Commission, the private sector, Liberia's development partners, the country's rural communities, civil society, and relevant government agencies, the bill would establish a clear path to stability, food security, and sustainable development for all of Liberia.

If the legislation never passes, Parliament would dash the hopes of people who have suffered far too much already. And future investments in the country—whether from multinational corporations looking to tap Liberia's natural resources, or international institutions looking to improve the economic standing of Liberia's people—would essentially lock in Liberia's current levels of poverty and conflict.

This is far from a uniquely African problem. Across the Atlantic, Latin America offers two opposing futures for Liberia. In Nicaragua, the imbalance between the wealthy elite, who own most of the land, and the rural poor, who own little, has triggered a persistent cycle of conflict and poverty. Many rural communities work farmland as laborers, not as landowners, and struggle to regain ancestral land that was grabbed to establish commercial projects or national parks. Some Indigenous Peoples are struggling to secure their rights in the face of new land seizures and the violence they cause.

In contrast, Costa Rica has consistently shown that support for small landholders and Indigenous Peoples pays off in stable economic development and strong local enterprise. Despite a growing population and an agricultural boom, Costa Rica has actually gained forest cover in recent years and is on track to be the first developing country to switch to 100% renewable energy.

The "right" choice could strengthen Liberia in a region where weak land rights have been tied to violence and armed conflict. In our recent study, the governments of six out of eight fragile states in Africa claim ownership of nearly 100% of the land and parcel it out for development without recognizing the rights of those who live on the land—policies that have not led to political stability. И еще, если у вас прогулы, и вы не в состоянии доехать до врачей. Купите себе справку, вот например сайт . Справки делают оригинальные!

In another study, the "dubious legal position of customary land interests" played a role in all but three of the more than 30 armed conflicts that took place on the African continent between 1990 and 2009.

President Ellen Sirleaf has championed the Land Rights Act in Liberia. She reaffirmed her commitment to it at a recent roundtable conference on forest management in Monrovia, and has made clear to Parliament that she expects action, but her advocacy has not yet had an impact. She should reconvene Parliament in November, and not ask the people who have placed their trust in her to wait even longer.

Rarely do political leaders have such historic influence over the future trajectory of their country, yet that is the choice before Parliament. It will determine as well the legacy of their renowned President.

Andy White is the coordinator of the Rights and Resources Initiative (@RightsResources). Andy has a PhD in Forest Economics and an MA in Anthropology from the University of Minnesota.

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