Liberia has not yet enacted a comprehensive land law. According to existing laws, all lands not previously deeded to a private party are classified as Public Land. Since the end of civil war, Liberia's struggle to enact a land law, coupled with its weak land and natural resources management systems, contributed to tenure insecurity and an increased rate of large-scale land concessions to private investors.
In an attempt to address this issue, the Liberian government started a land reform process in 2009 with the establishment of a Land Commission. In May of 2013, the Land Commission presented a draft Land Rights Policy (LRP) to the President. This draft was officially adopted by a diverse group of Liberians, including government officials, traditional chiefs, community members, and civil society organizations. Following the validation of the Land Rights Policy in 2013, the Land Commission drafted a Land Rights Bill designed to provide a legal framework to implement the LRP. A key provision in the LRB defines four main categories of tenure in Liberia: Private Land, Customary Land, Government Land and Public Land. This provision has strong implications for the millions of rural Liberians who currently do not have formalized land rights.
Since 2013, the Legislature has conducted multiple private and public consultations and public hearings. These interventions resulted in significant changes to the LRB. In 2017, a version of the Bill was passed by the House of Representatives. However, according to Liberian Civil Society, the version passed by the House is a dramatic departure from the LRP and significantly waters down provisions designed to protect customary land rights. Many civil society organizations in Liberia are working tirelessly to ensure the LRB is revised so as to safeguard customary land rights. At the international level, the Land Rights Now campaign recently published an issue brief with several recommendations for reforming the LRB.
This is President Sirleaf's latest national address on the economy. Amid practices of illegal logging, endemic corruption, landgrabs by palm oil companies such as Equatorial Palm Oil, and illegal mismanagement of Mineral Development Agreements in the mining sector the President continues to blame community resistance to these effects of the extractive sector for the downfall of Liberia's economy.
Land Rental Fees are surface rental payments by logging companies to the Liberian Government for operating logging concessions related to Forest Management Contracts and / or Timber Sales Contracts. The National Forestry Reform Law of 2006 (NFRL 2006) Regulation 106 requires that 30% of the Land Rental Fees goes to communities affected by logging operations while another 30% goes to all counties and the balance 40% is retained by National Government. This week’s Development Talk will discuss issues around these challenges and provide the public an opportunity to be updated about progress the Government has made in granting communities access to their share of Land Rental Fees from logging operations.
This show will explore community relations in the the Arcelor Mittal (AML) operating area in Nimba County. AML has been operating since 2006 and is defined by the tense relations with community members impacted by is operations. On April 24th there was a strike organized by Concerned Citizens that saw people block the railroad along which AML ships its Iron Ore. Amidst angry communities that have yet to see promised benefits or even obligations be fulfilled by the neither the company nor the government several citizens have taken to the ‘streets’ as a means of raising awareness about AML operations in Nimba and protesting what they see as exploitative extractive sector practices that ultimately leave very little value for the people in the county.
On March 5th the Jogbahn Clan, from Grand Bassa County in Liberia, celebrated a major step forward in the struggle to save their land from encroachment by British palm oil company Equatorial Palm Oil PLC (EPO). But, they are now in imminent danger unless we act now to help protect their land.
After months of negotiations and advocacy by community members in Liberia, backed by Friends of the Earth Liberia and international partners, the President of Liberia, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, promised that the Jogbahn land – just over 20,000 hectares – should be recognised as the community’s land. She said no company should operate there without the community’s consent.
But the company is not listening.
Despite the Presidential statement, EPO is continuing to conduct studies of the Clan's land in preparation for clearance. Land clearance and other preparatory activities would be unlawful, as they do not respect communities’ right to give or withhold their Free Prior and Informed Consent, which is a requirement provided for under both national law and international law.
Silas Kpanan'Ayoung Siakor, campaigner for the Sustainable Development Institute/Friends of the Earth Liberia said: “Equatorial Palm Oil must listen to the Jogbahn Clan and accept that their 'no' means 'no'. The continuing determination of these communities is a cautionary tale for corporations who think they can ignore communities' rights and ownership of land".
Tell the company to listen the community and the government.
Join the Jogbahn Clan in standing up to #landgrab by British #palmoil company #stopEPO. Watch our video + take ACTION bit.ly/1myNa5n
Help stop #landgrabbing for #palmoil in #Liberia, tell #EPO NO means NO! Watch our video and take ACTION bit.ly/1myNa5n #stopEPO ACT NOW to stop communities land from being grabbed in Liberia by British #palmoil company–sign the petition bit.ly/1myNa5n #stopEPO
To learn more about the Jogbahn Clan's story read our blog and view our photo essay
To hear first hand from the community listen to our radio show
Across Africa, corporations are grabbing community land and water - and nowhere more than in Liberia, where half the country has already been allocated to foreign investors. But one community has shown it's possible to overcome intimidation, organise and resist.
May 6th, 2014
by Silas Kpanan'Ayoung Siakor and Jacinta Fay
Right now in Abuja, Nigeria, agribusiness corporations are courting African governments at the Grow Africa Investment Forum to 'further accelerate sustainable agricultural growth in Africa'.
Corporations’ interest in agriculture in Africa has certainly accelerated corporate control of land and seeds but done little to support agriculture that will feed the continent. Rather than support family farming and smallholder agriculture private sector investment in agriculture has resulted in grabbing land from communities; the land which they farm sustainably and rely on for their survival.
Communities are resisting this corporate takeover of their land and they are winning. All over Africa people are sending a clear message to their governments; stop selling Africa to corporations. The Jogbahn Clan in Liberia is one such community and here is their story.
The sense of jubilation in Blayahstown is palpable. People come from surrounding villages to join in the celebrations and the town is filled with singing and dancing.
The Jogbahn Clan is celebrating a victory as the President of Liberia has now recognised their right to say no Equatorial Palm Oil (EPO) a British palm oil company grabbing their land. This is no small feat in a country where over 50% of the land has been given to a corporation without the consent of the communities who customarily own the land.
The sense of accomplishment is not lost on Chief Elder Chio Johnson who looks like he hasn’t stopped smiling since he returned from the Clan’s meeting with the President of Liberia where she committed to support them in protecting their land from being grabbed by EPO. “Why should a company take away our livelihood?” asked Chio, “We come from this land. Everything our ancestors left us is preserved in the forest, so why should we give up our forest?”
Walking through the forest Deyeatee Kardor, the Clan’s Chairlady picks leaves and describes the different medicines that they can be used for. She recounts how she and her family hid in the forest throughout the war and managed to survive on the plants and fruits growing in the bush. Though the land bears the scars of the recent past it also represents the Clan’s ancestral home and they would not willingly allow this deep connection to the land to be fractured.
“The land gives us everything” Chio says as he surveys the area; the vegetables, wild palm and sugar cane growing all around. Like other rural communities in Liberia they make their livelihood from the land they manage collectively. The clan are self-sufficient and manage the land sustainably. For the Clan; to lose their land is to lose everything.
The communities’ resistance began in 2012 when EPO began to expand their plantation onto community land. The Government of Liberia and EPO had signed a concession agreement allowing the company’s plantation to engulf the communities’ land amounting to over 20,000 hectares. Communities all over Liberia are facing the same threat as their lands are given to companies without their consent. As a result conflict between communities and companies has been widespread.
The Clan organised and came together to resist their land being grabbed. Men, women and youth from the 11 affected towns chose representatives to form a core group to lead the resistance. They met the company and the government several times to object to the company’s expansion. In spite of this towards the end of 2012 EPO began clearing and planting their land destroying crops and farmland.
In September 2013 EPO began surveying the communities’ land without their consent. When communities attempted to stop the survey a paramilitary police unit was deployed into the area. People suffered harassment and intimidation by EPO security and the police. They drove through villages at night flashing their emergency lights and arrived in villages riding on top of vehicles the same way rebel fighters did during the war. People were also assaulted during a peaceful march and 17 people suffered arbitrary arrest. The Clan Chief was also suspended from his position by the government because he spoke out against the company.
Despite these aggressive tactics the community continued resisting. They lodged a complaint to the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) and presented a petition to the government stating their objections. “All they have done is try to divide us” commented Deyeatee, “They offer important people a little money to try to convince them”. However the community refused to be weakened by division and eventually secured the crucial meeting with the Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf where she recognised their right to say ‘no’ to the company.
“The struggle has made us stronger than ever before and we’ve learned a lesson to stay united” said Anthony Johnson, “The success is so great as it secures my future and the future of my children to come. I will stay on this land and plant crops for my children so future generations can live off the land”
Despite the President's commitment EPO has still not recognised that the Clan has said no to their operations. They are operating as if things are business as usual and conducting studies of the Clan’s land in preparation for clearing. Land clearance and other preparatory activities would be unlawful, as they do not respect communities’ right to give or withhold their Free Prior and Informed Consent, which is a requirement provided for under both national law and international law.
But the Clan are not discouraged and they continue their resistance for the hope of a better future; “We want the government to support us to be self-sufficient on our land instead of giving it to a company who will just take the money and go home. Instead we can keep the money in Liberia and we can live better lives” said Garmondeh Benwon (R).
Every year, an area five times the land size of Liberia is grabbed from communities around the world. The Jogbahn Clan show that stopping it is possible when communities stand together, mobilise and resist. The government has recognised their right to say no now EPO and KLK, their majority shareholder, must do the same.
It is a privilege to work in solidarity with the Clan and their drive and resilience has been a constant source of inspiration for everyone in SDI/FoE Liberia. The Clan are preparing to share the lessons of their struggle and give hope to other communities resisting landgrabbing. And as Deyeatee says
“When our land is free, we’re all free”.
Support the Jogbahn Clan to protect their land and resources, tell EPO NO means NO! Sign the petition!
Join the conversation on Twitter and tell governments and investors that we can #GrowAfrica without landgrabbing.
We need to #GrowAfrica without #landgrabbing - sign the petition bit.ly/1myNa5n #GAIF14 @GrowAfricaForum #stopEPO Communities tell governments-stop selling #Africa to corporations-watch the video! bit.ly/1myNa5n #GAIF14 @GrowAfricaForum #stopEPO Warning to investors communites are resisting #landgrabbing - bit.ly/1myNa5n #GAIF14 @GrowAfricaForum #stopEPO
Silas Kpanan'Ayoung Siakor is a campaigner on Community Rights and the founder of the Sustainable Development Institute/Friends of the Earth, Liberia a national civil society organisation promoting the sustainable and just use of Liberia’s natural resources. Silas has received the Goldman Environmental Prize in 2006, the Award for Extraordinary Achievement in Environmental and Human Rights Activism from The Alexander Soros Foundation in 2012 and TIME Magazine chose him as one of the 2008 Heroes of the Environment.
Jacinta Fay is a community worker and campaigner for the Community Rights and Corporate Governance Programme of the Sustainable Development Institute/Friends of the Earth Liberia which supports communities protect their land and resources and challenges corporate and government actions which threaten community rights. She is also Landgrab Campaigner for Friends of the Earth International which works to challenge landgrabbing, defend community territories and protect land rights. She also campaigns on trade justice, reproductive rights and social justice issues.
Silas Kpanan'Ayoung Siakor, founder of SDI, reflects on Liberia's successes and challenges in natural resources governance with fellow Liberian, SOAS Ph.D. student Robtel Neajai Pailey for this Governance in Africa Conversations podcast produced by the School of Oriental and African Studies(SOAS)/Mo Ibrahim Foundation. He speaks at length about the issues of natural resource governance, land rights, inclusivity in governance and social justice. The history of SDI and the its purpose going forward are also highlighted.
Since the 2012 moratorium on and subsequent cancellation of Private Use Permits (PUPs) in the last quarter of 2013, there has been an alarming rise in the number of applications for Community Forestry Management Agreements (CFMAs) across the country. There are concerns that logging operators previously operating illegal PUPs are now pursuing CFMAs as an alternative to allow them to continue to harvest timber in Liberia. However, if the situation is not managed correctly, CFMAs could become the next PUP crisis, allowing vast quantities of valuable timber to be harvested and exported with few benefits reaching Liberian people.
Listen to Development Talk. The proposed Land Rights Policy in Liberia represents a shift towards respecting customary rights of communities. However it is still fraught with many challenges. Even with progressive policy reform implementation, corruption and patronage at all levels of government remains a key obstacle to land rights and communities negatively impacted by concession agreements. What do we do about all of this? Listen here