12 July 2012

Liberia: Chiefs Gather Steams -Chieftainship Elections, National Healing Take Center Stage

Liberia’s political structure had in the past lavishly acknowledged the power, relevance and sanctity of traditional leaders or chiefs. This system of governance has come a long way, accentuated by the elections of clan and paramount chiefs. But things have gone awry since the advent of the postwar government which in the last seven years has kept these rural administrators on the fringes of national governance. The Supreme Court of the regime did the worse by outlawing the elections of chiefs and city mayors. But it seems that marginalization of the chieftainship culture is becoming a thing of the past as the Government appears to make a turnaround evidenced by the first big meeting of traditional leaders and chiefs from all political subdivisions of the country. The conference under the auspices of the Blamoh Nelson-led Internal Affairs Ministry provided a forum the chiefs had longed for. Following deliberations, the rural leaders issued a declaration which essentially gives them some steam to bud once again, as The Analyst reports.

Traditional leaders are awake from their slumbers and have begun once again making their voices heard on the national platform. Past political leaders often invited chiefs from the countryside for consultation on crucial national issues and when they arrived in Monrovia they spoke fearlessly and substantively.

That era is returning. Internal Affairs Minister Blamo Nelson invited the chiefs to Monrovia and following days of deliberations, the traditional leaders released a 13-count resolution considering a wide range of national issues, including a request for the election of local leaders, principally chiefs. The Resolution is named Resolution 165: Providence Island.

“We call on the Legislature to pass the Bill enacting the National Traditional Council of Liberia to serve as an advisory body to the Government on issues of national concern; and promotion and preservation of the traditional values and customs of the country,” the chiefs said in a statement.

Further on decentralization, the Liberian chiefs said the policy is good and necessary to fix the country, stating, “We understand it and we welcome it. The President should go ahead and implement it.”

The Chiefs and Elders welcomed the decision of the Central Government to include them in the administration of the country in keeping with the requirements of the Constitution, and under the Rule of Law, for the maintenance of security, public safety, and justice.

“We, the Chiefs and Elders are willing to work with the Ministries of Justice and Internal Affairs, as well as all the other agencies of Government, on how best to bring together the traditional and statutory means of justice in the Country,” the local leaders further asserted.

The chiefs said they are happy are happy that through the decentralization process, the Central Government will make sure that all the counties, all administrative districts, all municipalities, all chiefdoms, all clans and all general towns will benefit from the wealth and blessings of the country and that all those who are responsible for the administration of various areas will use the capacities of their areas to encourage investment and business for the purpose of generating taxes which can be used for development of the country and their areas.

“We want the bulk of the resources to be directed to the communities,” the chiefs and elders said, stating further that they accept the New Education Reform Law and will ensure its full implementation.

Every Liberian citizen must be educated, said the chiefs. “We want our children to be educated where they are born, so that they can be familiar not only with their culture, custom and tradition, but will remain connected with their communities and will participate, contribute and ensure its development.”

Regarding “information and freedom”, the chiefs said they agree and accept that freedom of expression and exchange of information is a very good idea for all the people of Liberia. “We will protect and defend the rights of all people to enjoy this freedom but will frown on its abuse.”

“The Chiefs and Elders welcome the efforts of the Central Government to have all civil servants properly trained and paid according to what they know, what they can do, and how long they have been working,” they also said. “We want for all government employees to be paid on time and at their assigned areas; we want the Civil Service to have offices in all counties.”

The Chiefs and Elders also said they are happy that the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare will provide additional training to traditional midwives, and provide them with adequate materials to enhance the delivery process and accord them due recognition.

“We want the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare to ensure that traditional medicines and western medicines are utilized for the health of people in Liberia,” they said. “The Chiefs and Elders of the country will promote sanitation and cleanliness in all communities of Liberia.”

They Chiefs and Elders reported that they consulted on all the issues and concerns relating to gender development and traditional practices in Liberia and the need to adjust some of them.

“The conclusions we have reached are contained in the report from the Traditional Women Sub-Committee of this Special Forum,” they said. “The Chiefs and Elders have agreed that the time has come to move away from the old practice of hand-to-mouth (subsistence) and slash-and-burn (shifting cultivation) farming methods to the method of commercial farming by which agriculture can also become a source of family income and community development. To make this possible, the government should provide the necessary and sufficient support at the town or farm-community level, through the Ministries of Agriculture and Internal Affairs as well as other agencies. Liberia must be able to produce what she eats.”

The Chiefs and Elders welcomed the decision of the Central Government to reinforce traditional and customary authority over land use so that the people on the land benefit from the proceeds of the natural resources.

In this direction, they said, “we the Chiefs and Elders want to continue to be part of the concession negotiation, as is required in such law as the Community Forest Right Law passed by the 52nd Legislature, before they are approved by the President and passed by the Legislature.”

“On the issue of boundary harmonization we agree that the number of administrative districts, cities, townships, chiefdoms, clans, and zones (general towns) are too many in Liberia; we want them reduced. We want the chieftaincy of Liberia to return to the old and natural or traditional chiefdom structure,” the chiefs noted.

“To help the Ministry of Internal Affairs and other agencies in the reduction and harmonization of the boundaries of the local government administrative structure, we have resolved that the 15-member Resolution-Drafting Committee set up by this Forum, comprising one elder from each county, is hereby constituted into a Consultative Boundary Harmonization Committee, to go from county to county and promote the reduction process. As Elders of this country, we hereby call on our International Partners to help the Central Government in this process.”

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