Gbonota — Communities in the Suakoko District in Bong County are breaking traditional barriers around the ownership of land, thanks to a project being run by three civil society organizations to assist communities in six counties legalize customary ownership of their lands.
Through the Protection of Customary Collective Land Rights project (P3CL), Kpatawee and Kporyorquelleh Clans in the Suakoko Districts are on their way to getting land deeds for their customary lands, and have changed their mindset about women's rights to land and how to curb land-related conflicts with neighboring communities.
The project is being implemented by Parley Liberia, Foundation for Community Initiatives (FCI) and the Sustainable Development Institute (SDI). The funder is Tenure Facility, an international nongovernmental organization that supports rural communities around the world to have ownership of their lands.
The Liberian government received praises worldwide for the passage of the Land Rights Law of 2018, which recognizes customary land rights and women's ownership of land. But experts say awareness of the law coupled with the lack of capacity of rural communities to complete the legal process in securing ownership remains a big challenge.
The project has two phases. The first phase was a pilot implemented by the three organizations prior to the passage of the law. The second phase, a nearly US$2 million project launched last month in Monrovia, will benefit 28 communities in Bong, Grand Bassa, River Cess, Margibi, Nimba and Lofa. Each of Parley Liberia, FCI and SDI will work in eight communities in these six counties.
Momentum for the project is growing and mindset is changing, the three project implementers say. In a recent meeting in Gbonota, the headquarters of Menquelleh Clan in Sanoyea District, the townspeople of Kpatawee and Kporyorquelleh showcased their knowledge of the Land Rights Law. The meeting featured testimonies from the two clans to share experiences with Menquelleh Clan, one of the communities Parley Liberia is working with under this second phase of the P3CL. Parley Liberia, based in Gbarnga Bong County, is responsible for communities in the central county, according to the project.
'Women are now respected'
Younger George, a woman from Kpatawee Clan, said she now understood that the law guarantees her rights to own land and she no longer has to ask her husband for land. She said she now knows about mapping and survey, how to live in harmony with her neighbors, and how to resolve disputes when they disrupt.
Moses P. Wegee, the Town Chief of Dumah Town also in the Kpatawee Clan boasted of his knowledge on the categories of land: public land, private land, customary land, protected land, and government land.
Wegee revealed before their knowledge of the law, he and other men in Dumah Town did not take women as equals. "We know now that our sisters have right to land whether you are blind, cripple or have no husband you have right to your father's land [like your brothers]." He said before his knowledge of the law, people discussed land matters in their Poro bushes but now they invite the town's chairlady in land meetings. "Now it is done in the open. Women's rights are now respected."
George M. Kollie, a youth of Kporyorquelleh Clan buttressed what Wegee said. "We were taking land business to be boogeyman, society business," he said. "No one is a stranger when he or she spends one or two years in a town," he added. "Women are not property; they cannot be inherited. They can only be married by consent."
Harrison C. Dargbowua, a blind man from a town called Kayata in Kporyorquelleh Clan, who Parley Liberia recorded attended every meeting when the project moved to that community, said the project "opened the eyes" of his community on customary land ownership. He said his maternal uncle sidelined him and his siblings from the land in their mother's village.
"He used to say we should come back to Suakoko because from father came from the Suakoko belt," Dargbowua told the meeting, adding that he and his siblings now knew that they, too, own the land in Kporyorquelleh.
And a woman from Kporyorquelleh said she wanted awareness on the Land Rights Law to get to every town in Liberia, because "Rural women are suffering."
She said before her knowledge of the law, she couldn't make farm without the consent of her brothers. "Before we used to beg for what was for us, now we are getting it free."
Loretta Pope-Kai of FCI, who is the Coordinator of the project, told FrontPage Africa that she was very pleased with the Gbonota meeting. I am very glad today that we are starting on a good path," Pope-Kai said following the end of the meeting. "The reception is very good, especially in front of our partners," she added. "We hope that women will have interest in what we are about to do, because we want to make sure that at the end of the day we want to secure land rights for women."
Land governance structure was formed in each community during the first phase of the project, according to Pope-Kai. She said the community would now create bylaws to govern them.
Dr. Raymond Samndong, who headed a three-person Tenure Facility delegation to the meeting, had assured the people of Menquelleh of the organization's continued support. "You people mean a lot to us," Dr. Samndong said. "Tenure Facility is an organization that was created for you people. You people are the ones protecting the land for the next generation," he added.
Nyahn Flomo of Parley Liberia earlier introduced the project to Menquelleh, telling the community that his NGO would help them establish under one land body (self-identification, harmonize their boundary with neighboring clans, conduct a survey and mapping, and develop and their land use plan as the law mandates.
Flomo told FrontPage Africa after the meeting said the project was meant to allow rural communities to benefit from their lands. He added that the government did not have the fund to enable communities complete the steps to own their land. He said there are over 600 clans in Liberia, meaning government would have to fund the self-identification process of over 600 customary land, which he said is costly and challenging.
"If communities in Liberia are to benefit from their customary land rights, people must assist them to go through the process [that the law mandates]," he said in the interview.
The Gbonota meeting was the first of a series of meeting Parley Liberia plans for all of Menquelleh's 43 towns, Flomo revealed, with a stakeholders' meeting and a broader community meeting next.
Flomo said Parley Liberia, FCI and SDI developed community self-identification guide with the Liberia Land Authority that was funded by the Tenure Facility during the first phase of the project that would be used in this current phase. He said lessons learned during this phase would be used to develop another guide on boundary harmonization, survey and mapping to help other communities.