Liberia: Nimbaians Clash with Burkinabes over Land

Armed police officers of Liberia have been sent to Nimba County to calm down tension in Kparblee District, Nimba County, to contain clashes between Burkinabes and the district inhabitants.

... Armed police deployed to contain violence over clashes between locals and Burkinabe’

Over a hundred armed police officers, along with counterparts from the Liberia Immigration Service, have been deployed to Kparblee District, Nimba County, to contain clashes between Burkinabes and the district inhabitants, which have left several persons wounded.

The clash, according to reports, took place in the Old Yourpea forest area. It happened after the citizens of the district had demanded of the Burkinabes to leave their land. According to security sources, most of the citizens have been complaining about the presence of Burkinabes in their forest some years back, calling on the government to remove the foreigners and have them deported, but their complaints are yet to be adhered to.

Last week, the County Inspector, Mr. Mark Gblinwon, and the LIS County Commander, Yei Dolopie, visited Old Yourpea for fact-finding. They warned the Burkinabes to stay out of the bushes until further notice.

A resident of the area, one Niwley, told the Daily Observer that, upon the departure of the local authority over weeks ago, an eight-man team of Burkinabes came from the Ivory Coast to pay wages to their kinsmen who were in the communities, working in the bushes.

According to Niwley, while these men were disbursing the salary of their workers, all of whom are Burkinabe, a group of angry citizens, who were all against the presence of the Burkinabes in the community, attacked them with cutlasses and single barrel guns, wounding several of the Burkinabes. This resulted in clashes between both sides. The citizens' anger came due to the government’s delay to adhere to complaints that the Burkinabes were continuing their presence in the communities, carrying on the exploitation of the forest, and even jumping into the government forest.

Since 2019, the influx of Burkinabe in the Kparblee District has been high, with many opposing their presence and calling on the government to intervene. Residents complain that the presence of foreigners has increased and they continue to occupy their land. The Burkinabes began entering from the Ivory Coast, where they have been carrying on substantial farming on a hire basis for decades.

They were hired by some chiefs within the Kparblee District on an arrangement to cultivate a certain acreage of land with cocoa and, when the crops reach a harvest point, the landowner and the hired Burkinabe would divide the harvest on a fifty-fifty basis. With the vast land areas within the Kparblee areas, including the national forest, the Burkinabes continue to make their way through, sometimes using cash at some point to acquire lands.

About 100 Burkinabes are believed to have entered Kparblee and are carrying on active farming within the forest belt, according to some residents of the area. The situation is said to have made many to flee their homes in Old Yourpea, with other nearby communities threatening to forcibly move on the Burkinabes if the government failed to deport them.

A farmer from Old Yourpea, who earlier hired some Burkinabes to manage his cocoa farm, said after some years when he terminated the Burkinabes’ contract, the Burkinabes assigned cobras on the farm where he is usually chased by this snake whenever he visits the farm.

“With this witchcraft behavior,” the farmer said he developed a hatred for the presence of the Burkinabes in their communities. They have an evil motive and we think their presence with us is not safe for our children,” he told the local authority.

Currently, there is a huge presence of armed security within the area, where several community members who were allegedly involved in the melee have been arrested and taken to Tappita for investigation, while some wounded Burkinabes are seeking treatment at the Jackson F. Doe Hospital from wounds, a LIS source has told the Daily Observer.

“My boss is currently in the district to bring the situation under control, but some of the people who took laws into their own hands were arrested and are facing interrogation in Tappita,” the LIS Deputy Commander of Nimba told the Observer.

The saga in Nimba County comes after the Ministry of Internal Affairs and the Embassy of Burkina Faso have agreed on what is believed to be an amicable solution to the alleged illegal occupation of Burkinabe nationals, mostly in the forest region of Grand Gedeh County. The solution, according to the Ministry of Internal Affairs, is the profiling of all Burkinabe nationals in the region for a period of one month, “allowing the government to take stock of where they reside and activities they are involved with.”

The Burkinabes, whose presence in the county has been an issue for the last five years — are accused of illegal encroachment on lands for farming. They have been trooping to Liberia in large numbers and, when crossed into Liberia, they settled in forest areas along the Ivorian-Liberian border, where they carry out coca farming, hunting, and pit sawing, despite “not having proper documentation.”

Accounts from locals in Grand Gedeh suggest that the Burkinabes could be seen with single barrel shotguns and other light weapons and power saws. They claim the migrants are exploiting forest resources and encroaching on farmlands and shrines to make cocoa farms.

The presence of the Burkinabe and other illegal migrants’ in Grand Gedeh, according to the Minister of Mines and Energy Gesler Murray in 2020, could one day lead to social marginalization — resulting in xenophobic and reprisal actions that could trigger a degree of social unrest.