If Liberia will remain peaceful and stable, it means that President George Weah needs to prioritize the Land Rights Bill that has already been passed through the Legislature, the Civil Society Oraganizations (CSO) Working Group on Land Rights Reform has said.
On September 4, the House of Representatives concurred with the Senate to pass the 2014 Land Rights Bill. With the decision by both houses, the bill is now expected to be presented to President Weah for approval to finally complete the enactment process.
At a press conference yesterday, September 6, the Civil Society Working Group on Land Rights Reform lauded both Houses for moving forward with “one of the most progressive land rights bills on the African continent.”
Madam Eliza Dahn, chair on the Women Land Rights Taskforce, who read the press statement, said it was time for President Weah to sustain the country’s peace by approving the passed bill.
It can be recalled that disputes over land and natural resources were among the structural causes of Liberia’s prolonged civil war, and advocates had warned that failure to address this issue threatens to undermine the country’s hard-won peace.
“You are endowed with the authority to put the stamp of approval on the historic march to legalize land rights for all Liberians,” Madam Dahn said.
“President Weah, we want to say the gavel is in your hands, and our people’s joy and happiness to land rights ownership, and to improve their livelihood, and the strengthening of our peace also rest in your hands,” Madam Dahn told the President in her the statement.
Admonishing Liberians on the status of the bill, Dahn said they should rally support for the new bill.
She added, “We hope that it remains intact, and that there will be no further changes to it. Whatever issue we may have with the current bill, we proposed it to be handled in later amendments or setting up regulation.”
Madam Dahn’s call comes against the backdrop that Liberia was especially vulnerable to conflict over land, and much of the country’s land has already been handed over to companies in the form of concessions, principally for large agricultural plantations, as well as mining and logging operations.
Unfortunately, there has been continued protest by locals against companies on the grounds that they have failed to deliver promised benefits to them, and that affected communities stand to benefit far more from retaining their traditional lands.
Some communities have at times been forced from their lands or faced the destruction of resources they depend on to make way for palm oil plantations, mining and logging concessions.
However, experts on land believe that the passage of the bill clearly gives President Weah a golden opportunity to catalyze respect for the country’s land rights and make Liberia a model of peace, prosperity and development for West Africa and the world.