As calm returns after hours of panic
The Liberia National Police (LNP), under the prompt supervision of its Inspector General, Patrick Sudue, has restored calm in Ganta and is investigating to establish the cause of an arson attack on a warehouse in that commercial city.
Following the eviction of two families (Jabatehs and Donzos) from a stretch of land in Ganta on April 19, residents in the city went amok on April 20, 2021, upon seeing fire on a warehouse near the land in question. Schools and commercial activities in that busy city were suspended with people taking refuge in their homes.
In a telephone interview with IG Sudue yesterday evening, he affirmed that the police has brought the tension under complete control. “What we look up to now is peace, and as calm is restored, we are going to investigate and arrest those behind the arson attack to bring them to justice. Those who committed the act must face justice and we will make sure they face justice,” IG Sudue told the Daily Observer.
The Administrative Assistant to the Mayor of Ganta, Africanus Dolo, told the Daily Observer yesterday evening that following a meeting with Police Inspector General Sudue, they have begun the propagation of peace messages to keep all calm while the investigation goes on to get the culprit of the arson attack.
It is not yet clear the monetary value of the damage done to the goods in the warehouse, but Mr. Dolo said the warehouse is one of the few wherein goods going to the southeast and other parts of Nimba are stored.
Upon seeing the warehouse in flames, men mainly of the Gio and Mano tribes in Ganta rose up with the plan of retaliating on the Mandingo group that has been in land conflict with the two tribal groups since the war in Liberia ended about 17 years ago.
Those of the Gio and Mano tribes accused the Mandingoes of masterminding the arson attack following the eviction because, upon enforcing the eviction order on Monday, April 19, a member of the Mandingo tribe, Mike Jabateh, appeared live on Facebook and threatened the life of Chief Justice Francis Korkpor, who he said is the chief engineer behind the eviction of Mandingoes from their land.
As tension was mounting, Mike Jabateh, who had on a military uniform, appeared live on Facebook and threatened further that, “If anything happens to any Mandingo person in Ganta, some of us will sacrifice our lives to go and die with them. I want the Government of Liberia to send officers of the Armed Forces of Liberia in Nimba County now, and I say now!”
According to Administrative Assistant Dolo, as the eviction was taking place on Monday, a member of the Jabateh family affected in the exercise along with the Donzoes threatened to carry out violence and was arrested and remanded in police custody. Dolo said the Jabateh family member and three others arrested were later released on the same day, and it was following their release that the arson attack took place. “While we cannot outrightly state that they are responsible for the attack on the warehouse, we can say they are prime suspects and should therefore be rearrested and investigated,” said Mr. Dolo
Even though the land dispute leading to the arson attack is between the Jabateh and Donzo families on the one hand and the Paye Suah family, on the other hand, the tension brewing is interpreted as “Tribal conflict.” Mike Jabateh claims that the Gio and Mano have marginalized the Mandingo people that they can no longer wait to defend themselves. The Gio and Mano tribes are however accusing the Mandingoes of attacking them and, in the wake of the arson attack on the warehouse, they were galvanizing to set the mosques in Ganta ablaze.
Mr. Dolo said as the city government of Ganta and the Police Inspector General begin propagating the peace messages, they are also telling both sides that the land in question belongs to a particular family that no member of any tribe will have a portion and therefore they should stop branding the issue as a tribal conflict between Gio-Mano on the one hand and Mandingoes on the other hand.
“No Mano or Gio man has a share in the land that is being turned over to Fred Suah and his family by the court, and if it were the Jabatehs or Donzoes, no Mandingo man will have a portion. So, people should not make the issue to appear like a conflict between the Mandingoes and Gio-Mano,” Dolo said.
Land dispute remains a key tipping point for potential conflict in post-conflict Liberia. In the Ganta instant, the tribesmen of the respective families involved have taken the issue as a matter of tribal offense. Since 2003, the Mandingoes have found it not easy to justify their occupancy of some areas they claim were occupying before the war. However, some have contested their cases in the court and reclaimed their lands, which they have leased to businesspeople in Ganta.
The ongoing land dispute between the three families had gone on for 10 years until April 19 when the court ordered that people on it should be evicted and the land be turned over to Fred Suah of the Paye family.
In 2010, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf declared Eminent Domain on the disputed land, on which the regular Ganta market is located, as a way of resolving the conflict. However, since the declaration eleven years ago, the government has not claimed the land to use it for anything of public interest. The marketeers have not moved despite the erection of a new market in the Deahkehmein Community.