— Says Foreign Minister Dee-Maxwell Saah Kemayah
Dee-Maxwell Saah Kemeyah, Minister of Foreign Affairs, says the formalization of customary land creates a pathway for the rural population to enter into the formal economy, thereby allowing them to take full responsibility for their natural resources, adding that it is part of the fulfillment of the promise made by President George Weah that citizens would no longer be spectators in their economy.
According to Minister Kemayah, when the rights of the people to own their lands are guaranteed, they are encouraged to invest in the land and to manage it in ways that their unborn children will inherit good quality land for their own development.
“We believe that it will also encourage people across rural Liberia to invest more in the agriculture sector, especially for cash crop production because their investment will be protected by law,” He added.
Delivering his keynote speech at the opening of a 2-day national conference to ‘Share Lessons Learned’ from early efforts to implement the 2018 Land Rights Act in Monrovia, the Foreign Minister noted that the government is committed to supporting the land authority and CSOs and international partners to scale up customary land formalization across the country.
The conference organized by the Liberia Land Authority (LLA) in collaboration with the Sustainable Development Institute (SDI), the Foundation for Community Initiatives (FCI), and Parley Liberia, will enable citizens and civil society organizations (CSOs) the opportunity to share their experiences and lessons learned from implementation to scaled-up effectively and efficiently.
After the 14 years of the civil war, there were land disputes between the indigenous and the government that led to the establishment of the 2018 Land Rights Law, but since the passage of this law, land conflicts have reduced as women and youth have the rights to own lands.
In 2016, a multi-stakeholder tenure facility initiative developed and tested a national protocol for community self-identification, anticipating the passage of Liberia’s Land Rights Law in 2018. Today, a coalition of civil society organizations working with the Liberia Land Authority is scaling up the collective community land rights nationally under the Land Rights Act to enhance peace and security, equitable development, and women’s rights—and protect Liberia’s threatened forests.
After the passage of the Land Rights Act, SDI, FCI, and Parley Liberia, a consortium of CSOs, launched the Protection of Customary Collective Community Land Rights in Liberia (P3CL) project to mobilize 24 communities in eight of the 15 counties and support them to the implement the Land Rights Act. The P3CL project is funded by the Swedish-based International Land and Forest Tenure Facility.
Admonishing the three CSOs, Ambassador Kemeyah said “We encourage our civil society and partners to accelerate, scale-up and expand their activities to the remaining five counties that are yet not benefiting from similar support, the government will do its parts to support the LLA to commence confirmatory surveys in these communities.”
He called on superintendents, commissioners, chiefs, and elders to play a pivotal role to ensure that these confirmatory surveys are carried out peacefully so that benefits of the law can be fully realized by the local people.
Ms. Nonette Roye, Executive Director, Tenure Facility, said “We have worked with Indigenous Peoples and local communities to enable them to develop, thrive, and expand the sustainable management and protection of their forests and lands.”
She said her organization continues to support customary land rights in those rural communities, affording them the opportunity to take full ownership of their lands. She added that women have been given the opportunity to own lands and they are committed to working with more females across the country.
Ms. Nonette thanked her partners including SDI, LLA and FCI for their unending support in the implementation of the land rights activities in these communities. “We have achieved significant progress in terms of implementing the project”.
Ingrid Wetterqvist, Swedish Ambassador to Liberia, said Sweden is aware of the many development challenges regarding land issues; therefore, they believe that the opportunities exist for Liberia to overcome these challenges to optimize the significant potential for reducing poverty and conflict and for promoting agricultural and economic development.
Amb. Wetterqvist pointed out that some of the challenges in Liberia’s land sector include inadequate infrastructure and capacity for land governance. Many land records including maps, deeds, and resources may have been lost or destroyed during the civil wars.
According to her, the problem of multiple and competing claims over land has resulted to disputes including the existence of border disputes between administrative units such as counties, districts, and clans.
Amb. Wetterqvist further revealed that the Government of Liberia through the LLA, has invited Lantmäteriet – a Swedish mapping Cadastral and Land Registration Authority (SMCLRA), and a Swedish Government Authority – with a mandate and significant expertise in land governance and administration to Liberia to support the Liberia Land Authority in its institutional development and the building of human resource competency to allow the LLA exercise its mandate.
“The LLA and its counterpart from Sweden has elaborated a five-year project “Capacity Building for Inclusive Land Administration and Management in Liberia’ that has received Swedish funding”.
According to her, the impact of the project will contribute to “Inclusive, transparent, effective and efficient delivery of land management and administration services in Liberia,” she said.
The project would ensure that skilled LLA staff are effectively and efficiently carrying out their duties, Women participate in land administration and management functions, Increased capacity in Land Use Planning in Liberia allowing local government structures to develop, and enforcement of Land Use Plans and Customary land are demarcated and managed.
Vera Kellen, Programme Manager for Climate Change and Rural Development at the European Union (EU), said land right is considered one of the key factors for development in Liberia by the EU and as such, they are committed to working with the LLA and CSOs to scale up the land rights law.
She added that since the establishment of the land rights law, women have been given the privilege to own land as compared to the male counterpart. “We want to say thank you to the LLA and partners who are working tirelessly and the continuos civil approach in the land sector”
Madame P. Bloh Sayeh, Vice-Chairperson and Commissioner, LLA said During the arrival of the forefathers Customary land and ownership remain predominantly unprotected because traditional society never understood the land ownership law because they held on cultural ownership of land.