The ugly incidents of violence in Nimba County arising from a land dispute is a matter that should claim the urgent attention of this government. From the look of things, the matter appears to have taken an ethnic twist pitching Manos and Gios against Mandingos.
The land dispute in Ganta which flared up into violence is a matter that has lingered for long without resolution. It underscores the urgent need for government to come to grips with the problem of brewing conflicts over land.
The arson attack on the warehouse in Ganta came in the wake of the Supreme Court decision affirming that the Suah family was/is legally entitled to the land in question.
Currently tensions are running high in Ganta and there are fears that the situation could easily degenerate into full-blown conflict between Manos and Gios with a deadly spillover potential.
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) in its Final Report (2009) singled out land dispute as a potential conflict driver which needed urgent national attention. However, those recommendations were conveniently ignored by the last government.
The case of the land dispute in Ganta was a matter which had been brewing for some time. During the Sirleaf administration, several attempts were made to resolve the dispute. In the final analysis, President Sirleaf invoked the right of eminent domain without converting it to public use.
And the recent Court-sanctioned eviction exercise placing the property in the possession of the Suah family has left some members of the Donzo and Jabateh families enraged and are threatening a violent response.
One such individuals threatening violence is one Mike Jabateh. Dressed in camouflage fatigues, Jabateh spoke on a Facebook live video, vowing to die with his kinsfolk who he claims have been marginalized by this government.
Clearly these remarks are provocative and do not help the situation. Resorting to violence to assert acclaimed rights to land is a step in the wrong direction. It is because violence begets violence with a deadly potential to morph into full-blown conflict.
And when it does, all Liberians will become the ultimate losers. The experience of 14 years of war and civil strife should never be lost on us. Already tensions are inflamed with Gio and Mano youths gearing up for possible action. And talks of setting the Ganta mosque ablaze in retaliation for the arson attack on the warehouse, will serve to further inflame the situation.
But in the wake of this most recent development, there is a need for stocktaking. And such an exercise should include the Judiciary, given the barrage of accusations directed against the Chief Justice who Mike Jabateh claims had a sleight of hand in the Court’s decision awarding the land to the Suah family.
In this regard, we sound the warning that Liberia stands in grave danger of a relapse into conflict. This is because our institutions appear to be failing and the nation standing in grave danger of being torn apart at its seams.
A principal causal factor of this situation is impunity. Until the issue of impunity is firmly and squarely addressed, we could find ourselves in persistent conflict mode. Up till present for example, perpetrators of gross and egregious human rights abuse are going about their business while others of their ilk are in top political positions lording over the very people whose rights they abused and trampled over.
For instance, would senator Prince Johnson have stormed a polling station fully clad in military fatigues if he knew that there would be repercussions for his action? In similar vein would Jabateh, also clad in military fatigues, have posted such threats of violence on social media if he knew there would be repercussions for such foolhardy misadventure? Doubtless!
In face of these alarming developments, we cannot afford to remain indifferent and or complacent given the gravity of the situation. Those beating war drums have a motive.
From all indications it is because they have been the chief beneficiaries of war and instability. But the good people of Liberia should not allow this to happen. They must be resolute and adamant in demanding accountability for perpetrators of gross human rights abuse. Additionally, if the Sirleaf government did indeed declare the affected area an eminent domain, it is important to know whether adequate and just compensation was provided to those now affected by the eviction exercise.
Further, the law requires, in addition to fair and just compensation, that the land in question be applied to the use and benefit of the public. Perhaps this could be a way of defusing the tension and laying the matter to rest once and for all.
Finally, President Weah should call Mike Jabateh to order for the reckless posting on social media threatening a violent response to the eviction exercise as well as a threat to the life and safety of Chief Justice Korkpor. And he should do this sooner than later.