Liberia: New law secures ancestral land rights (Trust)

November 26, 2018
A translation for this article is available in French

Liberia has passed a landmark law that will help communities fight foreign land grabs by giving them ownership of ancestral territory. President George Weah signed the law on Sept. 19.

The government says that, under the law, communities can claim ownership of customary land by presenting evidence such as oral testimonies, maps, and signed agreements with neighbours.

Land rights have been a contentious issue in Liberia because most people lack formal rights to their land. Rights groups say the Liberian government has signed away more than 40% of national territory in concessions for logging, mining, and agriculture. But they are happy with the new law.

James Otto is a campaigner at Liberia’s Sustainable Development Institute. He says: “This is a landmark victory not only for the government, but for the entire citizenry of our country. For the first time in our history, a law is finally saying that communities that have lived on their land forever and ever are now owners of that land.”

Following Liberia’s second civil war, which ended in 2003, the previous government accelerated policies that granted natural resource concessions to foreign companies. Foreign palm oil concessions were at the heart of these concessions, which were credited with making Liberia attractive to agricultural investors but also caused violent conflict.

The Land Rights Act is one of President Weah’s first major moves since being elected in December 2017. In a statement, the president called it a “key component” of his plans to develop the country.

But Stanley Toe, the executive director of the Liberia Land Authority, says implementation will be difficult.

Mr. Toe says: “The Liberia Land Authority has been given the authority to implement the act but we do not have resources; we do not have the technical expertise to implement this law. The excitement will soon go, but the biggest work lies ahead.”

Under the new law, a maximum of 10% of the customary land in each community will be set aside as public land and a nationwide land survey will be conducted within two years.

This story was adapted from an article titled, “Liberia passes landmark law to secure ancestral land rights” written by James Giahyue for the Thomas Reuters Foundation. To read the original article, go to: http://www.thisisplace.org/i/?id=a0c50be1-9fba-4d70-be72-73ed60110957