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Government completes Surveys for Four River Cess Clans

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Top: An elevated view of a portion of Teekpeh Clan’s 65,224.61 hectares of land. The DayLight/Derick Snyder


By Harry N. Browne


TEEKPEH – Liberia Land Authority has conducted surveys in four clans in River Cess County, the last stage for the communities to get customary land deeds.

The Land Authority conducted the surveys recently for Teekpeh, Ziadue, Dorbor and Gbarsaw, bringing to an end four years of quest for their ancestral land rights.

“I feel so glad because, for the time Liberia existed, we were [squatters]. For us to be the legitimate owners of our land, we really appreciate that,” said Fredrick James, the chairman of Teekpeh’s Community Land Development and Management Committee.  

“If you do not have a deed for [your land] in Liberia, then … the land is not for you,” said Blessing Nagba, Town Chief of Zammie Town, one of Teekpeh’s largest communities.

Before the official survey, Teekpeh, Ziadue, Dorbor and Gbarsaw declared their intention to get title deeds for their lands. Later, they formed land governing bodies and conducted open mapping of their areas, requirements in the Land Rights Act of 2018 for a customary land deed.

The confirmatory surveys were conducted in a peaceful and orderly manner with all of the parties represented. Representatives of the four clans, the Liberia Land Authority, and civil society gathered at the various boundary points to witness the process.

Blessing Nagba, Town Chief of Zammie Town in Teekpeh Clan

Before that, the surveyors asked the representatives to walk them to the actual spot that all parties agreed to. Then they took points from each location and planted trees at those points.  There are 39 border points among the four clans.

Representatives for the clans posed for a picture at each boundary point for evidence, using special equipment that processes and stores data on a memory card and to a satellite. The pictures will remain there as long as the satellite is in space.

Surveyors of the Land Authority survey Teekpeh and Ziadue in River Cess. The DayLight/Harry Browne

The advanced GPS equipment works directly with the satellite for accuracy. It had been recommended as part of a US$3.45 million project to assist communities get their customary deeds, funded by the International Land and Forest Tenure Facility of Sweden.

Before the survey, the Land Authority conducted a two-day workshop on how the instrument works for transparency’s sake.  

The survey had lots of challenges. The teams traveled hours between clans to cut boundaries in hard-to-reach areas. The Thick, green forest features creeks, valleys, mountains, and wildlife. Townspeople, who knew the route well, helped carry the equipment on their heads under the forest’s shade.

The survey team walked for hours in the forest to confirm the land areas of Teekpeh, Ziadue Gbarsaw and Dorbor Clans in River Cess County. The DayLight/Derick Snyder

I am here for land, for us to cut our land boundary between, Ziadue and Teekpeh. [This] is the reason we came in the bush,” said Rebecca Miller, town chief of Zeegar Town in Teekpeh.

The four clans cover a combined 152,937.57 hectares of land. Of that total, Teekpeh is the largest with 65,224.61 hectares, followed by Dorbor with 34,276.06 hectares, Ziadue with 32,718.45 hectares and Gbarsaw with 20,000 hectares.

‘Give and take’

But the clans’ success did not come without challenges. They had to resolve several land crises.  

Ziadue and Teekpeh fought for Yarvoe, a village that has a potential for gold, according to a survey by the Ministry of Mines and Energy. Teekpeh claimed the Yarvoe because it holds the clan’s ancestral graveyard. Ziadue’s contention was it (a 45-minute walk) is closer to the village than Teekpeh  ( a two-hour-45-minute walk).  In the end Teekpeh prevailed following six years of heightening tension.

“All we needed to do was to convince them that land business is give and take,” recalled James. “That was the only way we were able to convince our people and the exercise went on.”

Ziadue and Teekpeh also squared off with Dorbor over a place named Sand Beach Junction for two years.  Once more the three clans agreed to turn over the land to Teekpeh following two years of standoff.

Dorbor had another conflict with Gbarsaw over a parcel of farmland across a creek. Dorbor surrendered the land to Gbarsaw

“We protected the communities until we went to all those boundaries. We did give-and-take,” said Tito Davis, the chairman of the Dobor Community Land Development Committee. We felt that we wanted deed so, Dorbor gave most of the land out.”

At times, the Land Authority and civil society were caught up in the conflicts.

Arthur Cassell, the geographic information system (GIS) specialist with the Sustainable Development Institute (SDI), which works with the communities, experienced some of them. In one incident, townsmen, unhappy with a borderline they had drawn, chased Cassell and his team into a bush.

“You know the small creek in the bush have their names and sometimes through oral history. Somebody might miss the name or somebody might miss the location of the creek. That was the hold situation,” Cassell said.

“To see the four of them Ziadue Teekpeh, Dorbor and Gbarsaw get their confirmatory survey in one go, it is a plus for us,” Cassell added.

Children work on a farmland in Dorbor Clan, River Cess County. The DayLight/Harry Browne

The Land Authority is expected to grant the four clans their customary deed soon. They make it 11 communities in River Cess and 20 across the country whose lands have been surveyed. Eight communities have already been granted customary deeds, with Fessibu in Lofa the latest.

We are quite assured that in the next few weeks or so their deeds will be prepared,” said Jerome Vanjah Kollie, the National Coordinator for Customary Boundary and Harmonization at the Land Authority. “We have concluded the work.”       

Researchers Warn Tribal Certificates Could ‘Corrode’ Customary Land  

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Top: A cleared farmland in Jacksonville, Sinoe County. The DayLight/James Harding Giahyue


By Emmanuel Sherman


MONROVIA- Researchers have called for an open process to transform tribal certificates into title deeds, warning it could “corrode” customary land in Liberia.

“Tribal certificates are semi-recognized documents used by individuals, families and community to privatize customary or public land,” say Ali Kaba, Baba Sillah and Dr. Ibrahim Al-bakri Nyei in a recent report.

“There is no standard template or chain of custody for tribal certificates, the number in circulation is unknown but believed to be extremely high,” they add.

A tribal certificate is a legal document issued by local authorities mainly under the Public Land Law of 1956 to show interest in the land, not to own it. It was introduced by former President William V. S. Tubman to exert and expand the state’s influence in the hinterlands. Powerful chiefs and elders often awarded the documents without consulting the rest of their community.  

In 2018, Liberia passed the Land Rights Act, a landmark legislation that recognizes customary land ownership. The new law mandates the government to work with communities and turn all tribal certificates into title deeds by 2020.  

But more than five years after the new land law, tribal certificates are yet to be transformed into deeds, except for a few, which were issued illegally.

The researchers cite the lack of information, competing claims, social and material differences, and expertise as factors in the delay in transforming these documents into proper deeds. 

“So, a community has 1,000 acres of customary land, and in that same community you have 1,000 acres of private land,” Kaba tells The DayLight in an interview.  

“Those two things cannot exist in the same place. So, it becomes a corrosive instrument to undo customary land,” Kaba says.

To avoid that problem, the researchers are calling for a fair, transparent, and inclusive process and a grievance mechanism for converting tribal certificates into title deeds. 

A 2015 survey conducted by the Land Commission now the Liberia Land Authority revealed there are over 1,500 tribal certificates in Bong County, averaging 250 acres per claim. The figure represents 15 percent of the total land area of the central county, which is just over 877,000 hectares.

“Validating tribal certificates at the community level must include diverse viewpoints and interest prioritizes the perspective of vulnerable groups such as women and youths,” Kaba says.

An elevated view of Quikon Clan in Kokoyah District, Bong County. The DayLight/Derick Snyder

“This mechanism must be easily accessible to civil society and community members, who must clearly understand the procedures involved and the rights and entitlements of vulnerable groups.” 

The researchers urge the Land Authority to create a tribal certificate guideline or regulation that would scale up the definition of “developed” land in the Land Rights Act.

Under the Land Rights Act, holders of tribal certificates are entitled to all of the developed portions of the land the documents represent.  Kaba and co recommend that the developed portion should not be limited to fencing, surveying, and conservation but must include basic use and claims rights.

Stanley Toe, executive director of the Land Authority agrees with researchers about the risk the delay in transforming tribal certificates poses.

Toe, however, discloses the Land Authority is at 90 percent completion of the work. He says the regulation would address the definition and the vetting process of tribal certificates.

“So hopefully in the next two to three months we should be done with this particular process,” Toe says.   

“A committee inclusive of civil society, community members and vulnerable groups will be set up to validate [tribal certificates] and the developed portion.”

NGOs Want Land Authority Speed Up Customary Deed Processes

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Top: NGOs working in the land sector have urged the Liberia Land Authority to accelerate granting customary communities, like Quikon in Bong County, their deeds. The DayLight/Derick Snyder


By Esau J. Farr


MONROVIA – A group of civil society organizations wants the Liberia Land Authority (LLA) to fast-track a legal process through which rural communities get deeds for their ancestral lands.

The Civil Society Working Group on Land Rights at a recent one-day event in Monrovia criticized the LLA for being slow in resolving boundary disputes. It also slammed LLA for only granting deeds to communities the regulator works with, not the ones the NGOs work with.   

Members of the group include the Sustainable Development Institute (SDI), National Civil Society Council of Liberia, Landesa, Foundation for Community Initiative (FCI), Parley Liberia, and Community Rights Support Facility (CRSF).

The Land Rights Act grants land ownership to rural communities but requires them to complete a process before they get customary deeds. The process includes self-identification, mapping, boundary harmonization, drafting of bylaws, forming a community land development and management committee (CLDMC) and an official survey.

Many communities are stuck at the boundary harmonization stage over disputes ranging from mineral, political, and tribal interests among others, according to the NGOs. LLA records show that out of 150 communities only eight have received their customary land deeds, five years after the law.

“We are trying to push the LLA to intervene in these communities that are stocked on boundary harmonization,” said Nora Boiwer of the SDI. “LLA can decide and find a solution if communities can’t decide.”

The result of the delay in resolving disputes for confirmatory survey retarded developments in the countryside.  Communities representatives said they were unable to negotiate any investment deals with potential investors or companies.

“We are asking the Liberia Land Authority to intervene and make sure that the boundary should be harmonized,” said Sam Maloway, the chairperson of the CLDMC of Ziawulu, Lofa County. “If not, some of us may not have our deeds and our efforts will be in vain.”

Partial view of some participants at the recently held dialogue. The DayLight/Esau J. Farr

At the end of the one-day dialogue, the group recommended that NGOs and the LLA work together for customary communities to get their deeds as a way forward.

It also wants civil society and LLA to set a target in resolving outstanding boundary issues and the completion of other issues.

The NGOs also want LLA to begin the surveying of government land in towns and villages and include traditional leaders in future land discussions.

“From the developed strategy here at the dialogue, we hope that NGOs and LLA will get 25 to 50 communities to pass the boundary harmonization and grand deeds in the next seven months,” Nora told The DayLight.

In response, Kulah Jackson, LLA’s commissioner for land planning and use, said the regulator was willing to work with NGOs to ensure that customary communities are formalized and given deeds, but a new strategy needs to be employed. 

“Stakeholders from the LLA, MoA (Ministry of Agriculture), Mines and Energy, LISGIS and MIA (Ministry of Internal Affairs) need to sit together and discuss issues of great concerns that border on land,” Jackson suggested.

He encouraged NGOs and community members to be “sincere” in identifying boundaries and resolving boundary disputes.

The dialogue was held under the theme, “Customary Land Dialogue-Identifying Lessons, Finding Solutions and Deepening Efforts to Strengthen Community Land Rights.”  

The Guardians of Liberia’s ‘Largest’ Waterfall

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Top: Elijah Kolleh (left) and Yarkpawolo Kollie are guardians of the Whorn Waterfall in Kokoyah District, Bong County. The DayLight/James Harding Giahyue


By James Harding Giahyue


SEEGAR TOWN, Bong County – The two elderly men take my colleague Derick Snyder and me on a tour of an enormous yet largely unknown waterfall.  

Yarkpawolo Kollie and Elijah Kolleh are not just some random tour guides. They are guardians of Whorn Waterfall on the St. John River in the Kokoyah District Bong County.

Kollie and Kolleh spend a good portion of their time regulating access to the fall. Skilled basket weavers and fishermen, the men protect it and a Sande shrine nearby from unauthorized access and desecration.  

“That area is a traditional area, the [largest] waterfall in the Republic of Liberia,” Morris Dukuly, a former chief of Seegar Town. The DayLight could not independently verify Dukuly’s claim but drone pictures show it is larger than the Kpatawee Waterfall. Whorn is about a 20-minute walk from Seegar Town through farms and a swathe of rocky, hilly forest.

“We can’t just permit anybody to just enter,” adds Dukuly, a descendant of the family that founded Seegar Town.    

It was Dukuly and the rest of the town’s leadership who appointed Kollie and Kolleh. It is part of a tradition that has lasted since the early 1900s, Dukuly tells us.

The elderly men are not the fall’s only guardians. Other townsmen play that role, too. They belong to a legion of villagers who spend a lifetime protecting their land and custom.

The Whorn Waterfall is the largest in Liberia, according to local people. The DayLight/James Harding Giahyue

Last month, Quikon Clan, where the waterfall is located, asked an NGO to assist it to get a customary deed. The clan wants to preserve that and benefit from their resources, following years of government neglect.

Under the Land Rights Act, Quikon owns the land, water and forest in Seegar and 23 other towns, covering more than 2,000 hectares. However, it must meet certain legal requirements to get a deed from the government.

Gbarnga-based NGO Parley Liberia is now guiding Quikon in its quest. The clan is one of 37 communities across eight counties benefiting from a US$3.54 million project, funded by the International Land and Forest Tenure Facility of Sweden.  

“Once we have a deed, we get the power to say anything to any investor that will come… to use that waterfall,” says Junior Tarr, the Paramount Chief of Kokoyah.

Kollie and Kolleh are aware of the new quest but are focused on their jobs.

They spend the rainy season at the waterfall, fishing and smoldering their catch. We are not allowed to go to where they fish—because of the shrine—but we can see a few rattan baskets.   

One basket hangs not far from the doorway of a hut a few feet from the rocky riverbanks next to the fall. Two others are outside the hut and two more are in different locations.

“When the dry season comes, we go back in the town,” explains Kolleh 60-something, the younger of the two men. A lot of people come to see the fall at that time, he adds.

The waterfall makes a forest spectacle. Its brownish water pours down a rocky, steep hill, making a loud noise. Droplets form a cloud and reduce the green shading of the forest on both sides of the river. Big rocks line up the riverbanks, creating a stage for us to stand and behold nature at its best.

After nearly two hours here, it is time for us to go. Kollie and Kolleh gave us some worm fish from a drier to eat. We say goodbye and start our journey back to Gbarnga.

Waterfall Clan Seeks Customary Land Deed

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Top: The Whorn Waterfall is arguably Quikon’s most famous natural resource. The DayLight/Derick Snyder


By Esau J. Farr


KOKOYAH DISTRICT, Bong County – A clan with a waterfall larger than Kpatawee has consented to a project seeking to assist it get an ancestral land deed.

Located on the boundary between Grand Bassa and Bong County, Quikon Clan hosts the Whorn Waterfall on the St. John River.

For decades, villagers in the clan have protected the fall, the forest around it and the land. They know that acquiring a deed to their clan would formalize their ownership of the land—and everything on it.

With Liberia having passed the Land Rights Act in 2018, the villagers cannot wait to end generations of longing.  

“We’ve been bringing people to see [the waterfall] but we don’t have the deed for the land,” said Junior Tarr, the Paramount Chief for Kokoyah District in which Quikon is located. “Once we have a deed, we get the power to say anything to any investor that will come in the district to use that waterfall.”  

The Land Rights Act guarantees rural communities ownership of their land, based on customs, norms and oral tradition, for at least five decades. However, communities must go through a legal procedure to get deeds for their land, the technical knowledge they lack.

And that is where civil society organizations come in.  

At an event in Rock Crusher, Quikon’s busiest town, the clan officially asked a civil society organization to help it.

“We the citizens and residents of Quikon Clan…  hereby declare our free, prior and informed consent (FPIC) for customary community land formalization addressed to Parley Liberia,” locals said in a declaration recently.

A view of Rock Crusher in the Quikon Clan of Kokoyah District, Bong County. The DayLight/Derick Snyder

That FPIC request to Parley Liberia, a Bong-based organization, recognizes the rights of the clan as an indigenous community, said Josephus Blim, Parley Liberia’s program officer. FPIC aligns with Liberia’s land law and other laws, Blim added. It is a United Nations-backed principle whose roots can be traced to the universal right to self-determination.

Parley Liberia—with other organizations—is assisting 39 communities in eight counties to get their customary deeds. The International Land and Forest Tenure Facility, a Sweden-based charity, provided US$3.54 million for the project over a three-year period.    

“The success of this work depends on the community, yourselves, the partnership with government, including the District Commissioner, Paramount Chief, Clan Chief and the Liberia Land Authority,” said Gregory Kitt, executive director of Parley Liberia.

Bendu Cheeks, a women’s rights leader in Quikon Clan, signs a consent declaration for assistance to get its customary land deed. The DayLight/James Harding Giahyue

Isaac Freeman, the Acting Superintendent of Kokoyah Statutory District, said the deed would end illegal sales of land there. He said local authorities regularly resolve land disputes.

“We will work with you people so that this thing can be realized,” Freeman told an event marking the signing of the consent declaration. “We have been wishing for someone to come and help our people.”

Isaac Davies, another resident, said people were trading huge plots of land for less valuable materials. Home to some 6,000 people, Quikon is a farming community, covering an estimated 25,000 hectares.

“As a result, we the citizens and youths are beginning to suffer because we are vulnerable,” Davies said. Other townspeople we interviewed echoed his comments.

What Next for Quikon

Quikon must declare itself as a landowning community, communally map the land it claims and cut the boundaries with its neighbors and develop bylaws.

Thereafter, the Land Rights Act requires it to establish a governance body, known as the community land development and management committee (CLDMC).

Then the Land Authority will conduct a survey and give it a customary deed, according to the law.

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