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Bong Clan Desires Deed for Ancestral Land

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Top: Villagers work on a farm in Jorpolu Clan in Jorquelleh District, Bong County. The DayLight/Harry Browne


By Matenneh Keita


JORPOLU CLAN, Bong County – In 2019, one year after the Land Rights Act, people in a clan in Jorquelleh District, Bong County, declared their intention to acquire an ancestral land deed.   

Jorpolu Clan declared its intention to obtain a deed, known as community self-identification. Then it set up a governance structure to oversee land matters. Now, people of the clan are cutting boundaries with neighboring clans to decide their land size.

But there is a problem. Jorpolu has four boundary disputes with the neighboring Behquelleh and Suakoko Clans. Under the law, communities own land on which their ancestors lived, farmed and hunted. However, they must resolve all their boundary disputes to be granted a title deed.

“We’re talking with [the neighboring clans] and they’re consenting to the discussion,” says Austin Leayne, the secretary for Jorpolu land leadership. “They all can come together for us to discuss the best way forward for everybody to live in peace and harmony.”

Initially, there were 22 boundary issues between the Jorpolu Clan and the adjacent clans. Eighteen have been resolved, with the balance of four issues outstanding. Of those four disputes, Jorpolu has three with Behquelleh and the other with Suakoko.

The first dispute in Behquelleh regards a town called Gbaota. The family of a deceased famous chief there is claiming about 10 acres of land.  

The second is related to the first. The land the family claims runs through another town called Gowarmue. However, a memorandum of understanding (MoU) has been drafted for the disputing parties to sign, according to Josephus Blim, program officer with Parley Liberia. The NGO assists Jorpolu and other communities through the legal process of acquiring a customary land deed. Its work is part of a US$3.45 million project funded by the International Land and Forest Tenure Facility headquartered in Sweden.

Jorpolu landmass covers thousands of hectares of land, including forest. The DayLight/Charles Gbayor

“Those are just minute places,” Blim said. “I don’t think it would stop the customary process from going on.”

The third land dispute Jorpolu has with Behquelleh is over farmland between a town called Gbarney in Jorpolu and another town in Behquelleh called Kpanyan.  

The people from Jorpolu who settled on the land want the land to stay under Jorpolu but a family in Behquelleh wants it to remain there.

Jorpolu’s dispute with Suakoko is the most major. It is a longstanding issue between the two clans over at least 150 acres of land along a creek.

The Woue Creek evenly divides both clans. It takes a deep curve between Gbenjema on the Jorpolu side and Galai on the Suakoko side.  

Farmers in Gbenjema who crossed the creek to farm on the land are claiming it but the family of a late elder in Galai counterclaimed it.

“We have made a breakthrough in getting the heirs of the elder to reach a compromise with Jorpolu to resolve the dispute,” Blim said. He added relatives of the late elder attended a recent meeting Parley Liberia organized. 

Once Jorpolu resolves all the disputes, the Liberia Land Authority is mandated to survey to confirm the clan’s land and give it a customary deed in line with the law.

Thirty-one communities across the Country lands have been surveyed, according to the Land Authority. About 22 communities have already been granted customary deeds, with Fessibu in Lofa the latest.

Martha Sheriff is a member of Jorpolu Community Land Development and Management Committee. The DayLight/Harry Browne

People in Jorpolu cannot wait to join the list. 

“This land deed is very important to me because during those days women did not have the right to plant anything. Even to plant cocoa on your father’s land… your brothers would say, ‘You don’t have property here,’” says Martha Sheriff, a member of Jorpolu land leadership.

But now, I feel good because of the Land Rights Act that has given me the right to own land and plant cocoa, rubber, and other things on the land for me and my children’s future,” Sheriff added.

“My brothers can’t stop me.”   

While a customary deed would solve the Sheriff’s familial problem, it promises enormous benefits for Jorpolu.

In 2021, Huiren Mining Inc., a mining firm, signed an MoU with few people in the clan and did not live up to it. Neither Jorpolu’s land leadership participated nor was it aware of the document.  

Austin Leayne, the secretary of Jorpolu Company Land Development and Management Committee. The DayLight/Harry Browne

Following three years of heightening tension over social benefits,  the Ministry of Mines and Energy recently halted Huiren’s operations. A meeting between the company and affected communities is scheduled for next month.

Johnson Kong-bai, the head of the Jorpolu land leadership, rues the marginalization. He believes Jorpolu possession of an ancestral deed will prevent such a thing, though communities are guaranteed customary ownership by the law.

“If I have my deed, I got the full right to go to the company and say, ‘This place you want to operate is my area,’” Kong-bai tells The DayLight. “‘Before you do anything here, you and I will have to sit and discuss what will be the community’ benefit.’”

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.”

3 River Cess Clans Set for Official Survey

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Top: Ziadue, Teekpeh and Dorbor have all reached the confirmatory survey stage in the legal process to obtain their customary land deed. The DayLight/Carlucci Cooper


By Esau J. Farr


CENTRAL RIVER CESS DISTRICT – Three clans in River Cess County have met the requirements for a government-conducted survey, the final legal step leading to a customary land deed.    

Ziadue, Teekpeh and Dorbor—all in the Central River Cess District—reached the landmark early last month.  

“We are aware that three communities are ready…,” said  Lincoln Flomo, the head of the monitoring and evaluation division of the Liberia Land Authority (LLA).

Flomo said the leaderships of the three communities would have to meet with LLA representatives and civil society organizations (CSOs) before the survey was conducted.

The Ziadue, Teekpeh and Dorbor self-identified as landowning communities, mapped their respective boundaries and drafted bylaws and constitutions to reach this stage. They formed their respective leadership structures,   known as community land development and management committees or CLDMCs.

The Land Rights Act grants rural community people ownership of traditional land but requires them to go through a legal process to get a deed.

I am happy to get our land deed because the forest [is]for us and our children will benefit,” said Betty Gaywea a member of Ziadue’s CLDMC.

Prior to the passage of the Liberia Land Rights Act, rural communities did not own the land they lived on and did not have a say in the management of its resources.  

The law grants members of rural communities the right to manage their lands and benefit from their resources. 

“Getting the land deed will empower us to tell people that the land belongs to us,” said Patience Smith, a member of Teekpeh’s CLDMC member.    

Having started their journeys in 2020, two years after the signing of the law, the three clans resolved long-standing disputes in the process.

Ziadue, Teekpeh and Dorbor had a conflict over a town named Sand Beach Junction.  After two years of claims and counterclaims, Ziadue and Dorbor surrendered the town with more than 30 houses to Teekpeh.  

Ziadue and Teekpeh also had a four-year conflict over Yarvoi Town, according to locals.

“It was tense to the extent that people from both clans carried cutlasses and single-barrel guns but there was no firing or injuries,” recalled Jackson Sando of the Sustainable Development Institute (SDI). The NGO is helping the clans meet legal requirements for their deeds as part of a US$3.54 million project.

Townspeople from Teekpeh and Dorbor alongside civil society actors pose for a picture after a boundary meeting in Garpu Town, Dorbor. The DayLight/Esau J. Farr

Dorbor had a major boundary dispute with Gbarsaw, another clan, over a parcel of farmland across a creek. The conflict ended with Gbarsaw prevailing.   

“I am happy because we had problems with our boundaries and you people have come and settled everything because we want our deeds,” said Nancy Garpu, Clan Chief of Garpu Clan.

SDI has been working with the communities under the Tenure Facility project to assist them in getting deeds to their ancestral lands since 2020.

Ziadue, Teekpeh and Dorbor add to scores of communities across the country that are awaiting confirmatory survey, according to the LLA.

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.”  

Bassa Clan Begins Final Stage to Get Land Deed

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Top: A drone shot of Compound Number Two in Marblee Clan, Grand Bassa County. The DayLight/James Harding Giahyue


By Esau Farr


COMPOUND NUMBER TWO, Grand Bassa County – Between 2019 and last year, Marblee Clan completed most of the steps in legalizing its customary land ownership, failing to harmonize boundaries with its neighbors.

Now, it has an opportunity to solve that problem and receive a deed following the launch of a new project over the weekend. The “Keeping the Promise” project targets Marblee and 38 other communities across eight counties. Parley Liberia, a Bong County-based NGO, Sustainable Development Institute (SDI), and the Foundation for Community Initiatives (FCI) will assist the communities. The International Land and Forest Tenure Facility provided US$3.56 million for the three-year project.  

“We want you to get your land deed,” Dr. Raymond Samndong, Tenure Facility’s lead campaigner for Liberia, told a short ceremony in Compound Number Two, Grand Bassa County. “If you don’t have land, you don’t have an identity.”  

“Communities need their deeds and that is the focus of this project,” said Gregory Kitt of Parley Liberia, the NGO directing the project.

Marblee Clan stopped at the boundary harmonization stage over disputes with Karblee and Gogowein, its western and eastern neighbors, respectively. Its dispute with Karblee Clan is over an area covering 2, 057 hectares of land, while the disputed land with  Gogowein spans 264 hectares.  

Under the Land Rights Act, communities must cut their boundaries with their neighbors. After that, the law requires the Liberia Land Authority (LLA) to conduct an official survey to grant their deeds.   

Alexander Cole, FCI’s land rights campaigner, told The DayLight the NGO was talking to the Liberia Land Authority to assist in resolving Marblee’s land disputes. Cole said they would train members of the clan’s governance body known as the community land development and management committee (CLDMC).

Bendu Darsure, a women representative of the community stated that “The coming of the project into our community has made some of us know our rights to properties, especially land.”

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