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Editorial: Land Disputes: A Potential Source of Conflict

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Civil Law Court Judge Peter Gbeneweleh, warned this week that a potential source of the next civil conflict in Liberia could derive from disputes over land ownership.

He disclosed that land matters have overwhelmed the court to the extent that they could trigger the next major conflict here if care is not taken, adding that among the hundreds of cases on the court’s docket, land disputes are prevalent. The judge made the revelation to a local daily in Monrovia following the formal opening of the September term of the Civil Law Court Monday.

The warning is serious and should claim the attention of all stakeholders, including the Land Commission, Lands, Mines and Energy Ministry and other national authorities in order to avoid unforeseen repercussions that could revert Liberia to anarchy and bloodshed.

About three years ago, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf appointed a committee headed by businessman Musa Bility and assisted by Senator Prince Johnson to probe land disputes in Nimba County. The committee conducted series of probes in the county and subsequently submitted findings to the President.

In Lofa, citizens have been at one another’s throats about land. In southeast Liberia, the story is the same. Judge Gbeneweleh has welcomed recent call by the President of the Liberia National Bar Association on the need to establish a court exclusively for land matters.

“We saw it in other jurisdictions. We went to Ghana, Nigeria, we visited their judicial compound and we saw property courts, so I think it is applicable in our jurisdiction, especially in Montserrado County”, he is quoted to have said.

The issue of land is tied to survival. In many parts of Africa, conflicts had erupted here and there because one group of people feel cheated and can find no means to obtain satisfactory redress, leading to the burning down of clans, chiefdoms or districts to reclaim a piece of mother earth.  In Liberia, the issue continues to pose challenge to post-conflict reconciliation and national unity. Now the court has begun to raise concern with early warning, which makes it even more compelling to act now than later.

Peace, it is often said, is not the absence of war, but the social cohesion of a group of people anywhere, working together for their common happiness and security. If Liberia is to continue on the trajectory of post-war development and growth, land issues must be treated with the utmost attention it deserves.

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