In a post-war agrarian society such as Liberia, land is critical for the survival and prosperity of the citizens and the country. The proper management of land can ensure peace and development for generations to come. Last week at City Hall the Land Commission presented their draft policy on Land Rights to community members from Monsterrado. Many pressing land issues were discussed, including the rights of communities to own their land.
In the spirit of public participation, the Liberian Land Commission is currently in the process of presenting the Land Rights Policy draft at regional consultations across the country. Unfortunately, the majority of the Liberian population remains unaware of these consultations and does not have the ability to participate in them. The fact that most people including those participating in Consultations have not read the policy draft, and do not have easy access to obtaining a copy beforehand, raises serious questions about what a final Land Policy will look like and what implications this may have for the country’s future.
In other countries land policies are presented to thousands of communities, copies of the policy are distributed en masse to nearly every town and district, national referendums are held, and discussion is facilitated through radio, newspaper, and widespread public forums. The absence of these efforts in Liberia, as the Land Policy is unfolded, indicates that the current process of consultation may indeed be insufficient.
The idea of bringing the policy for public comment is laudable. Given the shortcomings of the current process, the question arises: What can be done better?
Practically speaking, instead of rushing through these consultations it may be wise to put forward a Land Policy in its entirety, which should include how community land will be governed and what will happen to existing concessions – which now cover approximately 50% of the country’s total land area. Currently, the Land Policy is being put out in parts and these aspects of the Policy are not available.
Furthermore, explaining the details around urban land rights in the face of urban land conflict will provide much-needed clarity. Expanding on women’s and strangers land rights, especially in the customary land tenure system, is also important. Addressing these important issues, which are not currently addressed in the existing Land Rights Policy draft, would allow for a full and clear understanding of a national policy on land. If these aspects of the land policy are addressed and made widely and easily accessible, then a more inclusive and participatory process of consultations can take place.
Utilizing national and local radio, an inexpensive and far-reaching medium, and Palava Hut discussions, are some good ways to make to every Liberian – whether based in Monrovia or in rural areas – take ownership of the Land Policy.
When it comes to such a cross-cutting and important issue such as land, Liberia must consult all of her people – students, market women, business people, farmers, traditional elders, and urban and rural vulnerable communities. Without taking the steps mentioned above, we run the risk of getting this land business wrong. In the context of last week’s housing demolitions in Monrovia, and last month’s PUP scandal, it is clear we need greater participation by the Liberian population in the formation of a People’s Land Policy.