Madina Town, a town with sizable population and Sime Darby Plantation (Liberia) Incorporated, land dispute continue unabated in Garwula District, Grand Cape Mount County. As such, the need to handle the confusion with care by both local and national authorities, who are initiating peace talks to ease tension cannot be overemphasized because there is potential threat for violence.
Because many of the agreement(s) reached and signed between government and investor(s) seems not to meet the consent of affected communities/residents and as such, remedies are needed now than ever before.
For sometimes now, protests have marred Golden Veroleum Oil Palm Company located in Sinoe and Grand Kru Counties; Arcelor Mittal Steel in Nimba County; Equatorial Guinea Oil Palm Corporation in Grand Bassa County; China Union in lower Bong County; Bea Mountain Mining Company in Grand Cape Mount County; as well as Sime Darby Plantation (Liberia) Incorporated both in Grand Cape Mount and Bomi Counties respectively between landowner (residents/citizenry) and user (companies/investors).
To the extent government had to intervene with state security but that seems not enough. On grounds that investors do not want to be the loser of their investment but to maximize profit; while on the other hand, the space (land) provider (residents) don’t want to be empty handed but to benefit from employment opportunities.
At the moment, there is a serious land confusion between Madina Town and Sime Darby. There, residents of Madina Town are demanding compensation from the Plantation for continuously using their lands without their consent and approval since the Plantation began operational almost 10 years now.
Madina, Kon-Town, Bakar, Kenema, Denewea, Nimba Point and other towns fall within the Madina Township in Garwula District, Grand Cape Mount County. Madina Town is the last before rolling off the main Ibrahim Banamasi Babaginda Highway into the county’s provincial capital, Robertsport in western Liberia.
The residents accused Sime Darby of exclusion of Project Affected Communities (PAC) and in defiance continue to use their land for investment purpose and not wanting to compensate them to improve their livelihood.
Because of the gravity of the matter, local officials have initiated peace conferences to settle the disputes, as one of which was held Saturday, 20 October 2018, in Kon-Town, Madina Township in Garwula District.
Attendees representing Sime Darby Plantation were Zulu Seh, Industrial Relations Manager; Dao Metzger, Human Resource Manager and Samwar Fallah, Public Relations Manager. While Alfred Quayjandii, Lead Negotiator/Spokesman; Alieu Gbany Kiandole, Land Committee Chairman; Chief Folley Sherman, Town Chief of Madina Town; Boima Freeman, Chairman for Concern Citizens Madina for Land Dispute, represented Madina Town, as well as Chief James S. Mator, Sr. represented Nimba Point among others.
Madina Township’s Commissioner, Stephen Perry, with residence in Kon-Town was the Convener. Sime Darby Plantation though did not deny or interposed any objection to Madina Town’s allegation of land encroachment, but wants perceived “presume confusion” between Madina Town and Nimba Point be sorted out before progress can be made because the Plantation database recognizes Nimba Point as project affected community and not Madina Town.
But in reaction, Madina Town argued that there has been no quarrel with Nimba Point formerly a Compound, which was given birth by Madina in 1940s. “We are the stranger father of Nimba Point. We gave them squatter rights. Therefore, you cannot recognized the stranger and leave out the host. Nimba Point is within Madina Town which is the Headquarters of the Township,” Alfred Quayjandii, Lead Negotiator/Spokesman of Madina Town argued.
Nimba Point’s concerns were raised by Sime Darby Plantation’s Human Resource Manager, Dao Metzger and buttressed by Zulu Seh and Samwar Fallah both Industrial Relations and Public Relations Managers respectively. They wanted to know whether or not Nimba Point and Madina Town have had in-house discussion to resolve their differences before coming to the meditation?
That question was not answered but remained in the air. Nimba Point’s Representative, Chief James Mator, Sr. did not follow the argument, and could also not deny nor confirm issues of squatter rights as offspring of Madina Town in the 1940s.”I can’t be definite with any statement here until I go and consult with the elders in the town (Nimba Point), than when we returned, I shall state our position,” the Chief Mator stated.
The mediation effort came after Madina Town’s residents went on the rampage in September paralyzing normal operations at the Planation before the intervention of government. The mass action dubbed: “Concern Citizen of Madina Land Disputes,” was led by its Chairman, Boima Freeman, who vows to repeat same if the Plantation does not consider Madina Town as one of the project affected communities.
Because of the demonstration, local authorities of Grand Cape Mount County, including Assistant Development Superintendent Boima Kamara; District Commissioner Clarence Kamara and Madina Township Commissioner, Stephen Perry and others decided to mediate between Madina Town and Sime Darby with series of dialogues held but no agreement reached.
Interestingly, former President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf allegedly admitted to some mistakes made in the 63-year concession agreement signed between the Liberian Government and Sime Darby in April 2009.
An ex-official with knowledge to these agreements, told this writer that an inter-ministerial committee headed by Internal Affairs Ministry during Harrison Kanwea’s tenure, co-chaired by Liberia Land Authority (LLA) under C. Othello Brandy as Lead Negotiator between government, companies and citizenry was set-up.
Being that the Committee wanted direct negotiation with residents and was agreed upon, brought Sime Darby Plantation and those communities face to face in May 2012. There and then, Sime Darby Plantation argued that Madina Town be removed from the roster because it did not constitute the project affected communities.
From thereon, Sime Darby began dealing with 17 project affected communities instead of 18 because Madina is out but continue with the encroachment on the people land by planting over 800 hectares. “Because of that we did a formal complaint and addressed same to Senators Edward Dogoseh (current) and Abel Massalley (former), Liberia Land Authority (LLA) and Internal Affairs Ministry in July, 2012,” the official recalled.
In September 2013, the Liberia Land Authority held hearing into Madina Town’s complaint but did not conclude when the Ebola epidemic broke out and since then nothing has been heard. In those talks, Madina Town informed the government that its land has been occupy by Sime Darby Plantation from West of Matimo River to the East of the Ibrahim Banamasi Babaginda Highway towards Lofa River as Madina Town had customary and traditional boundaries with several towns.
A customary land is owned by a community (ies) and used or managed in accordance with customary practices and norms, which may include but is not limited to: wetlands, communal forestlands, and fallow lands.
Meanwhile, Madina Township Commissioner and Convener, Stephen Perry assured the parties (Sime Darby and Madina Town) of inviting the National Bureau of Concession, Liberia Land Authority, Agriculture and Internal Affairs Ministries to the next round of talks to help with the process for its peaceful resolution before it get out of hand.
Sime Darby Plantation signed a 63-year concession agreement with the Government of Liberia to develop 220,000 hacters of land in Grand Cape Mount, Bomi, Gbarpolu and Bong into oil palm and rubber plantations.
To date, the Plantation said, 10,508 ha have been planted in 5 estates, namely Matambo, Grand Cape Mount, Zodua, Bomi and Lofa estates. “Out of the total planted area of 10,508 Ha, 10,401 Ha is planted with oil palm and 107 Ha is planted with rubber.
By Throble Kaffa Suah, Freelance Journalist