Liberia was founded in 1822 by freed black slaves from Northern America, mostly the USA, who initially recognized the land rights of native people and purchased land. Nevertheless, conflicts over land ownership and land use rights have plagued the country, driven in recent decades by land grabbing for logging, agriculture and mining. In 2017, Liberia ranks 177 out of 188 countries on the United Nations’ Human Development Report index. In addition to poverty, Liberians are still recovering from two brutal civil wars, that were in part fueled by conflict over land and land reform.
The Accra Peace Accord, which ended the second civil war in 2003, called for a more just and equitable process of land reform. President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf launched a new land policy in 2013 to give ownership rights to the majority who live on customary lands. The intent of the Land Rights Policy is translated into a Land Rights Act, which the Senate approved the Land Rights Act in April 2016. The Act has not yet been ratified by the House of Representatives. When ratified, communities must identify themselves through a participatory process as a first step to gaining collective title to their customary lands communities. The process must all community members, including women, youth and minorities. This is a complex undertaking in many parts of Liberia, as land records are poor, and after two decades of civil unrest and conflict many people resettled outside of their natal areas and many records were lost.
To facilitate the process, Liberia’s Land Commission had developed a draft guide to the procedures and processes for identifying customary communities and their lands, called ‘Field Guide for Developing a Framework for Implementing Customary/Community Land Rights Recognition Nationwide’. The first step in the Field Guide is a guideline that will enable local communities to take the first step in a process to gain collective title to their customary land when Liberia passes the draft Land Rights Act.
The Tenure Facility pilot project, completed in 2017, organized a coalition of nongovernmental and governmental organizations, with private sector engagement, that tested and refined the guideline for community self-identification in a variety of settings, built capacity for implementation and prepared for national adoption and upscaling. It capitalized on the current momentum to advance recognition of community collective rights and strengthened the civil society-government partnership, which is crucial to upscaling the protocol guideline nationally to significantly advance the land and forest tenure rights of local communities in Liberia.
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