New land policy creates opportunity to grant title to those who live on customary lands
Liberia is the only country in sub-Saharan Africa that has never been a European colony. Conflict over land and resources in Liberia is rooted in the emigration of former slaves from North America, known as ‘settlers’, who formed an independent country in 1847. Their descendants failed to recognize the customary rights of Indigenous Peoples in law and allocated immense contracts for natural resource exploitation on their ancestral land. Today, Liberia ranks 177 out of 188 countries on the United Nations’ Human Development Report index. In addition to poverty, Liberians are still recovering from 14-year civil war (1989-2003) that was fueled by conflict over land. A crucial element of the Accra Peace Agreement was ensuring a more just and equitable process of land reform.
In 2016, the Sustainable Development Institute (SDI) led a multi-stakeholder Tenure Facility initiative to develop and test a national protocol for community self-identification in partnership with Liberia’s Land Commission, the Foundation for Community Initiatives (FCI), Development Education Network (DEN-L) and Parley Liberia. The guideline will support the land reform envisioned by Liberia’s new Land Rights Policy by clarifying the first step in a process to gain collective title to their customary land when Liberia passes the draft Land Rights Bill.
Who are the Indigenous Peoples of Liberia?
95% of Liberians are indigenous. They include three main language groups: Mande, Kru and Mel. An estimated 2.5 to 5% of Liberians are Americo-Liberians, descendants of free black immigrants from North America. In addition, there are other west Africans, including Ghanians, Guineans, and Lebanese traders.