(By Samuka V. Konneh (Freelance – 0777464028 / 0886422711 / firstname.lastname@example.org)
Makulah Kromah lives in the old LPRC fence, one of the five communities the Liberian government has threatened demolition because of alleged illegal occupation. Makulah was born in Zuolay, Nimba County but also lost her entire family in the same town during Liberia’s civil war. She is married to a polygamist, Siaka Kromah. She has 5 children and a mate that has another 5 – none of whom are in school. Together with their husband and other relatives, they are 14 living in a cramp-two room apartment they built with earth dirt.
12 years ever since their return from refugee camps in Guinea, they are yet to reacquire their properties in Logan Town and in Zuolay, Nimba County. Where they live now is all that they’ve got in life – at least for now. As illegal as their occupation in this community may be described, they actually bought the house spot from the commissioner’s office in the township of Gardnersville and built the apartment with all their life-savings. The commissioner is the highest local government authority in the area; and appointed by the president.
“We were put out (of the house we lived) by our relatives. And this happened when 2 of my children were sick. I had to sell my clothes and failed to send my children to school for 4 years in roll just to build this house; and now government is threatening to evict us. Where do we have to go? We have nowhere to go,” she told me. “My husband is not working; and my mate sells monie-calama to feed the family.” Monie-calama is a local delicacy made from pounded rice and sugar and sold for as little as five Liberian dollars.
Makulah’s story is one that reverberates everywhere in the 5 communities: Old LPRC fence, Glass Factory, Chicken Soup Factory, Day Break Mouth Open and Oxygen Factory. From one house to another, women narrate stories that would not let tears remain in the heads. One woman has told me a story of how she was put out of her late husband’s house by his relatives; and during this course, her 11years old son died from chronic malaria after spending several nights in the open, often cold. She sobbed but reassured herself because this is the only place she’s got to go – nowhere else.
Sandra Uriger Cooper is the head of Clark community inside this fence. A 47yrs old single mother with 4 children, Sandra says if there were other places to go, she would never had bothered to spend her last penny on a makeshift house. From 2011, she has been hustling to build a better structure. Almost completing her new building, government has threatened demolition.
She confirmed rumors that around 60% of the houses built in these communities were built and owned by women, out of which more than half are single-mothers. For Sandra, the threat of demolition is not only about making women homeless; it is about creating a situation where their children cannot go to school to live a better life. “When will we find place to put our heads before we start thinking of sending our children to school? This is the hard truth. We are hopeless. We are desperate. But this hopelessness and desperation has made us brave. We are brave not because we are troublemakers or lawbreakers. We are brave because we are hopeless; and this hopelessness has made us desperate to want to live. Our children going to school is a human right and we have a right to life; and not just live, but to live a better life. All we are doing in these communities is to find place to live and raise our children. We will stand by each other to ensure our children’s future is not obstructed,” Sandra emphasized, struggling to hold up her tears.
In 2012, the Liberian government through its investment commission went to court to reacquire the properties and evict the people. On several occasions, government lawyers failed to appear in open court. Without any final verdict from the proceedings in the Gardnersville Magisterial Court, the ministry of public works and the national investment commission on the 31st of May, 2015 marked all of the buildings ahead of a July 5 planned demolition. For whatever reason, on the 4th of July, Liberia’s justice minister, Cllr. Benedict Sannoh, said the government does not intend to evict people or demolish the communities; but this came after a series of public condemnations in the media, a serious worded press statement from the opposition Congress for Democratic Change (CDC), and presentation of petition to the legislature on the 1st of June, 2015 by affected communities.