By Samuka V. Konneh (Freelance)
By the break of dawn on Monday, July 18, 2015, residents of Gardnersville woke up to see caterpillar machines demolishing their homes, leaving scores homeless as a result of deliberate decision by the Liberian government to reclaim its lands. The government contends the lands were illegally occupied by its citizens, who counter claim the action and inaction by their government to improve their living standards compelled them to build on these lands.
Whatever the justification, if the demolition continues, more than an estimated twenty thousand (20,000) people will be made homeless, thereby adding to the level of prevailing social problems the government of President Sirleaf has to contend with, even after a decade of leadership as Africa’s first female-president.
Almost appearing like not knowing what to do, citizens keenly followed demolition machines backed by officers of the elite Support Unit (PSU) of the Liberia National Police, nonchalant army officers serving the United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) and officials of the ministry of Public Works.
But as the exercise exacerbated threatening several other homes, citizens now became aware that the next family to be made homeless could just be them. So, agitation began and the number of angry, yet hopeless citizens increased by the minute. ‘Together, we stand, divided we fall,’ so citizens accepted to join hands to prevent further demolition.
One family head told me his demolished house is all his life-savings. “Now, I don’t know what to do. They’ve broken down everything I have ever suffered for,” Mamadee Kromah from Ganta in Nimba County, told. According to him, ever since the Liberia government assured him of reclaiming his lands from illegal occupants in his home town of Ganta, he is yet to get word. “I can’t get my land from those people in Ganta because of government’s failures; and now what I have laboured for years has just vanished,” he narrated.
His is a story narrated by many people I spoke with.
74-years old Jenneh hails from Lofa, one of the counties hard-hit by years of Liberia’s civil war and the deadly Ebola virus disease.
Jenneh has been farming and selling potato grains, cassava leaf and water grains for over a year now to build her house. Her house is next if government should return with its demolition-machines. Weeping profusely out of desperation, Jenneh tells me her house is her last hope.
She explains that ever since her landlord knew she was building a house, he has since increased the rental and even issued her notice for eviction. She must evict her current residence by end of February or face court action. Her daughter pay US$900 for per annum on her behalf.
Land remains one aspect of Liberia’s peace consolidation that is yet unachieved by the Sirleaf-administration. In Nimba County, for example, several presidential committees were set up to settle incessant land disputes, with the last, headed by Musa Bility recommending US$ 1m as settlement-payment to illegal occupants. A huge portion of the amount has been paid out but yet the situation remains an integral part of lingering conflict in the county its among tribes.
In recent times, the Liberia government and UNMIL, plus other stakeholders converged in Grand Cape Mounty to discuss continued drawdown of UNMIL activities and eventual taking over of Liberia’s security by its own forces. UNMIL continues to increase the number of counties it is drawing down from but hardly is there any public record of these discussions involving resolving land disputes across the county.
The ongoing demolition may present again another serious challenge in consolidating the country’s peace as already-unready security agencies compete for relevance rather than service.
Apparently aware of the consequence of ongoing (then planned) demolition, UNMIL security officers have been patrolling in these areas for several months now. Conveyed by vehicles bearing licence plates numbers d UNMIL-1858, UNMIL-13393 and other vehicles, soldiers from Pakistan, Ethiopia, Serbia, Nigeria and Ghana forming part of UNMIL’s Field Support Team have visiting marked communities to probably ascertain security threat. Yesterday, UN Children Fund (UNCEF) was also seen in the affected communities.