Chaos erupts at MOU signing ceremony in Konobo Community Forest
By: Liberia Forest Media Watch
Violence has reportedly erupted at a signing ceremony of a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) in the Konobo Community Forest leaving two people injured, Paul Kanneh reports. The chaotic situation occurred Saturday, June 5, 2021 in Ziah town, Grand Gedeh County. Aggrieved residents from six towns, who previously threatened to resist any attempt to hire company without their full participation, led to the scuffle. The towns include: Juwoh, Barliken, Barwu, Gbarwu, Youlo Village, Duwhein and Nayou village.
Despite the violence that characterized the signing ceremony, Liberian Forest Media Watch (LFMW) learned that the signing ceremony still took place under the watchful eyes of the District Superintendent, Roland Kai.
The violence comes amid series of threats from some community members since 2020. But it appears forest authorities overlooked the threats until Saturday, June 5, 2021 when the aggrieved community members finally took to the streets in Ziah town to resist the signing of the MOU with a company called New Horizon.
“Oh my God, there is a problem. FDA is playing games with us after receiving a resolution regarding our towns withdrawal. Our elders placed country devil on the withdrawing towns forest because of this same behavior trying to force us contrary to the Community right law. We had meeting with the Deputy Managing Director for Operations alongside our Paramount Chief who told them not to send any company to Konobo until the problems are resolve but, they when ahead under cover to allow New Horizon to go to Konobo. Of course it will make no different because, not even the US ARMY will enter our forest. We are prepared to do whatever it cost to defend our forest’”, Security General of the withdrawing town, Mr. Domingo Bowah is quoted as saying.
Mr. Bowah told LFMW that due to the tension, the venue of the meeting was changed from the Town Hall to the Superintendent office. He said the Superintendent informed them that he was instructed by nine stakeholders of Grand Gedeh to allow the signing ceremony to proceed as planned.
All attempts to contact Superintendent Roland Kai failed as his phone rang endlessly. In another effort, a text message was sent to him: “Good afternoon Hon. Superintendent. My name is Paul Kanneh. I write for Liberia Forest Media Watch. I am sending you this text after several failed attempts to get you on call. Sir, can you please speak to allegation of your denial of some members of your community from participating in the signing ceremony of MOU for the Konobo Community Forest? Did you also tell the aggrieved party that 9 out of 13 stakeholders of Grand Gedeh instructed you to proceed with signing of the MOU amid protest from one party?”
It is not clear which law Superintendent Kai used as his reliance to take order from county officials residing outside of the Forest community, but the Community Rights Laws (CRL) of 2009 gives communities the right to control, protect, manage and develop their forest resources. Under such arrangement, communities have rights to at least 55% of all revenues/income generated for harvesting timbers on their community forest land.
Following the incidence, the Secretary General of the withdrawing towns, Mr. Bowah proudly congratulated his fellow residents for standing up for what he termed as their rights. “HISTORY WILL REWARD MEMBERS OF THE WITHDRAWING TOWNS. We are on the right side of history therefore, we are not afraid of the activities of the evil one who in their sick judgment think they can threaten and terrorize us to back down and surrender our resources cheaply to their disposal”.
Several eyewitnesses told LFMW that the scuffle occurred when news reached the withdrawing towns that representatives of FDA had come to Ziah town with one Jamie Faryiah, a Lebanese National for the purpose of signing a forest management agreement. Upon receiving the news, eyewitness revealed that residents of the aggrieved towns immediately made their way to Ziah town to ensure that the names of withdrawing towns are removed from their MOU.
It was during this struggle to access the venue of the signing ceremony that both parties got into face fight and stone throwing which led to the injury of 2 persons.
In May 2020, the Forestry Development Authority (FDA) postponed another attempt to sign Forest Management Contract in the same Konobo Forest Community amid boycott threat. https://frontpageafricaonline.com/news/liberia-fda-postpones-community-forest-management-signing-agreement-amid-boycott-threat/.
The story of Konobo is synonyms to several forest communities. In 2019, residents of Tartweh Drapoh community in Sinoe County took arms against one another, burnt and destroyed properties over signing of forest management contract. The incident was reported by Liberia Forest Media Watch. https://frontpageafricaonline.com/county-news/who-instigated-forest-conflict-in-sinoe/.