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Posts Tagged ‘Liberia’

Former Liberian President Dictator Samuel Doe was deposed and butchered, while Former President Charles Taylor was lucky to get 50 years in jail by ICC judges!

Posted by African Press International on November 24, 2013

Leaders should learn from events like this. Former Libyan President Muammar Gadhafi was deposed and was lucky that he was killed immediately by the bullet into his head. He was not taken through 14 minutes and 47 seconds of torture like former president of Liberia Samuel Doe.
Doe himself had overthrown his own relative former leader Tolbert.

Warning – Item Samuel Doe torture might contain content that is not suitable for all ages. IF NOT OVER 18 years old, DO NOT WATCH!

Power should not get into any leader’s head.

Although no one should ever support torture, those in power should not beg for mercy like you see Samuel Doe doing on this video because he tortured and killed many innocent Liberian people.

God saved the immediate former president Charles Taylor. Lucky to escape the butcher’s knife in the bushes of Liberia‘s countryside village, now in British jail, having TV and newspapers to read while serving his 50 years sentence.



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Liberia has indeed made progress, particularly in attracting international investment

Posted by African Press International on August 20, 2013

A busy market in central Monrovia

MONROVIA,  – Liberia is getting back to its feet after a protracted civil war that killed over 200,000 people, displaced over a million, and largely destroyed the country’s infrastructure and institutions. After a decade of peace, the European Commission’s Humanitarian Aid Office (ECHO) is pulling out of the country, saying its needs are shifting from humanitarian to developmental.

Liberia has indeed made progress, particularly in attracting international investment that has led to steady growth in GDP, and most importantly in maintaining peace. But poverty and unemployment remain rife, corruption is pervasive, and little headway has been made towards post-war justice or reconciliation. In short, significant challenges remain.

To mark World Humanitarian Day, IRIN spoke to a few key individuals who worked on ECHO-funded projects – most of them health-related – during and after the war, to learn how far Liberia has come.

Moses Massaquoi, doctor

Moses Massaquoi, doctor:

Moses Massaquoi started working with Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) after being displaced by a rebel attack in July 1990. He went on to work with the NGO in numerous postings across Africa before returning to Liberia with the Clinton Health Access Initiative (CHAI).

“The main challenge in the post-war [era] is a challenge of building the system, from the point of view of having the necessary human resources,” he told IRIN. “So I would say the big challenge is capacity. How do you build the capacity, with all systems broken down – health, education and everything?”

Massaquoi has committed himself to rebuilding a health system left in tatters by the conflict. In particular, he would like to see Liberia producing its own medical specialists.

He says he wants the country “first and foremost, in my own medical profession, to bring back a system of specialization. We didn’t have control of producing our own specialists. The government had to send people out [abroad], and when they go out, they don’t come back,” he explained.

A sign of progress in this area, he says, is a post-graduate training program currently being established by the government, which will see its first students starting in September 2013.

Barbara Brillant, nurse

Barbara Brillant, nurse:

Another former MSF employee currently engaged in medical training is Barbara Brillant, who runs a nursing school in the Liberian capital, Monrovia.

Brillant first arrived in Sierra Leone as a missionary in 1977. “I arrived here [in Africa] as a young lady… with a lot of enthusiasm, and I was going to cure the world and teach everybody. And I ended up here 38 years later, having learned a lot,” she told IRIN.

“It [the conflict] was very, very sad. For me personally, it was scary, no doubt about it. But as a missionary and having lived with the people of Liberia, the sorrow was more seeing the Liberian people in the condition they were in,” said Brillant.

She says she saw both resilience and pride, but also “evil at its worst” during the conflict.

Sister Barbara, as she is known to the 450 students in the nursing school, is concerned that behind Liberia’s current peace there is no true reconciliation. She sees little improvement in the quality of life of most Liberians.

“It’s a pity, because… the hurt is still there, the anger is still there. You can only pray and hope that time will heal a lot of the wounds. They will never ever forget it, that’s for sure… They’re having a very hard time.”
Despite peace, “it’s a difficult place to live in,” she said, with cost of living having risen steadily over the years. “To rent a house now is insane,” she added.

Nyan Zikeh, programme manager

Nyan Zikeh, programme manager:

Like Massaquoi, Nyan Zikeh began working for MSF while himself a refugee. He returned to Liberia in 1998 and has since worked with the NGOs Save the Children and Oxfam, where he is currently a programme manager. He says he now feels the dividends of Liberia’s lasting peace. “What I’m grateful for is that we have peace, and the chance to raise a stable family now exists,” he explained.

His plans for the future are to leave his job and become an agricultural entrepreneur, which he says will create opportunities for others to work, earn a living and learn. “I will still be working in development, but not in charity,” said Zikeh, who is concerned about the dependence being created by Liberia’s current aid culture.

“It is also to let the authorities know that we can make examples, that we don’t have to sell all of our land to very large companies,” he said. Recent large-scale land acquisitions by foreign businesses have been criticized for exploiting local communities and engaging in corruption in the awarding of concessions.

A recent audit revealed that only two of 68 land concessions awarded since 2009 fully complied with Liberian law.

Nathaniel Bartee, doctor

Nathaniel Bartee, doctor:

When the war broke out in 1989, Nathaniel Bartee was a doctor who had just returned from earning a master’s degree in the UK. He started the organization Merci to deal with the humanitarian situation in Monrovia; it quickly expanded into the provinces.

During the conflict, Bartee was at times separated from his family. “I didn’t want to leave Liberia because of the amount of suffering, and the [numbers] of health personnel were not many. So I stayed to guide a younger generation of doctors.” By the end of the conflict, he was one of just 50 doctors left in the country.

Bartee says there has been clear improvement in the provision of health services since those days. “Today I think health is much better. Most of the health workers have returned, and there are more graduates being produced,” he explained.

But he is concerned that the Liberian government is not sufficiently prioritizing healthcare. For this reason, he intends to become a senator to push for increases in the health budget in parliament.

Ma Annie Mushan, women’s peace activist

Ma Annie Mushan, women’s peace activist:

In late 1989, Ma Annie Mushan was, in her own words, “not a woman to speak of”.
“I was just a housewife” she told IRIN. During the war, Mushan was displaced from her village and ended up living in the town of Totota, where she was approached by the women’s peace movement that had sprung up in Monrovia.

Mushan eventually became the leader of the Totota branch of the women’s peace movement, which ultimately played a significant role in putting an end to the conflict.

Like many Liberians, she is frustrated by the slow pace of post-war development. “Even though there is progress, people in Liberia are looking for jobs up and down… There are so many people that are not working in Liberia – not a day. That has been one of the major problems we’re faced with.”

She now works on the Peace Hut project, which emerged from the women’s movement, and seeks to address the problem of gender-based violence, which she sees as one of Liberia’s biggest challenges. Mushan feels the existing court system in Liberia is unable to effectively deal with cases concerning women’s issues.

“My focus will stay on the women, to build their capacity up. I still want to be working for the Peace House [Hut], because it is the Peace House [Hut] that got me where I am today,” she concluded.

tt/aj/rz  source


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Boost for fistula treatment

Posted by African Press International on July 11, 2013

Doctor Mulbah leading a girl to surgery

MONROVIA,  – The fight against fistula is gaining ground in Liberia, where doctors and nurses at 48 health clinics have been trained to treat the condition.

Since the launch of the Liberia Fistula Program (LFP) in 2007, a government scheme supported by international network Zonta International and UNFPA, doctors have treated 1,026 fistula cases. All treatment is now free.

While only six doctors in the country are able to perform the surgery, 65 professional nurses have been trained to train colleagues in fistula management in rural health clinics. Some 300 trainees are currently enrolled.

Obstetric fistula is a medical condition that occurs when a foetus gets stuck in the birth canal during childbirth, thus causing a hole between the rectum and vagina.

Most at risk are teenagers whose bodies are not fully developed to give birth, according to LFP. Most patients treated thus far have been impoverished girls and women aged 11-20. Some 75 percent of Liberian females give birth without the supervision of a trained health worker, which leads to high levels of mortality and morbidity, including obstructed fistula, according to UNFPA.

The high level of fistula has also been linked to high rates of female circumcision, which can lead to birth complications and obstructed labour, and the high incidence of rape of teenage girls, according to the Gender Ministry, which cited 2,493 cases of reported rape of minors in 2012.

Part of LFP’s work has been to raise awareness of the presence of fistula treatment; encourage women to come forward; and prevent fistula from occurring by encouraging Liberians to practice family planning and seek assistance from a trained health worker when giving birth.

Public health messages have gone out in 25 local dialects. They try to break down common myths, including that fistula is caused by witchcraft and cannot be treated medically, said John Mulbah, lead surgeon with the LFP. Such beliefs have prevented many women from seeking treatment to date. Rejected by their families, “several have attempted suicide,” said Mulbah. “They think the situation is due to a curse from their ancestors.”

Steady increase in patients

According to the most recent situational analysis on fistula (2006), 57 percent of long-term sufferers are abandoned by their husbands or partners.

However, many women continue to be rejected by their communities, even once they have been treated: Doctors and government officials have recognized the need for an LFP rehabilitation and reintegration component.

With more people flocking to health clinics to treat fistula, LFP is struggling to keep up with demand. Staff need more vehicles to help bring patients to far-away clinics, and to monitor patients who have returned to their homes, said Mulbah.

But he welcomes the steady increase in patients. “We as doctors are proud that these women can start to see themselves as being important in Liberian society. Their hopes are being restored… the fight will continue to save more women.”

Hawa Soko, 15, a resident of Monrovia, recently received treatment, and has been trained to become a tailor. “I feel very happy with my new situation. I used to smell and people used to call me all names because of my condition. I used to cry every night and wonder why my life was like that… Today, my life is transformed. I am a new woman. I am very happy.”

Tenneh Jones, 19, also recently treated, told IRIN she dropped out of school because of her condition. Now she is back. “Today I have a new lover and things are fine with us,” she told IRIN.

UNFPA launched a campaign in 2003 to end fistula in 45 countries, focusing on treatment and prevention. It says two million women and girls in sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia and the Arab region live with fistula.

pc/aj/cb source

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Justice and peace 10 years on in Liberia

Posted by African Press International on July 5, 2013

Liberian economy still limping along

MONROVIA,  – In December 1989 Charles Taylor crossed into Liberia from Côte d’Ivoire with a small group of fighters, sparking two brutal civil wars which would leave over 200,000 dead and over one million displaced. This August marks a decade since the end of that conflict.

The country is now at peace and has made some progress in infrastructure development – some neighbourhoods in the capital have access to electricity and 70 percent of Liberians have access to clean-ish water – but the reconciliation process has made little headway.

Liberia’s peace appears to stem instead from a deep-seated weariness of violence and the presence of a large UN peacekeeping force.

Have violence perpetrators been punished?

Four years ago, Liberia’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) released a series of recommendations on measures for national reconciliation, justice and wide-ranging institutional reform to address the causes and consequences of the conflict. Yet until now little has been done to implement them, partly because some of those recommended for prosecution or disbarment from public office, including Nobel Laureate President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, remain in positions of power and influence.

One of those recommended for prosecution, Prince Johnson, the senator for Nimba Country who finished in third place in the last presidential poll, stands accused by the report of “killing, extortion, massacre, destruction of property, forced recruitment, assault, abduction, torture & forced labor [and] rape”. The TRC also requests that he account for “the remains of the late President [Doe], especially the skull of the head of the President which was occasionally displayed by Hon. Johnson as a `war trophy’.”

James Yarsiah is the chairman of the Transitional Justice Working Group, a civil society initiative monitoring Liberia’s peace process. “I don’t want tomorrow another group of Liberians to crawl from the mountains and the bushes… because the guys who did it before are honourables and dignitaries now,” he told IRIN. “What kind of a message does that send?”

Suggestions of prosecutions have been met by the argument that attempting to prosecute those involved in the war might end up re-igniting it. But Yarsiah points to the success of the Special Tribunal for Sierra Leone in prosecuting “those who bear the greatest responsibility” for crimes committed in that country’s own conflict, without provoking a return to violence. Liberia also has the safeguard of around 8,000 UN peacekeepers to quell any unrest.

“The United Nations cannot condone impunity,” said the UN deputy special representative to the Secretary-General, Aneas Chuma. “There must be a moment of reckoning and accountability.”

In January 2011 Liberia’s Supreme Court ruled that the disbarment of any Liberian from public office without due process is unconstitutional, effectively nullifying that recommendation. “I don’t see anything happening [towards accountability] for the foreseeable future,” said Yarsiah – “not under this administration”.

A new body tasked with implementing TRC recommendations, the Independent National Human Rights Commission (INHRC), stands accused of political bias and a lack of experience in the field of human rights.

The commission’s acting head, Commissioner Boakai Dukuly, told IRIN that even though “there is no way you can have reconciliation, in the final analysis, without justice, sometimes you need a cooling off period after a conflict… Our situation is unique – the people who participated in the atrocities, a lot of them are in the government, they are in high places,” he said.

What role are Palava Huts supposed to play?

Not all the TRC recommendations are as controversial as the imperative to prosecute the warlords and bar figures from public office. A large part of the report is dedicated to promoting reconciliation, notably through the use of traditional Palava Huts, aimed at promoting community-level dialogue, a “quasi-judicial forum for justice and reconciliation”.

But these too, have been slow to make ground, amid confusion over their exact role. “Everyone’s saying ‘Great, but what is it?’” said Yarsiah.

The INHRC is tasked with implementing the Palava Hut system. “As we understand it here, [it] is really mediation, reconciliation, dialogue… an idea, not an edifice,” said Commissioner Dukuly.

It remains unclear exactly what powers the Huts will have, and how they will operate. If they are endowed with judicial powers, as insinuated in the TRC report, there is speculation they may face opposition from those already opposed to the establishment of the proposed Special Tribunal. If they are merely a forum for confession and forgiveness, are the perpetrators any more likely to confess and repent than they were during the initial hearings of the TRC, which were deemed a charade by many observers? At this stage it is still unclear when the Palava Hut system will gain ground.

Have any reparations been paid?

A third element of the TRC report called for a reparations programme of US$500 million. Despite much debate on the relative merits of “individual” and “community” reparations, this too has yet to be initiated, according to the Human Rights Commission. “The reparations programme is yet to be started,” said Dukuly. “To have reparations, the government has to put money in it,” he added.

One aspect of the TRC recommendations has, however, seen some recent progress, with the dedication of a memorial to two communities in Bong County where 500 people had been massacred during the second civil war (1999-2003). It is, according to the UN, “Liberia’s first memorialization of this kind”.

How flawed is the justice system?

Prominent among the institutional shortcomings often blamed for Liberia’s civil wars are a deeply flawed justice system, the over-centralization of power and wealth among Monrovia’s Americo-Liberian elite, widespread corruption,tensions over land rights and high levels of poverty and unemployment.

These problems largely persist.

The justice system remains inefficient and inaccessible for many Liberians. Power and wealth are still concentrated in the capital, Monrovia. Corruption remains widespread, as underscored by a recent audit report by accountancy firm Moore Stephens, which showed that only two of 68 land concessions since 2009 had been awarded in compliance with Liberian law. Land issues also remain highly contentious, with land tenure laws in need of reform, land grabs on the rise, persistent tensions between returning Liberians and those who stayed; as well as mounting tensions in towns and cities as urbanization mounts.

What about poverty and unemployment?

Above all, poverty and unemployment remain pervasive. For many Liberians, life has got little easier over the past decade, and price rises in basic commodities such as rice and fuel since 2008 mean life has become harder for many. According to the 2013 UN Human Development Report, 84 percent of Liberians continue to live below the poverty line.

The foreign direct investment poured into the country has not yet managed to significantly improve living standards of many ordinary Liberians. Liberia remains 174th out of 186 countries on the Human Development Index.

Rosaline Duaneh makes soup in a sandy alleyway in the maze of shanty dwellings that form West Point slum, near central Monrovia. She has been making soup here ever since the war. On a good day she makes up to 200 Liberian dollars (under US$3), with which she must care for her seven children. Rosaline says she is only able to send two of her children to school. “Life is hard for me”, she told IRIN. “I’m only just managing. It is just the same as before, but now there are no gunshots.”

“I have been here all my life” says her neighbour, 29-year-old Archie Ponpon. “There have been no changes, only the silence of the guns.” Archie, like many in West Point, complains of a chronic lack of jobs, even for high school graduates. According to a March 2013 report by the International Labour Organization, just 4.1 percent of Liberian youths have “stable” employment.

Are we now at a turning point?

But there are signs that now, 10 years after the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, some momentum is starting to take hold.

The government in December released “Vision 2030”, a wide-ranging policy document relating to security, rule of law, reconciliation and economic development which aims to make Liberia a middle-income country by 2030. President Johnson Sirleaf has earned praise for attracting billions of dollars in foreign investment to the country – despite the controversies surrounding many recent land deals – and has also won acclaim for writing off the vast majority of her country’s debt.

Though electricity and the transport network remain extremely underdeveloped, efforts are being made to change that. A World Bank project hopes to provide electricity to a further 80,000 Liberians while the government is aiming to fix the derelict hydro power plant at Mount Coffee by 2015. Power cables now reach West Point slum, for instance, though most residents cannot afford the tariff (43 US cents per kilowatt hour). Though tarmac roads remain rare outside the main urban centres, road rehabilitation projects are also ongoing.

Late last year the government unveiled a draft for a $50 million decentralization project aiming to devolve a certain level of power to the counties and lessen the current imbalance between Monrovia and the rest of the country. It lacks funding and would require constitutional amendments before it could be implemented, but it is a start.

Justice too is being decentralized. The UN’s Chuma points in particular to the first of five regional “Justice and Security Hubs”, which was launched this February in Gbarnga, Bong County. The hubs aim to make justice more accessible to residents of the interior of the country. And while the wider justice system remains far from flawless, it is slowly increasing its capacity to serve the population.

The security forces have undergone considerable reform, and the UN has now trained over 4,000 new police recruits. The UN Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) is aiming to reduce its troop count from around 8,000 to just under 4,000 by 2015.

And while land remains a highly contentious issue, in May the country’s Land Commission submitted a wide-ranging land rights policy which hopes to address some of the recent frictions.

“You don’t just build a state based on the rule of law just like that,” said Isabelle Abric of the UN Peacekeeping Mission in Liberia. “What I can really say is about the fact that there have been 10 years of peace, no matter what, and that means the first generation of children that went to school without war, and that’s what the country is building upon now.”

Last week the government launched a “Reconciliation Roadmap” which aims to streamline and coordinate the peace process. The document largely avoids the question of punitive justice for perpetrators of the war, but it does demonstrate the administration’s renewed efforts to face up to the challenges of the transition, providing a framework for the drive for peace and reconciliation.

“As Liberians, let’s seize this opportunity to reclaim our future,” announced Johnson Sirleaf at the unveiling of the Roadmap. Ten years after the end of the conflict, Liberia is at a turning point. It must take this opportunity to build on its recent progress if it is to consolidate the rocky foundations of its current peace.

tt/aj/cb source

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Our Lives – looking up: Surveying household incomes in 10 countries

Posted by African Press International on July 2, 2013

Photo: IRIN
Surveying household incomes in 10 countries

NAIROBI,  –  Late last year, IRIN launched the series Our Lives, which interviewed 20 men and women in 10 countries about how they coped with the cost of living. Those testimonies have been updated, along with basic monthly income and expenditure data, providing a fascinating insight into people’s domestic affairs.

Eighteen of our respondents said their household incomes had improved or stayed the same since December 2012. For Kumari Magar, a maid in Nepal, a new job helped her household earnings nearly double, from $90 to $170.  “My new employers often give us clothes and leftover food, including vegetables each week. I hope they keep me for a long time,” she said.

John Tamba in Liberia also saw his wage packet swell with a promotion from an elementary school teacher to a district schools supervisor, although the monthly expenditure of his six-member household on food increased by 50 percent.

In KenyaMilicent Wanyama’s profits rose after she was able to add the sale of doughnuts to her breadcrumb business in the Ngomongo slums of Nairobi (some residents cannot afford an entire loaf), while Rashid Minhas in Pakistan was struggling as a taxi driver until a friend tipped him off to a better-paying factory job in Lahore.

Moloantoa Mokhomphatha in Lesotho, a builder, also feels his fortunes are beginning to change for the better. After enrolling in horticulture courses, he is now thinking about moving into the fruit business.

Increases in staple costs between December 2012 and April 2013

Using self-reported data, excluding ambiguous figures. Where both respondents from a country provided clear data, averages were used

And then there are the not-so-lucky. Among them is Samir Uddin, our street hawker in Mymensing, Bangladesh. His monthly earnings are down, his food bill is up, and he is struggling to repay a $400 loan he took out last year. “Either the government should control food prices or introduce a rationing system for the poor. Otherwise, we cannot survive,” he told IRIN.

Security guard Kenyi Chaplain Paul in South Sudan also saw his household income fall; his wife lost some of her pigs as a fine after they broke into a neighbour’s farm and ate the crops.

Food price increases have been the bane of virtually all the respondents interviewed. In Lesotho, maize flour was up by over 100 percent, and rice and vegetables by 40 percent in Nepal, they told IRIN. In a number of cases, people admitted to belt-tightening to get by.

Other changes in people’s lives over the last several months include a baby for restaurateur Mama Tembely Coulibaly in Mali, a new husband for Lorpu Kah in Liberia, and a touch of celebrity status for Liliana Lova Rahoaritsalamanirinarisoa, who was featured on Madagascar TV as a result of this series.

Stay tuned for the next IRIN instalment.

oa/rz source

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Settling in for the long haul: PTP camp in eastern Liberia, home to 12,000 Ivoirian refugees

Posted by African Press International on June 28, 2013

PTP camp in eastern Liberia, home to 12,000 Ivoirian refugees

ZWEDRU, 25 June 2013 (IRIN) – Though Côte d’Ivoire has officially been at peace for over two years, many of the nearly 60,000 refugees who remain in Liberia are settling in for the long haul, citing continuing instability, violence and fear of political persecution in their home country. Indeed, two years after the end of the conflict, camps like PTP, near Zwedru in eastern Liberia, are still growing.

At 3am on the 21 March 2011 rebel fighters affiliated with the current Ivoirian president, Alassane Ouattara, overran the town of Blolequin in western Côte d’Ivoire. Among the thousands who fled in the early hours of the morning, most with little more than the clothes they were wearing, was Gibao Jerome. His younger brother was killed during the escape as he and his family trekked for two weeks through the forest to become refugees in eastern Liberia. Two years on, they have no intention of returning home.

“This is my house, number B3-1,” said Gibao, gesturing to a small structure of mud, sticks and tarpaulin in the monotonous grid of PTP camp (formerly the Prime Timber Production company). Once a simple white tent provided by the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), Gibao’s house is slowly becoming a home. Piles of construction materials lie in a small extension at the front, as he talks of his plans to shore up the building.

The problem, Gibao told IRIN, is that western Côte d’Ivoire remains unsafefor supporters of ex-president Laurent Gbagbo – who awaits trial by the International Criminal Court in the Hague – or anyone from the Guéré ethnic group, among others. He and many other refugees cite post-conflict justice as having been one-sided, and he points out that instead of disarming the rebel forces, many of them (also responsible for atrocities in the west of the country) now effectively form the national army.

“When you go back, they will say “this man voted for Gbagbo’,” said Tahr, another refugee who fled the March 2011 attack on Blolequin. His neighbours chip in with stories of returnees who were imprisoned or killed by `the Burkinabés’, as the alliance of northern pro-Ouattara groups are generically known by the Guéré.

Underlying the animosity is the long-running conflict over land. Post-independence president Félix Houphouët-Boigny, during his three decades in power, promoted a policy of inclusion, encouraging migrant workers to Côte d’Ivoire’s rich cocoa plantations. After his death in 1993, successive regimes have used ethnicity as a political tool, stirring up ethnic rivalries and igniting underlying tensions.

“The Burkinabés have guns, and when they see you they get rid of you to take your land,” said Gibao, whose wife, Victoire, said her farm was taken away from her. Many feel that members of the northern and migrant groups used the conflict to drive away local landowners and take over their properties.

Burkinabés have lived in Côte d’Ivoire for many generations, yet are still treated by many Ivoirians as outsiders. Some 100,000 Burkinabés in Côte d’Ivoire were pushed off their land and fled the post-election violence in 2010-2011.

Looking forward

Repatriations are continuing, but slowly. All that they can hope for, say many of the remaining refugees, is that Ouattara loses the next general election in 2015. With this mindset, the refugee camps in eastern Liberia are slowly morphing into more permanent settlements.

Lisa Quarshie, a UNHCR protection officer, sees PTP camp becoming more entrenched.

“More and more people are daubing their houses with mud, and we’re hoping to be able to get more resources to even give zinc sheeting for the shelters.” UNHCR is also looking to increase efforts to create livelihoods in the camp, while basic services like schools have shifted from cramped tents to smartly painted concrete buildings. The refugees also have access to an on-site health clinic.

Bahi Martine spent two weeks trudging through the forest to get to Liberia. Her brother was shot in the leg as they escaped, and four of those they travelled with were killed. For two weeks – without access to clean water – she made her children drink urine to survive. Now she has invested in a small restaurant at the front of her shelter in PTP camp, serving rice and cassava-leaf sauce to refugees on elaborate bamboo tables and benches.

“I will never return to Côte d’Ivoire,” she said. Another woman has started to make a living selling doughnuts to the refugees; while in a separate camp, UNHCR has supported the creation of a snail farming business. Across eastern Liberia, refugees are putting down roots and investing in their new lives.

“You can’t keep people in limbo,” Quarshie told IRIN. “The least that we can do is to make sure that they have a dignified life here.”

From communities to camps

One of the reasons the camp is growing is due to a Liberian government policy of encouraging refugees living with local communities to move into the camps. Initially, this was to help centralize services given to refugees who were scattered across the remote villages of eastern Liberia.

At the UN office in Zwedru, Quarshie notes that the policy has its downside. “It’s always better to live in communities, in the sense that you integrate faster… If you’re in a community and you’re not getting food from WFP, you’re most likely going to find a piece of land and try and do some farming and feed yourself or your family. If you’re in a camp. you then might become very dependent on food handouts. I think it has its advantages and it has its disadvantages – personal and physical security is better monitored than when you’re in a community,” she said.

Wonsea Norbert is chairman of the Ivoirian refugees living in a mixed refugee and local population in Toe Town, near the border with Côte d’Ivoire. He said the refugees in the town are split on how to proceed. Living without any assistance has been tough, but Norbert says it is still better than moving to a camp.

“We like to work on our own. In the camp you are tied – you cannot work,” he said. Relationships with the local community are cordial. Some Toe Town residents, like Fasu Keita, were themselves hosted during Liberia’s own conflict by the same Ivoirian families now residing in the town – and there is plenty of work to do. But without farming tools and a little seed-rice, they find it impossible to support themselves: the UN has stopped providing support to refugees who opted to stay in local communities.

“They like to work on the farm for themselves,” said Norbert. “But we have had no support. We can’t support ourselves here.” Despite the fear of reprisals in Côte d’Ivoire, some refugees in the town are now going home, preferring insecurity to the restrictions of camp life.

Security concerns

“It was also the issue of security,” said UNHCR’s Quarshie. Amid continuing insecurity along Liberia’s porous border with Côte d’Ivoire, ex-combatants now living in Liberia are seen as a potentially destabilizing force if allowed to roam freely in the settlements near the border.

There are also concerns that the camps themselves, with their politically and ethnically homogenous populations of refugees, and the presence of ex-combatants, could become breeding grounds for anti-government movements. “As much as we are concerned, we do not expect that we have fighters in the camp. We may have ex-combatants. But as the name goes, they are ex-combatants. Yes, it could create problems if it’s not properly managed, but I feel that so far it’s been managed quite well,” said Quarshie.

None of the refugees spoken to by IRIN favoured the overthrow of Ouattara. Rather, with quiet resignation they look to settle into life in Liberia, and cross their fingers for the 2015 elections. “Until they are all gone,” said Gibao “I can never go back.”

tt/aj/cb  source

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Settling land disputes between returning refugees and their neighbours, is making significant headway

Posted by African Press International on May 22, 2013

MONROVIA, ) – The Liberia Land Commission, which was set up in 2009 to help settle land disputes between returning refugees and their neighbours, is making significant headway, say land experts, but non-conflict related land disputes are increasing, most of them as a result of weak land laws.

Tens of thousands of Liberians were displaced during the 1999-2003 civil war. Many returned to their villages to find their land had been sold on or taken over by neighbours. Disputes over land occurred all over the country, but were mainly concentrated in Nimba, Lofa and Bong counties, which had high levels of displacement.

Since 2009 many of the neighbour-neighbour disputes have been resolved without too much difficulty, given that the conflicting parties already had an established relationship, and thus a shared interest in negotiating. said Gregory Kitt, project manager with NGO Norwegian Refugee Council, which has helped resolve hundreds of land disputes over the past decade.

In recent years, such disputes have reduced slightly, said Kitt. “This is an indication of the progress Liberia has made to become more stable.”

Land reform was identified by the Truth and Reconciliation Report as one of the priorities for boosting long-term stability.

“We’ve made a lot of progress over the past three years. We’ve sorted out at least five dozen cases,” Cecil Brandy, chairman of the Land Commission, told IRIN. But dozens of cases continue to come in each month, he added – many of them related not to displacement but to weak land ownership laws that insufficiently respect people’s property rights and can lead to corrupt practices. “On a daily basis we are intervening in land fights across the country. Our files are filled with too many cases. Families are at loggerheads. It is hectic.”

Parallel laws

Land ownership in Liberia is based on Common Law which requires an owner to have a title deed. But a parallel system of traditional law, based on verbal agreement, is also prevalent, creating widesperead confusion over who owns what. Landowners as a result, often sell to multiple buyers, opening up room for conflict.

During the civil war, fraud was rife with many illegitimate land-related documents registered. “This criminal practice must stop. They make fraudulent transactions without the involvement of the real landowners. Because of this, now as Liberians return from Ghana, Sierra Leone and Guinea, they are facing major problems with their land,” said Brandy.

The Commission is trying to set up a better land registry system so citizens can more easily access land ownership documents, and at least know what their legal ownership status is. And it has submitted a criminal conveyance bill to the Liberian legislature to deal with suspected criminals involved in multiple land sales. Brandy hopes the bill will soon become law.

The Liberia Land Commission is an autonomous government body, with a staff of 25 civil servants, set up to shape land reform policy in Liberia.

Ciapha George, 45, is currently battling another family for ownership of his plot of land in the capital, Monrovia: unbeknown to him, the land had been sold to someone else before he bought it.

The case went to court and the judge recently ordered him to demolish his house and turn it over to the former owner. “The seller misled me. Right now I am the loser. All my efforts have been in vain,” he told IRIN. George’s family is currently living in an abandoned building in the capital.

But the governance bodies set up to protect these laws remain weak, said Kitt, and until they are strengthened, civil society groups will continue to have to step in to try to resolve disputes before they end up in court.

The Land Commission must be more proactive in tackling this problem of multiple ownership, said Monrovia resident Prince King. “I have seen lives and properties destroyed because of land disputes. Liberia is just from war and we need to put these things behind us.”

Some vulnerable families have never been given formal access to their land, said Brandy, who pointed out that one of the Commission’s priorities is to make ownership more equitable by re-examining how deeds are distributed.

Communities versus investors

According to environmental NGOs, including Friends of the Earth Liberia, the local authorities and landowners have sold more than 1.5 million acres (607,028 hectares) of land to palm oil companies in Liberia over recent years, seriously threatening some communities’ property rights.

“Over the past year and a half we’ve seen an increase in land conflicts between communities and investors trying to develop natural resources. It is clear that challenges are emerging,” said Kitt.

pc/aj/cb source

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Calls for the tackling of unrest

Posted by African Press International on April 26, 2013

ABIDJAN,  – After recent attacks in Côte d’Ivoire’s volatile western region in which more than a dozen people were killed, the authorities announced new security measures, but observers say more than a military response is required.

In the latest spate of armed raids in March, at least 14 civilians and soldiers were killed. The region saw some of the worst fighting during the country’s 2010-2011 post-election conflict. In 2012, at least 10 civilians and seven UN peacekeepers were killed. Weeks later gunmen raided and torched the last remaining internally displaced persons (IDP) camp hosting some 5,000 people.

At the start of 2012 there were 186,000 IDPs in Côte d’Ivoire, most of them in the country’s western region. An estimated 45,000 people remained displaced by the end of 2012.

Ethnic rivalries, and disputes over land that are worsened by political rivalry, have turned western Côte d’Ivoire into a tinderbox. Mistrust and enmity have often degenerated into violence. Greater efforts are needed to reconcile communities, restore confidence and address grievances, say observers.

“The government must fully appreciate this problem and bring a lasting solution,” Francis Niangoran, a lecturer at Abidjan’s Sainte-Marie Teaching Institute, told IRIN. “Aid groups are faced with recurrent population displacements, organizing their return, distributing relief aid – it’s a vicious circle.”

While on a visit to the west following the attacks, Interior and Security Minister Hamed Bakayoko announced an emergency security plan to bolster troop numbers, set up attack brigades and equip them with modern radios as well as build an additional police station.

“When you travel across the region, you see ill-equipped soldiers. They don’t even have radios. The telephone network is also unreliable and they cannot use their mobile phones,” said Séraphin Zégnan, who fled the western Petit Guiglo area to the commercial capital Abidjan after an attack in the area in 2012.

Army chief Soumaila Bakayoko, also visiting after the attacks, said a permanent military base would be set up in the region. In 2012, the government formed a 600-strong force to secure the western region. The force is backed by both the UN mission in Côte d’Ivoire and the UN mission in neighbouring Liberia.

“The government has the will to end the instability in the west – only it seems to lack the military capacity to achieve that. The western region is a difficult zone to secure and there is need for better trained and better equipped troops,” said Rodrigue Koné of the Centre for Research and Action for Peace (CERAP), an Ivoirian organization.

Others are also sceptical about the military efforts.

“Moving from a security plan to an emergency security plan is to play with words rather than having a real will to resolve the problem. It is proof that the government is unable to contain the situation. It doesn’t know where and how to tackle the problem,” said Niangoran.

The Interior and the Defence Ministries declined to comment.

A matter of trust

Alexandre Neth Willy, secretary-general of the Ivoirian Human Rights League (LIDHO), told IRIN that the use of drones as recently requested by Côte d’Ivoire’s UN ambassador Bamba Youssoufou “will not be sufficient to solve the problem. The confrontations, recriminations and hatred are deeper [in the west] than in the rest of the country.

“On the one hand there’s a need to build confidence among the people themselves and on the other between the people and the army.”

CERAP’s Koné said: “Today the majority of the people in the west consider the army as the government’s militia. They have not overcome the events of the post-election crisis and the army has not been able to gain their confidence.”

He argued that the government should work to forge an army with a national outlook following the deep divisions caused by the post-election unrest.

Who are the gunmen?

Residents of the region – an area covering 73,000sqkm and home to nearly seven million people, or a third of the country’s population – say that apart from gunmen attacking from neighbouring Liberia, there are several armed groups operating inside the region with bases in the forests.

These militias fought for current President Alassane Ouattara during the violent dispute with his erstwhile election opponent Laurent Gbagbo, they say.

“The most famous of these armed groups is headed by Amadé Ourémi, a Burkinabé, who with his 1,000 fighters, is extending his area of operations without the slightest response from the authorities,” said Fabien Dotonin, an administrator in the western Duékoué District.

“The authorities in Abidjan make threatening statements about dislodging him. But once they come to the west, they neatly avoid talking about the problems caused by Ourémi or even meeting him, yet this is a typical case which if resolved will help a great deal in easing the security crisis,” he added.

Prime Minister Daniel Kablan Duncan on 4 April said all those occupying government forests will be expelled by the army, but so far no action has been taken.

aa/ob/cb  source

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