TN readers are encouraged to check the Norwegian Refugee Council website starting tomorrow (Wednesday, 28 April) in order to access a new report on post-conflict land disputes in the context of legal pluralism in Liberia. The report, entitled ‘Confusions’ and Palava: The Logic of Land Encroachment in Lofa County, Liberia’ promises to make for some interesting reading:
As Liberia recovers from nearly a decade and a half of civil war, the largest obstacle to long-term stability remains the divisive issue of land. Using Lofa County as a case study, this study explores the conditions that produce land conflict and the mechanisms used to resolve them. Multiple waves of displacement, return and (re)settlement have significantly altered the many institutions that regulated access to land and land-based resources prior to the war. This has resulted in a range of tenure systems that are struggling to (re)establish themselves at a variety of scales. The very systems at play are undergoing intensive renegotiation from both internal and external forces.
This study argues that the competing discourses employed by the various systems of authority in Lofa County to legitimise/justify claims are creating opportunities for land encroachment, which is significantly reducing the security of tenure in this area. The perception of dispossession can lead to ‘confusions’ or palava, stages of a dispute that are generally being channeled into informal dispute resolution systems rather than formal mechanisms. These informal mechanisms are shaped by imperatives for ‘peace’ and ‘development,’ which increase the likelihood that negotiations will have a ‘satisfactory’ outcome for both parties, providing few disincentives for others to encroach.
The weaknesses of formal, customary and informal institutions limits what punitive measures can be brought against those who violate the norms that would guarantee secure tenure, thus helping to perpetuate the cycle of encroachment.
The report was written by Alexandre Corriveau-Bourque, who is also a contributor to a volume on post-conflict land management I’m currently working on. I’m very pleased to announce that Alexandre will also be writing an exclusive guest-posting for TN later this week introducing some of the key issues addressed in the report. Watch this space!