by Rhodri C. Williams
I’ve had the privilege of working in Liberia over the last week with colleagues at the Norwegian Refugee Council’s legal advice and information program on post-conflict land and property issues, which, simply put, are legion. Fortunately, the national Land Commission set up to provide advice and chart out policy is both competent and committed, and some real political space exists for tackling the issues.
Problems related to displacement and return still exist. Although a return program for internally displaced persons run by a separate Commission has largely been completed, life outside the Capital is still heavily affected by land disputes that both predate and result from the conflict. In response, NRC’s country program has developed a mediation program meant to provide sustainable resolutions.
NRC has also sponsored a number of reports analyzing these programs and the context they operate in (bottom right on the country page), including Alexandre Corriveau-Bourque’s piece on land encroachment, launched last year on TN. More recently, a reporter sponsored by the International Reporting Project was assisted by NRC in developing an article providing an overview of the topic. Attention has also begun to refocus on land issues in the countryside in light of the new wave of refugees in northern Liberia fleeing conflict in neighboring Cote d’Ivoire.
Lurking behind these issues is the question of durable solutions for hundreds of thousands of people displaced by the past conflict in Monrovia who have been unable or unwilling to return. As I discussed in a previous post, some observers have called for greater return to the land in order to unlock the enormous untapped potential for commercial agriculture in the countryside. These calls reinforce a post-conflict emphasis on ‘decentralization’ of the country currently under discussion by the national Governance Commission (they also echo the post-quake strategy of investing in provincial towns in Haiti rather encouraging greater expansion of the capital).
By contrast, the main focus of my current work in Liberia has been to look at the question of how displaced persons now living in Monrovia’s many informal settlements can be assisted in achieving durable solutions in the form of local integration. In this sense, it involves a very practical application of some of the principles now emerging in the ongoing humanitarian discussion about protracted displacement. Most important in the context of Monrovia are questions related to security of tenure and the extent to which the decreasing humanitarian effort and the well-established development actors (national and international) can build on each others’ work.