Reaction To “House Passes Land Right (Act) Law”


By Bai M. Gbala, Sr.
Contributing Writer

The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia
August 24, 2017


According to Front Page (Front Page, August 18, 2017), “the House of Representatives has passed a law (The Land Rights Act) that gives citizens more power to manage their land”. The Republic of Liberia, the prevailing 17-Tribe Nation-State, was a country of 16-Tribe Nation-State founded by two groups of peoples.

The founding Fathers
Liberian History tell us that there were two groups of people with different historical experience - socio-political and economic – who founded the new nation. One group was the African-Americans, emancipated, freed people of color from the North, South Americas and other slave-holding states. They came and settled on this land of their ancestors, a flight from slavery, race, socio-cultural, political discrimination-segregation, servitude and human bondage, in search of human freedom, justice and equality, on a land of their own. 

The other group was the African-Africans, though on their own land, but also a flight, metaphorically, from autocratic, despotic rule by African tribal chiefs, monarchs and slave merchants, who sold their own people to western slave traders. Theirs, also, was in search of human freedom, justice and equality.

Government of the New Nation-State
Reasonably, as expected, the African-Americans or the immigrant Settlers, as they came to be known, formed the government of the new Nation as the ruling group, simply, because of their modern education gained from western experience in politics and economics.

Traditional Towns and Villages in Liberia
In the new Republic of Liberia, indigenous citizens constituted an estimated 97% of the population. Having kinship relationships and socio-cultural values in common, all, almost, indigenous citizens live in traditional, rural/urban Towns and Villages. These inhabitants are, basically, fathers, mothers, uncles, aunts, brothers, sisters and cousins, etc., descendants of the Male-Female Founders of the towns and villages.

The town & village founder, usually Male-Elder had been, and is, the Town/Village Chief, responsible for the safety, order and law enforcement of the town/village, inaugurates the traditional farming cycles and custodian of town or village properties, mainly, farmland held in common by the kinship community.

Traditional Customary Land Tenure
Traditionally, land is held in common by inhabitants of rural towns and villages. There is no private ownership of land because farming has been, and is today, the historical economic activity and the major source of economic subsistence. In the past, there was no monetized trade and commerce in the towns and villages, with very limited system of barter and no industry to speak of. Historically, rural town/village dwellers depended on subsistence agriculture for their economic livelihood. Thus, communal land ownership or Traditional, Customary Land Tenure had been, and is today, the critical, socio-economic factor within rural town/village communities.

In all of the Nation’s rural, political/administrative sub-divisions, as in the past, land and the forests thereon are held in common and form the primary, major sources of economic livelihood, because the people are subsistence farmers with other lands and places held for socio-cultural practices.  

The Immigrant-Settlers and Indigenous governments - Tribal Chiefs/Kings
When the African-American Settlers arrived on this land now known as the Republic of Liberia, they met, recognized and accepted the indigenous population with organized governments of Tribal Chiefs and Kings, having legal systems of “Customary Laws”. They (indigenous people) lived in accordance with traditional practices, Customs and Laws, which, if and when violated, punitive action was bound to be taken against the violator(s). The new Government of the Republic found and acknowledged these traditions at several Executive Councils and Conferences held with Tribal Chiefs, Kings and indigenous leaders.  

The Hinterland Laws
First, “An Act of Legislature passed in 1905 for the governance of districts within the Republic inhabited by Aborigines” provided that “. . . each territory inhabited, exclusively, by aborigines would be regarded as townships with native courts in such areas with appeals to the District Commissioner”. 
Second, The Revised Law & Administrative Regulations of the Hinterland entitled, “Building on What Existed or Hinterland Law of 1949, Article 29, also provided that It is the policy government (of Liberia) to administer tribal affairs through tribal chiefs who shall govern freely and according to tribal customs and traditions”. TheHinterland Law of 1949wasenacted, mainly, for the governance/administration of rural Liberia based on what was known and accepted as “Building on what existed”.Rural Towns and Villages were operated, and operate today, under the socio-cultural traditions of the political authority of the inhabitants under the leadership of the senior elder, kinsman-founder of the Town and Village who was usually the “town chief”. Thus, communal land ownership or Traditional, Customary Land Tenure had been agreed and established.  

Land Ownership Conflicts/Contradictions
Despite these understandings and agreements, the Government of Liberia, led by the immigrant Settlers embarked upon unlawful confiscation of indigenous land. For example, it was discovered, later, that out of the eighty-three (83) Articles that grew out of conferences with the President of Liberia and the Tribal Chiefs and Kings, prepared by and originated from the Immigrant-Settlers, only two (2) Articles addressed the issue of Traditional Customary Land Tenure.

This was an apparent attempt by the Immigrant-Settlers to “order their own colonial relationship” with indigenous citizen’s lands, but the prescriptions agreed upon by  the Indigenous Tribal Chiefs and Kings on the one hand and the Immigrant-Settlers on the other, were based upon Traditional Customary Land Tenure. The deceptive attempt violated, clearly, the Immigrant-Settlers’ own suggestion of “building on what existed”, an expressed recognition of the existing tribal customs and traditions, as expressed by the Hinterland Law of 1949.  

Although the Hinterland Law of 1949 provides “rights and title” to tribal lands and, thus, absolute ownership rights to indigenous citizens, the Aborigine Law of 1956, an apparent revision of 1949, made  fundamental changes by providing only “Right of use and possession”, rather than “ownership”, without consultation of or input by the indigenous land owners.

Thus, the legal status of rural, indigenous Liberians and their communities was, and is, that of landless tenants of the Liberian State or squatters on land that had been held and owned the indigenous peoples and their communities for more than the 109-year history of the Republic of Liberia.This condition/contradiction was an apparent design to introduce and apply the notion of “Territorial Sovereignty” held by European Colonial-master States over “Collective Ownership” of land owned by African, indigenous peoples and their communities.

The negative impact of these laws, particularly, the Aborigine Act of 1956, continues to affect rural and some urban communities today. Unfortunately, the “reform policy” of the Land Commission Legislative Act failed to address this negative impact.

Meanwhile, land in Liberia is a naturally-given, constant quantity, while the nation’s population, a dynamic quantity, increases exponentially, placing objective demand on land for personal habitation, private or public purpose.  Moreover, this demand has been, and is, the major source of nationwide confusions conflicts and violence between farmers, businesspersons, local communities and County Sub-divisions for land, in total disregard of national traditional, Customary Land Tenure.

The Land Rights Act
The Proposed Land Rights Act is a Legislation designed, hopefully, to introduce modern management/administration to acquisition of land fairly, freely, peacefully and lawfully for private or public purpose, with observation and protection of traditional, customary Land Tenure, including and others. Passage of this Act is expected to put an end to “nationwide confusions, conflicts . . .”  
But the Land Rights Act is Pregnant with Shortcomings

Firstly, This Act that defines/describes Land Rights, mode of acquisition and the management/administration thereof and the functions of individuals and institutions entrusted with such management/administration should have been debated and passed into Law prior to (1), the Legislative Act that created the Land Commission (LC); and (2), the Legislative Act that created the Liberia Land Authority (LLA).  But this was not done; as things now stand:

a. This action puts the “cart before the horse” or is tantamount to hiring an applicant for a position without “job description”.

b. Article 5(3) of the Land Rights Act is in support of the Liberian Constitution of 1986 Article 22(b) which provides that “Private property rights, however, shall not extend to any mineral resources on or beneath any land or to any lands under seas and waterways of the Republic” and that “all mineral resources in and under the seas and other waterways shall belong to the Republic and be used by and for the entire Republic”.

c. But this provision and Article 22(b) of the Constitution are patent violations of the doctrine ofTraditional, Customary Land Tenure which, also, provides that “Lawful land ownership includes the forests, waterways (seas, rivers, creeks and streams) on the land and the inseparable, naturally-endowed mineral resources and assets on and beneath the land.Ownership and possession of these assets, therefore, are integral to customary, community-based, traditional land tenure. Therefore, Article 22(b) of our Constitution is a unilateral abrogation and/or a clear violation of the solemn, binding agreement duly made and entered into by and between the immigrant Settlers and the-then Governments and People of this land. In specific terms, Article 22(b) of the Liberian Constitution denies as well as violates rights of lawful possession and ownership and, therefore, must be repealed.

d. Article 7(2) of the Land Rights Act provides, also, four (4) categories of Land Ownerships, the fourth being Public Land Ownership, defined by this Article to be “land which is not presently used by government or its facilities and operations and is also neither Private Land nor customary Land”.  But government is public and that there is no public land in Liberia, because all land is held in common by the people; therefore, this category is, reasonably, unnecessary and, must be eliminated.


  1. Act of Legislature of 1905, Aborigine Law
  2. Act of Legislature of Revised Rules & Regulations, the  Hinterland Law, 1949
  3. Act Legislature of 1956 intended to repeal 1949
  4. Our Letter to Land Commission, dated May 6, 2013

Hartman, Alexanddra, Comparative Analysis of Land Conflicts in Liberia: Grand Gedeh, Bong and Nimba Counties, Liberia; NRC, Peace Education & Community Empowerment/Conflict Risk Evaluation, Peace Corps Report, 2009.

Kaba, Ali D, Community Mapping: Land & Resource Security, Sustainable Development Institute (SDI), River Cess County, Liberia, Report, 2010.

Lomax, Tom, Forest Governance in Liberia, NGO Perspective, 2008.

Wiley, Liz Alden, So Who Owns the Forest, Liberia; Fern & SDI Report, 2007


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