Like other residents of Grand Cape Mount County in Liberia, Haji is highly dependent on agriculture to earn a living. Disputes about land ownership and usage often arise, which can boil into conflicts.
This was the situation Haji faced from his home in Mani Town, where he is widely respected in his role as a youth chairperson.
“We have had a series of land conflicts with our neighbouring community, Sue Town. We used to carry cutlasses to defend our land. The fighting would leave some of our men wounded, and government forces had to come in to stop the fight."
We were desperately bitter with each other and no one was allowed to go to Sue Town or leave there to come to Mani. We fought over a piece of land that we believe belongs to us, but our neighbours continued to cultivate this land despite our numerous warnings and threats. We responded with violence, yet they would not withdraw. We had this conflict until International Alert came to work in our community.
Haji, along with other community leaders in Mani Town, was invited to join dialogue sessions that International Alert helped to set up. These are designed to help communities deal with grievances without resorting to violence. During the sessions, people are encouraged to sit down with one another and talk through issues until they find ways of cooperating and resolving them peacefully.
Every time I attended a dialogue session, I learned something new that motivated me to make peace with our neighbours. As youth chairperson in my town I coordinated a meeting with our neighbours to settle the land dispute. We met on the same piece of land we had been fighting over and agreed that no one should plant cash crops on the land, but only use it for sustainable farming.
Haji was therefore influential in restoring peaceful relations with Sue Town. He is now one of the biggest champions of the dialogue sessions in his community, and inspires others to attend them regularly.
“I have never missed any of the sessions since they were established. I still have my membership ticket that was given to me on the first day, it is green coloured with the number nine.
We are so happy that International Alert came with the message of peace, which we accepted, and because of it we are have refrained from fighting and live in peace with our neighbours. Residents of both towns are now visiting and interacting with each other.”
Over 4,000 people spanning 20 communities across Liberia have been involved in these dialogue sessions. They are part of our project that gets rural and marginalised communities more involved in decision-making around natural resource management. This also gives them the tools to resolve disputes peacefully between themselves – before they escalate and turn violent.