“We had serious problems with the mining companies”, says Massah – the chairperson of Kormah Town in Bomi County, a region in Liberia that is rich in natural resources such as rubber, diamond, iron ore and gold.
“They are mining minerals in our community and polluting our water, yet they have not built any hand pumps to provide us with an alternative source of water.”
The presence of such companies has created divisions in Kormah Town, with the benefits of mining being unevenly felt across the community.
Some families, including local leaders, were directly benefiting from these companies and because of this, whenever complaints were taken to these leaders about the behaviour of the companies, nothing was done. This continued for a long time without the situation improving.
Massah recognised she could use her reputation to step in and rally support for her community.
“As the chairperson, I wanted to stand up for Kormah Town, especially the women who were most affected by the polluted water. I became very angry and often instructed the women to fight the companies. We also sometimes fought among ourselves.
People would get wounded because one group would take the side of the company while the other was against it. I did not care what would happen to me in the process, I just wanted to fight for our rights!”
With violent outbreaks becoming the norm, International Alert began to run dialogue sessions to bring the Kormah Town community together so they can openly discuss problems, better understand opposing viewpoints and come up with solutions for how to cooperate.
“International Alert came just at the right time. There was a risk someone could have died from the frequent conflicts the community was suffering.
They taught us how to resolve our own conflicts without fighting. I have never missed any of these meetings, I was always there which has helped me in my personal life.”
I now realise that we can achieve positive results and change by settling our disputes through dialogue rather than fighting. We had not changed any situation by means of fighting; if we continue to fight among ourselves, our children will even grow up hating each other when we or the companies are no longer around.
“Although we have not had total collective agreement between the community and the companies, we are handling our land and water issues through talking.”
Massah is one of 4,000 people who have been involved in these dialogue sessions in Liberia. They are part of our project that supports communities negatively affected by the exploitation of natural resources. This project gives local people a greater role decision-making so everyone can benefit from new wealth generated.