A new approach to community safety in Liberia: Moses, Town Chief

As Chief of Blameyea Town in Bong County, Liberia, community members depended greatly on Moses Coleman for guidance on resolving all kinds of disputes, from assault, theft and domestic violence to unauthorised farming and harvesting.

Given his reputation, Moses was invited by International Alert and our partners to form a dialogue group along with 34 other highly respected community leaders from a range of backgrounds.

This was set up so they could share their collective expertise and start working together to resolve complaints that Moses once had to handle on his own.

While most conflicts in Liberia are still addressed through customary laws, Moses and the group have moved away from using these. They instead use Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) methods, which rely more on techniques such as negotiation, mediation and collaboration to find peaceful solutions. These bring conflicting parties together outside of the legal system to find solutions that satisfy everyone involved.

Through being part of the group Moses lost some of the income he would have generated, as he charged a levy on cases he presided over on his own.

“I used to judge cases day and night, and each of these cases gave me enough money to help sustain myself.”

Despite this financial setback, Moses acknowledges the group provides a fairer process as it allows all residents, regardless of their economic situation, to seek redress for their grievances – whether these be against another resident, security officers, or the justice system. Moses has reported that there is considerably less theft and fighting among youths since the group was set up.

The police also take part in these discussions, so there is now more trust between the community and local authorities. Indeed residents often use the group as a way of contacting the police and other enforcement agencies, allowing issues to be settled more quickly.

This is one of 35 dialogue groups we have set up in Liberia as part of our Security actions for everyone (SAFE) project, which is giving more communities access to quality security services in the country.