“We, the citizens of Bomi County drawn from nine project affected communities and clans in Senjeh District comprising youth, women, chiefs, representatives of the Senjeh Land Committee, and Civil Society Organizations, have agreed to help promote, maintain and enhance peace,” says Cyrus N. Cooper.
Mr. Cooper is the General Secretary of the Community Action for Peace and Development (CAPAD), an organization established to help make life better within communities by strengthening food and human security and peace-building activities.
The organization was established during a meeting supported and coordinated by a UNDP project called “Strengthening Conflict Prevention through Establishment of Multi-Stakeholder Platforms and Improved Alternative Livelihoods in Concession Areas, in collaboration with the National Bureau of Concession (NBC).
"We welcome this project in our community. I think this project will help bring the peace that we have been looking for between we and Sime Darby. We are ready to work with the company and everyone so that we can live in peace here," said Chief Konah Harris, a local clan chief in Senjeh District.
The UNDP project funded by the Peacebuilding Fund, is partnering with the NBC to mediate conflicts and promote peaceful coexistence.
Senjeh is among 4 districts in Bomi County. It has 5 chiefdoms, 18 clans, a population of over 84,000 people and is affected by the operations of the Sime Darby Plantation Concession Company operating in the area.
The two-day meeting was used as a platform to reduce tension between the company and residents of affected clans. It brought together chiefs, women and youth leaders, civil society, and elders among others.
The Director General of the NBC Gregory Coleman said the project is a foundation on which communities and concession companies can continuously talk to each other.
“This project will also help you take charge of your own destinies. We will give you the required skills and techniques you need to properly and efficiently manage your resources under the out-grower scheme. No one is going to do it if you do not do it yourselves,” Director Coleman said.
In remarks, the UNDP Project Manager, Christian Solomon said the key objective for the establishment of the platform is ensure that the ‘marriage’ between the community and Sime Darby is stable and peaceful.
“You are into a marriage with Sime Darby, but this marriage has not been going very well as expected. So, we have come to find a way out. To ensure that the union is strong and there is peace in this home again,” Madam Solomon said.
She noted that the union can never be strong without the willingness of parties on both sides to let go of the past and work together to make the community and the County better.
Ms. Solomon said the establishment of the multi-stakeholders’ platform, a tripartite body comprising of the community, company and partners, is a means of ensuring there is peace and harmony in the concession area.
The Sime Darby Oil Palm Company, remains the lone and biggest concession company currently operating in Senjeh District. Since the signing of the 65-year concession agreement between the government and the company in 2009, its relationship with the community has remained fragile with sparks of violence in some instances.
Residents of affected communities across Bomi County have complained of forceful takeover of their land by the company while the company, on the other hand, has complained of theft and other unwarranted acts by personnel and the unwillingness of residents to cooperate with the Company.
The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in collaboration with the National Bureau of Concession (NBC) and other partners are seeking the establishment of proactive bodies that will prevent conflicts not only in Senjeh, Bomi County, but seven other Counties as well.
It is aimed at improving concession management, effective mitigation systems, monitoring, prevention, policy reforms and additionally improve sources of Livelihoods in project- related Concession Areas.
The current project builds upon the last one that helped improve national reconciliation through improved understanding of conflict drivers in concession areas and the establishment of multi-stakeholder dialogue platforms (MSPs) in three hotspot concession areas (Maryland, Nimba, and Sinoe counties) respectively.
The MSPs bring together project affected communities (PACs), relevant government entities, civil society, development partners and concessionaires to work through specific concerns arising from the operations of concession companies and frame collective agendas.
In this context, MSPs are also expected to be established in Bomi County (SDL), Maryland County (Cavalla Rubber Corporation-CRC), Grand Kru (Golden Veroleum-GVL) and Grand Bassa (Equatorial Palm Oil/Liberia Agricultural Corporation).