(Last Updated On: November 7, 2021)
PHOTO: Samuel Vonweah, Gbarsaw CLDMC Chairman (right)
By William Selmah, [email protected]
RIVERCESS, Liberia–A dispute is brewing here in the Gbarsaw Clan in this southeast county over a large portion of land being cultivated by the Managing Director of the National Port Authority (NPA), Bill Tweahway.
Mr. Tweahway, who also hails from this town, has hired dozens of people from the local area to clear a parcel of 600 acres of forest for months.
The problem for the leaders here, is that he has not consulted with any of them.“ All citizens have the right to farm and to carry out development, but we at the Community Land Development Management Committee (CLDMC) also have the right to know the kind of development you are carrying out and the type of farm you are making in order to avoid future embarrassment,” said Samuel Vonzeah, Chairman of the Community Land Management Committee of Gbarsaw Clan.
“You can’t have one individual cultivating up to 50-60 acres of land. How will the future generation manage? Everything must be in line with the Community Rights Law. That is our only concern in this whole thing and nothing else.”
Mr. Vonzeah said that up to date, the committee has not been able to even confirm Tweahway is the owner or why he is clearing such a huge portion of land. Vonzeah said he has visited the site several times and no one would tell him the story.
Samuel Tweahway, Bill Tweahway’s elder brother “I Samuel Tweahway, Bill Tweahway’s elder brother has taken up the issue with the Clan and Paramount Chiefs but they have not also spoken directly to the matter,” he said.
Bill Tweahway did not respond to text messages and several calls placed to him to comment on the allegations.
Even a visit to his NPA office did not materialize, as the team working on the story was told he was travelling with President Weah outside Monrovia.
However, when www.newspublictrust.com
reached G. Samuel Tweahway, elder brother of the NPA chief, he confirmed the farm is being financed by his brother.
Samuel Tweahway-Bill Tweahway’s brother
“Bill provided the funding to see after this farming business. We told our brother who is heading it (Peter Tweahway) to formally inform the CLDMC about what we were involved with. We have even let Bill know about the concerns of the CLDMC,” he noted. He said despite his brother underwriting the cost of cultivating the land, it is being done on behalf of the community and not for his personal benefit.
He said there is nothing sinister about the farm project and that the primary objective is community empowerment.
“Bill has always been keen on helping his people and that this whole idea was conceived at a town’s meeting and question was asked about what can be done to help youths of the clan. That’s how the entire thing started before money was given to begin clearing the land,” he said.
But Vonzeah repeatedly said during our interview that he was never informed or briefed about Tweahway’s farm project
Samuel Tweahway also recalled being approached on the farm issue by the CLDMC head and that he he admits that it was wrong that he (Samuel) did not share information on the farm before they commenced the project. “But we will still give that respect and write them”, he assured. But during our interview, Vonzeah
In pursuing the deed for the clan, he said their desire still remains that they all work together in achieving it. “We don’t want to split the clan. No, no, that is out of the question. We are all working together in making sure we get this deed”, he added. Though the people of Gbarsaw have been granted community forest right, they want to protect this right through legitimizing ownership by having the entire forest deeded, probated and archived.
Section 2.2 c of the Community Rights Law of 2009 states that “Any decision, agreement or activity affecting the status or use of community forest and resources shall not proceed without the prior, and informed consent of the said community.”
In the case involving the project supposedly being carried out by Tweahway on a community land/forest in the Gbarsaw Clan, most of the local leaders appear to have made no input, least to mention had “prior, informed consent”. But this claim has not been independently confirmed. Talking to people of the clan outside Cee Town, some, including the Clan Chief say they have no idea, while others for others simply claim they no idea.
Most of the local chiefs of towns and villages that constitute the clan emphatically said they were not in the know of the project and neither did it meet their approval, whereas Section 4.1 of the law also states that “The Community Assembly shall be the highest decision making body of the Community with respect to community forest”.
The Town Chief of Sayeh Town, Borbor Gboto, equally see Tweahway’s move as being “totally wrong. I don’t know anything about this farming business. By right, this kind of thing supposed to be headed by the Paramount Chief of the clan and the District Commissioner. But they never told us anything and they have not explained anything to us”.
The apparent misunderstanding over the farmland in question comes at a time citizens are making frantic efforts to legitimize ownership of the entire community land of Gbarsaw through the acquisition of a tribal land certificate from the Liberia Land Authority – a process they have already begun and is in advance stage.
“When the president visited our brothers and sisters in Sinoe County, he said he was going to fire any of the big people in his government who is not helping to solve confusion between people in their own county. For us, our own son [Tweahway] don’t care. He is not helping to solve any confusion. But he is instead bringing about more confusion with the kind of thing he is doing now”, said an elderly man of Sayeh Town who reluctantly granted an interview and prefers anonymity.
According to a survey conducted in 2008 by the Afrobarometer, Rivercess County ranks highest among counties that see land conflict as a major source of inter communal violence in Liberia. The Afrobarometer is a comparative series of public attitude surveys on democracy, governance, markets and economic conditions.
Talking against this project is a topic others would simply shy away from for personal reasons. “The people here are not talking about it. How will it look like for one person – a woman like me to start talking about it”, the Deputy Chairlady of Gbarsaw and Women Head of Sayeh Town, Ellen Tate said.
“I only heard that Tweahway is making big farm here”, Tate continued. She further observed that a lot of people were not making personal farms this year because of their involvement with the farm project. But she at the same time clarified that no one was being forced to provide services on the farm.
For Clan Chief Sammy Weagar, he is still awaiting a formal communication those operating the farm said they were going to send him. Speaking through an interpreter, the chief said if they fail to send that communication to him, he will engage them and ask them why they have not written him since they promised to do so.
He continued that it was totally wrong that people could be carrying out such huge project without first consulting them as leaders of the clan, whether or not it is being done on behalf of the clan or in the name of an individual.
Weagar further argued that they should have first been in the know before anything kicked off and they would have in turn informed the rest of the people of the clan about the project and whose interest it serves. But, this was never the case, the local government official noted. The only unsubstantiated pieces of information he said he gathered from rumors and gossips suggest that the farm is owned by Bill Tweahway, he added.
This story was a Public Trust Media Group collaboration with New Narratives. Funding was provided by the American Jewish World Service. The funder had no say in the story’s content.