SiLNoRF Trains CSOs on Land Negotiation Skills
Over forty Civil Society Organizations have benefitted from a one day training organized on Wednesday 16th October 2013 at Serra Leone Library Board Headquarters in Makeni by the Sierra Leone Network on the Right to Food (SiLNoRF) in collaboration with NAMATI on how CSOs should undertake land rights negotiation advocacy with multinational companies involved in large land lease in the country. Sonkita Conteh delivering his lectures to participants
Representatives at the training were drawn from various civil society organizations operating within the Bombali including Magburaka. Among these organizations includes Legal Access Centre, Women Initiative Movement for Justice, Campaign for Good Governance, Defence for Children International, and the Sierra Leone Red Cross among others. Participants were also drawn from the Sierra Leone Teachers Union, the Bike Riders Association, Drivers Union and host of other organizations.
In his presentation to CSOs, the Head NAMATI in Sierra Leone Sonkita Conteh who is also a legal luminary thanked SiLNoRF for organizing such an event that brings together Civil Society Organizations and other stakeholders to discuss land right and land grabbing which is a very burning issue in not just the Bombali District but the country at large.
After listening from the audience about the most topical issues in that part of the country, Sonkita Conteh said land is the major asset available to people in the provinces because it is what the farmers use to produce their food, to get medicinal herbs and to educate their children and for their general livelihood. Therefore if our local people loose hold of their lands, they will always dwell in poverty because without lands, they will not undertake agricultural activities. He said the size of Sierra Leone is 27,925 Square miles with and Freetown totaling 626 Square miles and there are over one million people in Freetown. So the vast majority of lands is found in the provinces where more agricultural activities are undertaken. Most of these lands are not utilised by the local inhabitant either because of lack of manpower or resources.
He said his organization, NAMATI is of the view that laws enacted by government to promote and protect the rights of the citizenry should not just remain in books but those people whom these laws are made for must be au fait with it stipulations. So NAMATI is poised to educate Sierra Leoneans about these laws through the provision of legal assistance to local communities so that the people will use the law to stand up for their rights and to take full possession of their lands.
According to Conteh, the objective of the meeting is to educate the civil Society organization on guidelines on how to protect community land and resources produced by NAMATI and SILNORF so that participants will further replicate the training to their community members. NAMATI and SiLNoRF don’t have the strength to disseminate these best practices contained in the Brochure to the entire country but with the partnership with other civil society organisations, the message will reach the layman
He said the brochure was carefully produced after nationwide consultations and engagement with local people, multinational companies on land issues with multinational companies. During these engagements with the local people, they clearly established that they signed some of these agreements without an iota of understanding or because of over anxiety of the money the companies offer. But when these agreements are thoroughly explained by a legally minded person or an independent individual, the community people normally become remorseful and call for another renegotiation deal.
He said that he is the lawyer for about thirty five villages around the Addax Operational in Bombali District and his organization is engaging Addax to review its agreement with the local people adding that that is why his institution has developed guide to educate the people so that they will be in a better position to negotiate with multinational companies and investors before giving their lands for investment and also prevent a recurrence of bad lands deals in the country.
The Brochure NAMATI and SILNORF developed advised community people to get legal assistance from independent NGOs and people be going into any sort of negotiations. Also the community people should rushed to accept monies from investors and a trusted committee should represent the people’s interest during negotiations. If the general public need any legal advised or need guidance of lease agreement; they should contact NAMATI in Freetown or SILNORF in Makeni.
A legal Empowerment Advocate of NAMATI attached to SILNORF emphasized that all communities have right to own, managed and adequate access to land and during negotiations of land, every community should be included
Participants thanked SILNORF and NAMATI for organizing such a timely training noting that they are not against operations of these multinational companies to invest in their lands, but their contentions lies with the long term lease agreements, improper negotiation with landowners and the infinitesimal fees paid by these companies. They promised to disseminate what they have learnt to others pleading with the government and other stakeholders concern to review these land agreement so that communities housing these multinational companies will benefits from their lands.
By Santigie Sesay-FBC/Mass Comm. Intern
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