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Training Community Leaders

  • Emmanuel Kwenah, leader of the Bong Youth Association, greets villagers in rural Leleh, located near Gbarnga in 2006. Over the years, The Carter Center has partnered with community-based organizations to provide education programs on the rule of law and freedom of information. (Photo: The Carter Center/ C. Nelson)

At the local level, much of Liberia is under the authority of customary chiefs. The Ministry of Internal Affairs employs the chiefs to administer towns, a job that includes resolving low-level disputes. Traditionally, and under the law, chiefs have a major say in allocated communal land, as well as in all social and cultural aspects of the community. They share that power with elders and customary religious leaders, known as Zoes. These roles make chiefs an important element of everyday justice.

In 2010, in response to requests from the Ministry of Internal Affairs and the National Traditional Council, the national body that represented chiefs within the ministry at that time, The Carter Center began a new effort aimed at strengthening indigenous conflict-management capacity.

With the support of USAID, the pilot project focused on building the nonviolent dispute-resolution skills of traditional authorities, youth, and women in five target counties: Bong, Nimba, Lofa, Margibi, and Maryland. Programming combined training for chiefs, women, and youth in the rule of law, dispute-resolution techniques, and inclusive governance. In addition, Carter Center staff worked with these community leaders outside of the trainings to provide support for national and local dispute-resolution efforts and to convene town hall meetings for further training at lower levels.

Since its launch, the project has trained chiefs at all levels in the target counties. The impact has been significant, both in terms of increasing the chiefs’ ability to take ownership of local conflict and in changing their practices and attitudes about the law and the roles of women and youth.

The Carter Center’s first major undertaking in this arena followed an outbreak of violence in Lofa County in February 2010. The Center carried out a five-day visit, producing an assessment mission report (PDF). Subsequently, a team from the National Traditional Council, supported through this project, was able to reach an agreement between Lorma and Mandingo elders and youth (PDF) in the Voinjama area to help prevent further outbreaks of fighting. Since that time, The Carter Center has played a key supporting role in a multiple national and community disputes, including boundary harmonizations and inter-county reconciliations such as the one between Nimba and Grand Gedeh County in 2016.

At the lowest level, The Carter Center works with chiefs to mentor them in dispute-resolution approaches and to provide small resources to support expanded town hall meetings at which communities discuss their issues and receive some training and information from Carter Center staff. The Center invites the participation of local justice officials in these sessions in order to build understanding between the community and the formal authorities.

Fighting Ebola

In 2014 and 2015, The Carter Center helped mobilize customary leaders in the national fight against Ebola. In collaboration with government ministries and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Center organized a number of county meetings for the chiefs. Between November 2014 and January 2015, over 4,000 chiefs and elders and over 4,000 community health volunteers were trained with Carter Center support.

Following the worst of the Ebola outbreak, the Carter Center collaborated with the same partners and UNICEF to mobilize the chiefs in a similar way against a measles outbreak. In both cases, the chiefs played a significant role in informing and leading communities to follow good public health practices.

In 2016-17, the Center worked with this same network to inform rural citizens about election procedures and, in particular, to provide guidance on how to prevent violence during elections. In addition, the Center worked with a newly formed alliance of local peacebuilding organizations that came together under the umbrella of the Peace Action Network to work with groups at risk of election violence.

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liberia improving(Click to enlarge)
Liberian women learn about their rights under new Liberian laws during a SEWODA workshop in Maryland, held in April 2007.

liberia improving conflict resolution(Click to enlarge)
The Crusaders for Peace help to educate Liberians on changes in the law through traditional cultural performances.

"Areas ‘treated’ by The Carter Center show a major improvement in community legal knowledge, greater compliance with the law on the part of chiefs, and greater participation of youth and women in customary justice. Conversely, in untreated areas, customary practitioners continue illegal practices … For their part, citizens are ignorant of their rights under the law." (USAID evaluation, 2013) 

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