In an attempt to stem the current land grabbing spree taking place in Sierra Leone, citizens of the capital city, Freetown, have issued the Freetown Declaration. The Declaration stated that despite the benefit of increased investment in the country, there was an urgent need to protect the land rights of rural residents, who were being hurt by the land grab.

The Declaration recognized the “mass influx of various Foreign Direct Investors” who have invested in Sierra Leone over the past 10 years. The investors have acquired large tracts of forest, mining and arable land.

The problem, as addressed in the Declaration, is that the rising demand for land to undertake foreign investment has been accompanied by “a disproportionate dividend” for rural residents, “most of whom have been dispossessed of land which has had very negative implications for their livelihood and invariably leading to an infringement of fundamental rights…”

While recognizing the benefits Sierra Leone received from foreign investment, the citizens resolved that there was an urgent need “to recognise and respect all legitimate tenure right holders and their rights owing to the very little community involvement in land acquisition.” Food security and livelihood were at issue, the Declaration noted.

The citizens called an acknowledgement of the environmental degradation that was taking place in communities where mining and agri-business were located. They also called for legal changes, including the insertion of humane and non-discriminatory clauses in relevant laws.

The landgrabbing problem in Sierra Leone was recently commented on publicly by the Director of Criminal Services in Sierra Leone Police, Assistant Inspector General Morie Lengor, who said that much violence was attached to the issue, making it a serious security threat and concern.

The Freetown Declaration was issued at the Atlantic Hall in Freetown late last month.

By Day Blakely Donaldson