“I am deeply happy for what these people did for me- had they not been there I would be in jail” says Tamba Cooper, a petty trader in the West Point neighborhood of Monrovia, Liberia’s capital city.
West Point is a bustling, low-income community of over 75,000 people crammed into a 1 square mile patch of land near the Atlantic Ocean. Many people like Tamba struggle to survive in such a poor, densely-populated area – disputes, disagreements and crime are rampant.
There is just one courthouse and small police station for the entire population of West Point; and the police and judiciary were recently ranked by the government itself as the most corrupt institutions in the country according to Transparency International. As a result, and as one resident told us recently “There is no justice for the poor.”
The Accountability Lab is working to change this. The team is addressing these problems through empowering local citizens to resolve their disputes at the community level- a project that developed through a bottom-up design process. The Lab is supporting Thomas Tweh- a local community leader- to train volunteer mediators as part of Community Justice Teams (watch the short video here).
These mediators support parties to a dispute to build trust and understanding, and work to help them address their issues. Meanwhile, the mediators collaborate with the local court and police to feed cases from the formal justice system back down to the CJTs, saving citizens thousands of dollars in fees and bribes, and many days of time which can be used to earn a living. The entire community is made aware of this free service through the deployment of a town crier, who makes the rounds in the community every day to remind people to use the mediation service.
The results have been impressive. So far, the CTJ has resolved almost 80 cases, which has saved the parties involved almost 500,000 Liberian dollars and approximately 350 days of time. All for an investment of just US $3,000. The team is also looking at other innovative ways to support the roll out of the program and ensure its sustainability over time.
Members of the Community Justice Teams – ready to fight local corruption!
Now, the approach is catching on and the CJT is now working with the Government of Liberia’s Ministry of Interior to scale up the project to other high-density, low-income neighborhoods of Monrovia, such as Logan Town and Peace Island. As Tamba pointed out recently: “I want this initiative to be extended in other communities so people like me can benefit.”