Conciliation Resources, in collaboration with other partners, yesterday started a two-day sub-regional conference on Civil Society and Security Sector Cooperation at Mamba Point in Freetown.
The conference, which is part of a wider strengthening Citizens’ Security project that Reconciliation is coordinating, is aimed at familiarizing participants with the security structures within the Manu River Union countries, to identify key challenges in the MRU countries’ security sector policies and implementation that relates to citizens’ involvement in security issues and to also exchange ideas and lessons on the role of civil society on the security sector.
Speaking at the opening ceremony, Rosalind Hanson-Alp, West Africa Programme Coordinator, Reconciliation Resources said the conference seek to facilitate networking and experience between civil society and security sector institutions across the Mano River Union countries, aimed at addressing key issues in sub-regional security policies.
She said, “given the increasingly acknowledged importance of cooperation and communication between civilians and security sector structures as well as civilian oversight of the security, this conference can play a pivotal role in bringing together practitioners and professionals of civil society and security sector institutions across the Mano River Union countries.”
Also speaking on “the Strengthening Citizen Security Project”, Rosalind Hanson-Alp said, “it aims at bridging the gap that has discouraged civil society’s involvement in security and cultivate dialogue across the perceived barriers of secrecy that often shroud security discussion…”
She disclosed that they were working in partnership with the Center for Development and Security Analysis and Search for Common Ground which, she said, was responsible for the media component of the project.
Rosalind Hanson Alp also stated that their key partners had been the Office of National Security which had been very helpful in sharing information and the Sierra Leone Police as well as the Republic of Sierra Leone Armed Forces.
Speaking on behalf of government, the deputy minister of Internal Affairs Raymond Kabia expressed hope that the conference would result in strengthening “our collective security as well as our national sovereignty.” Minister Kabia referred to the 15th Protocol of the Mano River Union Declaration which requires the establishment of “a Joint Border Security Committee, a Technical Committee and Joint Border Security and Confidence Building Units”, and those decisions taken at these committees are expected to promote cooperation on Defence, Security, Internal Affairs and Foreign Policy.
He spoke of his government’s preparedness to play an active role in making these committees more functional and that, he would make contact with his counterpart ministers in Guinea and Liberia and would instruct the MRU Secretariat to arrange a joint border security committee.
Garry Horlacher, Security Sector Coordinator of the UK’s Department for International Development in his statement, expressed his country’s willingness to sponsor the ‘Strengthening Citizen Security Project’ being undertaken by Conciliation Resources.
He said the UK had had a long relationship with Sierra Leone “and long involvement with the Sierra Leone Security secto”.
As participants were drawn from the MRU countries, Garry Horlacher said the security sector in all the three Mano River Union countries had a common thread which was its people “…who are the professionals like many of us here today and people who are our communities and citizens who we protect and serve” . He further stated that, “to keep our citizens safe, we need to know what are the issues that concern them and that we should not presume we know as we need to engage them, we need their eyes and ears, we need to gain their trust”.
Presentations on Security Structures within the MRU countries were made by Larry Bassie of the Office of National Security. In his presentation he said before people were disillusioned over the security apparatus after the war as there was the politicization of the national security forces but that the security forces had been reformed.
He stated security was no longer for soldiers but a people’s business and stressed that, “we must work together to ensure sustainable development”. Frederick LM Gbemie, Secretary and Focal point person for the security pillar in Liberia, spoke on the Liberian security structure and Pascal Bangura, a police commissioner from Guinea spoke on the security structure in Guinea.