The formation of the Mano River Union (MRU) on October 3rd 1973 was thought to be a way of handling issues of inter-state security and economic growth within the sub-region especially one aimed at closer economic cooperation. From its inception to date much has occurred both positively and adversely as well. Over the years, the Union has been very instrumental in finding lasting solutions to then existing problems, key among them, being that of Sierra Leone, a small country on the West Coast. No doubt that, when Yenga became topical in recent times, people suggested that, the issue be taken to the MRU for peaceful settlement, though Guineans know that, that piece of land is Sierra Leone’s.
The objective of the union was to “Establish a firm economic foundation for lasting peace, friendship, freedom and social progress”. However, even before the attainment of this objective, it soon became evident that trade liberalization on its own was not sufficient to exploit the full potentials of the grouping and resulting though; the Union looked at possible ways of concentrating on the development of programs to ensure an intra-trade union growth.
The political instability of the past decade is believed to have greatly undermined regional integration efforts. In the not too recent past, the three Mano River Union countries were recently busy in the Liberian capital, Monrovia to discuss, as usual, pertinent issues that relate to the security of MRU countries. In attendance were Heads of State of MRU countries, among them my president Dr Ernest Bai Koroma and in actuality, this is his first attendance at the meeting. The Summit after lengthy deliberations by the attendants expressed joy that there had been some progress with regard peace, security and stability and of course some achievements in the socio-economic arena of the MRU countries and there is optimism that, more could happen with regards regional development.
Over the years, Cote d’Ivoire had not been part of the MRU and news that, they have decided to be part of the Union is a welcome idea, if for no other reason but the fact that, security of one state depends to that of another to a larger extent. Ivory Coast must as a country have realized the significance attached to the aspect of being part of the sub-regional security and socio-economic setup and this is a good move towards the development of the sub-region. I need not over emphasise the point that, when Sierra Leone was in a state of anarchy, it was the timely intervention of sister countries like Guinea that, actually helped in bringing lasting peace to the country, irrespective of the disadvantages attached to that, like the illegal occupation of Yenga by our sister country.
Looking at current happenings in Cote d’Ivoire especially those that deal with its internal security, one could conclude that, their decision to be part of the MRU makeup could be a catalyst in future efforts aimed at resolving that country’s internal rife. The Summit in Liberia came out with a number of points that need attention. The success of the MRU could be measured from the point of view of our inter-state security setup, for the fact remains, any security instability in one of the four MRU countries could not tell well for the remaining three and this we have experienced in our 11 years of political instability. Liberia’s civil war had an adverse effect on Sierra Leone, and so was Sierra Leone’s on Guinea. Member countries of MRU have agreed to address the daunting challenges facing the region and this could not be unrelated to the economy, free trade and movement within the sub-region. As stated recently in one security sector and civil society cooperation, there needs to be the involvement of other stakeholders in the MRU security setup and this could be civil society and other groups.
However, the success of an effective MRU body could come in the form of an outstanding support from countries with particular reference to alleviating the financial problems the Union is facing. The UN and other international organizations were able to succeed due to the financial commitment of member states. This should be reciprocated in bodies like the MRU and the AU. The decision that, each of the original countries of the MRU pay the amount of one hundred thousand dollars to advance staff payment should be seen as a good decision despite the difficulties countries are facing at the moment, coupled with the global trends as I write this piece. Maintaining the security of a state is no child’s play, not to look at it from the sub-regional perspective.
The Union must look at possible means of addressing critical peace and security matters within the Mano River basin especially that which has to do with control of small arms and light weapons. Laws on small arms control must be harmonized and other peace building measures. In this vein, there must be more cooperation between civil society and security sector so as to effectively implement and review protocols of the MRU. There are outstanding factors that seem to hinder the needed and anticipated cooperation between and among the MRU countries and prominent among them has to do with corruption. We have heard of scenarios where security forces have over the years attempted to institutionalize corruption within our MR borders but commitments by the security sector as well as civil society towards exposing and eradicating corruption and ensure best practices is a move in the right direction.
Measures must as well, be taken to enhance free movement of citizens within the MRU basin for with that, problems that deal with trade and business transactions could be dealt with accordingly. Harmonization and public display of cross border tariffs as well as the prioritization in the issuance of ECOWAS passport could also be a way of tackling existing problems with the context of the MRU. Rescoures must be mobilized so that the MRU could operate effectively.
Now, what could be the yardstick to use if one wants to measure the success of this summit? Between Sierra Leona and Guinea, there is an outstanding and potential conflict ridden issue and that is the problem over Yenga. There seems to be no coordination between these two countries even with regards trade and movement of people. To an extent, Guineans are free to enter the territory of Sierra Leone but on the other hand, no sooner a Sierra Leonean attempts crossing to neigbouring Guinea, problems are encountered along the way and this should not be the case. We should be seen trusting each other.
Summits like these should not only stop at coming out with communiqués but such communiqués must be followed with strong monitoring mechanism and actions. No need denying the fact that, the main goal of the Union was to foster economic cooperation among the member states but we cannot achieve economic cooperation where there isn’t any trust between Sierra Leone and Guinea. There is indeed the introduction of a common external tariff; the intra-union trade level, and the liberalization in goods of local origin but it should not stop at that point, we must be seen cooperative with each other. There was no need for two of the MRU countries to be fighting over a piece of land had there been trust and strong cooperation between them. So even as my president returns from the summit, it is hopeful on my part that, the next summit would come out with tangible solutions to the existing problems.
By John Baimba Sesay