I attended a sub-regional conference on civil society and security sector cooperation, in April at the Mamba Point in Freetown. In that conference, key issues pertaining to the security architecture of our sub-region, were discussed by civil society and security delegates from the Mano River Union basin. Interestingly though, the conference, under the theme ‘Strengthening Citizen Security Project’, manned by Conciliation Resources in partnership with Talking Drum Studio and the Centre for Development and Security Analysis, was aimed at bridging the gaps that have over the years discouraged civil society’s involvement in the security setup of the three MRU states.
There were brilliant presentations from people like Larry Bassie of the ONS in Sierra Leone, and Pascal Bangura, a Police Commissioner from Guinea and another fellow from the Liberian security network. At the end of the day, it came out that, the security architecture of Sierra Leone was more advanced than its neighbours. This was accepted by all those present, and in fact, those from the two other countries promised to learn from what was happening in Sierra Leone. Good to hear indeed!
Though the conference was meant to look at salient issues and at least do some copmparism on the security setups of the three MRU countries: namely, Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia, delegates from Sierra Leone wanted to steal the show by putting the issue of Yenga on top of the discussion, – little did they realise that, there were other issues to be discussed.
What drew my attention most was the blunt but honest views expressed by the Deputy Chief of staff of the RSLAF Brigadier Nelson Williams who stated that ‘natural justice demands that, what is yours is yours…’ and that “when people are pushed to the corner, they tend to move from sanity to insanity”. In fact I was moved by these words, that I rushed to him later to seek clarifications of such statements but he preferred not to elaborate. However as a journalist, I came to realise that he was expecting me to read between the lines and comprehend his words.
But his security counterparts from Guinea were never moved by such a statement, as has always been the case, and in the words of one Police Commissioner from that country, Pascal Bangura, Guinea like Sierra Leone has no intention of fermenting any trouble and that, the security of Sierra Leone was a concern to them because if this country is in trouble, it will affect them as well.
Border disputes in Africa have most often served as a recipe for regional instability and this is clear in what is currently happening between Nigeria and its neighbouring sister country Cameroon over the disputed Bakasi peninsular . There is also the border dispute between Ethopia and Eritrea. Historically the conflict between Somalia and two of its neighbours, Ethiopia and Kenya, started with Somali independence in 1960 and historians are of the firm belief that, it all emanated from problems created by the lack of an agreement between the colonial and inherited new state boundaries, and, also ethnically homogenous areas. In the case of Sierra Leone and Guinea over the Yenga border dispute, much has been said but much more than what has already been done still needs to be done. There have been enormous efforts by people to get a lasting solution to this conflict and many have suggested ways of solving the dispute over a small but rich land in terms of mineral. There is no doubt, that piece of land is Sierra Leone’s and I am convinced, you cannot drive a dog away from food you know you cannot taste. Let them stop driving Sierra Leoneans from Yenga when they know the end result.
In retrospect; past and present governments have put Yenga on top of their agenda. Just a few days ago, I heard the Information Minister, ‘Kotho’ IB Kargbo assuring the nation that the issue of Yenga would be resolved soon as there has been a committee headed by the Vice President. Words are just honestly not enough to assure citizens over this issue for we all know what the Kabbah led government used to tell us. Communiqués had been signed, discussions held by ministers of both countries but unto his retirement, Kabbah could not solve this issue.
The border dispute, as said by Nelson Williams ‘is man made’ and as such we need to sit round the table and resolve the issue once and for all. Guineans have their motive of occupying Yenga, whether for security reasons or otherwise I can’t tell but the quiet diplomacy being demonstrated by our colonial master is also to blame for this protracted conflict and I must register my utmost disappointment at them, especially Britain. Sierra Leone indeed cannot afford going to war – looking at our military might but that should in no way overrule other options to resolving this problem. There is the International Court of Justice. We saw the way it dealt with the Nigeria-Cameroon dispute over the Bakasi peninsular.
One could not decipher the lackadaisical attitude of our colonial masters [France and Britain]. They are putting on the mask of promoting peaceful coexistence between these two countries whilst in reality; they are real trouble-shooters, this is my opinion. Disputes over boundary in what ever shape or form, are meant to be settled before they escalate into serious crises. Some may seem irreconcilable and involve frequent military exchanges. [Bakasi peninsular being an example] and whether they regulated or not, boundary and border relations will remain a potential source of conflict in the international system of states, – but to an extent, these conflicts could be settled through the honest and sincere intervention of those who demarcated such boundaries. Their failure must lead to the swift intervention of other stakeholders like civil society groups.
A Mano River Union statement for sustained and enhanced civil society has called for the strengthening of the MRU Secretariat so that it can improve its performance to effectively implement joint border patrols and to convene periodic joint meetings to address security challenges as that of Yenga. Civil society organisations must be seen taking the lead. The quiet diplomacy being demonstrated is not in anyway good for this issue if, and if only we are not to revert to what we had gone through as a nation. Irrespective of the view by many that we cannot afford going to war, we must be seen seriously agitating for what is ours. It is a pity that our fellow citizens are ‘deprived of security in Yenga’ [courtesy, Nelson Williams, deputy chief of staff of the RSLAF]. This is not time for rhetorics from our political class. It is true, that the government cannot bite more than it can chew but it must be seen taking the bull by the horn if the need arises.
Can our president act now, else one could conclude, it is like Kabbah like Koroma; plenty talk, less action. When Hon Ernest Bai Koroma was in opposition, he called for this issue to be taken to our sub-regional bodies and now that he is in control, he could do us good if he does that. His foreign minister should now be more active than ever if she had never been active. The former government has been judged by the Media court on the issue, they were referred to as failures as far as reclaiming that portion of land was concerned and today our then opposition political elites are in power and it is high time they are told; enough is enough; an end to this Yenga issue is needed. Promises were made by our politicians and credulously they were accepted by the people. Britain cannot say much for there isn’t much they could get from Yenga, this, our political leaders must know. They are being diplomatic over the issue but let our government been seen active because this country ‘is a sovereign state’, section 1 of our constitution stipulates.
Guineans, during a sub-regional conference on security and civil society cooperation, have been asked to go and tell their authorities that ‘Yenga is a threat to us in Sierra Leone. Let us find solutions to the problem so that we could not experience what happened between Sierra Leone and Liberia’, [courtesy Oluboni Bournes- Coker of Mawopnet.] It is true that they helped us gain our peace but such help should not condescend to a situation wherein, they are now forcefully occupying our rightful property, Yenga is ours, no matter the quiet diplomacy that is at place by the international community over the issue. This is my view.
By John Baimba Sesay