Countries of the Mano River basin in West Africa are trying to forge a joint strategy to counter the cross-border movement of armed groups and the illegal trafficking of weapons in their region. Representatives of the United Nations and regional organizations joined the talks on Saturday.
Decades of armed conflict and political strife, including civil wars in Sierra Leone and Liberia, have caused lasting issues of insecurity in the Mano River region, particularly in border areas where fighters and refugees can flow easily from one country to the next.
This past week, ministers from Ivory Coast, Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone met with the secretary-general of the Mano River Union (MRU), the president of ECOWAS and representatives of the United Nations and African Union in Dakar to discuss trans-border threats.
ECOWAS's director of political affairs, Abdel-Fatau Musah, said that despite its troubled history, the Mano River Union now had the chance to become a role model for other conflict-ridden countries in West Africa.
"What we have done here is that the Mano River Union, which was once the source of chronic instability in the region, is taking the lead in trying to deal with the effects of that cycle of instability and moving the region to a new stage in terms of human security and development as a whole. This is what we have witnessed today - the beginning of such a move," said Musah.
Musah said that to do this, the MRU planned to create a joint security strategy to deal with issues in the sub-region, including the cross-order movement of armed groups and illicit trade of small arms.
The U.N. Office for Disarmament Affairs (UNODA) said small arms were often the weapon of choice during civil wars, and widely used for terrorism and organized crime. The UNODA said the build-up of small arms within a country could increase tensions with neighboring countries.
The U.N. Special Representative of the Secretary-General for West Africa, Said Djinnit, said that a joint-security action plan was important not only for maintaining peace in the region, but also for fostering economic growth.
He said without peace and security there can’t be any development in the sub-region. That is why, he said, it was important to work together to reinforce the need for a joint security measure. Djinnit said the strategy they will develop would create the conditions for peace and security that will allow for lasting development in Mano River Basin.
The U.N. official said a steering and drafting committee has been put in place to discuss the scope of the strategy and to create the mechanisms needed to address trans-border issues. He said it planned to propose the security strategy by the end of the year.