First off, the Mano River Union was the first ever economic integration institution in Africa, south of the Sahara. Its uniqueness lies in the joint vision of its founders and their capacity to anticipate the importance of peace and security in the destinies of their countries. At the time of the setting up of this Union, neither Sierra Leone nor Liberia had had any experience of civil war. The rumblings of political discontent were invariably visible but not too nascent as to constitute a cause for concern. The evidence of discord was represented at the time by a crux of exiled dissidents mainly from the South and Eastern Provinces of Sierra Leone who were located around the Logan Town / Bush and Island axis of Monrovia. The existence of a larger crop of Sierra Leoneans and some who prefer to be labeled as Liberia-Sierra Leoneans represented by the Kru and Bassa who had sojourned in Sierra Leone but went back to resettle in Liberia. The admixture of these communities created the basis of massive cross birder activities and with the nature of the border perimeter being as porous as it is, these movements became in time the foundations for establishing dissident camps and installations on both sides of the border. In the end, the conflict that engulfed Liberia and then Sierra Leone was never a war of attrition between the two countries but individual internal conflicts that caught up both communities in the same or opposing sides.
The issue therefore of peace and security is a central tenet in the ideologies of the founding fathers of the Mano River Union. The intermingled nature of the border communities are another principal consideration given the prospects for trans-border activities and the development of markets and commerce. Agriculture became a serious element when it became clear that markets are driven by scarcity and therefore supply naturally moves to environments of higher pricing rather than on simplistic nationalistic rules such as integrity in the food chain within a local community.
While the civil conflicts that destabilized the sub-region heavily destroyed infrastructure and more particularly damaged the health sector delivery mechanisms in place, the countries had to consolidate their defenses by redrawing the parameters around traditional and cultural norms with a concerted psycho-social dynamic that was underpinned by a changed messaging towards treatment seeking behaviour in mainstream facilities. Despite the many challenges that three of the four member states of the Mano River Union had to contend with during the Ebola crisis, they together managed to capture that traditional spirit for self-preservation to display a resilience that was never before anticipated.
The Mano River Union, like most other institutions suffered human resource losses during the civil strife as most people had to abandon their posts fleeing for their lives. This loss of staff and skills created a capacity gap that inordinately tended to result in integrity issues and other more nascent concerns for international financial institutions and other funding Agencies. Evidently, as the fundamental principles of globalization challenged the foundational installations of protectionism and the effectiveness of sovereignty in the fight against terrorism was also put under scrutiny, the narrative was forced to change to a consideration of the global implications of the security/development nexus. On that score, the need for sub-regional integration became ever more widely accepted. Guinea joined the Union in 1980 and Cote D’Ivoire in 2008.
Incidentally it was the accession of the Republic of Cote D’Ivoire that created the space for a new mandate to revitalize and restructure the Union so that it functions as an institution that brings real value to the lives of the peoples of its member states. Its role and functions now extend well beyond peace and security to tackle issues like gender and women’s issues youth engagement and trans-border activities and programs. The MRU is heavily engaged with partners in securing the integrity of our ecosystem, the management of natural resource such as waterways and natural forest areas, the preservation of natural habitats and ameliorating the effects of natural disasters and cross border crises.
In the event, the Mano River Union in experiencing growth though constrained by threats within its operational environment yet still possess the characteristics that would make for a sustained and improved service delivery mechanism to attract large scale investment and develop functional markets across the four countries of the Union. Notwithstanding the marks of a beleaguered life shows in its current structures and frameworks, the immediate challenge is to refocus the institution, create new networks and consolidate older relationships and transform them to a modern dispensation. To do that, investment in systems and processes as well as human resource and corporate governance are critical. It is good that the Union is blessed with a new Secretary General, Amb. Medina Wesseh whose vigour and grit is being put to bear on changing the fortunes and precepts of some of the institution’s past friends and funders. With Amb. Messeh is found a woman of substance, eager to make a mark and committed to making a difference.
The Mano River Union at 44 is therefore a renewed and invigorated entity, driven by determination to succeed and a potential to engage a wider stakeholder base than before. It is ideally set to take advantage of technology and globalization and the emergence of new technologies and challenges. The aspirations for peace and security remains a foundational objective and it is clear that the resurgence of a renewed terrorism threat within the World dynamic, particularly in West Africa, the MRU is ideally placed to engage with partners in securing transparency and probity in governance and state fragility issues.