By Foday Moriba Conteh
The Secretary General of the Mano River Union, Amb. Maria G. Harrison, has officially launched its 50thanniversary celebration of the Declaration of the Union signed in Malema on 3rd October, 1973 on the theme: “Strengthening the Culture of Peace and Regional Integration for Sustainable Development.” The well-attended launching ceremony was held on Tuesday 3rd October, 2023 at the Mano River Union Office on Fudia Terrace, Spur loop in Freetown.
Amb. Maria G. Harrison disclosed that the main objective of forming the Union as enshrined in the Mano River Union Declaration was to establish a firm economic foundation for lasting peace, friendship, freedom and social progress among member countries, furthering that over the last 50 years, the MRU has expanded its membership to the Republic of Guinea joining in 1980 and the Republic of Cote D’ivoire in 2008 respectively.
Amb. Maria G. Harrison noted that while the breakdown into civil war significantly affected the Union to function on its mandate for over a decade, the member States have always remained committed to the original purpose to create a unified market for promotion of trade and agriculture, while also guaranteeing mutual peace and security.
She said that the 50th Anniversary comes in the wake of Guinea’s Independence Anniversary and Liberia’s coming elections and MRU has firmly supported democratic processes in Sierra Leone and plans to pursue the same goals in the other member States as the institution gears up to observe the Liberian elections.
The Secretary General said that the MRU supervises the Regional Resource Governance Project implemented across the four member States and aims to strengthen institutional capacity to prevent smuggling of minerals and harmonized tax regimes and also implement the Building Inclusive Business Ecosystems for Stabilization and Transformation (BIBEST) Project which aims to support women who are cross border traders in Sierra Leone and Liberia with capacity building, business development services and structural reforms with border security to enable scalability and prevent SGBV.
The Charge of Affairs of the Liberian Embassy, Rolandn Johnson on behalf of the Government and People of Liberia, extended hearty felicitations to the MRU on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the great multilateral sub-regional institution, the Mano River Union.
He called on MRU to take a retrospective look at their journey from the beginning, bearing in mind that the institution was established with specific aims and objectives and that they are accountable to the people of the sub-region asking what are their scores considering specific areas of the initial objectives and taking into account all of the relevant factors, both negative and positive, that contributed over the years to the mechanisms of the institution.
“It is worthy to note that the underlying objectives of the institution were to ‘establish a firm economic foundation for lasting peace, friendship, freedom and social progress among the member countries’ and I am very proud to note that at the height of the wars in Liberia and Sierra Leone and in the midst of the carnage, some functionaries of the Union were actively seen playing leading roles in the peace-making processes,” he maintained.
The Principal Country Program Officer, African Development Bank Group, Atanga Felicitas, said the African Development Bank is a partner of the MRU and supports the institution in many domains, adding that over the past years, the MRU has implemented both technical capacity building projects and the regional component of investment projects funded by the Bank in the MRU countries and also an implementing partner of many multinational projects covering more than one member country. Collaboration between the 2 partners has so far been very smooth.
She informed that gathering that the MRU Secretariat is currently implementing the regional component of two multinational projects funded by the Bank; the Post Ebola Recovery Social Investment Fund (PERSIF Project) and the MRU Road Development and Transport Facilitation Project Phase III and the Building Inclusive Business Ecosystems for Stabilization and Transformation in the Mano River Union (BI-BEST) Project funded by the Bank and covering Liberia and Sierra Leone.
Atanga Felicitas noted that under the PERSIF project, the MRU is expected to act through an Advisory Board and coordinate with Member States for the selection of the sites where basic social services were to be implemented equally, expected to coordinate with Member States the selection of civil society organizations to be represented in the Advisory Board meetings.
“Total funding to the MRU for these activities for the two beneficiary countries is USD 485,000. An MOU was signed between the MRU and the Government of Sierra Leone on the implementation of this component. Unfortunately, the MRU hasn’t accomplished much in this project and implementation of the regional component is stalled,” she lamented.
In his keynote address, the Deputy Minister of Planning and Economic Development, Jonathan Titus Williams (Rev. Dr.) said Fifty years ago on the soil of Sierra Leone in Malema, Sorogbwema Chiefdom, Pujehun District, the historic Mano River Union Declaration was signed between the Late President Siaka P. Stevens of Sierra Leone and the Late President William Tolbert of Liberia.
He said that the Mano River Union was established with the principal aim of advancing economic development through trade integration, got off to a good start and even formed the blueprint for ECOWAS which was established two years later, stating that in the early years the MRU ran programmes in agriculture, mining, forestry, education, training and the like, which positively impacted Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea (the three Member States at the time).
The Deputy Minister said that the Government of H.E. Brigadier (RTD) Dr. Julius Maada Bio recognizes and appreciates that the MRU made many inroads in the area of peace where the organization has focused on enhancing peace and security in border regions, in order to re-establish the foundations for cross-border commerce and investment, counting that since the founding of MRU on to this day in October 1973, and more recently, the Mano River Union has unquestionably made a substantial contribution to ensuring long-term peace and development in the sub-region which ,he said, has been done partnering with UN Agencies, NGOs and Civil Society Organisations like MARWOPNET, and others.
He used the opportunity to draw the attention of MRU member states that it is long overdue for the Union to have its own permanent secretariat building of which he therefore urged the Union to make it a top priority moving forward.
Other stakeholders present including the National Focal Person for Mano River Women Peace Network, Mrs. Rosaline Mcarthy, the Regional Speaker of Mano River Union Youth Parliament, Representative of the Guinea Embassy in Sierra Leone also made statements.