-As Joint Defense Chiefs discuss solutions in Monrovia
Defense Ministers and the Joint Chiefs of Defense Staff of the Mano River Union (MRU) member states are brainstorming in a two – day meeting in Monrovia to find workable solutions to address the prevailing security threats in the subregion considering the impact of coronavirus, growing terrorism threats and other cross – border criminal activities.
Defense chiefs of Guinea, Sierra Leone, Cote d’Ivoire and the host country Liberia began the meeting in Monrovia on Monday, 24 May as part of the outcome of a previous meeting held in Dakar, Senegal in January this year between MRU and the United Nations Office on West Africa and the Sahel (UNOWAS).
In a keynote address at the meeting, Liberia’s Foreign Minister Amb. Dee – Maxwell Saah Kemayah, Sr., said “terrorism of today is fast becoming a global phenomenon rooted in logics that exist both within and outside of the society it affects,” adding that this in turn “influences diplomacy, intelligence and war.”
“In recent months, the MRU basin has seen growing cross – border threats from terrorist groups, which we believe have tested the resilience of the entire regional architecture on peace and security,” Mr. Kemayah said.
Minister Kemayah added that it is a known fact that with the vast number of porous borders in the region, no one member state can completely boast of its national security, thereby suggesting that MRU countries should pursue a collective effort in order to succeed in addressing the growing security and terroristic threat the sub region faces.
“It is about time that we engage in a win – win cooperation and not a zero – sum game. The more complex the war on terrorism becomes, the greater the need for collective response, solidarity and unity,” he said.
Minister Kemahay elaborated further that terrorism creates terror, a feeling of insecurity and the idea that leaders can no longer protect those they lead.
Additionally, the Liberian Foreign Minister noted that Ebola and coronavirus have posed a great challenge to every member state, explaining that coronavirus continues to have a negative impact on the health sector and the economic performance of member states in the region.
“Normal lives of our citizens in the sub region have been completely upended, and cross border trade has declined due to the restrictions imposed on the free movement of people and goods owing to the Covid – 19 pandemic,” Minister Kemayah lamented.
According to him, the MRU countries have experienced political instability and pandemic which include the Ebola and coronavirus crises, all of which he said, have impacted the subregion negatively and have stalled the progress and gains the region should have achieved.
At the start of the meeting earlier, Liberia’s Defense Minister Maj/Gen. Daniel Dee Ziankahn (Rtd), said the meeting in Monrovia is important because it gives the security sector of the MRU countries an opportunity to reflect on the security challenges of the MRU basin.
The Liberian Defense Minister said the meeting in Monrovia is intended to identify workable solutions to improve or mitigate the security situations in the region, noting that a consensus was reached in January 2021 for collaboration among MRU member states … to foster cooperation in addressing the prevailing security threats in the subregion considering the impact of coronavirus. “This meeting gives us the opportunity to carefully examine the present security concerns of the MRU. In this light, we must seize on every opportunity that addresses critical security concerns to enhance cross – border cooperation within the MRU region and ensure common approach in addressing the issue of terrorism and other growing security threats facing the MRU countries,” he said.
Mano River Union Secretary General Madam Medina A. Wesseh said she is very pleased to share a moment of deep reflection at the very important sub regional meeting of Ministers of Defense and Chiefs of Defense Staff of the MRU members states with the view to discuss the current security context of border management and cooperation among the MRU states.
She said the “The aim is to jointly work toward a common approach in addressing cross – border criminal activities,” and other dangerous crimes and illegal activities, especially in the wake of the Covid – 19 pandemic.
According to Madam Wesseh, Covid – 19 is here and is affecting the four MRU countries in diverse ways, thanking God that each of the countries have been able to contain the pandemic over the last 15 months.
She noted that with the vaccine availability and inoculation and more health discipline, MRU countries should begin to make great progress in dealing with the new realities of the threats that the pandemic poses on the sub region.
Also, she said she anticipates that with new engagements with the United Nations Office on Counter – Terrorism, that the need will be seen to revive the regular meetings at least half yearly of the joint security committee which comprise of the MRU Ministers of Defense and other ministers in the security sector.
Madam Wesseh made the suggestion with the view of ensuring that discussions at the most strategic levels can be held to build trust and confidence among member states and in the process, to ensure that the region remains peaceful and stable for economic growth and development to transform the lives of the citizens.
Also speaking, Sierra Leone’s Deputy Minister of Defense Col. Muana B. Massaquoi, (Rtd), said the meeting in Monrovia represents another significant step in the overall monitoring and evaluation of the sub regional security road map.
According to him, the MRU sub region has long experienced problems involving state tensions and individual security, governance issues, ethnic tensions and poverty, as well as rebellion. “Today, the Covid – 19 pandemic, terrorism, violent extremism and organized crimes are some of the serious security challenges that confront us,” he said.
Participating in the meeting via Zoom, Madam Giovanie Biha of the United Nations Office for West Africa and the Sahel (UNOWAS) expressed gratitude to the Government of Liberia for hosting the meeting in Monrovia, and also thanked the delegates at the meeting for their presence.
And Lofa County Senator Steve Zargo, a member of the Senate Committee on Defense and Intelligence, said peace and security for the region require collective efforts because “one group of persons cannot do it without the other,” noting that Liberia is no exception to what is happening in Chad, Mali, Nigeria and Cote d’Ivoire.
“If we are not careful, they’re going to strike us and strike us hard! We got to be proactive, we ask you to avail your expertise so that together we can work for the good of our region and our people. Much is expected of us and this is the best time to start,” Senator Zargo said.
In his call for the respective national security architectures to work together, Senator Zargo explained that the people of the sub region are related, have common language, tradition, custom, ways and means.
For his part, Montserrado County Rep. Jimmy Smith, representing the House Committee on Defense and Intelligence, indicated that House Speaker Bhofal Chambers had assured the readiness of the House for whatever outcome of the meeting, saying highest support and attention will be given to legislative instruments.