Great Britain’s High Commissioner to Sierra Leone and Ambassador to Liberia have consulted with Acting Foreign Minister B. Elias Shoniyin on the critical roles of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and the Mano River Union (MRU) in the sub-region.
ECOWAS comprises the 16 nations in West Africa, while MRU includes Liberia and her three neighbors.
British Ambassador to Liberia, David Belgrove, and his Sierra Leonean colleague, High Commissioner Guy Warrington, were joined by Derek S. Deighton, Defense Attaché to the British embassies in Liberia and Sierra Leone on the visit.
Stating the purpose of their visit on Monday, September 26, Ambassador Belgrove told Acting Foreign Minister Shoniyin that they had come to discuss regional and bilateral issues concerning developments taking place in Liberia as well as at the levels of MRU and ECOWAS.
The West African body is currently chaired by President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.
Ambassador Belgrove told the Acting Foreign Minister that they had come to inquire about the roles of the two sub-regional bodies — ECOWAS and MRU — and how effective and efficient these regional entities are in impacting regional stability.
Responding to the inquiries of the British diplomats, Deputy Foreign Minister Shoniyin stressed that both ECOWAS and MRU have similar objectives, aimed at promoting regional economic integration and political stability.
Shoniyin told the British envoys that MRU’s objectives are geared towards complementing the efforts of ECOWAS and providing support to its key objectives, including promoting regional integration.
He lauded the trade links between the four MRU countries, adding: “It is far encouraging where traders can freely cross borders to trade goods and services in neighboring countries, without hindrances as compared to other parts of the sub-region.”
He indicated that the movement of goods and services in the ECOWAS region is more difficult than within the MRU.
The Deputy Foreign Minister hoped that ECOWAS leaders would work out plans that would lead to reducing common tariffs and improving regional border security.
He also disclosed that among the four MRU countries, plans are underway to connect their capital cities by super highways, adding: “This will enhance regional trade within the MRU region.
“Once roads are connected between MRU member states, such initiatives would be used to enhance trade in ECOWAS,” stressing that MRU’s effort is more of a complementary modality to buttress ECOWAS’ regional initiatives.
He stated that these initiatives will obviously factor into broader sub-regional initiatives undertaken by ECOWAS where its leaders are working on improving coastal highways to link all capitals along the coast to promote free movement of its citizens.
Min. Shoniyin mentioned that cultural and traditional ties and other shared values among elements within the MRU basin, including common languages, have made it more difficult to distinguish between citizens of the various countries, especially where cross-border inter-marriages are common among families and tribes.
Touching on the upcoming legislative and presidential elections, he told his guests that efforts are underway to print national identification cards, within the framework of the National Identification Registry.
Responding to further questions about President Sirleaf’s initial priorities as Chair of ECOWAS, Shoniyin stated that Foreign Minister Marjon Kamara is engaging other stakeholders in the region on regional integration, peace mediation and development so as to enhance the President’s work.
He also told the British diplomats that there are high expectations among inhabitants of the region about the direction of ECOWAS under President Sirleaf’s leadership.
“The President has begun reshaping priorities concentrating mainly on building the regional health system and industrialization, which are also critical priorities under AU,” he stressed.