-Liberians, Sierra Leoneans, Guineans want ECOWAS Parliament’s Intervention
Scores of Liberians, Sierra Leoneans and Guineans have explained torment and worries they experience daily at borders during their crossover market trade and movement to each other’s country, describing the treatment meted out to them as “harassment, abuses that result into losses.”
In a two-day visit to the Liberia-Sierra Leone border, located between Bo-Waterside and Jendima and the Guinea-Liberia border in Sibita and Ganta, respectively, the citizens also narrated challenges in the exchange rates of the conversion of one currency to another, procedures for clearing both import and export, taxes and tariffs applicable on import/export, relevant documentation (such as Laisez Passé).
Other impediments are the lack of electricity in border towns, the disrespect of their countries’ traveling documents, the increment of unreasonable checkpoints and the refusal of country’s voter ID card as part of traveling document.
The citizens of the three West African countries expressed their ordeals to the 35-member delegation of ECOWAS Parliament, led by Speaker Mustapha Cisse Lo, during their Delocalized Sensitization and Fact Finding Mission that took place on Friday and Saturday, September 28 and 29, 2018, respectively.
At the Liberia-Sierra Leone border on Friday, the Youth Chairman of Sorogbei Me Chiefdom in Sierra Leone, Mr. Hajid Sheriff, said because of the high price of the Laisez Passe, which is about 100,000 Leones and equivalent to about LD$2,000, some Sierra Leoneans who cannot afford this amount prefer illegal entries that have resulted into drowning of five of their kinsmen – four ladies and a man.
Sheriff told members of the ECOWAS Parliament that losing the lives of their kinsmen are annoying and it can only stop if prices of Passe Passe and other traveling documents are accepted and reduced. He also said the Laisez Passé should be valid for a “journey within 90 days.”
“Even if you go to Monrovia and make a week and come back to Jendima or Sorogbei Me, the Laisez Passé automatically expires; it’s valid for a trip or journey despite the days you make in less than 90 days,” Sheriff said. “That should not be so; we beg for your intervention.”
A Sierra Leonean marketer, Elizabeth Sheriff, said the high conversion rate of Sierra Leone’s Leones to Liberian dollars is creating setbacks to marketers and has caused loss of profit and sometimes their principal (market money). Both Sierra Leoneans reported of loss of goods and lives as the results of the bottlenecks in cross-border trade and movement.
Madam Sheriff said she wished there would be one currency in the region; while Commissioner Zwannah Massaley Cole of Liberia said the lack of electricity at the two border towns, Bo Waterside and Jendima, is not helping in the curtailing of illegal entrants, stressing that “electricity is security.”
Madam Lucia Sonii of Liberia called on ECOWAS Parliament to give West African market women loans to boost their markets to help their respective countries’ economies.
On Saturday at Liberia-Guinea border, both citizens across the borders allegedly accused each country’s security personnel of harassment and abuses.
A Liberian marketer, Nya Dolo, said in 2016, a baby mother (a Nimbaian marketer) was flogged by a Guinean officer and also last year a pregnant Nimbaian marketer was also ill-treated; both incidents occurred at Lion’s Gate in Jeaquah in Guinea.
The market women, mostly Nimbaians, also recounted their experiences of extortion at the gates involving custom duties and other charges.
A Guinean trader, Abu Bakar Barry, narrated that most of them are also harassed at the Liberian border. He said Liberian officers forcibly take money from them as well as some of their goods.
“Sometimes we receive slaps,” Barry claimed.
Residents across both sides of the border confirmed the treatment meted out against citizens from both countries, describing it as “pay back.”
“If Liberian officers know their marketers are badly handled and received the intelligence, they too do the same to Guinean traders,” a female marketer, who begged for anonymity, said.
“Both citizens are not experiencing free movement. The last time, each country’s security officers decided to start checking women for whatever reason. I saw men putting their hands in women’s clothes at the two sides in the name of checking,” a male trader said.
He added: “Both countries’ security act badly and we are the ones suffering.”
Sen. Prince Y. Johnson of Nimba County called for “peaceful and free movement” of citizens from both Liberia and Guinea and the message was buttressed by Guinean Ambassador to Liberia.
ECOWAS Special Representative to Liberia said to tackle the ID Card scenario, the ECOWAS biometric ID should be introduced and taken seriously, and ECOWAS will hold a workshop on the Protocol of Free Movement between the security personnel.
ECOWAS Parliament Speaker Cisse Lo called for an end to harassment, abuses, and losses in the borders and urged ECOWAS citizens to coexist.
He assured them of an amicable discussion in their pending sitting of Parliament members and onward discussion with the President of ECOWAS Authority.
Speaker Cisse Lo stressed that West Africa and Africa can only be united if they treat one another as brothers and sisters, despite their different countries, religion, and ethnicity.