The Heads of State and government at the just-ended 23rd Ordinary Summit of the Mano River Union (MRU) in the Guinean capital, Conakry, have agreed on several measures aimed at improving the lives of the people of Member States. They plan to tackle most especially border security, infrastructural development, youth employment and economic integration.
A Communiqué from the Guinean capital indicates that at the end of the Summit, the MRU Heads of State and Government recognized and agreed to implement a cross-border security strategy with a commitment to operationalize the Peace and Security Unit within the MRU Secretariat.
The summit was attended by Guinean President Alpha Conde host; Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf; and Sierra Leonean President Ernest Bai Koroma. Minister of State/Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr. Charles Kofi Diby, represented La Côte d’Ivoire and proxy for President Alassane Ouattara.
The MRU leaders also agreed for the creation of a Joint Border Post between Sierra Leone and Guinea as part of the Border Security Strategy. This post is called the Gbalamuya-Pamelap border post.
The Communiqué commended the Government of La Côte d’Ivoire that is expected to host a donor conference aim at mobilizing resources for the cross-border project. They have requested the MRU Secretariat to engage ECOWAS and the UN Office in West Africa (UNOWA) as regards the execution of the conference.
As regards infrastructural development, the MRU leaders agreed to encourage private sector collaboration in pursuit of financing capital intensive projects including roads, energy and information technology, among others. They also agreed to develop projects directed at renewable energy resources.
The Summit further reviewed and approved a plan to engage the African Development Bank group through a formal letter of request to help finance key road connectivity linked to the Trans-West Africa Highway.
On youth employment efforts, all the four countries expressed serious concern about the future of the young people in the Member States.
In addressing the issue of unemployment, the MRU Heads of State and Government announced the creation of the Center of Excellence in Yamoussoukro, La Côte d’Ivoire in support of its Regional Youth Employment Program. At the Center, youth will gain knowledge in a variety of disciplines that will prepare them for multi-tasking in future job markets.
In the area of sub-regional economic reintegration, the MRU Heads of State instructed the Secretariat to constructively engage the China Exim Bank for possible financing of the Makona Economic Free Zone. The Makona River divides Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone and forms a convergence of three of the four countries within the Union.
Leaders at the Summit also encouraged the reactivation of the Air Mano project and requested the Ministers of Transport of Member States to continue the finalization of the feasibility study in order to speed up the launching of the airline.
Food security was also a priority issue for the 23rd Ordinary Summit with a commendation of progress made so far during the implementation of the Food Security Project in each Member States. They encouraged Governments to maintain the dynamic trend for the attainment of food self-sufficiency in the Mano River Union basin.
The MRU leaders have, however, announced an approved budget of US$5.9 million, authorizing the Secretariat to execute it accordingly. They also agreed to finance the construction of the headquarters of the MRU upon the submission of the completed architectural design and costing.
Meanwhile, President Sirleaf has officially turned over the chairmanship of the Union to her Guinean counterpart, President Alpha Conde. This comes after five years at the helm of the regional body.
President Sirleaf told her colleagues at the close of the summit on Sunday in Conakry that the period she served as Chair of the MRU was a daunting task but was made easier by the strong support of fellow Heads of States and Government and the MRU Secretariat.
She recounted the MRU achievements under her chairmanship. She named finalizing the strategic plan to guide the work of the MRU, implementing the HIV/AIDS/STD pilot program, the establishment of the Joint Border Security/Confidence Building Unit and the ongoing implementation of the La Côte d’Ivoire/Liberia/Sierra Leone/Guinea West Africa Power Pool Project.
According to President Sirleaf, all of these projects would not have been achieved without the support of her colleagues and the MRU Secretariat. “The Government and people of Liberia are honored to steer the affairs of the MRU and the progress made is attributed to all of us as Heads of State, Secretariat and the peoples of our countries,” She thanked the Union’s development partners for their unwavering and strong support to have achieved the MRU development goals.
“I like to, in this manner, officially handover the gavel of authority of the MRU chairmanship to my brother, Professor Alpha Conde, who will now chair our great organization,” President Sirleaf said, amidst cheers.
In his acceptance speech, President Conde said it is a difficult task to take over from President Sirleaf, who he described as a woman with vast leadership experience. He hoped that the Liberian leader would always have time to advise him as he steers the affairs of the MRU.
“How can I do better stepping into the shoes of this great first female elected President of Africa without knocking at her door for pieces of advice from her,” the new MRU chairman noted.
The MRU Secretary-General, Hadja Dr. Saran Daraba Kaba, thanked President Sirleaf for her support to the Secretariat under her stewardship. She, however, expressed renewed commitment to the new chairman of the MRU in moving the Union forward in achieving its goals.