Ridding the country and the sub-region of illicit small arms and light weapons (SALW) requires the involvement of civil society and civil society organizations, women and youth groups, the communities, media and all well-meaning Liberians, the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) Country Director Dr. Pa Lamin Beyai has said.
Dr. Beyai said ensuring that guns are taken from the hands of unauthorized users requires the collective effort of citizens, residents and partners of Liberia. “I reaffirm UNDP’s commitment to work with ECOWAS, EU and other development partners, to provide support to SALW with the goal of building secure and conflict free societies in Liberia and in the region,” said Dr. Beyai recently at the opening of a two-day stakeholders’ engagement and lessons learned session. Superintendents of Maryland, River Gee, Grand Gedeh, Grand Cape Mount, Lofa, Nimba, Bong, and Gbarpolu counties participated in the event held in Ganta, Nimba County.
“The intrinsic linkage between disarmament, security, and development has been reflected in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which call for a significant reduction by 2030 of illicit arms flow (target 16.4) and strengthening of relevant national institutions in developing countries and by building their capacity to prevent violence, combat terrorism (target 16.a),” Dr. Beyai said.
The project is a component of the program “European Union Support to the ECOWAS Peace, Security and Stability mandate (EU-ECOWAS PSS),” implemented between 2013-2019. It seeks to support ECOWAS in its capacity to effectively address factors of instability and reinforce a proactive approach to peace-building, conflict prevention and resolution in West Africa. Specifically, the ECOWAS-EU Small Arms Project seeks to advance the implementation of the component “Practical Disarmament” of the ECOWAS Conflict Prevention Framework (ECPF) in member states.
Ambassador Babatunde Olanreweju Ajisomo, the Special Representative of the President of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) Commission to Liberia, said he was glad that the project was now moving in the right direction with the inclusion of additional counties that share borders with Guinea and Sierra Leone.
He thanked the organizers for their farsightedness in the inclusion of the five additional counties, Grand Cape Mount, Lofa, Nimba, Bong, and Gbarpolu and lauded the county authorities for accepting the project. The ECOWAS Special Envoy said a mandate has been given to the Liberia National Commission on Small Arms (LiNCSA) through this project to ensure that illegal arms in the possession of people across Liberia must be identified, collected and destroyed in accordance with ECOWAS Protocols.
LiNCSA chairman James Fromayan said the meeting was intended to share experiences on what has worked, lessons learned and to plan the implementation of the project in both the pilot counties and the additional five counties. He told the stakeholders to be frank and open minded in pointing out issues that could hinder the successful implementation of the project in the pilot counties and advance best suggestions for curbing them. He thanked the Small Arms Commissions of Guinea and Cote d’Ivoire for graciously accepting to come and share with their Liberian counterparts methods and strategies used in the implementation of the project in these countries.
Saikou Sow and Ali Fofana, Project Coordinators of Guinea and Cote d’Ivoire, made separate presentations on the achievements and challenges of the project in the neighboring countries.
It was agreed that any success in illicit arms collection at the local level would need the involvement of local authorities. As a result, the eight superintendents pledged to fully support the implementation of the project. As community benefits continue to be a challenge, it was agreed that the project will consider as much as possible focus group (Women, youth, elders, hunters, etc.) initiatives if they turn over illegal arms. It was also agreed that the project will as much as possible work with the counties’ security councils.
This pilot project is focused on two clusters covering six (6) countries, namely Northern Niger – Mali; (Sahel) and (Mano River Union) – (West of Cote d’Ivoire; Guinée Forestière; East of Liberia; North-East of Sierra Leone). Drawing on UNDP’s capacity in the area of SALW, the ECOWAS and the EU identified UNDP as a partner to provide project implementation support. The presentation of the ECOWAS-EU Small Arms Pilot Project was done by Lacina Barro, Liberia Project and MRU Cluster Coordinator.