In the Mano River Region, which includes Côte d’Ivoire, Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, two civil wars and two political crises have led to more than 500,000 deaths and the destruction of the functioning of state institutions.
Although armed conflicts are officially over, there are still political tensions and the lives of many people remain fragile, with societies caught in an uncertain balance between democratic growth, insecurity and poverty. There are many challenges to achieving justice and securing lasting peace.
Rebuilding communities for lasting peace
Peace agreements eventually ended war in Sierra Leone in 2002 and Liberia in 2003. Sierra Leone held its third post-war elections in August 2012 – a sign democracy was at work. Liberia's 2005 election brought into power Africa's first female president, with a second successful election in 2011, despite questions about the conduct of the election and some violence. Land conflicts persist in each of the Mano River Union countries.
Meanwhile in Côte d’Ivoire, though a peace agreement in 2007 ended four years of political impasse and a sustained period of conflict, the country is still deeply divided. Indeed, the disputed result of the 2010 presidential election triggered a political crisis and months of further violence. Efforts at reform and economic development are patchy but the Sanctions Committee Chair, Cristián Barros Melet, said the 2015 presidential election will be a critical time to assess the post-crisis security situation.Efforts at reconciliation however, continue to be affected by intermittent attacks, especially in the West of the country.
The interconnectedness of all these neighbouring countries must be seen in the context of strong historical and cultural ties that exist between the peoples of this region. Mandigo people reside in Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone; Fula people are present in most countries across West Africa including Guinea, Sierra Leone, Senegal, Nigeria, Burkina Faso and Mali. The line where one nation ends and another begins can be unclear.
Caught between borders
After the wars ended, young people had to return to the border communities, where there are few opportunities for skills development, training and employment. Disenfranchised young people and ex-combatants– considered a root cause of previous conflicts – still face serious social, economic and political exclusion.
Meanwhile, unauthorised crossing points create opportunities for trade in illicit drugs, human trafficking, illegal arms and for criminal violence. Border communities are left insecure and susceptible to crime and uncontrolled refugee related challenges. The situation is precarious, especially given widespread perceptions that previous wars in this region started from the border areas.
The Ebola crisis and the inadequate state responses to the outbreak have heightened tensions in the Mano River border regions. Border communities have seen some of the worst cases and the highest death toll due to a poor and often non-existent health system, poor infrastructure, weak governance and very slow response rate. These mounting tensions are eroding relationships at all levels of society threatening to turn a largely public health crisis into a larger security crisis.