Leaders of the Mano River states have finally come together to reach a security agreement for their troubled region. At a summit meeting in Morocco at the end of February, Presidents Charles Taylor of Liberia, Ahmad Tejan Kabbah of Sierra Leone and Lansana Conte of Guinea drew up a deal to ensure border security under the sponsorship of King Mohammed of Morocco.
Liberia and Sierra Leone have both attempted to launch oil exploration licensing rounds recently but potential investors have been dissuaded by the level of political instability and economic disintegration in the region.
A resolution to the many conflicts in the region has been difficult to reach because the intertwined nature of the disputes makes it virtually impossible to distinguish domestic from international clashes.
The governments of Sierra Leone and Guinea plus the United Nations accuse President Taylor of supporting the Revolutionary United Front (RUE) rebels, who are fighting against the Freetown administration. However, Taylor suspects Sierra Leone of backing groups opposed to his government.
At the same time, some Guinean rebel groups are based in the Kambia region of Sierra Leone. The difficulties are exacerbated by the fact that each government faces a whole host of armed opposition groups rather than a single enemy, so that a peace agreement with one does not stop the violence. In some instances, it is not even known who has carried out an attack. The years of fighting have produced large numbers of refugees in each country, some of whom are suspected by their home countries of being rebels.
Making a fresh start
Past attempts to resolve the many conflicts have floundered but the Guinean Foreign Minister, Mahawa Bangoura says that this time: "We have not talked about that. We have turned the page and forgotten about the past. Today's agreement is a brand new beginning for us." In support of the Morocco agreement, Ecowas (the Economic Community of West African States) has decided to hold a regional security summit in Nigeria.
Although the economic infrastructure of much of the Mano River region has been destroyed and with Liberia's GDP standing at a tiny $122 per head, it is the economic interests of the various groups that makes a solution most problematic.
Some groups control diamond, gold and timber operations in each other's countries, so that many of the rebel groups are more concerned with economic self interest than political or ethnic goals.
The situation has...