At the end of a two-day official visit of President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf to Ivory Coast, the Ivorian President Laurent Gbagbo announced his country’s decision to join the Mano River Union (MRU). President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf actually is the chair of the MRU.
What is it, that African presidents try over and again to establish, keep going and, if necessary, revive regional organizations, even though they haven’t had any success for decades?
The Mano River Union, aiming to create a customs union, was created in 1973 by then Presidents Siaka Stevens of Sierra Leone and William Tolbert of Liberia, and named after the river which starts in the Guinean highlands and forms the border between the two countries. In 1980 Guinea (Conakry) joined the organization. The organization was still-born. Both economic underdevelopment, political instability and the civil wars in Sierra Leone and Liberia prevented it from achieving its objectives. In 2004, then Presidents Conteh (Guinea), Kabbah (Sierra Leone) and Chairman Bryant (Liberia) reactivated the union. Now, a fourth country, the Republic of Côte d’Ivoire, joined. Will the union fare any better now?
The economies of African countries suffer from many weaknesses, one of them being a small domestic market. This partly explains the continuous attempts to establish regional economic groupings which may overcome this obstacle. The combined market of the four MRU-members totals well over 30 million people. About fifty percent of them are Ivorians. Moreover, the economy of the Republic of Côte d’Ivoire is more robust than those of the other three member-states – but maybe I should say, Ivory Coast’s economy was much stronger than those of its neighbours. Like Sierra Leone and Liberia, Ivory Coast has been confronted with political instability which resulted in a civil war. Actually, the country is divided in a government-controlled southern part and a rebel-hold northern part.
Guinea is the only country that has escaped, so far, from the civil war virus in the region. However, many people in the region hold their breath because of the ailing health of President Conteh of Guinea, in power since 1984, and the signs of a forthcoming power struggle between his supporters and opponents.
Maybe the Mano River Union, a regional organization aiming at economic integration, will prove to be more important as an organization that fosters political stability. For that reason it may deserve our support. Its big sister in the region, ECOWAS (the Economic Community of West African States), is a shining example. Created in 1975 it has achieved very little, in terms of its main objectives – etablishing an Economic Union – or looking at the standard of living of its population in the 15 West African member-states. However, its contribution to political stability in the sub-region is undisputed, even though it is mainly due to its most powerful member, Nigeria.
Monday, March 31
Today it is exactly two years ago that former president Charles Taylor was arrested in Nigeria and transferred, first to Sierra Leone, then to the Netherlands, to stand trial.
His trial, which had started in the second week of January 2008 and was interrupted for a two-week recess mid-March, resumed today. The morning session started with a direct examination of prosecution witness Isaac Mongor, also known as ‘Colonel Isaac’. Mongor, a Sierra Leonean who grew up in Liberia, told the Special Court for Sierra Leone that he has been abducted by Taylor’s National Patriotic Front of Liberia and became part of Charles Taylor’s Executive Mansion Guard before being sent by Taylor to Sierra Leone in the late 1990s. In the course of his testimony Mongor made a number of allegations about Taylor’s role in the civil war in Sierra Leone.
As I wrote earlier, I do not envy the judges. How reliable are witnesses, how consistent their testimonies? It will take many more months before the Court will bring in a verdict. The Special Court’s prosecutor has estimated that Taylor’s trial will last between 12 and 18 months. ‘The truth is rarely pure and never simple’, to quote Oscar Wilde.
The fight against impunity not only is a long one, it also is a costly one. The budget of the Special Court for Sierra Leone surpasses US $ 100 million. So far, the Special Court convicted less than ten accused among whom three leaders of the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council and three leaders of the former Civil Defense Forces. The indictments against the leader of Sierra Leone’s Revolutionary United Front, Foday Sankoh, and his Deputy-Commander, Sam ‘Mosquito’ Bockarie, were withdrawn because of the death of the two accused. The case of Bockarie particularly is interesting. He was killed in Liberia in 2003 during a shootout with Liberian forces. Persistent rumours in West Africa have it that Taylor sent his troops to kill Bockarie, rather than to arrest him, since Bockarie’s testimony at the Special Court for Sierra Leone could have implicated Taylor.
It may be interesting to assist at one – or more – of the sessions of the Special Court. The SCSL convenes in the building which houses the International Criminal Court in The Hague; it’s address: Maanweg 174, Voorburg, the Netherlands. The trial is being conducted Monday through Thursday in three sessions (9:30-11:30, 12:00-1:30, and 2:30-4:30). There is usually no afternoon session on Fridays.