Political Activities For The Attainment Of Peace And Development In The Mano River Union Basin
(Speech by Counselor Tiawon Gongloe)
Posted April 15, 2002
A Presentation By Tiawan S. Gongloe At The 2nd Mano River Union Civil Society Movement Conference Held At Hotel Novotel, Kaloun Conakry, Guinea From March 27, To 29.
Before I proceed any further, please permit me to extend my thanks and appreciation to the organizers of this conference for inviting me to make a presentation on the topic: "POLITICAL ACTIVITIES FOR THE ATTAINMENT OF PEACE AND DEVELOPMENT IN THE MANO RIVER UNION BASIN." Given the general theme of this conference "The involvement of the Mano River Union Civil Society Movement for peace and development", I believe the main focus of the topic I have been asked to make a presentation on is what political activities should the civil society movement within the Mano River Basin be involved in for the attainment of peace and development within the Mano River Basin. For me, the simple answer is that members of civil society organizations should participate in all political activities guaranteed by the various constitutions of members states of the Mano River Union and the various international instruments promotive of the right of the people to participate in the conduct of public affairs, to which member states of the MRU are parties.
The only guide to getting involved in political activities is that the objectives of those activities should be lawful and the manner of achieving them must be lawful. In this way the civil society can play a key role in the building of a just, human, and stable social order within the Mano River Basin. This is a necessary pre-condition for the attainment of peace and development within the Mano River Basin. This means that violence is not an option for the civil society movement within the Mano River Basin.
The participation of the civil society in violence directly or indirectly runs counter to the objectives of attaining peace and development within the Mano River Basin; therefore violence no matter how small the scale should not be adopted as part of the problem solving methods of the civil society movement within the Mano River Basin. Non - violent actions must therefore be the only activities for peace and development. This proposition is off course for the future because the past thirteen (13) years has seen the active involvement of civil society members, mainly the younger members, in violent activities for the attainment of political objectives. Tens of thousands of young people within the Mano River Basin have been unfortunately used by some evil-minded men to destroy whatever development was made within the basin.
In order to find a proper way forward for the participation of the civil society movement in political activities in such a manner that would lead to peace and development within the Mano River Basin, it is important to identify what has led to the escalation of conflict and destruction within the Basin.
SOURCE OF CONFLICT AND DESTRUCTION WITHIN THE MANO RIVER UNION
It is a well-known fact that the armed conflict within the MRU started in Liberia and then spread to Sierra Leone and Guinea. This is the first time that a conflict of this nature has developed since Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone gained independence and since the Mano River Union was formed. This is also the first time that hundreds of thousands of Sierra Leoneans and Liberians have become refugees and internally displaced persons. Further, this is the first time that extreme cruelty has been displayed within the MRU, to the extend that an international tribunal for the adjudication of cases involving the violation of human rights and humanitarian law has been established in a member state of the union. Finally this is the first time that two member states of the MRU have nearly collapsed as nation states. Yes indeed, since December 24, 1989, when a group of Liberians launched an attack on Liberia from the Ivory Coast, the Mano River basin has seen no peace and therefore no development, but the intensification of the armed conflict that started on December 24, 1989 in Liberia and the consequent increase in human suffering, death and destruction of basic infrastructure within the Mano River Basin.
One basic question related to the armed conflict within the Mano River Basin is what is unique about the conflict that started in Liberia on December 24, 1989 that made it to engulf Liberia within less than a year and to extend to Sierra Leone, where its impact in human terms has been greater than in Liberia; to virtually destroy at least a major city in Guinea and to threaten the stability of the entire West African sub-region. If all of the houses in a village are roofed with the same material, for example palm thatch, it should be expected that when fire starts in one house it will quickly spread to other houses in the village and the impact will be virtually the same from one house to the other. But if the rolfings are different, it is likely that such differences may impede the progress of the fire and the impact from one house to the other may vary in degree. Perhaps if the social, economic and political conditions in the Mano River basin were qualitatively different, the conflict that started in Liberia would not have spread so fast in the Mano River basin with nearly the same impact in every country within the basin.
Prior to the 1989 armed conflict in Liberia, the same social, economic and political conditions that existed in Liberia obtained in Guinea and Sierra Leone, notably, mass poverty; mass unemployment; mass illiteracy; high level of ignorance; the existence of virtual one party rule; intolerance of opposing views by government; the control of power by a few based upon party affiliation; ethnic identity or family connection; the lack of an independente judiciary or the strong influence of the executive branch of government over the judiciary, and the use of force by government to deal with any attempt by any citizen or group of citizens to initiate a debate about change. In short, prior to the civil war in Liberia, there was a complete lack of democracy in each MRU country. The right of the people to freely choose their government through an open and transparent electoral process and to influence the process of governance for their welfare and protection was not only disregarded but blocked by each government within the basin prior to the Liberian civil war.
From the foregoing it is clear that, prior to the armed conflict within the basin each government within the MRU was virtually without a foundation, the support of the people being the foundation of every democratic government. Therefore governments within the MRU were vulnerable, perhaps without knowing it, because of the illusion that the strength and survival of a government depend solely on its military capability. Perhaps the governments of the MRU were oblivious of the lessons of history regarding reliance only on military capability. It is this scenario that I have just briefly described that caused the conflict that started in Liberia to spread so fast within the Mano River basin and to have similar impact in each country, particularly in Liberia and Sierra Leone. It is this unfortunate situation that was exploited by a few evil-minded people to start an armed conflict with the Mano River Basin.
WHAT ROLE DID CIVIL SOCIETY PLAY WITHIN THE MRU PRIOR TO THE CONFLICT?
The civil society groups prior to the conflict were mainly professional organizations such as the teachers associations, the bar associations, the medical and dental associations, amongst others and interest groups such as marketing associations, workers unions, amongst others. The civil society groups, prior to the conflict, largely concentrated on the their narrow organizational concerns without dealing with those concerns within the scope of the larger concerns in each country associated with the process of governance. There was also no networking and collaboration amongst these civil society groups in each country and within the basin; therefore, they could not identify common problems and common solutions. Civil society groups remained divided and individualistic in dealing with issues of concern to them. None of them could succeed in solving these problems because they ignored the basic fact that the problems that faced them were rooted in the process of governance. Yet any discussion relating to the process of governance was considered political and was avoided within professional and interest groups, particularly in Liberia.
The irony is that governments within the MRU were aware that whatever problems the various civil society groups were facing emanated from the process of governance. These governments also knew that civil society groups could become powerful instruments of political change if they are left uncontrolled and uninfluenced. In Liberia for example, the marketing association was highly politicized in favor of the government of the day. The politicization of the civil society groups by their governments made them instruments of mass support for the abuse of the rights of the people. In Liberia, for instance, the marketing association and some civil society groups became cheering squads for the government of the day. Yet any attempt in these groups to express opinion different from that of the government was considered political. It goes without saying, therefore that the political activities of some civil society groups within the Mano River basin contributed to the conflict within the basin and consequently the lack of peace and development within the basin. The question then is what political activities must civil society groups be engaged in for the attainment of peace and development.
THE WAY FORWARD
In order for lasting peace and durable development to evolve out of the ashes of the conflict within the MRU civil society groups within the MRU must break with the past of being government cheering squads. This is not to suggest that civil society groups should be anti-government and to serve as hindrance to governance within the MRU. Civil society groups emanate directly from the people; hence, they must be people centered by playing a key role in seeking the welfare of the greater number of the people within the MRU . In playing such role civil society should provide enormous support for government whenever government does good for the people and should not support government when it acts against the interest of the people. The civil society groups within the Mano River Basin must persuade their governments at all times to act in the interest of the people. In playing this political role, civil society groups should strive not to be perceived as pro-government or pro-oppositon. Civil society groups must remain objective to ensure strength and credibility.
The way to change the orientation of civil society groups within the MRU basin from being perceived as pro-government or anti-government to being perceived as pro-people or people centered organizations is for the MRU civil society movement to embark on a vigorous process of providing political education to the people about governance in a democracy. The people must be made aware that in a democracy, the people are the source and owners of power, that power is given by the people temporarily for a definite period defined by law; that power is not legitimate when it is seized; that the object of political power is the welfare and protection of the people and that people have a right and duty at all times to guide or influence the process of governance. In order for the civil society movement within the MRU to play an effective role in strengthening the process of democratic governance, it must itself promote internal democracy and be democratic in all its actions. In this way the civil society movement within the MRU will become credible and effective in the process of influencing good governance, which is the foundation of peace and development. In other words the civil society movement within the MRU should, by example, teach governments within the MRU good governance. This is the nature of the political activities that the civil society movement within the MRU should be engaged in for the attainment of peace and development within the MRU.
Civil society groups should never again allow themselves to be used as instrument of support for bad governance, neither should they allow themselves to be used as instruments of opposition to government or instrument of destruction. Their political activities should be focused on influencing the process of governance in such a way that the welfare and protection of a greater majority of the people becomes the cardinal objectives of governance within the MRU. In order to achieve this goal there is a need for networking and coordination at all levels of civil society, building upon common identities. This involves constant sharing of information on problems, problem-solving methods and success stories in relation to governance within the MRU amongst civil society groups within the basin. People to people contact can be a powerful tool in problem solving between and amongst nations.
Let me conclude by giving you an example of how effective people to people contacts can be between nations. About a couple of years ago the mah speaking people of Liberia and those of Guinea, in the face of the war in Lofa county and considering the possibility that the area bordering Liberia and Guinea, occupied by the mah speaking people could be used as a battle front, began discussion on finding ways to contribute to their collective security. These discussions resulted in a consensus amongst the Mah speaking people of the two MRU countries that they should not allow the use of the border areas between the two countries occupied by the Mah speaking people as a source of attack by any group. To the extend that there has been no war in that area, the efforts of the Mah speaking people of Guinea and Liberia must be commended. Perhaps every ethnic group that has representation across two or more borders should develop such consensus for the promotion of Peace. This is something that the Civil Society Movement should promote within the MRU.
I THANK YOU!
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