Mano River Region
In the Mano River region, which includes Côte d’Ivoire, Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, conflict has led to more than 300,000 deaths, displaced millions of people and contributed to widespread economic underdevelopment. The violent conflicts that scarred West Africa from the 1980s onwards were marked by extreme cruelty, mindless atrocities and the widespread use of sexual violence and child soldiers. Communities were devastated and most schools, hospitals, power supplies and roads were destroyed. There are now young adults with no or limited employable skills, who are vulnerable due to perpetual crime and violence.
Although the armed conflicts are officially over, life for many people in the Mano River region remains fragile, with societies caught in an uncertain balance between democratic growth and poverty. There are many challenges to achieving justice and securing lasting peace.
An end to the fighting but instability remains
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 MRU countries, especially with the influx of foreign investors requiring large parcels of land for extractive industries. With the application of the Cessation Clause of Liberian Refugees, some people are returning to find their family lands taken over by others, including the government, sparking tensions.
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. Efforts at reform and economic development are patchy, and elections in December 2010 drew attention to deep splits reviving hostilities. Efforts at reconciliation continue to be affected by intermittent attacks, especially in the West of the country. The country is due to have elections and there is hope that strategies will be developed to consolidate peaceful transition and reconciliation.
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.
Life around the borders
The Mano River region has long and porous borders, which are often not well managed. There are only a few classified border posts, while several other crossing points are left to the mercy of ‘volunteers’ or organised gangs. The official crossing posts have onerous procedures and often states have no clear policies or do not monitor the implementation of the policies that do exist.
Border communities find themselves in an environment with limited access to basic amenities such as education, health and justice. They feel excluded from processes of reconstruction in the post-war context and want to be included in political, social and economic development. Acute poverty adds to their marginalisation.
An uneasy balance
After the wars ended, young people had to return to these border communities where there are few opportunities for skills development, training and employment. Disenfranchised young people – 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.
Border officials lack supervision and work in very challenging environments with inadequate equipment or facilities to deliver effective services. As explored in Talking Borders, some officials resort to corrupt practices, extortion and the harassment of travellers, especially females and youth who go across the border on a daily basis to earn a living through trade.
The situation is precarious, especially given widespread perceptions that previous wars in this region started from the border areas.
In Nigeria escalating inter-communal violence has destabilised and divided communities. Political, economic and religious violence left over 12,000 people dead, 150,000 displaced and millions of livelihoods disrupted since 2001. Militancy, radicalism and recruitment into gangs and involved in violent crime are on the rise.
In areas such Plateau State, in the North-Central Zone of Nigeria, youth are particularly susceptible to being drawn into conflict situations because the violence provides them with an opportunity to express their dissatisfaction whilst also giving them power and status absent from their everyday lives. Youth have been excluded from participation in political, social and economic spheres, and have limited access to education, healthcare and well-paid jobs. High levels of drug and alcohol abuse further exacerbate the marginalisation and vulnerability of youth. Increasingly, young people are relying upon gang culture to provide them with a sense of community. This makes young people easy targets for politicians, religious leaders and even security officials who offer them money to take part in violence and crime.
Boko Haram have begun to carry out attacks in Plateau’s neighboring States, such as Bauchi, Adamawa, Taraba, and Gombe, killing several civilians in these states, including school children. In June 2012, 37 people, including 2 policemen, were killed in Jos. Concerns are growing that Boko Haram are recruiting dissatisfied local youth. In February 2014, 39 people were killed by militant attacks and again later that same month, Islamist gunmen at the Federal Government College in Yobe State killed around 60 school children.
In Plateau state, episodes of mass violence in 2001, 2004 and 2008 left hundreds of people dead and communities further segregated. In April 2014, 13 people were killed, with over 30 houses burnt in the Ryom Local government area in the Plateau State. On 20 May 2014 twin bombs in the city of Jos killed 100 people. There continue to be intermittent attacks and killings in several villages on the outskirts of Jos.
Conciliation Resources and civil society partners are advocating for a long-term political strategy which addresses the underlying causes of conflict, improves security and encompasses reconciliatory measures and respect for the rule of law.