President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf says it is not an option for Côte d'Ivoire and Liberia to work together, rather it's a necessity. She emphasized that there's a need for both countries to find new ways to enhance cooperation and collaboration and to explore all avenues to ensure that there will never be conflict between the two countries, the Mano River Union Basin, and the sub-region.
According to an Executive Mansion release, President Sirleaf was addressing the closingceremony of thefirstJoint Council of Chiefs and Elders Meeting(JCCEM) of border communities of Liberia and Côte d'Ivoire in Zwedru, Grand Gedeh County, on Saturday, October 19. Making special remarks earlier was Ivoirian President Alassane Ouattara.
The four-day meeting brought together several hundred traditional chiefs and elders from bordering communities in Grand Gedeh, Nimba, Maryland and River Gee counties of Liberia, as well as those from Guiglo, Danané, Tabou and Tai of Côte d'Ivoire. Also attending the meeting were authorities from the UN Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) and the UN Operation in Côte d'Ivoire (UNOCI), as well as government officials of the two countries.
The Liberian leader highlighted the deepened economic ties between both countries, and in partnership with the European Union, in implementing a project that will bring electricity out of Côte d'Ivoire to 18 towns and communities along the border with Liberia.
"As many of you are aware, we are currently constructing and erecting light poles, transmission and distribution lines here in Zwedru, Toe Town, Ganta, and elsewhere. This project will ultimately bring affordable electricity to over 10,000 families," President Sirleaf said, adding that additional lines are being builtfrom Man, in Côte d'Ivoire, to Yekepa, then down to Buchanan. "This line ends up in Sierra Leone and Guinea, connecting our four countries to what is called the West Africa Power Pool."
The Liberian leader also noted that the two countries are working together to build roads that will link both countries.She said that in the sub-region, they can boast of the reactivation and strengthening of the Mano River Union (MRU), whose leadership is committed to regional cooperation and integration, with a focus on cross-border infrastructural development and value added to the vast natural resources contained in eachcountry.
President Sirleaf stressed that although the Mano River Union countries are at peace, they face enormous challenges, such as poor road network and extremely low access to electricity, in the three poorer member countries. She noted that with the extraction of natural resources as the main engine of growth in theireconomies, there is a need for increased investment in roads and energy to allow for inclusive private sector development; improved agriculture productivity that will enable their economies to diversify; while also increasing countries institutional capacities to manage government resources transparently and efficiently, and the development of human capital.
Sheindicated that as a result of the four-day Joint Council Meeting, both countries look forward to improved relationships between and amongst inter-regional and trans-border groups, including the chiefs and elders; and to a more inclusive dialogue platform responsive to the peace, security and reconciliation needs of all the citizens, particularly those in the trans-border communities.
Commenting on the Joint Communiqué signed between the two governments,andaddressing issues of border security, youth empowerment, refugee repatriation and reconciliation, President Sirleaf said it reflects what both governments have agreed as the way forward for mutual stability and development and, beyond that, for the sub-region, including re-establishing mechanisms for cooperation in the economic, education and cultural fields, which will lead to greater unity amongst the people.
President Sirleaf said that in the peaceful setting surrounding the meeting in Zwedru, Grand Gedeh County, one could not but reflect on how far both countries have come from the days when there were problems on the border. She also remembered the support of the sub-region that has enabled Liberia to now celebrate its tenth consecutive year of peace, and she thanked all of those that had allowed the country to achieve this.
In his remarks, President Ouattara expressed profound gratitude to President Sirleaf and the Government of Liberia for the warm welcome accorded his delegation each time they come to Liberia. He said the question of security and peaceful co-existence between the people of the two countries has been a serious concern of his government, notably within the Mano River Basin and the sub-region. Because of these concerns, they established a Commission, represented by the two governments and the two United Nations peacekeeping missions in Côte d'Ivoire and Liberia, which provides early warning information of insecurity in all its forms within the border area.
The Ivoirian President said this is the result of meetings between all the stakeholders held in Abidjan, Côte d'Ivoire, in 2012 and the latest one held in Monrovia on April 5, 2013. He said the Zwedru meeting was to discuss and sensitize the population at the border area about the security of both countries and to reinforce cooperation, dialogue and reconciliation as well as exchange information between the various communities along the border areas.
President Ouattara noted that the population along the border is the same - the same tribe and culture. Due to the crisis, relations degenerated to the extent where it developed into a serious problem. He said 15 years ago, it was Côte d'Ivoire hosting Liberians during their war; three years ago, it was Liberia who received Ivoirians when they were seeking refuge from the Ivoirian crisis after the election. "After all this, it is very important to preserve peace and social cohesion between our two countries," he said, adding, "We have an obligation to integrate social and economic policies to benefit our two countries and people."
He emphasized the need for the two governments to accelerate the implementation of cooperation agreements, especially the interconnection of the two countries by electricity and the pavement of roads. President Ouattara then made this announcement: "We have decided, Madam President, that the pavement of the road between Zwedru and Touleplue will be a priority for us during the next few years. This will be able to enable the free movement of people and goods between our two countries." He went on to say that he will not stop until his government contributes to sub-regional and regional initiatives which will help to maintain the political stability on the continent. He was convinced that this it was for this reason that his country has bounced back as a country emerging in the 21st century.
President Ouattara thanked both Special Representatives of the UN Secretary-General, to Côte d'Ivoire and Liberia, for all they have done for the consolidation of peace, national reconciliation and the restoration of state authority in the two countries.
The Ivoirian leader also made an appeal for all Ivoirians to return home. "Because of this, I'm making a passionate call on my compatriots still seeking refuge in Liberia to return home. The country is awaiting you."
Beyond the political and security issues, President Ouattara emphasized that his government has now begun the sensitization against impunity in all its forms and the promotion of culture and human rights. He disclosed that the issue of human rights will be introduced in the curriculum of all the secondary schools, so that everyone will become conscious of the need to ensure and preserve human rights and dignity.
He thanked President Sirleaf, the host, for all the efforts put in place to organize the meeting which, for him, was a big success. He further thanked all the participants for the outcome and the recommendations that came out of the meeting, and assured them that both he and President Sirleaf will do all within their means to implement the recommendations, noting that this seems to be an ideal structure to solve the security problem along the common border of both countries as well as enhance social cohesion.
He announced that the next meeting of the Joint Council of Chiefs and Elders will be held in Côte d'Ivoire sometime next year.
The Joint Council of Chiefs and Elders Meeting between Liberia and Côte d'Ivoire which took place from October 16-19, 2013, in a Communiqué, resolved to set up a technical working group for the implementation of recommendations and resolutions from the meeting, with focal persons at the Ministry of Internal Affairs (Liberia) and the Ministry of Interior (Côte d'Ivoire) appointed to monitor the process and update the steering committee on progress and challenges.
The Communiqué resolved: to involve the Joint Council of Chiefs and Elders in establishing, developing and sustaining national peace infrastructures; to encourage the participation of governments, civil society organizations, the private sector and the media in the search for durable peace; and to implement appropriate economic, social and cultural cross-border stabilization interventions by development partners in cross-border towns and national reconciliation programs, which cut across the divide.
The participants further resolved to facilitate the design and implementation of a trans-border initiative, within the context of both countries' Strategic Roadmap for National Healing, Peace-building and Reconciliation, including members of the Diaspora of both countries.
They urged the Liberian and Ivoirian governments to facilitate the self-empowerment of civil society, particularly women, youth, religious and community groups, and the media in the implementation of agreed strategies and programs; and to work with the administrative and political authorities, the refugees and the UNHCR in order to find durable solutions aimed at facilitating the voluntary repatriation of refugees.
Internal Affairs Minister, Mr. Morris Dukuly, Sr., signed the document on behalf of Liberia while the Minister of State and Internal Security, Mr. Hamed Bakayoko, signed on behalf of Côte d'Ivoire. It was witnessed by the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Liberia, Mr. Augustine Kpehe Ngafuan, and the Minister of State of Côte d'Ivoire, Mr. Charles Koffi Diby.
Earlier, the Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General for the UN Operation in Côte d'Ivoire, Ms. Aicha Mindaoudou Souleymane, and the Acting Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General in Liberia, Mr. Aeneas Chuma, in separate remarks, praised the two countries for the strides they have made to promote and consolidate peace, security and harmony on both sides of the border. They indicated that both countries coming together in this important exchange and in large numbers is a testament to their commitment to working together and tackling common solutions to common problems.
Also making remarks on behalf of their colleagues were Paramount Chief James Kyne of Grand Gedeh County, Liberia, and Paramount Chief Victor Coulayes of Guiglo, Côte d'Ivoire.