The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) has called for the involvement of civil society and civil society organizations, women and youth groupings, the communities, media and all well-meaning Liberians in ridding the country and the sub-region of illicit small arms and light weapons (SALW).
UNDP Country Director Dr. Pa Lamin Beyai said ensuring that guns are taken from the hands of unauthorized users requires the collective effort of citizens, residents and partners of Liberia.
"I reaffirm UNDP's commitment to work with ECOWAS, EU and other development partners, to provide support to SALW with the goal of building secure and conflict free societies in Liberia and in the region... ." Dr. Beyai said recently at the opening of a two-day stakeholder's engagement and lesson learned session.
Superintendents of Maryland, River Gee, Grand Gedeh, Grand Cape Mount, Lofa, Nimba, Bong, and Gbarpolu Counties formed part of the event held in Ganta, Nimba County.
The UNDP Country Director noted that his agency will spare no effort to coordinate its work efficiently with other international partners to better support the Liberia National Commission on Small Arms (LiNCSA) and the project beneficiaries in their aspiration for peace, security and development in Liberia.
Dr. Beyai stressed that ensuring sustainability of outcomes and increasing the impact of the project requires the active participation of stakeholders at all levels.
"The intrinsic linkage between disarmament, security, and development has been reflected in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) which call for a significant reduction by 2030 of illicit arms flow (target 16.4) and strengthening of relevant national institutions, in developing countries, by building their capacity to prevent violence, combat terrorism (target 16.a) ... .." Dr. Beyai said.
The project is an integral component of the programme "European Union Support to the ECOWAS Peace, Security and Stability mandate (EU-ECOWAS PSS)", implemented 2013-2019.
It seeks to support ECOWAS in its capacity to effectively address factors of instability and reinforce a proactive approach to peace-building, conflict prevention and resolution in West Africa.
Specifically, the ECOWAS-EU Small Arms Project seeks to advance the implementation of the component "Practical Disarmament" of the ECOWAS Conflict Prevention Framework (ECPF) in Member-States.
Ambassador Babatunde Olanreweju Ajisomo, the Special Representative of the President of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) Commission to Liberia also spoke at the program.
Ambassador Ajisomo said he was glad that the project was now moving in the right direction with the inclusion of additional counties that equally share borders with Guinea and Sierra Leone.
He thanked the organizers for their farsightedness in the inclusion of the five additional counties, Grand Cape Mount, Lofa, Nimba, Bong, and Gbarpolu and lauded the county authorities for accepting the project.
"Fighting or addressing the dangers of small arms and light weapons is a herculean task. It requires the collective effort of everybody... . And because they do not have a defined boundary, they move about and look for a safe haven; so incorporating additional counties, particularly counties that share borders is important for us to acknowledge this fact... ." Amb. Ajisomo said.
The ECOWAS Special Envoy said a mandate has been given to the Liberia National Commission on Small Arms (LiNCSA) through this project to ensure that illegal arms in the possession of people across Liberia must be identified, collected and destroyed in accordance with ECOWAS Protocols.
For his part, LiNCSA Chairman, James Fromayan said the meeting was intended to share experience on what has worked, lessons learned and strategize the implementation of the project in both the pilot Counties and the additional 5 counties.
Chairman Fromayan told the stakeholders to be frank and open minded in pointing out those issues that could have hindered the successful implementation of the project in the pilot counties and advance best suggestions in curbing those situations.
He thanked the Small Arms Commissions of Guinea and Cote d'Ivoire for graciously accepting to come and share with their Liberian counterparts methods and strategies used in the implementation of the project in these countries.
Saikou Sow and Ali Fofana, Project Coordinators of Guinea and Cote d'Ivoire made separate presentations on the achievements and challenges of the project in the neighboring countries.
At the meeting, it was agreed that any success in illicit arms collection at the local level would need the involvement of local authorities. As a result, the 8 Superintendents promised that they will fully support the implementation of the project at the level of their respective Counties.
As the community benefit continues to be a challenge, it was agreed that the project will consider as much as possible focus group (Women, youth, elders, hunters etc.) initiatives if they turn over illegal arms. It was also agreed that the project will as much as possible work with the Counties' security Councils.
This pilot project is focused on two clusters covering six (6) countries, namely Northern Niger - Mali; (Sahel) and (Mano River Union) - (West of Cote d'Ivoire; Guinée Forestière; East of Liberia; North-East of Sierra Leone).
Drawing on UNDP's capacity in the area of SALW, the ECOWAS and the EU identified UNDP as a partner to provide project implementation support.
Presentation of the ECOWAS-EU Small Arms Pilot Project was done by Lacina Barro, Liberia Project and MRU Cluster Coordinator.