During the civil conflicts in Sierra Leone and Liberia, nearly half a million refugees fled from these countries to Guinea and tensions among all three countries were heightened. MRU became the mechanism to foster information exchange, enhance mutual understanding, and reduce tensions among communities and countries. The MRU 15th Protocol on Peace, Security and Defense, adopted in 2000, established Joint Border Security and Confidence Building Units that promote dialogue and resolve disputes among border communities by conducting joint border patrols, promoting unity among residents, exchanging relevant information, and investigating border security threats. The Units provide early warning on security and socio-economic challenges by reporting to the Peace and Security Unit of the MRU Secretariat, who relay issues of concern to higher Secretariat levels and eventually to Member State leaders. As of July 2019, there are 38 operating Units in the sub-region.
The sub-region has high potential for diamond smuggling as many mining sites are near borders. Funds from this illegal activity fueled the past civil conflicts. Beginning in 2013, MRU worked with partners on an MRU Regional Approach for the Kimberley Process (KP), a global program to remove conflict diamonds, rough diamonds used to finance wars against governments, from the global supply chain. Workshops brought together governments, civil society and industry, for capacity building, enhanced collaboration, and on-the-ground KP implementation support. All Member States committed to KP, including harmonizing laws and policies and improving internal controls. In 2018, a workshop was held with 50+ law enforcement participants from all MRU countries – customs, anti-fraud brigades and border security authorities. Participants were trained in investigative procedures and on tools to conduct KP certificate checks. Plans were made to strengthen information exchange among countries.
During the Ebola health crisis of 2014-2016, MRU regularly collected information from Member States to know the magnitude of the epidemic and, with partner support, proposed interventions to break the chain of transmission. This included targeted community outreach, especially in cross-border areas. MRU convened the Ministerial Council and Heads of States Summit to discuss strategy, resulting in a Joint Declaration for increased coordination and several Joint Communiques. Other meetings were held with technical advisors and to engage the private sector. MRU mobilized resources from donor partners to facilitate coordinated efforts by Member States and organized country monitoring visits to ascertain Ebola response progress. In time, this strategy halted spread of the disease. MRU is now coordinating efforts to regularly monitor and share health information.
The MRU sub-region contains several transboundary forest areas at risk of continued deforestation and degradation that are best conserved through cooperative country efforts. In 2017, MRU and several partners launched a program to conserve these areas, including the Ziama-Wonegizi-Wologizi Forest Landscape between Liberia and Guinea, which holds one of the largest remaining intact blocks of the Upper Guinea Rainforest. MRU and national-level authorities work together on an integrated ecosystem management approach that includes biodiversity conservation, good governance, and livelihood opportunities for local communities. Similar programs are ongoing for forest areas between Liberia and Cote d’Ivoire and Liberia and Sierra Leone. Learning by doing, and sharing effective forest management practices, will strengthen local interventions and inform local, national, and regional policies in support of community-based conservation efforts.