Is Yenga truly free this time?

The Sierra Leone Telegraph: 2 May 2013

grand corruption in africaYenga is a potentially mineral rich territory belonging to Sierra Leone, which the despotic regime of Guinea has annexed and claimed ownership, for over a decade.

Playing a silly game of ‘finders – keepers’, successive governments in Conakry, have shown nothing but disrespect for the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Sierra Leone.

They have treated the people of Sierra Leone with the utmost contempt.

And the leaders of Sierra Leone have displayed a total lack of courage and strength of conviction to pursue the Guineans by all means necessary, in order to reclaim Yenga.

But reports from the Manor River Union summit taking place in Monrovia, say that a decision has been reached for Sierra Leone to take back what is hers – Yenga.

Several so called diplomatic missions aimed at returning the ownership of Yenga to Sierra Leone have ended in tears for the poor inhabitants of Yenga. In return for the stolen territory, the government of president Alpha Konde, had promised president Koroma that he will feed the people of Sierra Leone.

Election in Sierra LeoneSeveral tons of Guinean grown rice were shipped to Sierra Leone in 2012 in advance of the presidential elections in Sierra Leone, so as to keep the prices of the country’s staple diet under control, in an election year.

But at the sub-regional summit of heads of state, taking place in Monrovia this week, the issue of Yenga is top of the agenda.

And there are reports of a decision by the Guineans to end their illegal occupation of the border town.

With the history of Yenga replete with similar talk of Guinean ‘generousity and magnanimity’, which have all come to nought, it is not clear whether today’s news of Yenga being free at last is credible.

Malian army - BBCMany in Sierra Leone believe that the Guinean bully boys in khaki uniforms will never give up Yenga.

But Pa John Baimba Sesay, who is government information officer in China is hopeful.

This is his report:

Sierra Leone’s civil war left a plethora of challenges. At the diplomatic front, there was the Yenga dispute between Sierra Leone and Guinea. Yenga is in the eastern province of Sierra Leone, precisely in Kailahun.

When you think of Yenga, you have a reflection of Sierra Leone’s decade long civil war.

And devoid of any political connotation, former President Kabbah actually had the opportunity to solve this issue. This is a view once shared by the former president of the Sierra Leone Association of Journalists – Umaru Fofana.

He wrote in 2009 that President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah was “presented with the best opportunity to have resolved the Yenga issue; not least because he is fluent in Susu, the ethnic group of the then Guinean president Lansana Conteh, that the two would have found it more fraternal.”

I have had serious concerns about Yenga for many years. In August 2009, I wrote an article in which I made the case, that a responsible government should be able to protect its people from external aggression.

This argument was based on the premise, that a government is elected to office to protect its people, and ensure full protection of the nation’s territorial integrity.

president koroma - military commanderAnd given what President Koroma said, when he came to power in 2007 about resolving the Yenga issue, I was confident the issue will be resolved during his term in office.

I once recommended the use of diplomacy in solving the Sierra Leone-Guinea border challenge.

Border dispute in Africa is not a new phenomenon. Nigeria and Cameroon had their own experience over the Bakasi peninsula, just as Ethiopia and Eritrea did have theirs.

Sierra Leone was not spared from this regional challenge. But the encouraging development, when discussing the Sierra Leone-Guinea border issue is the manner with which both nations were able to settle their differences amicably.

And diplomacy actually worked – successfully. President Koroma’s use of diplomacy, coupled with the readiness on the part of the Guinean leadership must be recognized.

President Alpha Conde and President KoromaSeeking international arbitration could have been helpful, but the most practical and timely skill used by the two Presidents, demonstrated that where there is the political will, there is a way.

President Koroma has not disappointed his people; he promised to resolve the issue and he did.

Knowing the impact of diplomacy in resolving this issue, both governments on 27th July 2012 signed a joint declaration for the demilitarization of the disputed border town.

That is not all. I followed with keen interest, the 22nd summit of the Heads of State and Government of the Mano River Union (MRU), which took place yesterday 1 May 2013, in Liberia.

President Koroma and President Quattara - july 2012Present at the summit were president Ernest Bai Koroma of Sierra Leone; Alassane Ouattara of Côte d’Ivoire; Alpha Condé of Guinea; and madam Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia, who also doubles as chairperson of the Union and host of the summit.

My interest in this summit was centred on what was going to be said about Yenga. A number of issues came up that had to do with sub-regional peace, development and integration.

Amongst those issues were the 2013 fiscal budget of the MRU; issues around peace and Security, economic development and regional integration, which dealt with road infrastructure, energy and agriculture.

Specifically dealing with the union’s position on sub-regional and Africa-wide issues, a communiqué signed by the four Heads of State stated, amongst other things that:

“The Heads of State commended Prof. Alhaji Alpha CONDE, President of the Republic of Guinea, for his will, courage and maturity in resolving the Yenga issue…”

With the issue coming up at this level and for the Heads of State to command the courage and maturity used in resolving the issue, is an indication of how Africans have now seen the need to look out for African solutions to problems facing the continent.

President Alpha Conde and President KoromaResolving the Yenga issue has been one great success in terms of how both leaders from within the framework of MRU, have used diplomacy in ‘dialoguing’ a way out of this crucial issue.

This development, from Sierra Leone’s perspective is an indication of the sincerity of President Koroma in meeting the people’s expectations.

As I wrote in 2012, the use of diplomacy by the two leaders was the best of options in working towards an amicable settlement of this border dispute.

What is therefore encouraging is the fact that both President Koroma and Condé of Guinea, took into account the vast variety of other matters involved when dealing with the Yenga issue.

I am impressed the issue of Yenga came up during deliberations in Liberia. This is a real show of leadership by president Koroma and his Guinean counterpart.

The Koroma diplomacy worked and it brought the needed result.


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