MONROVIA – An orderly transition of leadership at 49-year old Mano River Union(MRU) took place Friday, November 11, 2022, in Freetown, Sierra Leone, when the Outgoing Secretary General of the organization, Ambassador Medina Wesseh, turned over the gavel of authority at the end of her turned over to Madam Maria G. Harrison.
The new Secretary General was recently appointed by President George Manneh Weah to continue the second-term tenure allotted to Liberia through the amended protocol of the institution that allows a member country to serve a mandatory two straight terms.
The Minister of Planning and Economic Development of Sierra Leone, Dr. Francis Kaikai, described the turnover ceremony as an “all Liberian affair” since both the outgoing and incoming MRU Secretary Generals were Liberians. He, and various speakers who made remarks at the occasion, lauded the orderly transition and commended the stewardship of Ambassador Wesseh for the exemplary leadership exhibited while serving in the position. They particularly pointed to the challenging moment of the organization during her term which was plagued by funding inadequacy and other issues that impeded the progress of the organization.
Minister Kaikai, in his brief remarks, said as the host minister of MRU he and his staff and by extension the government of Sierra Leone had a cordial relationship with Ambassador Wesseh, citing some challenges in the course of her duty—challenges for which there were always room to be ironed out in the interest of the subregional organization.
He said Ambassador Wesseh “will be dearly missed”.
The Sierra Leonean Planning and Development Minister used to occasion to enumerate some of the many challenges facing MRU, among which is the lack of a befitting secretariat office of its own which is key to running an effective organization.
The said though a land has been secured, the lack of funding has stalled the construction process. He highly spoke of the discouraging budget support from member states. According to him, member states have hardly been meeting their individual quotas of USD500,000 annually.
He said this has affected the smooth operation of the institution and urged member states to honor their obligations on time if MRU is to achieve its objectives.
Dr. Kaikai also took the time to congratulate Ambassador Harrison for her new job and welcomed her to the MRU secretariat and Sierra Leone which he described “the best country in the world”, promising maximum cooperation to make her new job and stay a rewarding one.
Also speaking at the occasion, Mr. Ibrahim Diallo, the proxy of the Minister of International Cooperation and Integration of Guinea and head of the Union of Ministerial Council(UMC), said he was excited to be at the occasion which he described as historic.
He extended the felicitation and congratulatory message of the Government and people of Guinea to the MRU family and the new Secretary General as well as promising to work with her just as it was done with Ambassador Wesseh.
He paid homage to the founding fathers of MRU and also the succeeding leadership in the sub-region for holding on to the unity and vision of the organization. He urged the member states to continue to work for peace, stability, cooperation and prosperity in the Mano River region.
In her turnover statement, former SG Ambassador Wesseh extended thanks and appreciation to the Heads of State and Government of the MRU for the opportunity given her to serve the organization. She lauded the Ministry of Planning and Development of Sierra Leone, the minister and staff, for the cooperation she received during her tenure.
Madam Wesseh thanked the staff of MRU Secretariat for the cordial working relationship she enjoyed with them and promised to always be with them in spirit.
Ambassador Wesseh who was appointed to the position in 2017 historicized some defining moments in MRU including paying homage to the founding fathers and the roles the institution has been playing over the years despite the challenges.
“About 50 years ago, the Presidents of Liberia and Sierra Leone, in 1973, decided to make a concrete expression of the dream of forming a customs union to promote economic integration and accelerate the growth and development of the two countries and their people.
“They established the Mano River Union, declaring then that the Mano River which separated the two countries and peoples has now come to serve as a symbol of unity and economic integration for them. The two leaders later worked cooperatively together for the formation of ECOWAS in which the two countries became founding members.
“History guides us that in their wisdom and foresight, they decided to maintain the integrity of the Mano River Union rather than have it absorbed into the larger regional Economic Community of West African States(ECOWAS).
“The ECOWAS membership at the time included some of the powerful and well endowed economists on the continent and of different levels of advancement. Together, the two MRU members stood a better chance collectively within ECOWAS”, Ambassador Wesseh said.
Ambassador Wesseh was the second Liberian SG of MRU after Dr. Augustus F. Caine, who was the premier SG.
She said the MRU led the West African Region in the adoption of protocols for the free movement of persons and goods and initiated the process of harmonizing customs and excise levies and added that it has even begun the identification and implementation of medium projects and industries in the two member states.
She said MRU grew from the initial two member states to four when Guinea joined in 1980 followed by Cote d’Ivoire in 2008, adding that today, the organization is made of a market of nearly 55 million people who are linked by ethnicity, culture and history.
“As each of the member states faces existential political and economic challenges at various points during the decades of the 1980’s, the 1990’s and even the 2000’s, our leaders had the fortitude to shield the union by the way of consensus building mechanism to put forth protocols, processes and procedures to conduct its affairs and its institutions against respective domestic turmoil and commotion.
“This generation therefore has the responsibility to sustain the dream and vision of the MRU”, she said.
In her concluding speech which was punctuated by applause, Ambassador Wesseh wished Ambassador Harrison well “as you assume the mantle of leadership and the good Lord guide you and continue to prosper our beautiful sub-region body”.
Ambassador Wesseh’s speech was followed by the signing of the handover notes by Minister Kaikai, Ambassador Harrison and her following the passing over of all the relevant documents to the incoming SG.
The incoming MRU Head of Secretariat, Madam Harrison, thanked the Heads of state and government of the member states for ratifying and confirming her nomination and President George Manneh Weah for finding her fit to be appointed to the exalted opposition.
She also commended outgoing SG Wesseh and staff of MRU for the level of work done before her appointment as the new SG and then provided insight of what she intends to do with her new portfolio.
“I owe the entire citizens of the Mano River Union a deep sense of responsibility to serve and provide visionary leadership in moving MRU forward to achieve its mandate to promote peace and stability in the sub-region and decent collaboration.
“A responsibility to carry out the vision of the MRU is to ensure a peaceful, stable and prosperous MRU sub-region.
“My top priority for the MRU will first be to continue the work of promoting peace and stability in the sub-region. I will also promote regional stability in the subregion through infrastructural development in agriculture, health, education, energy, Information Technology, etc”, she said.
She also promised to make MRU more visible to the subregion and global community as well as to make sure that the benefits of the MRU reach all the member states.