Joint Border Security and Confidence Building Units
The MRU 15th Protocol on Peace, Security and Defense adopted in May 2000 marked a turning point towards concrete efforts to address threats to peace, security and stability across the sub- region. MRU became the mechanism to foster information exchange, enhance mutual understanding, and reduce tensions among communities and countries. The 15th Protocol provided MRU with an institutional framework that includes a Joint Security Committee comprised of Member State ministers, a Technical Committee that reviews reports and ensures that threats are communicated to higher levels, and Joint Border Security and Confidence Building Units (JBSCBUs).
The JBSCBUs were established between 2012 and 2017, with the primary objective of identifying and resolving issues of concern locally and quickly. These units are charged with the responsibility to dialogue and solve disputes among border communities and to ensure peace and security thrives within the border towns and villages. They accomplish their mission by organizing and conducting joint border patrols, promoting unity and cordiality among border community residents, exchanging relevant information during regular meetings, and investigating reports of threats to border security.
The JBSCBUs are comprised of security personnel and community representatives, such as traditional leaders, elders, women and youth representatives, forest guards, religions leaders, and district officials. They provide a platform to exchange information among officials and citizens from both sides of the border and to resolve issues of concern locally and quickly. JBSCBUs meet about once a month. The units are also a means to elevate border area concerns to the Peace and Security Unit of the MRU Secretariat, which oversees the establishment of new units and evaluates performance of existing units. Issues of concern are then transmitted to higher levels of the Secretariat and eventually to the attention of Member State leaders and policymakers through regular reporting.
The JBSCBUs serve as early warning platforms on impending security and socio-economic challenges that may need the immediate and timely intervention of Member States through the MRU Secretariat. The Units also serve as effective mechanisms to monitor and ensure the security of common borders. As of July 2019, the MRU has established 38 JBSCBUs and two more are planned in the near-term. Most of the JBSCBUs are co-located within two MRU Member States, but there are also eight single units at Guinean borders with non-MRU countries to the north, established during the onset of security incidents in Mali in 2011.
Cross-Border Strategy for Security
Another milestone in securing peace was a June 2013 High-Level Meeting to develop a security strategy for the MRU. The meeting reviewed peace and security challenges in the sub-region to address the threat of cross-border movements of armed groups and weapons as well as illicit trafficking. The Meeting underscored the need for Member States to enhance their institutional capacity and to assume full responsibility for human security. In this regard, the meeting agreed that necessary steps should be taken to develop and adopt a comprehensive security strategy and a Steering Committee was established to lead this composed of MRU, ECOWAS and the UN. This strategy was adopted in October 2013 and has two components:
1) security related interventions to prevent and manage violence and enforce peace when there is open conflict, and to address both conflict avoidance and post-conflict activities; and
2) measures of a structural nature for sustaining peace and security to neutralize, if not eliminate, the reasons and conditions that eventually led to tensions, conflict and instability in the border zones.
The second component recognizes that sustained peace depends on making progress on other issues, including good governance, justice, infrastructure, youth unemployment, sexual and gender-based violence and natural resource management, all topics covered by other MRU programs.
The ultimate goal of the strategy is to achieve; “… a borderless, peaceful, prosperous and cohesive [West African] region, built on good governance and where people have the capacity to access and harness its enormous resources through the creation of opportunities for sustainable development and environmental preservation.”