Border communities in Sierra Leone have been known as the entry points for economic and social exchanges between the country and its neighbors but also for cross border transmission of infectious diseases. Like the Ebola outbreak, Sierra Leone shares similar risks in the COVID-19 pandemic.

With support from UNDP and jointly implemented by the Office of National Security (ONS), Independent Police Complaints Board (IPCB) and Mano River Union (MRU), over 100 participants from border communities that geographically share boundaries with Sierra Leone, Guinea, and Liberia, have been mobilized and trained on Joint Border Security and COVID-19. The four border districts includes Kambia and Port Loko located on the Northwest, Kono and Pujehun Districts located on the east and south east corner respectively. The trainings were designed targeting these districts following recognition of the shared need to equip border communities and cross border security structures with the basic skills and with emergency response materials need for the fight against infectious disease such as COVID-19.

This intervention which was executed in two phases in the four target districts has now strengthened local expertise and structures including police officers, military personnel, and paramilitary officers working at the boarder districts. Led by the ONS and MRU, the first phase of the training focused on strengthening the capacities of the target populations around infection, prevention and control techniques and the need to control cross border movements, while the second phase was marked by the delivery of hygiene kits and handwashing facilities to the joint border units and communities with recommended usage of the emergency materials, which was well received by the beneficiaries.

The trainings also emphasized the establishment of an early warning and rapid response mechanism among the population to be able to resolve local challenges using local initiatives; Share information and knowledge on issues that can directly or otherwise lead to a tendency to undermine authority; Increase knowledge (through IEC training and materials) and strengthen existing community structures to support relaying information to district or community structures in the COVID-19 response. The Mano River Union and partners delivered various presentations which attracted a lot of interactions between the participants and the presenting teams ranging from prevention and control of COVID 19, to the management of suspected or positive cases by the military and other security structures. At the end of the training sessions, the participants were spurred to provide feedback on the importance of the training and how it has better informed the people about COVID 19.

Border communities and early warning structures now poised ready and more vigilant to support the response to the COVID 19 pandemic along the borders of the 3 neighboring MRU countries and beyond.

I am very happy, today going from this place, I have learned more, and I now know how to communicate with my community about the disease. I am sufficiently strengthened to prevent the spread of the pandemic in my community.’’ Says Paramount Chief, Bai Farma Bubu Ngak 1V of Magbema (Kambia District).

The MRU has identified additional 30 Joint Border Security and Confidence Building Units (JBSCBUs) where similar support would be directed to intensify the fight against the pandemic across the borders.

When people are more aware, then they will know how to react and how to interact.”  Mr. Bangura noted, a reprehensive of the Paramount chief of Bakehloko chiefdom (Port Loko).

 The June 15th Protocol & Boarder Security in MRU

On the 15th June 2012, the Revised Fifteenth Protocol of the MRU came into effect which provided the legal framework upon which the JBSCBUs were established in the border areas of Member States of the Union. The JBSCBUs are established for the purpose of sustaining peace and security across the region and addressing a range of other issues and challenges. The functions for which the border units were established are: (1) organize and conduct joint patrols of the borders; (2) develop, facilitate, foster and promote cordial relations between the peoples of the border regions through cultural, social and sporting activities; (3) exchange information and investigate reports or observations with regards to all border security activities; (4) submit reports to the Chairperson of the Technical Committee promptly; (5) resolve minor cases of border security violations occurring in their own administrative areas; (5) perform any other functions that may be delegated to them by the Technical Committee.

The composition of the JBSCBUs is outlined thus:

·       District Officers of border districts in the case of Sierra Leone and Liberia, and ‘Sous-prefets’ in the case of Guinea and Cote D’Ivoire;

·       The Paramount Chiefs or their counterparts in the border areas;

·       The Senior Police and/or Immigration Officer at the border areas;

·       The Senior Customs Officer at the border post or his/her equivalent;

·       The Senior Border Guard at the border;

·       The Commanding Army officer at the border

·       The Chief of Gendarmerie at the border or representative

·       The youth representative at the border;

·       Two women representatives from the border community of each country;

·       Chairperson of the Rural Development Committee or his/her representative;

·       Representative of civil society (faith-based organizations/market women association/community-based organization);

·       The Chief Agriculture Officer / the Forest Guard.

The Border Units are to serve as early warning mechanisms that signal impending security and socio-economic challenges that may need the intervention of Member States through the MRU Secretariat. The units are expected to meet regularly, in any case no less than once every month, and should choose among themselves a Chairperson who to serve for a period of one year on rotational basis.

The joint border response activities are also UNDP's commitment to providing further support to the Governments and people of Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea through the MRU partnership to ensure sub-regional rather than a country-specific approach to not only breaking COVID-19 but to ensuring better preparedness for future shocks and build a shared and holistic recovery post-COVID-19. 

The joint border response activities are also UNDP's commitment to providing further support to the Governments and people of Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea through the MRU partnership to ensure sub-regional rather than a country-specific approach to not only breaking COVID-19 but to ensuring better preparedness for future shocks and build a shared and holistic recovery post-COVID-19. 

 

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