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Drawing lessons for development and security from the ‘Mano River War’

Published on 21 April 2016

For the past 25 years the Mano River Basin in West Africa has been an area of violent upheavals and political instability. A new IDS report highlights the value of viewing the ‘Mano River War’ as a regional conflict system and stresses the importance for development and security agencies to focus on regional policy solutions.

The ‘Mano River War’ is an umbrella term that usefully captures the interconnectivity of the peoples and countries in the Mano River Basin and details how the Liberian, Sierra Leonean and Ivoirian civil wars relate. Despite the cessation of large-scale conflict in the region, there is still some debate as to whether the Mano River War really has ended. Many lingering elements that were once part of the conflict remain unresolved. These include enduring issues related to illicit drugs and arms trade, lack of government presence and interest in border regions, and limited prospects for young people in the post-conflict environment.

Importance of recognising the Mano River Basin as a regional conflict system

The idea of a conflict system is not new to many conflict specialists. But rather than the obvious assertion that the conflicts in the Mano River Basin are interconnected, the Report suggests that revisiting the notion of a conflict system is crucial. Applying this frame might help local actors, governments and conflict managers in the region ensure the sustainability of peace and security by casting a more informative lens on events. Another reason to advance an understanding of the Mano River Basin as a conflict system is that it may yield vital insights into the power of borderlands and how public authority and state formation can be constituted at the margins.

The West African crisis appears to have moved from the Mano River to the Sahel, especially given the Malian crisis and Boko Haram insurgency and an uncertain future for Niger. Nevertheless, the Report provides insights into analysing these crises and approaches for bringing them to an end. This is already happening to some extent – for instance, the importance of considering the Boko Haram insurgency as a specific regional conflict is reflected in the creation of the regional Multinational Joint Task Force, which was set up to combat the group’s multipronged campaign of terror.

Continuing open policy dialogue

The Report expands many of the research findings that were initially introduced during a workshop held at the Institute of Development Studies (IDS) in the summer of 2015 in partnership with The Sussex Centre for Conflict and Security Research.

The event brought together academics and practitioners to debate the concept of a Mano River War; build cross-border networks; create an open policy dialogue and share policy lessons for a regional approach to security and development.

Read the full report.

Join the debate via twitter: #manoriver and share your views.

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