From the Editor’s Keyboard

Sierra Leone chooses diplomacy to resolve the Yenga debacle

17 March 2008 at 03:19 | 964 views

Commentary

By Hassan-Morlai,PV Special Correspondent, London, UK.

Sierra Leone’s Minister of Defence has informed the media that the government of President Koroma ‘would dialogue with Guinea on the Yenga issue as there is no way Sierra Leone can engage Guinea guaranteeing, “Sierra Leone will get Yenga back”’.

Just emerging from 10-year or so civil war, it is almost certain that any mention of war for Sierra Leone to participate would receive the angriest of responses. Perhaps it is against this backdrop that Sierra Leone Minister of Defence made his declaration that the country would not go to war against the neighbouring Republic of Guinea for the disputed Yenga region.

The Minister may have spoken well to appease war weary Sierra Leoneans. His declaration of no war against Guinea over Yenga may be well thought out. But just for once, why is it that our government has to put all its cards on the table before engaging with the Guineans over Yenga? Of course diplomacy can never be ruled out as an option to resolving disputes between countries. However, President Koroma’s strategy as announced by his Minister of Defence is flawed and exposes his administration as weak.

The Koroma administration should be reminded that we are living in the real world of politics. In the real world, countries, like people, have competing interests and one may never be sure how one country goes about to securing and defending their interests.

In relations among states, the results of diplomacy (i.e. the art of dealing with people, negotiating competing interests or managing international relations), either as a discipline in its own right or a subset of international relations, are not always achieved by compelling arguments or niceties. Accordingly, in the real world of politics, states engage in diplomacy exchanging concessions and hoping for mutual benefits balanced against the possible use of military action or economic leverage against another state.

A state that engages in diplomacy to avoid conflict must not be seen as weak. This proposition is diametrically different to saying that there is no way a state can engage in hostility or military action to resolve a dispute with its neighbour. The ability and willingness on the part of a state to use military strength must always be seen as an inherent attribute of that state’s personality to other states. Absent this attribute, any other state may take liberty to take advantage of that state which is not able or willing to act militarily to secure or defend their interest.

It must be noted that in international relations, much as diplomacy helps to achieve results without the use of military force, its (diplomacy’s) success is equally guaranteed by the knowledge that military action may be resorted to should diplomacy fail. This is “hard power politics" i.e. the international relations theory which means the use of military strength and economic resources by one state to influence the behaviour and actions of another state/entity or to secure its own interests.

Minister Palo Conteh himself has confirmed that Yenga belongs to Sierra Leone. But it is inconceivable for him to publicly declare that Sierra Leone is unable and unwilling to use its military prowess against Guinea should diplomacy fail to secure/get Yenga.

The minister is reminded that ours is not the first of neighbouring countries in dispute over territory in Africa. There have been disputes over territories between, for example, Ethiopia and Somalia (over Ogaden region); Benin and Niger (over villages near the Okpara River); Cameroon and Nigeria (over Bakassi peninsula); Cameroon and Equatorial Guinea (over islands near River Ntem); South Africa and Swaziland (over Kangawane Swazi homelands in parts of Mpumalanga and KwaZulu Natal); Egypt and Sudan (over Wadi Haifa region); Ethiopia and Eritrea (over Tsorona-Zalambessa region); etc.

Some of these countries have taken their disputes to the International Court of Justice and others have resorted to military action. But with the minister’s no war declaration, it may well be the case that the Guineans would put up intransigent negotiation skills in the full knowledge that Sierra Leone is unwilling and unable to engage with them militarily.

Should this happen, the people of Yenga will never forgive the administrations of President Koroma and his predecessor president Kabbah under whose administration the problem started. Kabbah failed to resolve the issue and passed it on to Koroma.

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