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West Africa

SARR Conference, January 13-14, 2009, Monrovia, Liberia
"Mano-River Region at Risk? Post-Conflict Conversations Within and Across Borders"
A States at Regional Risk Conference

President Johnson
Her Excellency, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf,
President of Liberia
ICIS convened its first off-site SARR conference on January 13 and 14, 2009 in Monrovia, Liberia, entitled “Mano-River Region at Risk? Post-Conflict Conversations Within and Across Borders." This major international conference brought together over 20 government officials, international scholarly experts, and key members of civil society from Liberia, Guinea, Sierra Leone, and Senegal to consider the risks of civil and governmental instability in West Africa through a regional perspective. A highlight of the meeting was the participation of Her Excellency, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, President of Liberia, who emphasized the timeliness of collaborative peace-keeping and development efforts among countries in the Mano River region. She thanked the conference organizers and participants for coming together to address these issues saying, “The importance of this union and what we can do to insure the stability of this region is of utmost importance to all of us. . . . I do hope that some of the important insights [from this meeting] will be captured and shared with us in an appropriate way as we try to develop our own agenda.”

The conference marked a significant moment in the recent histories of Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone. Since 1980, all three countries have been members of the Mano River Union (MRU), an association established in 1973 to foster economic cooperation and trade among the member states. It was named for the Mano River which begins in the Guinea highlands and forms a border between Liberia and Sierra Leone. However, decades of violent conflicts and the almost overwhelming task of rebuilding that followed had prevented the MRU from fulfilling its original objectives. As President Johnson-Sirleaf stated in her remarks, “Regional approaches have taken a back seat simply because there is so much work to be done in the countries themselves to move away from this long history of underdevelopment…” [to read the full transcript of her remarks, click here]

Confernce Organizers (L-R: George Wah Williams,
Bruce Knauft, Michael McGovern)
The two-day conversation was framed around four provocative target questions concerning Liberia and other countries in the Mano River region. Participants received the questions in advance and submitted brief position papers addressing one of the questions prior to the conference. Four sessions resulted with four to six panelists in each.

Panel facilitators were:

Dr. Michael McGovern, Assistant Professor, Yale University; Ms. Frances Fortune, West and Central Africa Director, Search for Common Ground; Mr. Hervé Ludovic de Lys, Head of Regional Office for West Africa, UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs; and Dr. Bruce Knauft, Executive Director, ICIS, Emory University.

The conference was co-organized by Bruce Knauft, Executive Director of the Institute of Critical International Studies, Emory University and Mike McGovern, Assistant Professor of Anthropology, Yale University. The conference implementing partner was Liberia Democracy Watch (LDW), based in Monrovia, George Wah Williams, CEO. Dr. Joanna Davidson, ICIS/SARR Post-doctoral Fellow coordinated the conference target questions and written position papers. The SARR project is supported by the Carnegie Corporation of New York.

SARR participants
Conference Participants
(L-R: Oscar Bloh, Ruth Ceasar, Sékou Konneh)
The conference was widely reported in Monrovia’s news media.

For a complete conference statement, schedule, session topics and panelists, selected position papers, a transcript of President Johnson-Sirleaf’s remarks, and photographs please click on the links below:

Conference Statement


Focus Questions


Selected Position Papers

Transcript of President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf’s Remarks

Photographs (Coming soon)


Mano River Region of West AfricaMano River Region of West Africa

Mano River Region of West Africa