The small west African state of Sierra Leone is no stranger to crises. The country has spent much of the past 30 years trapped in a cycle of corruption, repression, violence and instability. In 1991, the situation deteriorated as the country slid into full-blown civil war. During the four years that followed, some 50,000 people were killed and hundreds of thousands displaced as fighting intensified between government soldiers and rebel forces.
Towards the end of 1995, hopes of a breakthrough were raised. With the military conflict deadlocked, the countrys restless young president offered to step down and hand over to a democratically elected civilian government. Sierra Leoneans, in common with most on-lookers, welcomed the prospect of change but feared the dangers that went with it. Would the military accept the proposed transition to civilian rule? How could an election be held while war still raged and many parts of the country were inaccessible and insecure? Who would pay for the elections? What impact would the transition plan and an election campaign have on hopes for peace? These and other questions hung heavily over the country.
ICG field staff arrived in Sierra Leone as these issues were surfacing. The team travelled extensively throughout the country and consulted with a wide range of local people including the political leadership, the military, civil servants and judges, civic leaders, womens organisations and youth, community, ethnic and church groups. They also met with personnel from the US and UK embassies, the EU delegation, UN agencies and NGOs in the field.
In December 1995, ICG produced a comprehensive analysis of the problems facing Sierra Leone. It proposed a range of concrete actions that the international community might take to help address those problems and to shore up the countrys delicate and risky transition towards peace, democracy and stability.
In February and March 1996, elections went ahead as planned producing Sierra Leones first democratically-elected government in over 25 years. Shortly afterwards ICG issued a report welcoming the election outcome, whilst emphasising the vital importance of maintaining international support for Sierra Leone. In particular, the report stressed the need to provide assistance to the new democratic institutions and for key groups and organisations within Sierra Leones fragile and war-damaged civil society. Since this time, ICG has sought to ensure that recent progress in Sierra Leone is not undermined, first by striving to maintain international interest in developments in the country and secondly by, devising and carrying out a program of good governance on the ground.
In March 1996, ICG established the Campaign for Good Governance (CGG). The CGG is a new NGO based in Freetown, led and staffed by Sierra Leoneans. Its purpose is to support both public and private efforts to improve the quality and accountability of government and to raise awareness of issues relating to good governance and citizens rights through training support and civic education projects. ICG provides core support for the CGG in the form of direct funding and assistance with further fund-raising, office space, computer and communications equipment and administrative support. ICG also supplies strategic and policy advice and provides international experts to facilitate CGG activities as necessary.
Much has been achieved in a short period of time by ICG and the CGG in Sierra Leone. Working together, the two organisations have already had a dramatic impact on the level of awareness of issues relating to good governance among Sierra Leones new civic and political leaders and journalists. But still more needs to be done. During the first half of 1997, ICG, in collaboration with the CGG, will focus on strengthening citizens participation and understanding of the roles and responsibilities of government; encouraging dialogue between the government and citizens on major policy issues; maintaining international attention on the plight of Sierra Leone; and providing further strategic proposals for economic recovery and solutions to the crisis in the labour market.
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