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Sierra Leone: The State of Security and Governance


There was euphoria in Sierra Leone in 2002 as the country finally emerged from eleven years of war and entered a period of democratic transition and better governance. Since the successful elections on 14 May of that year, however, the donor community and the people of Sierra Leone have grown increasingly frustrated with stagnating reform and recovery. The government has failed to offer a clear direction, and there are consistent signs that donor dependence and the old political ways are returning. Many are questioning the government’s commitment and capacity to address the long list of internal challenges, ranging from security concerns and economic recovery through implementation of a broad spectrum of institutional reforms. The longer the issues are left unaddressed, the harder it will be to keep the peace process on track. Also worrisome are the troubles across Sierra Leone’s borders, especially in unsettled and violent Liberia.

It is a moment of critical choice for Sierra Leone: difficult reforms that ultimately will pay high returns in stability and prosperity or politics as usual. The international community has invested billions of U.S. dollars to end the civil war and move the country toward peace. The UK, the UN Mission in Sierra Leone (UNAMSIL), the World Bank, and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) continue to commit time and resources but they cannot stay forever. The government needs to take a stronger leadership role in the rehabilitation process. Its performance has been disappointing, and complacency appears to have set in. While reform rhetoric abounds, action has yet to follow. There are three main areas of concern.

First, as UNAMSIL continues to draw down, Sierra Leone must increasingly take on responsibility for internal security and protection of its borders. Many question the ability of its armed forces, and even more contend the police have nowhere near the necessary capacity or training. In July 2003, the UN Security Council approved a plan that foresees the departure of UNAMSIL by December 2004. The government needs to show it can take over, but given the current situation, it would be wise for UNAMSIL to have contingency plans.

Secondly, a number of internal issues must also be addressed in order to make the peace process irreversible. The Special Court handed down its first indictments on 10 March 2003 and dramatically announced on 4 June the indictment of then President Charles Taylor of Liberia for his role in Sierra Leone’s war. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) began public hearings on 14 April. While both institutions are running reasonably well, concerns persist, particularly about the Special Court’s impact on the peace process and the surprising indifference shown by much of the population to the TRC. The government has been unable to disband completely the Kamajor Civil Defence Forces, which maintain their command structure and claim to be ready to mobilise if necessary. The ex-insurgents, the Revolutionary United Front (RUF), have lost their command structure, and their political party struggles to keep offices and members. The reintegration program should finish in December 2003, but many ex-combatants have yet to complete training programs, and even with assistance, many are finding jobs scarce and believe the government should be doing more.

Thirdly, the government has failed to make significant progress on governance reforms since its resounding electoral victory. There is no systematic plan for decentralisation. While elections for paramount chiefs have taken place in 2003, and some semblance of traditional authority has returned to most areas, these communities remain essentially isolated with little monetary or administrative assistance from Freetown. Local elections are scheduled to take place by the end of the year, but given inadequate infrastructure, they are likely to be postponed until early 2004, and few expect them to bring real change. Institutional reforms have fared little better. Efforts to address rampant corruption through an Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) have proved fruitless as the ACC is too hamstrung by politics to be either independent or effective. The justice system needs a complete overhaul, from laws through judges. Youth groups have appeared across the country, some helping communities, others challenging local governments. The diamond mines, now often considered a curse rather than a blessing by the population, remain poorly monitored and managed, and illegal alluvial mining costs the government tens of millions of U.S. dollars in revenue each year.

International assistance and advice have promoted reforms in some areas but also allowed the government to relax rather than make necessary, albeit difficult, decisions. It is time for donors to demand action. Much of the hard work is currently being done by internationals and a handful of Sierra Leoneans who understand the dire consequences of not taking full advantage of a fleeting opportunity. Especially the UN and the British can be credited with bringing peace to Sierra Leone, but its own government will be held accountable if it does not sustain that peace by providing a clear way forward for post-conflict reform and reconstruction.

To the United Nations Security Council:
  1. Ensure that the government meets stated benchmarks for performance, including security sector reform, as set out in the Secretary General's Fifteenth Report on UNAMSIL (September 2002), and adjust the UNAMSIL withdrawal plan accordingly.

  2. Remain flexible on the UNAMSIL drawdown process and plan for the contingency that police and military may not be ready to ensure internal and external security respectively.
To the British government and the Commonwealth:
  1. Continue to support the International Military Advisory and Training Team (IMATT) by focusing attention on training to handle border areas and threats of incursion, champion high standards to keep unqualified "political" candidates out of the armed forces, and help the armed forces reduce size and weed out unqualified soldiers and officers as well as remaining troublemakers.

  2. Concentrate immediate attention and assistance on recruitment and training of new police officers and training of current officers, especially in the provinces, to ensure the police can handle internal security, and encourage UNAMSIL's civilian police unit to use only highly qualified trainers.

To Donors:

  1. Use explicit benchmarks as the criteria for distributing and suspending aid, to include demonstrations by officials that they are increasing their capacity to function independently and that accountability and transparency measures are in place, and stop funding projects until benchmarks are met.

  2. Assist the government to create and implement new investment, land ownership, and corporate laws to encourage international investors to return.

  3. Provide the necessary funds for the Truth and Reconciliation Commission to complete its work.

To the Sierra Leone government:

  1. Make a clear commitment to reform by following up rhetoric with action, including by:
(a)     screening refugees more effectively and otherwise putting significant security measures in place in refugee camps;
(b)     working with the donor community to restructure the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) to make it more independent and more effective in investigation and prosecution of cases and to ensure that the judges and prosecutor seconded by the Commonwealth for such cases have access to information and can operate free of government intervention;
(c)     improving the capacity of the Auditor General’s office to conduct yearly audits of government departments and sending questionable audits to the ACC for investigation;
(d)     focusing greater efforts and resources on devising a comprehensive program for judicial reform, to include updating laws, improving the courts by appointing qualified judges, providing court recorders, and reducing case loads, improving police capacity to conduct competent investigations to support legal cases, and improving prison conditions;
(e)     establishing effective control over diamond mining by enforcing regulations, especially with respect to decreasing smuggling and reducing corruption and illicit mining conducted by government officials;
(f)     initiating reforms of key sectors such as agriculture and fisheries to assist in economic recovery and decrease unemployment, and
(g)     beginning the larger process of going beyond infrastructure improvements to overhaul all government institutions.
To civil society:
  1. Hold the government accountable for recommendations made by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC).

  2. Press the Attorney General either to forward corruption cases to the courts or explain the delays.
Freetown/Brussels, 2 September 2003


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