Sierra Leone After Elections: Politics as Usual?
EXECUTIVE SUMMARY AND RECOMMENDATIONS
Sierra Leone continues to make remarkable progress in ending its eleven-year civil war. There is no longer active fighting, and the army and police are fully deployed across the country. The battlefield capacity of the insurgents, the Revolutionary United Front (RUF), has been significantly diminished, and their political arm, the Revolutionary United Front Party (RUF-P), fared poorly in the May 2002 elections that saw President Ahmed Tejan Kabbah re-elected in a landslide with just over 70 per cent of the vote and his party win an overwhelming majority of seats in parliament. Those elections were the first major test for the country following completion of the disarmament process and the official declaration of the end of the war in January 2002.
This was the first truly non-violent vote in the country’s history, in large part because of the substantial international peacekeeping presence. However, a number of concerns are on the horizon that could threaten long term peace prospects. First, there were many questions about the fairness of the electoral process and the level of fraud and coercion that shrouded it.
Secondly, the returns revealed potentially dangerous divisions between the army and President Kabbah’s ruling Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP). A large majority of the security forces voted for Kabbah’s opponents, indicating there is at least some animosity between the executive branch and the armed forces.
Thirdly, the elections also demonstrated that ethnic tensions between Temne in the North and Mende in the South and in the central part of the country remain significant. These underscore the need for a more inclusive government in Freetown. President Kabbah’s SLPP party swept votes across the South and East while its main rival, the All People’s Congress party (APC), maintained its stronghold in the North. The results left Sierra Leone dangerously close to single party rule, with an executive branch and a parliament heavily dominated by the SLPP.
Regrettably, President Kabbah appears to have emerged from his victory with diminished commitment to the peace process. He has done little to establish a cabinet that is broad based, inclusive and designed to promote the goals of national reconciliation.
The international community has expended time, effort, and approximately U.S.$2 billion in an expensive but so far successful peacekeeping mission. This investment made the election possible, but it is still too soon to declare victory. Many root causes of the war, particularly the culture of “winner-take-all politics”, have not been eliminated.
The election will only be significant if accompanied by fundamental reforms that begin to change Sierra Leone’s political landscape. The international community needs to use the post-election period to work hard at consolidating the peace process.
The newly elected government has six months before the start of the dry season – when conflict could resume – to tackle problems. Reform of the security forces must continue. Aside from the divisions revealed by the vote, there are still considerable question marks concerning the capability of the security forces to secure the country and the capacity of local militias to challenge their authority.
Renewed conflict in neighbouring Liberia reinforces the need for the United Nations Mission in Sierra Leone (UNAMSIL) and the British military and police training teams to remain. President Charles Taylor of Liberia retains destabilising regional ambitions and the tools to pursue them, despite his current domestic difficulties, including elements of the RUF insurgents and Kamajor militias now inside Liberia that he can redirect against Sierra Leone’s still fragile peace structures.
The Kabbah administration must also tackle the corruption that permeates all levels of government and society. The international community has assisted in developing accountability systems, but other measures are still needed, such as increasing the independence of the judiciary and making the Anti-Corruption Commission more independent.
Finally, measures must be taken to promote reconciliation among combatants and civilians. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission and the Special Court provide the main venues for healing wounds. The international community, especially the United States, has pushed hard for the creation of the Special Court, and the success of these instruments of justice will depend on continued international support, scrutiny and funding.
The international community’s priority has so far been to ensure “security first”, but now it has to be as rigorous in demanding better governance and accountability from the government. It must not see these goals as mutually exclusive. Overlooking corrupt practices by the ruling SLPP would only produce fertile ground for renewed conflict.
To the United Nations Security Council:
1. Keep UNAMSIL’s mandate robust and focused on the strategic and at-risk parts of the country while taking advantage of increased stability and the improved capacity of Sierra Leone’s army and police to downsize over the next year.
2. Take into careful account the increased instability in Liberia and its implications for Sierra Leone while carrying out UNAMSIL downsizing.
3. Encourage the creation of a contact group, including Nigeria, the UK, France and the U.S., to align positions on the interlocking crises engulfing the Manu River region, and in particular to bring all stakeholders in Liberia’s civil war to the peace table.
To the British government and the Commonwealth:
4. Continue efforts to ensure unity among the different factions that have been newly integrated into the Republic of Sierra Leone Armed Forces.
5. Facilitate the disbanding of the Kamajor Civil Defence Forces and continue to ensure that security services are not polarised along ethnic, regional or political lines.
6. Create, in cooperation with the government, an International Police Assistance Team to develop a more robust and consistent program of training in Sierra Leone in conjunction with opportunities for police officers to gain experience with professional national police forces overseas.
To International Donors:
7. Make the fight against corruption a priority, including by pressing the new government to make the Anti-Corruption Commission an independent body free from political interference, by conditioning aid for reconstruction to governance reforms, by supporting civil society groups that help in the investigation of corrupt practices, and by strengthening the research capacity of reformers in parliament willing to tackle corruption across all sections of government.
8. Assist the Special Court to develop procedural rules including those covering how indictments will be brought, fair discovery and use of evidence, and, in particular, that do not permit the government of Sierra Leone to veto witnesses or determine who from its ranks might be prosecuted.
9. Make greater effort to raise the necessary operational funds for the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
10. Provide funds immediately to complete, in conjunction with efforts to aid the victims of the war, the demobilisation and reintegration of ex-combatants – particularly with regard to training and employment programs.
To the United States government:
11. Play a strong leadership role in the Special Court, the chief prosecutor of which is a U.S. citizen.
To ECOWAS leaders and other friends of Sierra Leone:
12. Make clear to President Kabbah that his new government will only be supported if political reforms are implemented and a more inclusive style of politics is developed.
To the government and parliament of Sierra Leone:
13. Separate the office of the attorney general from that of the minister of justice in order to limit political influence in prosecutorial decisions.
Freetown/Brussels, 15 July 2002
To read the response of the Sierra Leone government to this report
To read the response of the Sierra Leone government to this report, click here.