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Sierra Leone: Managing Uncertainty

 PDF version of Sierra Leone: Managing Uncertainty Click here to view the full report as a PDF file in A4 format.
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The international community is �cautiously optimistic� about the durability of the peace it has supported in Sierra Leone. There are indeed some reasons for growing optimism. The deployment of a more robust United Nations Mission in Sierra Leone (UNAMSIL), the disarmament of almost one half of the combatants, and the extension of government authority to almost all territory not controlled by the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) rebel group are all welcome. They are largely the result of a more robust policy by the international community, in particular military and diplomatic pressure exerted on the RUF and its sponsor, Liberian President Charles Taylor, by Britain, Guinea, Sierra Leone civil militias, and the UN Security Council.

The RUF�s commitment to peace is fragile and dependent upon sustained international pressure. The situation of �no war, no peace� at the moment is thus one of both great jeopardy and great opportunity. Sierra Leone faces its best chance for peace in years, but the pressure responsible for creating this chance must be maintained and expanded. This realisation must shape international strategy, particularly in the crucial months leading up to the elections that are scheduled for 14 May 2002.

A core component of that strategy should be to achieve �Security First�, that is durable security throughout the entire country, well before the May elections. This will require full disarmament of the RUF, of course, but also robust UNAMSIL deployment, which maximises the role of the strongest national contingents, particularly the Pakistani battalions, and restoration of government authority throughout the country. It will also require putting together a credible, coordinated deterrent force that includes British Army, UNAMSIL and Sierra Leone Army (SLA) elements. Above all, �Security First� requires that UNAMSIL demand a far more stringent disarmament and demobilisation process and adopt a firmer approach in its negotiations with the RUF.

A second key component of international strategy must be directed at possible spoilers in the peace process besides the RUF, particularly the ruling Sierra Leone People�s Party (SLPP) and their associated Kamajor Civil Defence Forces (CDF). The SLA, which is being trained by British specialist troops, is also still a potential source of instability. Both CDF and SLA should be reformed and transformed under pressure to become more benign institutions whose loyalty to the state is ensured.

In addition, the United Nations and the British need to urgently consider the regional dimensions of the conflict. Pressure on President Taylor and his supporters must be increased, and the UN Secretariat should broaden its focus of its work in Sierra Leone to Guinea and Liberia.

Even assuming a good faith commitment by the parties and the establishment of security by election day, much will need to be done to �win the peace�. Lack of funding for reintegration programs threatens the Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration (DDR) process, and a better public information job needs to be done to explain the Special Court to prevent fears of indictment from disrupting the peace process. To ensure that the elections themselves are free and fair (and so perceived), they should be run by the UN, not the Sierra Leone government.

In short, Sierra Leone�s history of stalled or collapsed peace processes may yet repeat itself if the crucial next seven months are not managed with care. The international community should proceed with more caution than optimism.




1. Change from a �softly, softly� to a more assertive approach to peace negotiations with the RUF.

2. Apply pressure on the RUF and other armed parties to undergo a much more stringent disarmament process, including cordon and search operations led by the Sierra Leone Police (SLP) with UNAMSIL�s strong and visible backup, which genuinely degrades their capacity to make war.

3. Be prepared, and willing, to use force in the fulfilment of its mandate.

4. Work to develop a �Coordinated Security Group� that includes the British and the SLA, and maximise the role of Pakistani forces within the mission, which, in close cooperation with the British �over the horizon force�, should include reserve and rapid reaction responsibilities.

5. Complete the disarmament and reintegration process before indictments are handed down by the Special Court, while simultaneously undertaking vigorous efforts to educate Sierra Leoneans about the scope and mandate of that court.

To the Security Council:

6. Maintain sanctions on Charles Taylor until well after Sierra Leone has held its elections in May 2002, and include timber in those sanctions, to ensure that he continues to distance himself from the conflict.

7. Direct the UN Secretariat to broaden its focus to include Guinea and Liberia as well as Sierra Leone and appoint a special representative of the Secretary General to the Mano River Union peace process.

To the French Government:

8. Continue to withdraw support from the Liberian government, endorse inclusion of timber in the Security Council Sanctions, work for China�s support of this provision as well, and pressure allies (and Taylor sponsors) such as Burkina Faso also to withdraw support from Liberia.

To the British Government:

9. Maintain an �over the horizon force� capable of supporting peace enforcement and take a lead role in establishing a �Coordinated Security Group� with UNAMSIL and the SLA.

To Donor Countries and the World Bank:

10. Immediately provide sufficient funds (Sierra Leone�s request is U.S.$32.7 million) to finance the reintegration program promised to ex-combatants, including resources that enable the government to extend significantly the time combatants spend in demobilisation camps until reintegration opportunities are available.

11. Undertake a strong civil reconstruction program to provide jobs to ex-combatants and revive the local economy, taking care to focus on areas particularly depopulated and devastated by the war.

12. Finance study opportunities abroad for potentially troublesome RUF, CDF, and SLA commanders (if possible, in countries that will co-operate if they are indicted at a later date by the Special Court).


To Donor Countries:

13. Pressure President Kabbah to resist elements of his party less committed to the peace process, appoint a diverse multiparty cabinet (though without the RUF-P), and work harder to check government corruption, particularly regarding natural resource contracts;

To the British Government:

14. Implement, in co-operation with the government, a program to transform the CDF into a more benign organisation tied to the state, not the ruling party. The CDF should be downsized and disarmed, but retain its organizational structure as a territorial defence force, with all weapons stored centrally under a dual-key system (government and British or government and UNAMSIL).

15. Make greater effort to weed out gross human rights abusers from the SLA, particularly senior officers.


To the Security Council:

16. Mandate the UN Secretariat to run the May 2002 elections, with advice from the government electoral commission.

To the Government of Sierra Leone:

17. Endorse a national consultative conference of civil society, political parties and armed groups to develop recommendations on the key issues in the peace process, including the type of electoral system that should be adopted.

To Donor Countries:

18. Ensure that reintegration programs do not overly favour ex-combatants over their victims or members of the communities they return to and in particular make funds available to assist women who have been abducted by the RUF, so that they are economically independent enough to leave their �husbands�.

19. Make major commitments of three to five years duration to Sierra Leone so that once solid order-of-magnitude estimates are developed, adequate funding is provided to assist the country in meeting the wider costs of the civil and economic reconstruction program that is needed for long term recovery.

Freetown/Brussels, 24 October 2001

 PDF version of Sierra Leone: Managing Uncertainty Click here to view the full report as a PDF file in A4 format.
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Sierra Leone: Managing Uncertainty
24 October 2001
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11 April 2001