4 February 2012
A spokesperson for the UN Secretary-General, announced in a statement released Thursday, that Mr. Michael von der Schulenburg – the Executive Representative of the UN Secretary-General and head of its mission in Sierra Leone, will depart Freetown for New York on Monday, February 6, 2012.
Though, Mr. Michael von der Schulenburg’s assignment is officially scheduled to end in September 2012, with presidential and parliamentary elections taking place on the 17 November, no reasons were given for his early departure.
In the statement, UN Secretary-General Mr. Ban ki Moon commended Mr. Schulenburg for his “open and fruitful work with all sections of the Sierra Leonean society including political parties and stakeholders,” while expressing his appreciation for what he called an “excellent service” rendered during his tenure.
Mr. Ban ki Moon also praised Mr. Schulenburg for “his effective cooperation with the Peacebuilding Commission, and his initiatives in achieving greater donor cooperation and in improving overall aid efficiency for the benefit of all Sierra Leoneans.”
Mr. Schulenburg has been accused of favouring the opposition and declared ‘persona-non-grata’ by sections of the local media in Freetown.
On January 27, 2012, the Government of Sierra Leone issued a press statement, refuting claims of Mr. Schulenburg having been declared ‘persona-non-grata’ and of his recall to New York.
In an email response to a request seeking comments, Ambassador Shekou Touray – Sierra Leone’s Permanent Representative and Ambassador to the UN, said he has “not received any official communication on the matter as yet ; but I understand his term of service in the country came to an end, and that’s the reason for his leaving.”
Mr. Schulenburg whose term as head of UN Peacebuilding Mission in Sierra Leone began in 2008, became a controversial figure after arguing against an inquest into the actions of ex-junta leader and current opposition presidential candidate – Mr. Maada Bio, during Sierra Leone’s civil war.
When asked about Mr. Schulenburg’s replacement, Zannina Maestracci, a representative in the Office of Spokeperson for the UN Secretary-General stated that as of now, no decision has been made to replace Mr. Schulenburg and that there is no new information available other than the released statement by the UN Secretary-General.
The UN’s presence in Sierra Leone dates to 2000, when the country’s decade long civil war came to an end, and the UN deployed their largest ever contingent of troops in any part of the world, so as to consolidate the peace in Sierra Leone.
Since then, the UN has attracted and secured hundreds of millions of dollars to help the country rebuild its infrastructure, develop its local economy and rebuild civil and public institutions.
Sierra Leone is the recipient of over $3 billion of international donor funds during the last ten years. The country has peacefully held two presidential and general elections since the end of the war, and is now preparing to stage its third.
Although there are still major economic and political challenges facing the country, yet there is hope, that the people of Sierra Leone will be able to now take, full responsibility in seeing through their democratic experiment, economic and public sector reforms needed, to ensure that the hard won peace is consolidated.
While the presence of the UN Peacebuilding Mission has been invaluable and catalytic in a country once described as a ‘failed state’, there is little doubt now, that the people of Sierra Leone and their politicians, are incapable of standing on their own feet, after twelve years of UN support.
Fears of possible violence at the forthcoming presidential elections, must not be used as an excuse to prolong the presence of the UN in Sierra Leone.
Those determined to embark on violence as a means of achieving political advantage, will do so – with or without the UN’s presence.
What is needed is for politicians of all Parties, the National Electoral Commission, the Political Parties Registration Commission and the Police, to get together and work out an agreed concordat, spelling out the electoral campaigning and polling rules, including political behaviours which are not acceptable and the consequences for any breach.
This concordat must be kept under continuous review – collectively at regular meetings brokered by the civil society groups and religious leaders.
More has to be done very quickly to restructure the force to guarantee its independence from political party influence.
A Police Commission must be established quickly, to take strategic responsibility for police policy, and for determining and monitoring the rules of engagement used by the police.
The Commission will also be responsible for appointing and overseeing the work of all senior officers of the force.
The UN has done very well for Sierra Leone, for which the people of Sierra Leone will always be grateful. But Sierra Leone is maturing, and the time has come for the UN to let go of the baby’s hand, so that it can get up and walk on its own.