Economic Empowerment: Key to Consolidating the Peace
in Sierra Leone
Abdul R Thomas
Editor - The Sierra Leone Telegraph
31 March 2010
Since the end of a brutal ten year war which ravaged
a nation that was once proud of its ethnic
diversity, strong historical heritage and economic
potential, Sierra Leone is slowly and painfully
coming out of its war cladded shell. The bad men
that instigated, propagated and led the war are
either behind bars or dead, but the scars and
emotional pains still remain. Will the healing
process ever end and what will it take?
The people of Sierra Leone with the help of the
international community and partners are trying hard
to pick up the pieces, rebuild their lives and
communities. But throughout this rebuilding process,
since 2001, a lot of efforts led by the UN, with the
financial support of donors - valued at Hundreds of
Millions of Dollars, have gone into peace building.
Ten years on, no one can deny the positive
results of the UN Peace Building Programme.
Hundreds of thousands of refugees have been
resettled; thousands of young ex-combatant men
and women have been rehabilitated – although
their mental trauma continues.
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission issued
its Report – some of the key recommendations are
yet to be implemented. A series of successive,
relatively free and fair elections have been
held. The Anti-Corruption Commission has started
to leash some of the ‘sacred cows’. This is
peace building success.
Despite this impressive record of achievement;
worsening levels of poverty, illiteracy, poor
health, unemployment and low level of economic
activity, continues to pose a threat to the hard
won peace. And as the saying goes - it is all
too easy where there is good will on all sides
to win the peace, but ever so painfully
difficult to preserve it.
But Sierra Leone cannot be allowed to fail, nor
can its people indulge themselves into
regressing back into the bad old days of poor
governance, regional and social marginalisation,
political intolerance, prosperity for the few
and not the many.
The challenge in ensuring that this does not
happen is enormous, and must not rest on the
shoulders of the international community alone.
The government of President Koroma and his
ruling party – the All People’s Congress, the
opposition Sierra Leone People’s Party, the
People’s Movement for Democratic Change, and
others, must now bear the greatest
responsibility for preserving the peace.
The central question posed by the Truth and
Reconciliation Commission was: “How did a
peace-loving nation become engulfed, seemingly
overnight, in horror?”
It is by their utterances and actions, levels of
political tolerance, respect for ethnic
diversity and equality, the upholding of the
rule of law and democratic principles – even in
the face of the worst forms of provocation, that
sustainable peace can be achieved. Political
parties have an immense responsibility in
preparation for the 2012 elections.
The international community and donors would no
doubt continue to spend Millions of Dollars in
buttressing the peace building process. But each
time there is an election – local or
parliamentary – resulting in violence,
destruction of property, or break down of law
and order, the further the nation edges toward
anarchy and political instability. This is bad
for investors, bad for the economy and bad for
the poor people of Sierra Leone.
While there are few mindless politicians on all
sides of the divide, who may relish the
exploitation of ethnic bigotry, regional
tension, political instability and social chaos,
the majority would rather continue to work
towards a peaceful and prosperous nation.
To accentuate this very point, the UN Secretary General - Ban Ki Moon, said that; while he
is encouraged by some improvements in the
country’s political climate, challenges to
fostering political tolerance and promoting
The Secretary General is appealing to the
international community to fill the huge
budgetary shortfall in donor funding for the
implementation of President Koroma’s Agenda for
Change. The Agenda focuses on the provision of
reliable electricity supply, increasing
productivity in agriculture and fisheries,
improving the national transportation network,
and boosting social services.
This appeal by the UN Chief is in recognition of
the fact that economic empowerment must now take
centre stage in moving the nation forward, from
peace building to ‘peace preservation’.
In 2008 the government of President Koroma
estimated the total funding required for the
implementation of the Agenda for Change at $30
Billion. This figure was subsequently revised by
the government to $19 Billion, and then to $3
Billion on the eve of the Donor and Investors
Conference held in London last November.
In 2009, the UNDP estimated
total investment required for the delivery of
the Agenda for Change at $19 Billion, with 60%
of this needed for infrastructure development.
The UN Head Office in New York is now
considering the request by the Head of
the UN Integrated Peace Building Office
(UNIPSIL) in Freetown, with the support
of Sierra Leone’s Minister of Foreign
Affairs, for a new budget package
amounting to more than $200 Million. But there is a serious need to shift
policy emphasis and strategic spending
plans and priorities towards community
cohesion programmes and actions, and the
economic empowerment of people in their
The bulk of this new UN funding must now be used
in direct support of local community
initiatives, employment creation, job training
and small business start-ups. Support for the
country’s decentralisation process is now more
than ever crucial in achieving this goal.
The goodwill of the UN together with political
commitment on the part of President Koroma and
his Ministers must be utilised to eradicate
bureaucratic bottlenecks. The intransigence of
some centralised civil servants who may feel
threatened by the decentralisation process,
needs to be assuaged.
On 26 March 2010, UN delegates in New York
discussed progress in delivering Sierra Leone’s
peace building programme. The US Ambassador to
the UN was particularly interested in
the proposed $46 Million Joint Response to Youth
Employment in Sierra Leone Programme. It will be
funded by the World Bank, the German Technical
Cooperation and the UN. It is hoped that this
programme will create 160, 000 jobs for the
The US Ambassador also asked about efforts the
Peace Building Commission will take to lever
economic support for Sierra Leone, including
foreign direct investments, especially in
It is not certain whether the UN Office in New
York will approve the increased funding of more
than $200 Million requested by UNIPSIL -
Freetown. But what is clear is the size of the
Sierra Leone Foreign Minister’s shopping list.
If the Minister’s wish is granted and the
funding is judiciously spent, it would make a
significant difference in helping to ‘preserve
the peace’ through the economic empowerment of
the unemployed youths.
But would this new funding lead to more
centralisation and the diversion of donor funds
to other areas of economically inactive
Sierra Leone’s peace building programme has
successfully come a long way. Democratic and
civil society institutions, the judiciary, law
and order, state security, and the
Anti-corruption Commission are all flexing their
Laws have been strengthened, but the absence of
a Freedom of Information Act continues to cast a
shadow on civil liberty and government
transparency. Elections are relatively peaceful,
but talks of an upsurge in violence as the 2012
election draws near, are rife.
There is no doubt that as citizens are empowered
to have a stake in their local communities
through small business ownership and the
provision of meaningful job opportunities, the
less their propensity for violence and the
destruction of their neighbourhoods.
Thus investing in developing people’s capacity
to exercise their enlightened self-interests as
active citizens, is a much quicker way of not
only consolidating the peace, but promoting
respect for law and order, respect for equality
and diversity, respect for the rights of others
to self-determination, and the confidence to
hold their government to account.
A decade of successful peace building is over.
It is now time for peace preservation through
economic empowerment: Youth employment, Job
skills training, community enterprise, and
private small business ownership.
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