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Has the UN failed in Sierra Leone?

Brima P. Kapuwa

8 September 2011

Photo: Brima P. Kapuwa


How far has the UN succeeded, if at all, in building Sierra Leone’s peace? Suffice it to say that lots of funds have been allocated by the Peacebuilding fund (UNPBF) for Sierra Leone’s post conflict development.

But how much of these activities are tangible today?

When Boutrous Ghali - then UN Secretary General, developed and popularized his 'An Agenda for Peace (1992)', he was merely moved by the prevailing post cold war dynamics that characterized global polity then.

Ideally, what became a post cold war dynamics saw as Murithi would put it, 'the hope for a more stable and just international order rapidly dissolved by the internecine conflicts that plagued all continents'.

These conflicts took on a pernicious form in the sense that they undermined the very fabric of the nation-state.

Because of the complex and dynamic nature of the conflicts that characterizes the international order, it was and has always been difficult to say when and where the concept of post conflict Peacebuilding actually started and will end.

Peacebuilding by Ghali or by extension the UN, therefore describes the process of rebuilding a war torn state by identifying and supporting structures, which will tend to strengthen and solidify peace to avoid a relapse to conflict.

Put simply, Peacebuilding includes the process of rebuilding the political, social, security, and economic dimensions of a society emerging from conflict, and addresses the root causes of the conflict.

If the above conceptualization is anything to go by, then Sierra Leoneans are in for a sustainable and lasting peace after over a decade of bloody conflict, but anything short of it will see the once enviable country relapsing into conflict.

Unquestionably, like I have often argued in criticism of liberalism, which emphasizes on democracy, almost all major wars in Sub-saharan Africa has been as a result of a breakdown in rule of law and governance characterized by poverty, corruption, injustices, political intimidations and intolerance, human right violations, etc.

The RUF war of Foday Sankoh is no exception to the limitations, because the pre war days of the despotic APC were marred by political intolerance, dethronement of Traditional rulers suspected of not supporting them, imprisonment and banishment of political opponents, inflation and a rapidly decaying economic base, institutionalized and state led corruption, electoral mal-practices, etc.

The 23rd March 1991 attack on Bomaru and its attendant support by natives, demonstrated how ripe the fruit was for picking.

This opinion piece assumes and rhetorically posits that the UN led intervention in Sierra Leone is doomed; and that the current Peacebuilding initiative is nothing other than what Stephen Krasner would tag as 'Organized Hypocrisy'.

This article is not dedicated to anything like peace-making, or peace-keeping and enforcement, for if it were, the UN and ECOMOG will be on the dean’s list. As a country, we do appreciate their kind interventions.

The three peace spectrums identified above are very important, but sustainability depends to a larger extent on post conflict arrangements - otherwise called state building.

Is it not clear that those ugly vices that led to the war are visibly showing up once again in Sierra Leone?

When you read the various Peacebuilding reports by the UNSG to the UN Security Council, they sound superficial, but very deceitful and different from what actually prevails on the ground.

In the co-operate agreements between the Government of Sierra Leone and UN regarding Peacebuilding and development, as outlined in the 2006-2007 UNDAF document, Sierra Leone identified four priority areas for UN intervention namely: Youth employment and empowerment, Justice and Security Sector Reform, Consolidation of democracy and good governance, and capacity building.

My question is not whether these four areas actually address our problems; rather, I want us all to review these in order to determine the extent to which we are moving forward.

To their credit, I must admit that very many and sincere efforts have been designed by the Peacebuilding mission in Sierra Leone, although I have often unapologetically questioned the way they have been managed.

From a Rational Choice theoretical perspective, let us scan through the so-called Peacebuilding agenda - using the good governance and democracy pillar.

I am citing rational choice to question the instrumental rationality, which involves seeking the most cost-effective means to achieve a specific goal, without reflecting on the worthiness of that goal or balancing the UNPBF costs against benefits to arrive at action that maximizes our general advantage.


Having realized the inadequacies of the UNDAF 2006-2007 Security Council resolution on an effective Peacebuilding agenda in Sierra Leone, the UN again adopted resolutions 1829 at the 5948th Security Council meeting in 2008….awesome isn’t it?

Clause 3a of this resolution broadly provided for "political support to national and local efforts for identifying and resolving the tensions and threats of political conflict".


My problem with this resolution had to do with ambiguity in trying to understand and define the concept of 'political support'. Is political support only limited to letting the ruling APC get unlimited access to the UNPBF while making no attempt to capacitate opposition parties?

The UN is failing to realize that their continuous exposure of the government to access the PBF in the name of legitimacy will only further financially capacitate the APC party, which is evident in the sumptuous life style of our President and his Ministers.

Similarly, Resolution 1886 at the 6189th meeting in September 2009, where the mandate of UNIPSIL was extended to September, 2010 as set out in the previous resolutions 1829 in 2008, emphasized on supporting preparations for the 2012 General elections, without adequately outlining efforts to promote good governance and tolerance - especially those relating to inter party politics.

Clause six of this same resolution only vaguely mentions good governance without due reference to the actual dynamics of inter-party rivalry and tension.

The 14 page report by the UNSG to the Security Council in 2009, had lots of misrepresentations and at the same time technically failing to forward any logical argument on their dismal handling of the 2007 election violence perpetuated by the APC.

What have we achieved as far as democracy and good governance are concerned?

Is there not enough political intolerance and discrimination based on region or ethnicity already in the current APC rule? Is the UN or UNIPSIL aware of the indiscriminate sackings of South-Easterners from their professional jobs simply because of their regional origin?

Have we not seen Paramount Chief been removed from office by the APC on the allegations that they belong to the opposition SLPP? Is it news that the last election results which the opposition contested in court were rigged and superintended by UN election experts…Carlos Vela’s et al?

Did we not see enough destruction of SLPP offices across the country that the UN partly renovated?

Photo: Michael Schulenberg - Head of UN Peacebuilding Programme, Sierra Leone


The question of youth employment remains mere propaganda diction as very little has been done.

You need not read SRSG’s preposterous reports to the UN Security council to realize the inaccuracies, just go down-town Freetown or Makeni, Bo and Kenema to see colleague youths disempowered and unemployed.

Now that the 2012 elections are approaching, coupled with the fact that the UN mission in Sierra Leone has not managed the Peacebuilding Agenda very well, the signs are everywhere that: relapsing into conflict is almost a possibility.


The ugly signs are everywhere, especially with the recent rantings of the misguided Minister of Internal Affairs and the shameless Mohamed Bangura who has nothing to boast of in our Presidency other than discussing girls on the phone.

Is the UN waiting for such an opportunity to further substantiate why realists do not believe in institutionalism…(relative gains from absolute gains) and that they seek to remain in their jobs - thus an end to conflict would mean unemployment for them?

Here is a cautious note for the Peacebuilding mission in Sierra Leone. Peacebuilding scholars around the world have attributed the very negative actions of you UN Peacebuilding diplomats as reasons why in less than a decade, most countries that have had UN Peacebuilding interventions revert to conflict so easily.

Is the UN going to allow the millions of dollars contributed to Peacebuilding in Sierra Leone collapse because of a conflict that they failed to prevent?

Watch out for Part II…..pretty-pretty soon!

Brima P. Kapuwa is a Sierra Leonean research scholar in UN led Peacebuilding initiatives in Sierra Leone and Burundi.

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