President Koroma will no doubt be telling the UN
General Assembly that all is well in Sierra Leone;
the economy is growing as expected; infrastructure
developments are on track; the free health care
programme is performing well.
But of course, politics aside, this is far from the
truth. Youth unemployment, rising inflation,
declining standard of living - low pay, poor
management of the health care programme, rising
infrastructural costs overrun, continuous
shortage of water and electricity.
The UN Peacebuilding Office in Freetown, whose stay in
Sierra Leone was last week extended by a UN
resolution, is responsible for tracking the
country’s progress towards sustainable peace, and
has been in the country for ten years, since the
cessation of hostilities by the warring factions in
After four years in power, President Koroma is yet to
tackle the growing problem posed by youth
unemployment and the chronic structural economic
imbalances, which many analysts say are responsible
for the country’s poor economic performance.
Reporting for the UN Africa Renewal, Kingsley
Ighobor and Michael Fleshman, last month (august
2011) put the spotlight on Sierra Leone - from
the UN’s perspective - looking at the successes and
challenges ahead. This is their Report;
'Sierra Leone - peace under construction':
"The war is over, go and enjoy life," Sierra Leone's
former president, Ahmad Tejan Kabbah, declared at a
January 2002 symbolic burning of weapons and
ammunition to mark the end of the country's civil
war. As thick smoke from the weapons of war
spiralled away at Lungi, in eastern Sierra Leone, he
added: "The curfew is hereby lifted."
Thousands of jubilant Sierra Leoneans filled the
streets to celebrate the formal interment of a
decade-old war that had killed 150,000 people and
wrecked most of the country's social infrastructure.
A massive UN peacekeeping operation involving 17,000
troops (at the time, the largest in the world) had
disarmed 45,000 combatants, including 6,774 child
In 2006, UN troops began to withdraw, despite concerns
that Sierra Leone's weak national institutions could
not undertake the huge task of reconstruction on
their own. The UN Security Council referred these
concerns to the new UN Peacebuilding Commission
Then in December 2006 the PBC approved $35 million
to support programmes in Sierra Leone for capacity
building, democracy, good governance, justice,
security, youth employment and other tasks.
Sierra Leone was one of the commission's first
Established by the Security Council in December 2005,
the PBC has a mandate to coordinate with
international donors, financial institutions,
governments and troop-contributing countries in
helping to "marshal resources" and develop
"integrated strategies for post-conflict
peacebuilding and recovery."
The commission is also expected to highlight any "gaps
that threaten to undermine peace." It currently
supports nearly 100 projects in 15 countries.
'Access to opportunities'
Countries that are emerging from conflict need
peacebuilding, argues Michael von der Schulenburg,
the executive representative of the UN
Secretary-General in Sierra Leone and head of the
country's peacebuilding programme.
"Peacebuilding is access to water, to education, to
basic health care — access to opportunities," Mr.
von der Schulenburg explains in an interview with
The transition from peacekeeping to peacebuilding is
often difficult, notes Mr. von der Schulenburg. But
it is essential to enable the UN to better align its
priorities with the socio-economic and political
needs of a country after war.
Mr. von der Schulenburg believes that Sierra Leone has
had an exemplary peacebuilding programme since the
UN operation became a wholly civilian mission.
A key achievement is security. "We don't have armed
groups," he says. "They are all integrated. And the
combatants have not become criminals, as so often
happens." The UN has also successfully implemented a
community small-arms collection programme, to gather
up weapons not handed in during the formal
Other achievements, he adds, include a vibrant free
press and the entrenchment of democracy — as
demonstrated by periodic elections — as well as a
According to a 2009 evaluation of peacebuilding
projects commissioned by the Sierra Leonean
government, the UN Integrated Office for
Peacebuilding in Sierra Leone and the Peacebuilding
Support Office in New York, many of the key goals
have been met.
It reports that the UN Development Programme, which
managed most of the projects, achieved an 87 per
cent completion rate. "Measured on the scale of
budget delivery, this is clearly a remarkable
performance," states the evaluation.
From electricity to courtrooms
An emergency programme to support the energy sector,
for example, brought an increase in power capacity
from 25 megawatts to 31 megawatts in the capital,
Freetown, and from 0.5 megawatts to 5 megawatts in
Bo and Kenema, two of Sierra Leone's larger cities.
A project aimed at promoting youth empowerment through
micro-credit benefited 4,500 young women, placed
1,000 unskilled youths in training institutions and
300 others in apprenticeship programmes in official
To enhance capacity in the justice system, another
project supported the training and hiring of senior
barristers, legal officers, state counsels, clerks
and support staff. As a result, a backlog of 700
cases was cleared within two years, and current
court cases are being heard much faster.
Mr. von der Schulenburg has recommended that
peacebuilding operations in Sierra Leone conclude in
2013. A decision on the end date will be taken by
the Security Council. But even if the peacebuilding
activities wind down, regular UN agencies will
continue their support for the country's development
efforts, he adds.
The general elections in 2012 will be a litmus test
for Sierra Leone's nascent democracy. There are
concerns that the elections could lead to violence.
The 2007 parliamentary and presidential polls were
generally peaceful, although there were isolated
cases of violence, according to a report by European
Union observers. Those observers also noted that the
UN Integrated Office for Sierra Leone (UNIOSIL)
played an important role in providing technical and
Mr. von der Schulenburg maintains that concerns about
violence and other irregularities in the next
elections are justified, but manageable. He cites
the success of a recent by-election in a diamond
district with high unemployment.
Unemployment amidst wealth
There is a huge unemployment challenge in Sierra
Leone, however. In 2010 the World Bank estimated
Sierra Leone's unemployment at 80 per cent.
During a visit in 2007, UN Secretary-General Ban
Ki-moon also raised concerns about the country's
Sierra Leone's main income-generating sources are in
the extractive sector — gold, diamonds, bauxite and
But as a 2011 report by experts of the United Nations
Economic Commission for Africa and the African Union
pointed out, investments in Africa have been mainly
in the extractive sector, which produces few jobs.
Mr. von der Schulenburg believes that managing the
economy, especially the proceeds from the country's
abundant natural resources, is Sierra Leone's
greatest challenge. "Gold, iron ore, diamonds,
titanium, bauxite, you name it. Now oil and gas,
potentially," he notes.
"So this country could become very rich suddenly. And
how do you manage these?"
Preparing Sierra Leone for an economic boom will be
vital for preventing future conflicts. Currently,
the data on the country's untapped wealth contrasts
starkly with the poor state of its social
According to a 2011 World Bank report, life expectancy
in Sierra Leone is 48 years, while the adult
literacy rate is only 41 per cent. If used properly,
the proceeds from Sierra Leone's natural resources
can help alter such indicators.
If the Peacebuilding Commission closes shop in 2013,
as Mr. von der Schulenburg anticipates, the UN can
lay claim to a number of achievements: disarming
ex-combatants, supporting the consolidation of
democracy and promoting a growing economy.
Next year, the World Bank forecasts, the economy
will grow by another 8.8 per cent. With the right
preparations, the anticipated economic boom may hold
more lessons for countries that were once torn apart
by civil strife.
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