Sierra Leone Telegraph: 29 March 2013:
Ten years of civil war in Sierra Leone took the lives of hundreds of thousands of people, leaving more than 5,000 amputees, whose lives have been shattered.
And as evil and terror were unleashed on a population of 5 million, few ever believed that peace – sustainable peace, would be achieved.
But the international community, especially the UN and Britain, proved that where there is political will and conviction of purpose, nothing is impossible.
Today the UN begins counting down, following its announcement last week, of the closure of its Mission in Sierra Leone, with the full confidence that peace has finally returned and democracy – though fragile, is now firmly taking roots.
The Security Council unanimously adopted a resolution to close its UN Integrated Peace Building Office in Sierra Leone (UNIPSIL) on 31st March 2014, leaving behind a small country team that will take over oversight and monitoring responsibilities.
The UN Secretary-General – Ban Ki-moon, will submit a progress report on the draw-down efforts to the Security Council, no later than 15th September 2013.
Although the UN has scored tremendous success in Sierra Leone since 1996, this success however, has come with controversies.
In 2007, the opposition SLPP accused the UN of rigging the results of presidential and general elections in favour of then opposition presidential candidate – Ernest Bai Koroma.
Ballots cast in over 400 polling stations were nullified by the electoral commission, with the blessing of the UN.
In 2011 the UN had to recall the head of UNIPSIL – Mr. Schulenburg from Sierra Leone, as he faced accusations from the government, of working too closely with leaders of the opposition SLPP.
In 2009, the offices of the opposition SLPP were destroyed and party officials attacked by an organised mob of ruling APC party supporters, beating and raping women found in the building.
The then UN Chief in the country – Schulenburg, brokered peace between the two parties, as opposition supporters declared revenge.
A peace accord was signed under the aegis of the UN.
In the aftermath of growing political violence and widespread intimidation, the UN Office in Freetown, recommended the banning of all radio stations owned by political parties.
The UN provided funding for the conversion of its own radio station – Radio UNAMSIL, into the country’s national radio service – the Sierra Leone Broadcasting Corporation (SLBC).
The intention of the UN was for the newly incorporated station to cater for the needs of all views and opinions – irrespective of political and religious persuasions.
But the opposition have criticised the government for meddling in the affairs and management of the station, giving undue coverage and advantage to the ruling APC party, an accusation recently corroborated by the EU 2012 election observers.
Perhaps the most profound decision taken by the UN Chief in Freetown – Mr. Schulenburg, was to convince his boss in New York – Ban Ki-Moon not to support calls from the ruling party for an enquiry into alleged extra-judicial killings by the former military leader – Retired Brigadier Julius Maada Bio.
Bio had been elected by the opposition SLPP as their presidential candidate for the 2012 election, and the UN was not prepared to jeopardise the country’s hard won peace it had engineered.
This UN decision was subsequently reinforced, when Ban Ki-Moon visited Sierra Leone. He made it clear that the country must now move on, and look to the future.
He said that unemployment, especially youth unemployment was the greatest threat to the country’s stability.
And in a recent report to the Security Council, Ban Ki-Moon said that the next 12 months are “critical” for the mission to consolidate the gains it has accomplished so far, by refocusing its mandate on the following three main remaining areas:
‘Good offices and the facilitation of political dialogue towards a constitutional review process and towards strengthening conflict prevention and resolution processes; security sector support; and strengthening of human rights institutions.’
“This period is also critical to ensure the transition of the mission’s residual tasks seamlessly to the United Nations’ country team and to ensure that the latter has adequate resources,” Ban told the Security Council.
“Over the 15 years of its operations in Sierra Leone, the United Nations supported the Government, civil society organizations and national institutions and organizations in the implementation of peace agreements, the holding of three free, fair and credible elections, national recovery, transition to a more comprehensive peace building agenda, promoting good governance and human rights, and building the capacity of national institutions,” he said.
But the UN is under no illusion that peace and democracy in Sierra Leone are very fragile.
It says that; ‘despite the real signs of progress in the country, there are serious residual challenges, including strengthening the capacity of security sector agencies, combating transnational organized crime and drug trafficking and the proposed constitutional review process.’
The strengthening of the country’s security sector will, with effect from 1 April 2013, become the responsibility of the newly formed International Security Advisory Team Sierra Leone (ISAT).
According to a press statement issued yesterday by the British High Commission in the country, the International Military Training and Advisory Team Sierra Leone (IMATT), formally ends its mission in Sierra Leone on 31 March 2013.
IMATT is a British led contingent of senior international military personnel, which has served as the bedrock of the peace Sierra Leoneans have enjoyed since the end of the war in 2000, and they will be sorely missed.
IMATT has provided training, support and advice to the Republic of Sierra Leone Armed Forces (RSLAF) for nearly 13 years.
During this period, the RSLAF has reorganised itself into a professional and capable military force that focuses on external threats and peacekeeping operations in Africa, and is widely respected within Sierra Leone.
The forthcoming deployment of the RSLAF battalion on peacekeeping operations in Somalia is further evidence of this growing capability, says the British High Commission.
National elections in November 2012, the third set of democratic elections in Sierra Leone since the end of the Civil War in 2002, marked a defining moment for the international community’s support to the RSLAF.
The conduct of the elections set the conditions for IMATT to draw down and to transition into ISAT.
ISAT will have a much broader remit across the whole security sector and a growing role within the sub-region. It will continue to advise and support the RSLAF, but will also provide advice and support to the other agencies within the security sector – the Sierra Leone Police, the Office of National Security, the National Fire Force, the Prisons Department, the Immigration Office, the Joint Maritime Committee and others.
ISAT will also work closely with existing DFID and UNDP programmes in support of the Justice Sector.
The transition of IMATT to ISAT marks a further and very significant milestone in the development of the RSLAF.
It is also a positive demonstration of the enduring and evolving contribution of the international community to the development of Sierra Leone’s security and prosperity and, over time, that of the Mano River Union region, the statement says.
IMATT is leaving behind a legacy that will remain on the lips of Sierra Leoneans forever, as the area in which it and other international agencies, such as the EU office are located, has become known as IMATT.
A big farewell and thank you – to both UNIPSIL and IMATT, for a job well done.