Teddy Foday-Musa: Sierra Leone Telegraph: 16 January 2019:
The Bio-led Government of Sierra Leone has identified the strengthening of national cohesion as one of its top priority areas. In his address on 10 May 2018, at the state opening of parliament president Julius Maada Bio announced the creation of an Independent Commission for Peace and National Cohesion to be established by an Act of Parliament.
He further stated that the development of the Act will be through extensive consultations across the country, culminating in a national conference on peace-building, diversity management and rebuilding of national cohesion.
The aim is to promote cross-community and cross-regional unity, and consensus building for sustainable peace and development.
The President in his 2019 New Year Message to the nation also reaffirmed his commitment to establishing an Independent Commission for Peace and National Cohesion. He noted; “As we look ahead into the New Year, we also have a collective responsibility to maintain the peace and stability of our great nation. In 2019, my Government will establish the Independent Commission for Peace and National Cohesion to enhance national cohesion, strengthen peace consolidation and promote inclusive governance”.
Establishing Infrastructures for Peace is a worldwide campaign by local civil society organizations, inter-governmental agencies, committed citizens, and government officials. The call for the establishment of infrastructures for peace in governments around the world is to reflect and support the global culture of peace and nonviolence.
“African solution to African problem” is a favorite slogan of the African Union (AU), but since the 2002 establishment of the African Peace and Security Architecture, the continent has continued to face challenges to building sustainable peace.
In Sierra Leone, the idea to establish an infrastructure for peace first came along with the signing of the Lomé Peace Agreement between the Government of Sierra Leone (GoSL) and the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) in 1999.
Since then, series of local campaign by Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) have made notable progress including in-country consultations and awareness rising sessions held with various stakeholders.
Advocacy and information sharing sessions were also organized for the Sierra Leone House of Parliament through the Parliamentary Committee on Human Rights, which resulted in establishing a Parliamentary-CSOs Working Group on Infrastructure for Peace in 2013.
Most recently, the Global Partnership for the Prevention of Armed Conflict (GPPAC), West Africa Network for Peace-building (WANAP) and local CSOs organized a two-day stakeholders’ roundtable on the 4-5 October, 2018, to share information and experiences on the Infrastructure for Peace (I4P) campaign, and adopt a CSOs’ framework on the establishment of a peace infrastructure in Sierra Leone.
The theme of the roundtable was: ‘Enhancing the role of CSOs in the Establishment of a National Peace Infrastructure in Sierra Leone’. Charles Lahai, the Chairman of the CSO Consortium Peace Working Group, described the aims and objectives of the roundtable conference.
“The principal aim of this conference is to reflect on existing practical experiences in setting up infrastructures for peace in different countries national contexts so as to inform practitioners and decision makers in Sierra Leone on the steps towards establishing the National Peace and Social Cohesion Commission”.
The expected result of this roundtable was envisaged around the increased level of interaction and interface between and among state and non-state actors on peace, security and governance issues.
At the end of the roundtable conference, a CSOs’ communique on the establishment of the Independent Commission for Peace and National Cohesion for Sierra Leone was prepared and adopted for onward presentation to the Government of Sierra Leone. The Communique was later presented to the Chief Minister at Statehouse.
The justification for the establishment of a national peace infrastructure in Sierra Leone stems from international demand, underpinning local need for countries to take full ownership of their peace-building process at national level.
At the first Standing Conference on Stability, Security and Development in Durban in 2002, African leaders signed a Resolution committing them to uphold their full responsibility to set up national institutions to manage conflict, in partnership with their civil society organisations.
Therefore, the establishment of a National Peace Infrastructure is part of an essential condition for the realization of the right to peace enshrined in numerous international declaration including Article 8 of the Declaration and Programme of Action on a Culture of Peace; Article 1 of the UN 1984 Declaration on the Right of Peoples to Peace, which directly corresponds to Chapter III of the 1991 Constitution of Sierra Leone dedicated to Fundamental Human Rights and Freedoms of the Individual.
Also, four months after the signing of the Lomé Peace Agreement by the Government of Sierra Leone (GoSL) and the Revolutionary United Fronts (RUF), the All-Africa Conference on African Principles of Conflict Resolution, Management and Reconciliation held in Addis-Ababa, Ethiopia, from November 8 – 12, 1999, reinforced the need for Africans to find African solutions to Africa’s problems.
That is, every African country must dig deep into her past to rediscover her true self and bring values that could enable her people traditionally to resolve conflicts and create social harmony.
In this vein, it is emphasised that the ultimate justification for the domestication of Peace Infrastructure is the transfer of ownership of peace-building from international community to state and non-state actors at national, districts, chiefdom and community levels.
This argument is reinforced by a growing consensus, both within and outside the UN system on the significance of national ownership to sustain post-conflict peace-building effort at the national level.
This has been clearly articulated by the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon pointing out that national ownership as a central theme; reflect the common sense wisdom that any peace process not embraced by those who have to live with it is likely to fail.
Added to the, national peace, governance and security challenges justifying the creation of Peace infrastructure in Sierra Leone, the initiative is also justified by Kofi Annan – UN former Secretary General.
In the 2006 Progress Report on the 2001 report Prevention of Armed Conflict, he stipulated that ‘Essentially, the aim should be the creation of a sustainable national infrastructure for peace that allows societies and their governments to resolve conflicts internally and with their own skills, institutions and resources’.
In the same vein, the World Conference on Human Rights encourages the establishment and strengthening of national institutions, having regard to the ‘principles relating to the status of national institutions’ and recognizing that it is the right of each State to choose the framework which is best suited to its particular needs at the national level.
This underscores the argument that the focus of the international community in post-conflict interventions is often quick-fix with exit strategies, whilst key issues related to the root causes of the armed conflict are left largely uncertain. This tends to undermine national ownership of the process by setting a pace that does not allow national actors to fully explore and deliberate on options.
Across the world, societies must do more to meet the aspirations of their citizens for a better future, and to respond to the disparities of opportunity, wealth and power that act as barriers to sustainable development.
Sierra Leone is no exception as exclusion and injustice are drivers of violence and insecurity, serving as threat to the country’s peace-building process. In this vein, Sierra Leone must reduce violence and manage dispute peacefully at local country level, while actively promoting inclusion, and reducing polarization and distrust, geared towards enhancing national cohesion.
To build peaceful, just and inclusive societies, we need commitment to preventing all forms of violence, whether it’s found in the home, the community, or the wider society. Sierra Leone being a post-war country facing the highest risks prevention is most urgently needed, and the establishment of the national peace infrastructure could serve as a preventive mechanism.
However, effective prevention must do more than avoid harm. Violence is a symptom of broader failure to address grievances within a society, resolve dispute peacefully, and to respect the rights of children, women and vulnerable groups.
Sierra Leoneans are calling on their Government to make room for the National Peace Infrastructure to address peace-building issues in a country that has been wounded by eleven years civil war and other forms of violence.
While the Government of Sierra Leone is the primary duty-bearers of human rights law and the Constitution of Sierra Leone, realizing the right to peace is the responsibility of all citizens. It is therefore critical that civil society coalition in partnership and collaborative engagement with other state and non-state actors to effect the social transformation which could only be fully realize through the establishment of a national peace infrastructure, a legitimate provision in the Lomé Peace Agreement.
Sierra Leone continues to resurface into a renewed political division and other issues that have to deal with collective national interest. Even after elections, such political interaction is expressed in the form of tension, threats, deep-rooted crisis of confidence-building and naked display of unpatriotic conduct.
Establishing an Independent Commission for Peace and National Cohesion will not only enhance our national cohesion, but eliminates all types of violence, whether direct, political, structural, economic or cultural in both public and private sector.
About the author
Teddy Foday-Musa is a Rotary Peace Fellow and Lecturer in the Department of Peace & Conflict Studies at Fourah Bay College (FBC), University of Sierra Leone (USL).