Peace, Security, and Development Versus Truth, Reconciliation and Political Control in Sierra Leone
By Ibrahim Bangoura
Snr. Research Associate
Africa Analysis International
Field Service Network
Freetown, Sierra Leone
January 30th 2003.
Posted: January 31, 2003
BRIEFING No. 010
The Sierra Leonean society is going through significant democratic lessons and co-existence experiences. To the extent that the country is witnessing a balanced breakthrough on the long road towards peace, security and development versus attempts to obtain truth, reconciliation and stable democratic political control under the SLPP government.
The Sierra Leonean experience with the rapid democratic change and influence; despite the brutal civil war, and over the last years of sustained poverty and misrule, confirms that there can be no successful political and social alternative to democracy, human rights practices and peaceful co-existence if any nation is to develop and be stable.
Outstanding among the Country’s achievement is the path to multiparty democracy under the SLPP and a breakaway from a long period of monopolization of political life by one party or group as had been under the APC since the late 60’s up to the early 90’s.
What is being achieved in the country is the result of a consistent fearless mass mobilization in support for a more open and transparent political system aimed at economic development, reliance and sustainability for social advancement support. This mobilization is fundamentally democratic, and designed and directed by the population with a relevant support and guidance from the organizations in the civil society.
However, there are still deep rooted problems in the Country’s, particularly the SLPP government, scale of trying to maintain peace and security in order to foster development on one hand, and commitment to search for the truth, facilitate national reconciliation and exert consistent political control in the country on the other hand. This complex in-balance is affecting the progress of the nation’s integral sectors.
Like in the past, especially under the APC misrule, the Kabbah’s SLPP government does nothing to draw up and implement a rural development plan. Large and small scale industrial development and decentralization are not considered. Consequently, there is rising unemployment throughout the country.
There are many graduates and skillful Sierra Leoneans with no job, no progress, etc. Every excuse is being put on the war and the slow pace in international assistance. Beside, the Sierra Leonean government places too much real confidence in its donor support and assistance sector at the expense of improvement and support for local industrial and agricultural initiatives. This reliance on foreign assistance impacts on the regime in power, and the population as well as consumers and traders throughout the country.
Now with consideration by the international community that the war is over and that there is peace, there appears to be some kind of serious recession in donor’s support. This international donors support recession is not only increasing poverty, generating acute social problems throughout the country, and preventing or reducing demand of Sierra Leonean refugees return home, but deprives the SLPP Kabbah’s government of independent fiscal action in coping with the external economic forces and realities despite the large deposits of diamonds , etc coming from the mining sector.
The country and government have an excellent policy for education in the sense that education is free and indirectly compulsory at primary level. However, there is a lack of improvement in educational infrastructures, and teachers’ upkeep in terms of salaries, continuous training, and major educational supplies. This situation cuts across every level of this sector.
At higher educational level, universities, training colleges and professional institutions; the situation is more complex and devastating for students. All this is due to the impact of the social and economic constraints imposed on parents, relatives and benefactors. Scholarships are reared, and most students at university study under strenuous conditions.
From sources interviewed, there is a founded realization that most of the health and nutrition deficiencies in the country ultimately relate to the microscopic problems of extreme poverty and social deprivation, even though a number of health specific intervention are made centering on the prevention and reduction of parasitic and infectious diseases; promoting better feeding practices, improving personal hygiene, sanitation and water supply, as well as access to micro-nutrition supplements.
In essence, the health situation in Sierra Leone is generally poor, with relatively high infant mortality, low life expectancy, high incidence of malnutrition, acute respiratory diseases, diarrhea diseases, parasitic infections, a rise in malaria, leprosy, tuberculosis, and blindness among parts of the population. There are differing estimates of infant mortality based on the various regions in the country, but the rate is generally high in the remote rural area than the urban. Generally, it is estimated at 300 per 1000 births in 2002.
There are a number of NGOs and the Ministry of Health and the Sanitation conducting programs with specific health objectives, such as malaria eradication, immunization and mother-and child care, these programs are almost exclusively concentrated in the urban areas and are basically providing curative services to a large extent.
The war and its effects have imposed great degree of psychological- mental health problems on the population at varying levels. Efforts for genuine trauma healing and medical- social counseling are not really existent. The Government overlooks, in reality, the need for actual psychological health. Basically, one can not find any institution or program in relation to this. This is dangerous for the country, particularly so considering the number of direct and indirect victims as well as the victimizers from the decade old war.
Sierra Leone still has a very fragile political climate. Because of this delicate atmosphere established on gross mistrust, the ruling SLPP is mainly concerned with solidifying its control over the government and the entire country. Hence, it wants to rule with a firm hand in trying to bring order out of the post conflict chaos at all cost. To achieve these factors, the regime allows or permits a number of wrong practices, and pay deaf ears to some unresolved obligations that favors and protects its interest and existence against basic norms.
It is cleared that many of the police brutality, frequent arrests and unwarranted detentions both of Sierra Leonean nationals, refugees and foreigners that occurred in the country are to a large extent not as a result of government policy or instruction ( at least not direct ), but because of misconduct on the part of the security apparatus and the regime’s loyalists. These and remnant of the AFRC and RUF are major source of lawlessness in the current dispensation. Arbitrary police/CID’s arrests and harassments not usually sanctioned by the government continued sporadically in the country under the pretense of protecting National security interest.
The Government of Kabbah’s SLPP most time endorsed unlawful tendencies as an alibi for its protection guarantee. Since the last elections and subsequent inauguration for the second term, the SLPP led government has been deeply concerned about the possibility of being overthrown by domestic opponents, particularly so since its Standard Bearer, President Ahmed Tejan Kabbah did not secure the vote of the military and most quarters within the security arena. The Government has been perceiving coup attempt arising from enemies linked to former AFRC/RUF junta or the defunct NPRC, from discontented enlisted soldiers, and from the members of the ruling circle itself, and notable in the ruling circle under closed suspicion are: Chief Norman, now Minister of Safety and National Security, Dr. Joe Demby, former Vice President and influential figure in the Party’s militias - the kamajors; and lawyer Charles Maigai, a vocal and outstanding ideological rival to President Kabbah in the SLPP. Also Key and Notable in the collective national opposition includes former Junta leader, and current civilian parliamentarian, Major Johnny Paul Koroma, who is said to be popular and influential in the military/ security circles, and Valentine Strasser, former Head of the NPRC military regime.
DISARMAMENT, AND HUMAN RIGHTS
The disarmament; demobilization and re-integration process in Sierra Leone still remains loose and amorphous. Arms and ammunitions remain scattered in the country. The RUF did not surrender all of their arms and ammunitions, though not fully as an organization. In addition to this group, the SLPP government is still maintaining some cells of their “defunct” Kamajor’s militia, dominated by the Mende ethnic group. These cells are largely concentrated in their strong hold, the Eastern province. In spite of all this, armed robbery is been curtailed. However, one serious human rights problem in the country is the high scale of police brutality and indiscipline as well as the recurrent prolongation, detention and illegal arrest without charge, and frequent raid of refugees and Sierra Leonean civilians.
In the African context, in terms of country comparisons, there is a relative understanding between the press and the government in Sierra Leone. To the extent, that there has been no form of crackdown. However, there appears to be a latent strict libel, slander and sedition law that protects government’s officials from major forms of criticism. Consequently, this directly constrains the press, particularly under the Kabbah’s rule. Newspapers and reporters generally support the government and the President and are becoming accustomed to exercising extreme care in the handling of delicate political matters.
Nevertheless, newspapers are not banned from time to time, and editors and reporters are not actually subjected to brief jail terms for perceived improprieties in their reporting.
In reality, there is no doubt that the independence of the judiciary in Sierra Leone exist in law, as well as in fact. At least when considered from the position of the key divisions of government set up The Executive, Judiciary and Legislative. There is also no fundamental doubt about the integrity and competence of the current Judiciary, particularly the Supreme Court, its composition etc. On the contrary, many sources interviewed in the country were hasten to concede that Judges in the country are usually under pressure, on politically charged issues, from both the executive and indirect party’s commitment, etc to the point that they do not bother themselves with interpreting the law as the executive enforces it.
Despite the ugly lessons of the war, and subsequent arrival of relative peace, stability and multi party democracy, the bad practices of the past have not totally evaporated in Sierra Leone. In all this, one major danger is the role and general orientation of the military.
Having collectively experience some degree of power and authority at national political and administrative levels, it seems most unlikely that the Sierra Leonean military (mainly associates and contemporaries of the AFRC, NPRC, etc) would quietly disavow political activism now that some of them are in the barracks while others are in civilian life.
The real danger is, even if the soldiers refrained from interfering in the delicate process of installing a new level of agitation in the civilian government, they will grow weary and act if their privileges are threatened, or if they see the current SLPP regime treading Sierra Leone in directions strongly objectionable to them.
From AAI’s research, it has been realized that if actual reconciliation and peace building efforts are not forged, the capital, Freetown and Sierra Leone in general could be paralyzed by a complete breakdown in public order as soldiers and ex-combatant accustomed to loot, and unemployed Sierra Leoneans are widespread.
In view of the above mentioned general realities, the following recommendations are derived.
· That the current Sierra Leonean government desists from its lack of pragmatic approach, which is one reason why the Country’s political, economic, and social policies and institutions are not well established and flourishing.
· That in order for peace, security and democracy to be fully maintained, the Government and civil society’s organizations must make effort to bring all of the country’s stakeholders and regions into the republic’s political and economic processes.
· That the government takes concrete steps to prevent its officials and party loyalist from acts of self-serving, institutional corruption and nepotism as standard practices ;
· That the current government with support from the international community initiates mass civic awareness and education on national reconciliation, tolerance, human rights and peaceful co-existence. There is also a need to organize regular training seminars for the military and law enforcement officials/ officers on human rights; humane and correct Judicial and police procedures in relations to surveillance, arresting and interrogation methods, and political and social sentiments control so as to prevent the mentality of the past; and
· That the present government and all Sierra Leoneans desist from the act of witch-hunt of perceived enemies and opposition as that could restart the ugly past of the war.