Labour-Intensive Growth Is Vital: The Last UN Peacekeeping Troops Pulled out of Sierra Leone at the End of 2005, Signalling an End to the Physical Intervention of outside Forces in the Country's Affairs. Can the Country, Now at Peace, Find the Right Economic Formula to Sustain Peace and Stability? Neil Ford Discusses
Ford, Neil, African Business
Sierra Leone has undoubtedly taken a series of important steps on the road to recovery. The civil war has ended and the disarmament process has proved an outstanding success. At the end of 2005, however, the last United Nations peacekeeping forces pulled out of the country and the Sierra Leonean security forces are now expected to stand on their own two feet. Can the civilian government survive in the long term and can it strengthen an economy that provides the country's only real chance of future stability?
Despite a number of up and downs during their five-year stay in Sierra Leone, the United Nations forces have played a vital role in restoring civilian rule and bringing the culture of violence to an end. Unlike in some other UN peacekeeping operations, their withdrawal was not sudden but was planned well in advance, with Sierra Leonean forces gradually taking over their role following sustained investment in creating a new, more highly trained national army.
UN troop numbers were gradually reduced until the last detachment of Pakistani soldiers left in mid-December. Where the national army was once restricted to small parcels of government held land, it is now active in all parts of the country following an intensive programme of training by British forces and renewed investment.
When hundreds of UN soldiers were taken prisoner by rebel forces in 2000, it was widely forecast that the Sierra Leone mission would end UN peacekeeping operations in Africa. Yet partly because of the subsequent intervention of British paratroopers in 2000 and 2001, the UN operation in the country is now being trumpeted as a massive success. What was once a collapsed state has now been given a realistic chance of long term success.
The improved security situation was confirmed in April last year, when the British Foreign Office announced that it considered all parts of Sierra Leone to be safe for travel. In a statement, it revealed: "We are no longer advising against travel to areas of Sierra Leone bordering Liberia due to improvements in the security situation." It continued: "Visits to the western area of Sierra Leone, including Freetown, are usually trouble free. Travel outside the western area can be difficult, as roads and infrastructure are poor." For a country that had been carved up into a series of petty fiefdoms only a few years ago, the announcement marked something of a breakthrough.
Outside support will now also be vital for economic reconstruction but this will only be forthcoming if the government manages to tackle corruption.
Freetown has budgeted for $950m expenditure over the next two years. A donors' conference held in London last November provided $800m, while raising concerns over government efforts to tackle financial irregularities.
President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah told delegates: "I am fully aware that the biggest concern for many of our development partners is the level of our commitment to fighting corruption and the manner in which we are able to provide demonstrable results in this area. We welcome this concern and wish to assure the donor community and our people that we take the fight against corruption very seriously."
Despite such criticism, the Consultative Group for Sierra Leone, which comprised 30 donor countries, agreed to provide the money to support the government's poverty reduction strategy up to the end of 2007.
The World Bank has also cited some progress on the economic front. The economy has grown by an annual rate of 7% since the end of the civil war but most of this has merely been the result of rebounding from the decline of the civil war years. It will therefore take many years of growth at similar levels to make a real difference to living standards.
Diamond revenues are obviously important because of the foreign exchange that exports can earn. …