The trend in Sierra Leone is moving in a positive direction. In particular, progress is seen in terms of cross-political cooperation, increased capacity for institution-building and police and military reform. However, the economic situation is still difficult, and the global financial crisis has put a damper on the country’s previously modest economic growth. Results in terms of work, welfare and infrastructure must be visible to ensure the fragile peace of the country. A solid international presence and continuous international donor willingness are essential to ensure continued positive development.
President Ernest Bai Koroma of the All People’s Congress (APC) party has ruled Sierra Leone since he was elected in September 2007. The election was conducted in a relatively peaceful manner without major irregularities. International observers characterized the electoral process as good.
President Koroma has been aware of the need for broad support and open dialogue with the opposition to ensure long-term stability in the country. With a strong support from the UN, a number of collaborative forums have been established with wide participation from political actors and representatives of important public figures in the country. They have also focused on securing anchorage with the police and in military circles. This broad line of cooperation has received much credit for the political development of Sierra Leones constantly moving in the positive direction.
The fact that the army is currently being trained by US and British forces in preparation for participation in UN-backed operations in Darfur is an important symbol of how far Sierra Leone has come since the end of the civil war in 2001.
Rioting is nevertheless far from a closed chapter in Sierra Leone. The most important political parties in the country are closely identified with their own ethnic group, and this leads to the blending of ethnic contradictions and political discrepancies and becomes a very explosive combination. The Koromas APC is largely linked to the temp people from the north, and the opposition party Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP) is linked to the mende people in the south and east.
Occasional outbreaks of politically motivated violence were reported in several cities throughout 2009. In March, SLPP’s offices in Freetown were attacked, and violence, rape and sexual violence were reported in both Freetown and Pujehun district east of the country. In connection with the local elections in June 2009, contradictions also arose in a number of cities. Nevertheless, it is positive that the security authorities eventually handle the situations so that local unrest does not escalate.
Despite large mineral deposits and substantial agricultural and fisheries resources is Sierra Leone remains one of the poorest countries. About half of the country’s income comes from international donors. The infrastructure is very poor and the level of education is low, which prevents the country from being able to fully utilize its natural resources. Almost half of the working population work with traditional agriculture and produce only for their own consumption. More than 70 percent of the country’s population lives below the UN poverty line.
Sierra Leone’s economy also suffered during the global financial crisis in 2009. The value of export goods such as diamonds, mineral rutile, cocoa, coffee and fish has fallen due to a reduction in world demand. Sierra Leone’s currency has also fallen dramatically in value, which has led to a large increase in prices of imported goods. The flow of money sent into the country from Sierra Leoneans living abroad also diminished as a result of the financial crisis. The economy is still growing, but growth dropped significantly from 2008 to 2009.
Health services are poorly developed in Sierra Leone. This means, among other things, that the country has very high child mortality and high female mortality associated with pregnancy and childbirth. Life expectancy is only 49 years for women and 46 years for men. Waterborne diseases such as paratyphus, hepatitis A and diarrhea, as well as malaria and yellow fever are widespread and cost many lives.
The school system is under development, but there is still a long way to go. Only 47 percent of men over the age of 15 can read and write. Among women over 15, this figure is only around 24 percent.
Although the Constitution has gender equality as the basic principle, and discrimination is illegal, this has little impact on most women’s everyday lives. Girls and women still have poorer access to education, health care and legal aid than men. Genital mutilation of women is practiced in large parts of the country, and violence against women in the family is unfortunately widespread.
Law and justice
The UN-backed War Criminal Court (SCSL) has now finalized its latest appeal in Freetown. The Court has given final rulings in all the cases that have been brought in the courtrooms in Sierra Leone, and will in 2010 gradually phase out its business in the country. Charles Taylor’s case is still pending, but due to the security situation, this case is being heard in The Hague in the Netherlands.
The verdict against three leaders of the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) rebel group came into force in October 2009. The three must serve 52, 40 and 25 years respectively in prison for war crimes and crimes against humanity. They join the ranks of convicted leaders from several of the groupings that fought against each other in the civil war that ravaged the country. In 2008, two Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC) leaders were sentenced to 50 years in prison, one AFRC leader to 45 years behind the walls, and two Civil Defense Force (CDF) leaders to prison sentences of 20 and 15 years, respectively.
Corruption is widespread in Sierra Leone. This impedes both economic development and institutional building. It is encouraging that President Koroma made it clear in his deployment speech that the fight against corruption should be given priority during his administration. The government has also made it clear that they want to establish their own corruption court with specially trained judges, as well as institute a fast-track process for corruption cases.
Unemployment in the country is very high, especially among young people. This is a threat to the fragile stability of the country and forms the basis for crime and social unrest. Priority is given to economic development and increased employment. Since 44.5 percent of Sierra Leone’s population is under the age of 14 today, and as refugees who have lived in neighboring countries gradually begin to return to Sierra Leone, there is a danger that unemployment problems will increase in scope.
Drug crime is a relatively new but rapidly growing problem in Sierra Leone. Authorities have put the fight against drug production and drug smuggling high on the agenda, and in 2009 police destroyed several large cannabis plantations. Customs and police training is central to preventing criminal networks with international branches from getting a foothold in the country.
Area: 71 740 km2 (40th largest)
Population: 5.6 million
Population density per km2: 78
Urban population: 37 percent
Largest city: Freetown – approx. 827 000)
Per capita GDP: $ 418
Economic growth: 5.5 percent
HDI Position: 180