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Embracing a bright new dawn

The withdrawal of UN peacekeepers early this year heralds Sierra Leone’s return to normality.

Last June, during the Conference on Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration which Sierra Leone hosted in its capital Freetown, it became clear that in Africa, at least, the country is no longer associated with war and conflict. On the contrary, it is praised for the success of its transition to peace and stability, and is now upheld as a model to follow for other nations emerging from civil conflict.
Commenting on the pullout of UN peacekeeping troops, Daudi Mwakawago, Special Representative of the Secretary General of the United Nations, says a different kind of UN presence is now appropriate.

“We were there to keep the peace. We’ve kept it. Now we want the peace-builders to come and work with the people.” A new UN Integrated Office in Sierra Leone has been established to “create an enabling environment for private investment’’ and international donors have pledged US$800 million for the purposes of national reconstruction.

On the outskirts of Freetown, the renewed sense of confidence is palpable. The emerging affluence of post-conflict Sierra Leone can be seen as houses spring up nearby the soon-to-be-completed US$60million American Embassy. In the center of the city, the legacy of the decade-long civil war is more evident but even here, alongside the shells of buildings burnt down during the rebel invasion of the capital in 1999, there is renovation and reconstruction. A vibrant new city is emerging from the rubble and across the country, Sierra Leoneans are focused on the grand task of rebuilding a society.

“A central part of the reintegration process was inclusiveness.”

The war officially ended in January 2002. Peaceful presidential and parliamentary elections followed in May of the same year, and Ahmad Tejan Kabbah’s (INTERVIEW) Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP) was re-elected winning a large majority. In May 2004, local elections were held for the first time in 32 years, and the decentralization process has led to the creation of districts and town councils.

The country’s newfound status as an model for conflict resolution is the culmination of a long healing process helped in part by innovative institutions such as the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and the Special Court. At its root, however, peace prevails due to the good will of the Sierra Leonean people and their determination not to return to the dark days of civil war.

“From the beginning, we agreed that one of the causes of the war was exclusiveness, so a central component of the disarmament, demobilization and reintegration process was inclusiveness,” says President Kabbah. “We must ensure that everybody feels that he or she has a stake in the country.”

The President considers the establishment of a solid framework of democratic practices as essential to the success of ongoing efforts to improve the welfare of the people. “That is why we are vigorously pursuing the goals of good governance through reforms aimed at improving the integrity of state institutions, fiscal and public sector management, and the quality of public and political leadership.”

All this is having an impact on investor confidence, with major investments in telecommunications, tourism, mining and agriculture over the past few years. Sierra Leone is once again ready for development. Vice President Solomon Berewa (INTERVIEW) says that foreign investors in the country “are confident about the security situation and the laws we are putting in place.”