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Homepage > Publication Type > Media Releases > Sierra Leone: A New Era of Reform?

Sierra Leone: A New Era of Reform?

Dakar/Brussels  |   31 Jul 2008

Sierra Leone has made much progress since the civil war ended in 2002, but it must still defuse social and economic time bombs to solidify peace.

Sierra Leone: A New Era of Reform,* the latest report from the International Crisis Group, assesses the fundamental political challenges and post-war social changes facing the country’s new government. The 2007 elections, in which Ernest Bai Koroma won the presidency and his All People’s Congress (APC) wrested the parliament from the ruling Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP), restored electoral legitimacy, but building a lasting post-war political settlement requires a genuinely national project.

“With most Sierra Leoneans still desperately poor, the growing numbers of jobless, socially-alienated youth present a perennial security threat”, says Daniela Kroslak, Deputy Director of Crisis Group’s Africa Program. “Koroma faces a fundamental political challenge, to build public confidence in his agenda at the same time as donor support is gradually being cut back. If he is to improve accountability and fight corruption, he needs to do more than call for ‘attitudinal change’ and a renewed ‘social contract’”.

Sierra Leone’s progress towards peace, security and economic development has been the subject of close international scrutiny ever since the military interventions that began with the military monitoring group of the Economic Community of West African States in 1997. A number of possible security threats, old and new, have been identified and avoided since then, including the persistence of militia command structures in the countryside, Special Court indictments, the continuation of unreformed chieftaincy structures and the reappearance of the north-south political divide.

President Koroma appears to be pursuing a long-term reform strategy in introducing new discipline and accountability to the old patronage politics system. His success in securing donor support for emergency electricity supplies for Freetown, the capital, was a triumph. But rising food prices highlight the government’s limited manoeuvre space, as well as its continuing dependency on donors.

Even in an aid-dependent country like Sierra Leone, donors’ capacity to influence the government on politically sensitive matters has proven to be very limited. Some may be reluctant to support a nation-building project that goes beyond the technical aspects of poverty reduction and institutional capacity building.

“The opportunity for democracy-driven renewal is there”, says Francois Grignon, Crisis Group’s Africa Program Director. “Ultimately it is up to the people of Sierra Leone, collectively, to take it”.

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