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Cablegate: Ambassador Meets with Diaspora Parliamentarians

VZCZCXRO9310
RR RUEHMA RUEHPA
DE RUEHFN #0154 0911704
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 311704Z MAR 08
FM AMEMBASSY FREETOWN
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 1822
INFO RUEHZK/ECOWAS COLLECTIVE

UNCLAS FREETOWN 000154

SIPDIS

SIPDIS

DEPARTMENT FOR AF/W

E.O. 12958 N/A
TAGS: PGOV PREL PHUM SL
SUBJECT: AMBASSADOR MEETS WITH DIASPORA PARLIAMENTARIANS


1. SUMMARY: On March 26, Ambassador Perry, the public affairs
officer, and poloff met with 13 Members of Parliament (MPs) who have
returned from the diaspora, as well as representatives of the
National Democratic Institute (NDI). Many in the group spent at
least a decade in either the United States or the United Kingdom,
and returned to Sierra Leone due to their sense of responsibility to
their homeland to make a lasting, positive difference through
fighting corruption and for human rights. The parliamentarians
thanked the Ambassador for her support of democracy in Sierra Leone,
and look forward to further support from the U.S. Government as the
Sierra Leone continues to rebuild and develop. END SUMMARY.

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The Parliamentarians: A Distinguished Group
-------------------------------------------

2. The 13 Parliamentarians, of whom 3 are women, are all new to
their political roles. While some are carrying on a family tradition
of serving in a political office, many indicated that they chose to
stand after receiving encouragement from their local communities and
Paramount Chiefs. Despite their lack of experience in public life,
their international experience and education made them likely
candidates in the eyes of their electorate to represent their
communities. Many received Bachelor's and advanced degrees from
American and British universities, and have years of experience
working for overseas companies and governments.

------------------------------------
Partners in Promoting Western Ideals
------------------------------------

3. The remarks from the visitors demonstrated that they hold the
countries in which they lived, including the U.S., in very high
esteem and now seek to bring what they learned abroad to Sierra
Leone. Facilitating improvements in such areas as good governance,
rule of law, gender equality and support for human rights, and the
provision of basic services like education and health care, are of
paramount importance to the group. Living in countries where these
issues are regularly reviewed and addressed by well-functioning
governments and civil society demonstrate the possibilities that can
be achieved in Sierra Leone through proactive, responsible
leadership and strengthened infrastructure. The examples set by
countries such as the U.S., they said, will guide their work as
public representatives, regardless of their party affiliation.

4. Given this commitment to support Western ideals and model of
governance, the MPs voiced their hope that the U.S. Government will
provide them with financial and technical assistance to carry out
their mandates. They noted that they have no budgets with which to
conduct programming in their own constituencies. While their ability
to effect change at the policy level is obviously an important
element of their job, they expressed concern that the public may not
feel the positive effects quickly, nor associate such effects with
their parliamentary representatives. U.S. programming support will
assist them to demonstrate their work has a concrete impact at the
local, as well as national, level.

5. The Ambassador stated that the diaspora plays a critical role in
the country, particularly in the area of governance. Beyond
addressing the large U.S.-funded initiatives, such as monetized food
aid, trafficking in persons, programs to eliminate child labor, and
support for civic participation in the local elections, she
identified various assistance opportunities, including the Special
Self-Help and Democracy and Human Rights Funds, and the Ambassador's
Girls' Scholarship Fund. She explained that these funds can be
accessed by the communities the parliamentarians represent. She also
mentioned the International Visitors' Program as a positive way to
increase awareness and professionalism among communities. The
Ambassador challenged the Parliamentarians to transform their ideals
into reality in Sierra Leone, implement change, and influence
programs. She observed that African countries moving forward require
strong anti-corruption action and gender equity.

5. COMMENT: Members of the diaspora are often well-respected in
their communities because of their international experience and they
can wield considerable influence. The parliamentarians represent the
largest number from the diaspora who have ever returned to serve in
Sierra Leone's parliament. Their leadership and support for
improving areas of mutual concern, such as good governance and rule
of law, could have a sizeable impact on the shape of the
government's agenda. Continued communication and assistance with
this group will be an important investment in advancing elements of
the mission's strategic plan. END COMMENT.
PERRY

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