Cablegate: Scene Setter for Ambassador Williamson Travel to Sierra

DE RUEHFN #0288/01 1651540
R 131152Z JUN 08 ZUI RUCNDT 0551 1651443 H/W ZDK ALL STATIONS


DEPARTMENT FOR AF/W and S/WCI Ambassador Williamson and Jason Gorey


E.O. 12958 N/A

FREETOWN 00000288 001.2 OF 002

1. With the Special Court for Sierra Leone slowly bringing its work
to a close, your visit comes at a crucial time to encourage Court
officials to remain committed to the completion strategy, as well as
to inform the process of determining the Court's legacy to Sierra


2. After a decades-long civil war, Sierra Leone has maintained a
fragile peace since 2002. However, the conditions that lead to the
war still prevail: high unemployment, lack of infrastructure and the
population's perceptions of corruption. The venal and inept
leadership of the previous government also stymied progress. During
the 2007 national elections, Sierra Leoneans overwhelmingly voted
for change. The opposition All People's Congress (APC) won a
parliamentary majority in August, and the opposition party's
presidential candidate, Ernest Bai Koroma, won a presidential run
off held in September. All observers lauded Sierra Leone on the
conduct of the elections and hailed the transparent, relatively
violence free process as a model for sub-Saharan Africa. Local
elections are scheduled to take place July 5, and your visit will
coincide with the campaign period. Though not expected to be as
dramatic as the national elections, the local elections hold
considerable interest for Sierra Leoneans. These elections will be
an important step in strengthening democracy in Sierra Leone.

3. The new government is attempting to manage the unrealistic
expectations of the citizens. Some campaign pledges have been met,
satisfying a few immediate wants and interests which helps prolong
the people's patience as they wait for change. The revitalization of
the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) and restoration of electricity
to Freetown are two examples of the government taking action on key
issues. However, both are also examples of risks that the government
is facing if their actions backfire. The ACC is starting to build
credibility with the public, but will need to start bringing major
cases before the judiciary before it will be considered a true
instrument of transparency. The government has gained considerable
goodwill due to the provision of electricity, but that provision has
grown increasingly sporadic and unreliable over time due to
infrastructure constraints. If these initiatives are viewed as
failures in the long-run, the government will likely experience
considerable backlash.

4. Some observers suggest that the new government has a one year
window before the "honeymoon" period ends and the public loses its
willingness to be patient as it waits for wide-sweeping reforms that
will bring development and prosperity back to the country. This
honeymoon period, coupled with the actions cited above, are likely
the reasons why the public has not responded to the rising
commodities prices and soaring inflation as violently or
disruptively as other affected countries. The state of the economy,
as evidenced at least in part by the rising prices, is dire. Sixty
percent of the national budget is donor funded, mostly through the
EU and the UK. Sierra Leone received Heavily Indebted Poor Country
(HIPC) relief status in late 2006 and we signed our debt
cancellation agreement in June 2007. The government needs to focus
on developing infrastructure and policy frameworks that will
encourage investment and production, increase revenue-generation and
collection, and support long-term growth.


5. The UN peacekeeping follow-on mission, UNIOSIL (United National
Integrated Office in Sierra Leone), has been very effective and,
through strong leadership, has been extremely active in continuing
the UN mandate to sustain peace and security. UNIOSIL is slated to
close by the end of September 2008, and the UN is currently
identifying options for what sort of smaller presence is needed
following the end of the UNIOSIL mandate.

6. Sierra Leone garners a fair amount of international attention,
and the UN has put the spotlight on the country by naming it as one
of two (with Burundi) countries for Peace Building Commission (PBC)
attention. Sierra Leone also benefits from the new Peace Building
Fund (PBF) for rapid intervention "peace sustaining" activities.
Funding from the $35 million pot of available funds has so far has
been directed at youth employment initiatives, security sector
assistance, electoral funding, and support for the newly formed
Human Rights Commission. The U.S. is currently the only major donor
that has not contributed to the PBF, although evaluation of the PBC
continues in order to determine potential needs the USG may fill in


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7. Our relationship with Sierra Leone has been generally positive.
We enjoy good access and respect for our views most of the time. We
are considered a major bilateral donor, but the U.K. far outstrips
others in terms of its support to the country. Under the previous
government, corruption was endemic and impeded good governance and
private sector reform. Our partnership with Sierra Leone seeks to
bolster democratic growth through support for national and local
election, with a particular focus on women and disadvantaged groups,
and assistance to local governance at the district level. We also
support opportunities for economic growth, particularly through the
agricultural sector. Our efforts are in line with the GoSL's
three-year Poverty Reduction Strategy (PRS), which expired in
December 2007 and is under review for renewal.

8. The overall security situation in Sierra Leone is calm, though
there have been reports of sporadic politically motivated incidents
which have occurred in Freetown and several locations up-country.
Violence emanating from ethnic and cross-cultural issues such as
rights to chieftancy and boundary disputes, especially in the rural
regions, has also been the root cause of numerous incidents
up-country. While people are remarkably resilient given the
appalling infrastructure and lack of economic opportunity, various
groups here have shown a willingness to lash out at any perceived
injustices in the form of demonstrations, rioting, clashes with
police and even attacks on police stations. The immediate threat to
safety and security continues to be crime and the likelihood of
traffic accidents due to the abysmal road conditions. Criminal
activity against westerners is rare, but remains a concern. The
advent of the rainy season, coupled with the heightened tensions due
to the local elections, increases the possibility of a spike in the
number of robberies.


9. While the work of the Court is slowly coming to an end,
budgetary, residual, and legacy issues continue to be looming
questions. Despite stated commitments to the completion strategy,
there is fear that the trials and appeals chambers will slip on
targeted scheduling goals, with corollary budgetary implications.
Legacy and residual issues are both pressing matters occupying Court
time, with committees formed to generate ideas and/or solutions.
Your visit will reinforce the need for the Court to stay the course
on the completion strategy, and also address the central questions
remaining for the Court's long-term impact on Sierra Leone.

10. During your visit, you will meet with various stakeholders in
the Court, including government officials. The GoSL has made clear
that they are interested in moving beyond the active work of the
Court, to put the international donor focus solely on development
issues. However, the GoSL has great interest in legacy issues, both
in regards to the physical infrastructure and the potential for
capacity-building programs that will support justice sector reform
in the country. You can expect that questions of funding for legacy
initiatives will be raised by government interlocutors and others.


11. Post recommends conducting one interview with Cotton Tree News,
a local radio organization which distributes material to stations
nationwide, including community radio. In addition, we also
recommend an interview with UN Radio, which has a wide audience.
Radio is the primary means by which Sierra Leoneans obtain
information, and the Cotton Tree News and UN Radio will both provide
broad, diverse coverage. Per your request, post is also convening a
press conference for Friday, June 20, to include a question and
answer session. You can expect questions related to: USG involvement
in the Court; the impact of the Court relative to its cost; U.S.
perception of the Court; USG support for larger development issues.
Ambassador Perry and Embassy key team will accompany to address any
bilateral or unexpected inquiries.


12. A schedule will be sent separately for review.

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