Cablegate: Staffdel Visit to Sierra Leone Reveals Constant

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1. Summary: The three-day visit of Shannon Smith from the
Senate Foreign Affairs Committee, and Sarah Margon from
Senator Russ Feingold's office highlighted both Sierra
Leone's development accomplishments and major obstacles to
further progress. Visits with Government of Sierra Leone
(GoSL) officials, UN representatives, members of the
Diplomatic Corps, and civil society demonstrated that while
the country yearns to move past the post-conflict rebuilding
era into one of entrenched peaceful prosperity, the lack of
economic security and infrastructure impedes substantive
movement towards this goal. It also impacts the GoSL's
ability to combat internal and external security threats. The
result could be the erosion of Sierra Leone's hard-won
stability, as well as its ability to advance human rights and
democratic principles. End Summary.

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2. Rising commodities prices, lack of labor-intensive
industry, the exorbitant cost of investment capital, and
crippled or non-existent infrastructure create an environment
in which economic security at macro- and micro-levels is
nearly impossible to achieve. An August 19 meeting with
Deputy Minister of Trade and International Development Momodu
Kargbo touched on these issues and their impact on the GoSL's
budget. He stated that the government currently generates
54-56% of their revenue, relying on a sometimes fickle donor
community for the rest. This hand-to-mouth existence, he
said, makes it hard for the GoSL to make substantial progress
towards the goals of government reform and decentralization.
The informal economy is continuing to grow, but is nearly
impossible to tap into effectively for taxation purposes.
Even formal business sector, in his opinion, are largely ad
hoc and unprofessional. The Deputy Minister stated the
priorities for the ministry are addressing high unemployment
by supporting light industry, encouraging small enterprises,
particularly in the area of food generation and processing,
to develop and grow, and finding funding for physical
infrastructure. He also identified a need for infrastructure
and funding in major provincial cities, to support further
government decentralization.

3. Despite a clear outline of goals, Deputy Minister Kargbo
was concerned that the resources didn't exist to achieve
them. He did say that a goods and services tax is in the
works, but tempered that discussion with a reminder of the
competing priorities and obligations facing the GoSL. With a
small and somewhat unpredictable pie to divide many ways, a
number of needs will go unmet. Visits with the Human Rights
Commission, medical facilities, the country's only sexual
assault response center, and members of civil society
underscored this reality. Though the political and social
will exists to support the establishment of a social safety
net that protects citizens' rights and addresses their needs,
the Leones in the government's coffers can only be stretched
so far. Committing to long-term economic goals means that
immediate social needs can only be partially met, if at all.

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4. Meetings with the Ministry of Defense, the UK's
International Military Assistance Training Team, and
UNIOSIL's Senior Police Advisor reflected positive gains in
security sector reform (SSR), but a tenuous grip on those
gains in the face of constant internal and external threats.
All interlocutors pointed to the overall professionalization
of the security forces, as evidenced by their involvement in
supporting two election cycles with only pockets of localized
violence and relatively strong handling of the largest
cocaine bust in the country's history. The military,
currently downsizing from its post-war numbers, is eager to
join peacekeeping forces: both U.S. and UK experts agree that
with training and equipment, they will be ready to serve
regionally and globally. The Office of National Security and
the Sierra Leone Police (SLP) were noted for strong
leadership and structures, and many feel the low crime rate
in the country can largely be attributed to their improved

5. Despite these successes, lack of resources jeopardizes the
security sector's ability to maintain the improvements made
to date or progress further. Crumbling buildings, vehicles
with no fuel, and officers without equipment are the norm.
Salaries, though paid on-time and with regularity, fall well
below what is needed to support a family. Ironically, the
dearth of resources prevents the security forces from

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substantially contributing to the government's revenue. The
failure to control illegal fishing vessels, for example,
costs the GoSL millions of dollars per year.

6. In the immediate post-conflict period, security was
envisioned as a means through which to make room for economic
development. Problematically, however, SSR occurred a vacuum
from larger development strategies. Interlocutors indicated
that the SSR process should have occurred in conjunction with
the creation of the poverty reduction strategy, because of
the need for simultaneous, complementary progression in both
the economic and security arenas. With the economy failing to
develop at the same pace as the security sector improvements,
financing its continued improvement, or even maintaining the
status quo, appears impossible. With the increased threat of
narcotics trafficking and other types of organized crime,
fragile states on all borders, piracy and smuggling, and the
drawdown of international community support and oversight,
the security sector is facing significant tests that it may
be unable to handle in the long-term.

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7. The delegation paid visits to two considerable USG
investments: the PAE ECOWAS Logistics and Logistical Training
Depot, and the Special Court for Sierra Leone (SCSL). The
Depot houses equipment as well as maintenance and training
facilities, with a fleet of vehicles that can be deployed
with ECOWAS and USG approval to support peacekeeping
missions, elections, and other major events in ECOWAS
countries. Though the delegation had heard from ECOWAS
officials in Abuja that there is interest in relocating the
facility to Nigeria, PAE representatives cited Sierra Leone's
central location and nearness to relatively unstable
countries as good reasons to remain in place. The
impracticalities and expense of relocating were also noted.

8. A visit to the SCSL included a tour and roundtable with
representatives from each section of the Court. The
delegation were briefed on the progress of the cases, funding
challenges facing the SCSL, and the residual and legacy
issues currently being grappled with.


9. The Staffdel visit came at a prescient time for Sierra
Leone's development. Though the prevalence of peace,
optimistic attitude, recent fair and free elections, and
GoSL's stated intentions to become regional leaders in
supporting democratic principles and human rights
demonstrates how far the country has come since wartime,
economic and security realities also demonstrate that Sierra
Leone continues to be on tenuous ground. The growing pains
related to moving beyond post-conflict reconstruction and
into development are being keenly felt, and fear of
backsliding given the lack of resources is very real. Sierra
Leone's economic, social, and security sectors continue to be
highly vulnerable, despite recent improvements and successes.
Continued U.S. support at this time is desperately needs to
preserve hard-won gains, create opportunities for further
progress, ameliorate internal and external security threats,
and cement Sierra Leone as a stable, prosperous leader in the
Mano River Union. Post welcomed the opportunity this visit
provided to demonstrate that Sierra Leone is a bilateral
partner worthy and in need of notice and support. End Comment.

© Scoop Media

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