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Cablegate: Scenesetter for General Ward's Visit

VZCZCXYZ0000
PP RUEHWEB

DE RUEHFN #0336/01 2391739
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P 271739Z AUG 09
FM AMEMBASSY FREETOWN
TO RHMFIUU/HQ USAFRICOM STUTTGART GE PRIORITY
RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 2843

UNCLAS FREETOWN 000336

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: MASS MCAP PGOV PREL OVIP SL
SUBJECT: SCENESETTER FOR GENERAL WARD'S VISIT

1. (U) Post warmly welcomes you to Sierra Leone. Your visit
comes at a prescient time, and will hopefully support
increasingly robust engagement on a variety of issues,
including the pending Status of Forces Agreement. Sierra
Leone is known worldwide as a country beset with challenges,
many of which are the result of the brutal decade-long civil
war that destroyed infrastructure and truncated political,
social, and economic development. The country currently sits
last on the UN's Human Development Index due to high
unemployment, the worst mother-child mortality rates in the
world, and widespread illiteracy. Despite this background,
however, Sierra Leone is of significant strategic interest to
the USG:

- It is among the most stable in the region, and instrumental
in helping to maintain sub-regional peace and security;

- The Republic of Sierra Leone Armed Forces is providing a
reconnaissance company to the United Nations Mission to
Darfur (UNAMID) in November 2009. They would like to provide
a battalion to the same mission in 2010;

- Sierra Leone is a model for post-conflict reconstruction,
one of two countries chosen for the UN's pilot Peace Building
program;

- The 2007 Presidential Elections and 2008 Local Council
Elections, judged free and fair by international observers,
occurred with limited violence and peaceful transitions.
These elections are considered a model for the continent;

- Sierra Leone is an ally with the USG on critical issues.
For example, the Government of Sierra Leone (GoSL)
immediately and publicly recognized Kosovo's independence
following its secession;

- The GoSL is becoming a leader in international forums, such
as the AU and the UN, and is promoting human rights issues
through multilateral engagement. Sierra Leone co-sponsored
the U.S. Zimbabwe Resolution, and was one of few African
countries to make public statements against the violence
there;

- There is strong political will to combat narcotics
trafficking in Sierra Leone and throughout the sub-region;

- Despite the pervasive culture of corruption, the GoSL has
taken significant steps to combat it, including passing one
of the toughest anti-corruption laws in Africa;

- The GoSL is actively engaged in assisting with
counter-terrorism efforts.

2. (SBU) Though the GoSL is making strong attempts to escape
the "Blood Diamond" branding and soar as a regional leader in
democracy, human rights, and governance, the country is
highly vulnerable to failure. Economic, social, internal, and
regional insecurity, coupled with insufficient capacity, have
a negative impact on progress. It would not be in the USG
interest to have GoSL efforts falter, impacting our bilateral
and multilateral relations and priorities. Picking up the
pieces after another bloody conflict would be more costly
than to fully provide assistance so desperately needed now.

3. (SBU) The following issues are of critical concern to USG
interests:

a) Economic Insecurity - The civil war destroyed the
country's infrastructure, including physical and human
capital, and the process of rebuilding is a long and arduous
one. A country known for its natural resources has neither
the capability to effectively harness them nor the capacity
to regulate others intent on exploiting them. Unemployment is
estimated at 70%, with no industrial or manufacturing
employment prospects for unskilled and skilled workers. The
borders of the formal economy are constantly receding to make
way for the informal, where regulation, taxation, and
legitimacy are non-existent. In this environment, poverty is
an endemic killer. A nation rendered fragile by the impacts
of war feels external market shocks more keenly. The currency
has recently been devaluing at a rapid pace due to limited
foreign exchange, making it even harder to meet the demands
of the import-reliant market. A further downward slide could
destabilize the country, and the current level of desperation
creates opportunities for heightened criminal activity, and
bilateral assistance requests to countries' whose true
motives are unknown.

b) Regional Insecurity - Though Cote d'Ivoire and Liberia are
persevering in their struggles to rebuild after their
respective conflicts, the situation in Guinea appears to be
ever-worsening. Given the porous nature of Sierra Leone's
borders with its neighboring states, as well as the close
historic, familial, and economic ties between them,
insecurity in one country quickly spills over into another.
For Sierra Leone, the Mano River Union's (MRU) current
bastion of peace, heightened tensions in Guinea drive people
over the border, though Sierra Leone has no capacity to
support refugees. An increase in organized crime in one
country can also lead to an upswing in similar activity in
another, and smuggling contraband such as narcotics and arms
is known to occur throughout the MRU. External forces such as
these threaten Sierra Leone's fragile internal security.
Through the Department of Defense, the USG works strenuously
with the military and larger security sector to build
capacity to protect Sierra Leone's land and coastal borders.

c) Internal Insecurity - Economic hardships are a significant
destabilizing force. The massive unemployment, particularly
among the nation's youth population whose education was
interrupted by war, leaves many angry and idle individuals
more than willing to make mischief or worse. Easily
manipulated, the "unemployed youth" cohort is responsible for
political violence and petty and violent crime. The Sierra
Leone Police, riddled with systemic corruption, hampered by
virtually no resources, and lacking the most basic training
and equipment, is poorly matched against a hungry population
already sensitized to brutality. Though a peaceful country at
the moment, battle fatigue could dissipate as economic
deprivation worsens. If the delicate balance supporting
stability wavers, the GoSL has few resources with which to
quell violence and insurgency. The USG supports training
initiatives for the police, and the Embassy hopes to provide
additional technical assistance in FY09.

d) Narcotics - An element of both regional and internal
insecurity concerns, narcotics trafficking through Sierra
Leone to Europe is on the rise. The largest cocaine bust in
the country's history took place in July, 2008, netting over
700kg. of premium cocaine and 21 suspects of Sierra Leonean,
South American, and American citizenship. The size and
sophistication of this trafficking attempt indicates a
well-organized syndicate which has likely used Sierra Leone
as a staging ground for its criminal activity in the past.
The court case against the 15 individuals charged with drugs
crimes ended in April, 2009, with guilty pleas across the
board. The GoSL expelled three individuals into USG custody
to face pending indictments in the Southern District of New
York. Despite these positive steps, the fragility of the
governance and judicial structures, coupled with economic
insecurity, makes Sierra Leone highly vulnerable for further
narcotics trafficking, especially as USG and others focus on
neighboring countries. Without constant vigilance, Sierra
Leone is at-risk for increased organized crime. AFRICOM CNT
funding is currently being used to provide equipment to the
country's Joint Drug Interdiction Task Force, and further
funding from several USG agencies over the next two fiscal
years. AFRICOM CNT is also providing assistance to the
Maritime Wing: training to improve law enforcement
capabilities and spare parts for the three Dauntless Class
Coast Guard Cutters will enhance patrolling efforts in Sierra
Leone's protected waters that are rife with drug-runners and
illegal fishing vessels.

e) Anti-Corruption - The President made a "zero tolerance for
corruption" campaign pledge in 2007, and made good on that
promise during his first year in office. Placing great
confidence in Abdul Tejan-Cole, new Commissioner of the
Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC), the President has supported
a revamping of the ACC organization, the passage of a revised
Anti-Corruption Act (signed into law September 1, 2008),
became the first Sierra Leonean Head of State to declare his
assets, and forced every ministry to include anti-corruption
activities in their missions and strategic plans. The ACC is
actively investigating and prosecuting prominent current and
former government officials. The Embassy liaises regularly
with the ACC, and plans to support training and technical
assistance in the areas of forensic accounting and
extraditions.

f) Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) - Having languished on
various GoSL desks for several years, signing the SOFA
agreement is a current Embassy concern. The issue has been
raised at the highest levels, and some progress has been
made. Finalizing this agreement is a critical priority for
the USG, and a team of lawyers from AFRICOM are expected in
September to assist with revising the agreement, which will
then be negotiated and finalized.

g) Peace Corps - The Peace Corps is expected to return in
June, 2010, following its departure during the conflict
years. The GoSL is an enthusiastic bilateral partner in this
endeavor, and the volunteers' efforts will likely be focused
in the areas of education, agriculture and health.


h) USG Assistance - Assistance efforts focus on building
institutional capacities through: strengthening good
governance and consolidating peace and security through
democratic political processes; supporting economic growth
and private sector investment, particularly in the productive
agriculture and natural resources sectors; and, reducing food
insecurity and increasing the standard of living through
developmental food aid. USAID is just starting to implement
the Promoting Agriculture, Governance and Environment Program
(PAGE) as a means to assist Sierra Leone in promoting good
governance and transparency while also impacting agricultural
and environmental productivity and increased access to
markets. This is a 4-year $13 million project. Although not a
PEPFAR country, Sierra Leone was the recipient of $500,000 in
FY08 for HIV/AIDS education for awareness building around
prevention and treatment and to strengthen the health system
for improved and reliable HIV/STD surveillance assessment.
The Republic of Sierra Leone Armed Forces also benefited in
FY08 with a $400,000 Department of Defense HIV/AIDS Program
(DHAPP). The Program focused on HIV/AIDS prevention
activities for African militaries. Other USG assistance
efforts include funding for trafficking in persons, child
labor, refugee assistance, special self-help grants to
communities, and IMET.

4. (SBU) Assessment of Military Priorities: The DAO has
identified the following Republic of Sierra Leone Armed
Forces priorities: building peacekeeping capacity for United
Nations and African Union Missions in Africa; building
seamanship, and law enforcement and interdiction skills for
enhancing maritime security and domain awareness in protected
waters; strengthening HIV/AIDS prevention strategies and
promoting a fit and healthy military; building the
leadership, management, and technical skills of a
professional military that is respectful of civil authority
and good governance; and strengthening concepts, strategies,
and military education to build a strong NCO corps.
PERRY

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