The United Nation Peace Operation in Sierra Leone – UNIPSL – finally closed its golden doors on March 31, 2014 under the UN Security Council Resolution 2097. The transition from an integrated peace office to a more development oriented mission is a commendable stride for a low income nation like Sierra Leone. It is indeed a shinning victory towards human progress for every peace-loving Sierra Leonean. This impressive United Nation (UN) success story of integrated peace building mission in Sierra Leone highlight the political and social significance of the world body in its giant efforts to resolving conflicts and promoting global peace and security.
The UN operations in Sierra Leone structurally consist of 19 agencies with a total staff of 600 members. Their indelible works today herald another milestone of hope towards a democratic nation (Sierra Leone) that can boast of turning its rebel war history into triumphant moments of opportunities and enduring peace. Sierra Leone is a life learning example of the human experiences which cascades the reality of bitterness and anarchy of the past, yet transforming itself into an open society. This, however, was driven by the intrinsic values of harmony and tolerance built from the ruins of war and poverty. Even though 20 years of history cannot be wipe out so easily – Sierra Leone has come a long way.
Indeed, the official visit from March 4-6, 2014 of the UN Secretary General, Ban Ki Moon was a defining moment in Sierra Leone’s past history of the civil war atrocities almost 21 years ago. And not only did that rebel conflict marginalized Sierra Leone’s international standing from the “blood diamond” stories to the “child soldier” images on the world stage, that ugly chapter changed our perception that war is an expensive business both in human and economic cost. Rightly so, that it is never the answer to mankind’s problems. History is repeated with fallen empires and nations that failed to answer to the command of peace. Introspectively, no individual Sierra Leonean can claim victory to such hallowed past and no nation can emulate such horrendous experiences of senseless death and destructions.
As the UN chief held a joint press conference with President Koroma on March 5, 2014 while formally closing the UNIPSL office and consulting with leaders of various political parties, Sierra Leone is once again reminded of its renewed commitments and obligations to national, regional and global peace. As the Secretary General explicitly outlined his observations: “Sierra Leone saw many UN ‘first’ – the first 17,000 multidimensional peace keeping force, the first UN Deputy Special Representatives who served as head of the UNDP, the first country to be visited by the United Nation Peace Building Commission and the first UN Secretary General’s Representative heading the political and developmental presence in Sierra Leone.”
Historically, Sierra Leone is the first country in Africa to establish, with UN support, a Special Court to address the most serious international crimes committed against its people. The Special Court sentencing of former President of Liberia Charles Taylor was the first conviction of a former head of state since the Nuremberg trials. The UN body also succeeded in the first – ever conviction of those who attacked UN peace keeping troops, conducted force marriages against women, recruited child soldiers during the war as crimes against humanity. Since Sierra Leone used to be the “first” in the British colonial era – “the UN first” may be an irony with some unintended consequences we can draw strength and moral fortitude as a young democracy.
Indeed, as the UN Chief himself glaringly puts it: “Sierra Leone has taught the world many lessons, but none more important than the power of the people to shape their future.” This is an ominous message to President Koroma today, who must allow the constitutional review committee to reflect the legitimacy and determination of the people of Sierra Leone while discouraging the undemocratic sentiment of a possible “third term” or even an extension of his political mandate – a key indicator to future peace and stability beyond 2017. His major legacy of keeping the peace during his Presidency will be shattered if he harbors such dangerous political obsession.
Perhaps, another moral lesson Sierra Leoneans and the world can learn from the scourge of war is: truly what needs to be done to avoid conflicts. Practically, Ban Ki Moon summarized it on his statement that member states and nations like Sierra Leone should: “support efforts to expand economic opportunities, deliver public services, strengthen democratic institutions, promote the rule of law and address new challenges.” The full potential of sustainable peace in Sierra Leone can be compromised if we fail to address the outstanding root causes of conflict – something the government of President Koroma has not seriously done from political inclusion to reducing poverty, fighting against the systemic problems of corruption and avoiding ethnic dominance in government institutions.
Invariably, the erosion and lost of national values in the executive, legislative and judiciary branches of government are presently driving down the integrity and trust of public institutions in Sierra Leone. Citizens have lost faith in their government and see it more as an obstacle to long term peace and national developments. The only protected asset in Sierra Leone today is the “people’s hope.” Ban Ki Moon visually conceptualized the resiliency and the unwavering courage of the Sierra Leonean people when he watched the soccer match played by members of the Single Leg Amputee Sport Club. Here was what he said: “They had suffered during the war, but they were not thinking about the past. They were living for the moment and planning for the future. Each one of them was a champion.”
Nonetheless, with over 120 Sierra Leonean peace keeping troops serving under UN flag from Darfur to Somalia, Sierra Leone is playing a vital role in advancing world peace and protecting the freedom of oppressed people in troubled regions. Our people are grateful of UNIPSIL’s help to the National Electoral Committee (NEC) and the Political Parties Registration Commission (PPRC), including the establishment of the first Transnational Organized Crime Unit in West Africa for the Sierra Leone Police (SLP) and the creation of an Independent Police Complaints Board. UNIPSIL was also instrumental in establishing the Sierra Leone Broadcasting Corporation (SLBC) and supported the institutional capacity building of the National Human Right Commission as well.
Thus, the month of March, from the 4-6 should be declared every year as commemorative days of celebrating peace building in Sierra Leone. It should be the optimal time to renew our citizen’s commitments to global peace – to never again take up arms to resolve our human indifferences or see violent struggles as the means to achieving our political aspirations. The lessons of our tragic past should teach us that we can always settle our political discords through dialogue and consultative democratic means not AK-47 rifles, the hacking of limbs and indiscriminately setting homes on fire. The hunting horrors of war should be a deterrent of not returning our nation to a stateless society, where poverty and anarchy reigns with impunity and where marginalized people are thrown into a world of struggles and nightmares.
Sierra Leone must always reject imported rebel wars and incursions into our territorial sovereignty or third party anarchists within our country that may see separatist violence as the justifiable means to gaining political legitimacy. Such unpatriotic elements will never escape the wrath of our justice system. Indeed, war has never been the answer to mankind’s problems and will never move a nation to greater heights The only way to secure the hard earned peace we have achieved is through democratic elections, a transparent judicial system, access to jobs and better income for youths, an investment in education that produce a skilled workforce and a computer base technology that connect Sierra Leone to the fiber optic community.
Nations like Sierra Leone must find new ways to speak for peace and justice by eliminating the conditions that creates poverty, investing in trade and abandoning the economic aid dependency culture. Peace can never be guaranteed if the poor are neglected and the welfare of the nation is unprotected against extreme poverty and widespread hunger. Women should be included in our decision making process and allowed to compete for the same jobs as men. The culture of individualism where people see themselves as distinct ethnic groups or regions continues to be a threat to peace in Sierra Leone. We must always see ourselves as Sierra Leoneans working together for the common good of our nation. That is the unique way to celebrating peace building in our homeland.
Long Live the UN!
Long Live the Republic of Sierra Leone!