Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone: Back to the future

A ceasefire is now in place in the Kailahun district of eastern Sierra Leone, but there are hundreds of thousands of largely young, unemployed internally displaced persons, most of them in the cities. They have almost no economic prospects and thus harbour considerable potential for conflict. At the same time, there is a lack of workers to rebuild the country's agriculture sector, the sector with the greatest potential for growth in Sierra Leone. This is the starting point for GTZ's activities under a contract from the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ).

The emergency and transitional aid sector project Food Security, Reconstruction and Conflict Transformation in the Border Districts Kailahun and Kono enables young war refugees in Sierra Leone to return to their home villages. Working in the agriculture sector, they are helping to rebuild the country after the war. "Giving young people meaningful work is a promising approach to reintegrate them into post-war society," said Karlheinz Eyrich, head of the project, adding that a steady job was the only way for them to earn an independent living for themselves and their families in the long term. And there are almost no steady jobs in the towns and cities.

GTZ has helped 225 people return to their home villages so far. "Our approach was new and entailed certain risks," said Mr Eyrich, looking back at the project's work. "After all, we didn't know exactly how the people who had remained in the villages would greet their relatives who had fled." These concerns were unfounded, however: All the returnees were welcomed back with open arms. "During the preparations, we tried not to leave anything to chance, and that paid off," said Mr Eyrich. A number of preliminary talks were held between people the returnees trusted and the village inhabitants, for example, in which it was established that the "newcomers" would not put an additional burden on the villages. The new arrivals set to work as soon as they reached their new homes, building houses and huts to live in and then turning land that was disused during the war back into farmland.

As Mr Eyrich remembers, this was not an easy task for most of the returnees. Most of them had had to make their way as day labourers or small street merchants after the war and weren't used to hard work in the fields. The project provided start-up assistance in the form of a food-for-work programme. The young people cleaned up former cocoa and coffee plantations and repaired irrigation channels for the rice fields. In return, they were given food, tools and everyday goods such as cooking utensils and toiletries.

Assistance is not restricted to resettlement, however. The returnees are also assigned land by the village community to grow rice, fruit and vegetables for their own sustenance and to sell at the local market. The new farmers receive advice and training from experts from the regional ministry of agriculture. "Our programme is so successful that the World Bank and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) are now interested in it," said Karlheinz Eyrich with satisfaction. And GTZ will be continuing its work too: Next year, young workers from the diamond mines in northern Sierra Leone will be given the opportunity to return home. "They slave away seven days a week for one meal a day there," Mr Eyrich remarked, adding that they would never be able to return without help.