Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone: Nation Building - Background

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To advance peace building and the rebuilding of both civil society and governmental institutions within Sierra Leone, the USAID-sponsored Nation Building program focuses on community leaders--to build responsible--and responsive--leadership within the country.
In a post-war Sierra Leone, USAID is focusing its assistance on several activities to accelerate post-war reintegration of ex-combatants back into their communities, curtail corruption, and strengthen local communities' access and ability to participate in democratic processes.

The "Education for Peace" program, started in January, 2000 and implemented by USAID-sponsored Management Systems International, was originally designed to target both ex-combatant and other war-affected youth who were provided with non-formal education activities in reintegration, livelihood skills development, remedial education, and basic numeracy and literacy skills. The program was designed to ensure that Sierra Leone's youth became good citizens of the country.

However, with the country's government still under a one-party rule, and the most functional system for advancement being "contact" or one's family and personal connections to those in the ruling power, it was clear that the youth of Sierra Leone were lacking in good role models for leadership.

It was not enough to simply target the youth, who were again and again seen as the perpetrators of the war--interventions had to try to get at the root causes, including making Sierra Leone's leaders responsible to the communities they represent through transparent political practices, and by eliminating corruption.

Says Edward Benya, Reintegration Team Leader for USAID/Sierra Leone, "After the grave acts of violence against civilians and the UN troops in 2000, Sierra Leoneans lost faith in the government's ability to end the conflict. They also saw pervasive corruption and mismanagement in the governance of the country.

This was when the idea of training people for good leadership qualities was born. People from all aspects of life--civil servants, teachers, representatives of civil society groups, labor unions, community leaders, police, women's and youth groups--were brought together to discuss methods of preparing people to be good citizens, and good community leaders. These people were also consulted on how to facilitate a vigorous process of reconstruction, and the reintegration of ex-combatants into their communities. That's how Nation Building began."

After hostilities broke out in May 2000, the USAID program felt an urgency to expand the training program to include community leaders. The "Nation Building" program, designed to build responsive citizens and leaders within Sierra Leone, has since been carried out across a broad swath of leaders in civil society, including men, women and youth to promote peace, healing, reaffirmation of community values, good leadership, conflict management, and the rebuilding of better-run, more transparent government institutions.

Says Chirstopher Suma, a local administrator and recent graduate of the Nation Building program in Kailahun, "From this training, we've learned a different way of dealing with people. Formally, we used to rule the people very harshly, but now we will apply new approaches and there will be a difference. For that we are thankful to the U.S. government."

Nation Building participants have found the training invaluable not only in learning how to solve disputes among colleagues in the workplace, but also at home by bonding in a positive way with their wives husbands, children, and extended family. Participants have learned to demonstrate love and cohesion within their families, and then extend those ideas out into the community to promote honesty, and to fight corruption.

Says Saran Koroma, an Agricultural Organization participant from Kabala, "I have spoken to so many of my friends regarding these community values--honesty, love and peace. If you are honest, you will be loved, and once there is love, there will be peace. This training has taught us many things. We have learned to reconcile among one another, and to soften up people who used to be difficult to deal with. The problems we used to solve with violence have been dealt with through love and honesty, and we have been able to solve them peacefully."

Story by Laura Lartigue