Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone: A year of peace but more work is needed

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A year after the official end of the decade-long war in Sierra Leone, the peace is enduring. But Christian Aid partners believe there is a long way to go before they can enjoy permanent peace.
Abu Brima of Christian Aid partner Network Movement for Justice and Development (NMJD) says: "The war can only really be over when we begin to address some of the root causes."

These causes include corruption and mismanagement of the economy, neglect of rural areas and lack of opportunities for young people.

The war was declared over by President Tejan Kabbah during a symbolic weapon burning ceremony on January 18th 2002. Celebrations followed, but the real turning point came after the presidential and parliamentary elections in May.

Sierra Leone has a history of violence at election times so their peaceful conclusion was met with a huge sense of relief, inspiring a new optimism. People who left the country are now returning to start their lives again and destroyed buildings are being rebuilt or rehabilitated

But Sierra Leone is still the poorest country in the world, according to the United Nations. There are massive humanitarian needs and the trauma among the many who suffered atrocities during the war remains.

Although agriculture employs two thirds of the population, the country does not produce enough food for the people to live on. Displaced farmers are coming back to their villages to see their farms totally overgrown and have no seeds and tools to start again.

Those that are growing crops are not getting a fair price for them because of cheap imported goods or middlemen who are not prepared to give them a fair price.

One farmer in Kailahun, formerly a major coffee and cocoa producing region, says it is hardly worth growing these cash crops as the Lebanese business community have a monopoly on the prices.

Christian Aid partner Association for People's Empowerment is helping communities to become self-sufficient once again by providing rice seed and tools and food for work.

Young people have also suffered because of the war. For many joining the rebels (the Revolutionary United Front) was the only way to make a living, often through looting. "But now the war is over they are still in the same situation or worse. They have missed years of education and schools have been destroyed or are in desperate need of repair. Even for those that are educated there are very few jobs for them to aspire to," says Brima.

NMJD is forming a national youth coalition to enable young people to have a greater influence on the government in terms of education and youth policies.

School violence is a major problem in Sierra Leone. A secondary school football competition in the capital Freetown in December ended in a riot resulting in two deaths and 50 arrests.

"Young people are still traumatised by the war," says Marcel Parkinson of the Methodist Church of Sierra Leone (MCSL). "That is why we are working hard to try and increase tolerance levels in schools and communities. The war may be over but we have a long way to go."

President Kabbah is now attempting to fight corruption through the Anti-Corruption Commission but the problem is still rife. The government has implemented the UN-sponsored export certificate scheme, meaning it is earning more from the export of diamonds but the great majority is still smuggled out of the country.

Christian Aid partners are calling for the government to be more accountable and are raising awareness at a community level on civil rights issues.

"Sierra Leone is a test case for the international community," says Brima. "It has helped us to achieve peace but economic and social reconstruction and recovery is now paramount.

"If this is not facilitated carefully Sierra Leone could degenerate once again into war. People are desperate and will resort to anything. We need meaningful development in this country."