A study by Action Aid, CAFOD and CARE International which viewed Sierra Leone and Burundi on the United Nations Peace building Commission (UNPBC) states that “…the root causes of the conflict continue to haunt Sierra Leone in its post-conflict period.”
The study, which graphically analyzed both conflicts and post-conflicts, explains that from 1991 to 2002 Sierra Leone experienced a civil war influenced by local, regional and international interests, which some analysts have suggested that “‘ancient hatreds’ drove the fighting,” while others emphasize the conflict on the economic agendas of rebel leaders such as Foday Sankoh and Charles Taylor.
The study unearths that “…the origins of the war were more complex, rooted in a long history of political violence and social exclusion,” and heightens that “while progress towards peace has been made, the root causes of the conflict continue to haunt Sierra Leone in its post-conflict period.”
Scrutinizing the genesis and dynamics of the conflict, the study states that, “both in terms of its origins and factors that sustained the violence, the conflict reflected a complex relationship between ‘greed’ (economic factors) and ‘grievance’ (political), social and psychological factors.”
It maintains that at the time, analysts claimed that economic factors were “largely responsible for [the war’s] inception and protracted duration.”
Factions on all sides, the study states “…were estimated to have earned between US$25-125 million through trading so-called ‘conflict diamonds’. Yet political and social grievances were also critical in driving the conflict, emerging from a history of exploitation and oppression that characterized relations between urban elites and the rural population, as well as power imbalances within rural communities.”
Highlighting the crux of the conflict, the study states that lack of state authority and capacity was also a major factor in the war’s protracted duration. “This was particularly evident in the security services, already accused of corruption and human rights abuses prior to the conflict. Failure by state forces to provide security for communities led to the mobilization of ‘kamajor’ civil defense forces in some areas. This deterioration of state authority culminated in a coup in 1997, plunging Freetown into renewed violence, and bringing diamond-rich areas under the control of Rebel United Front (RUF) and renegade state forces. Just as central state institutions were disintegrating prior to the conflict, so the fabric of governance and society in rural areas had become increasingly strained.
The study further explained that when the RUF launched its rebellion in the eastern border areas, the rural population’s poverty and political disenfranchisement had already reached crisis point, adding that coupled with successive governments’ neglect and persecution, rural Sierra Leone provided a ripe recruitment ground for the insurgency.
“The position of youth was a particularly critical factor in the conflict. Socially excluded youth comprised a majority of rebel and dissident state forces. RUF fighters consisted of mainly three categories of youth: long-term urban unemployed and criminal elements, alienated village youths, and young, uprooted migrants in border and diamond-mining areas. Significant numbers of young males had become increasingly frustrated by a lack of education and employment opportunities,” the report highlights.
The study however notes that despite five years of peace and the departure of the UN peacekeeping mission (UNAMSIL) in December 2005, many of the root causes of the conflict remain.
It continues that, “Youth unemployment remains widespread and governance issues continue to frame prospects for sustainable development and peace. Despite the creation of an Anti-Corruption Commission, challenges of accountability and transparency remain.
Regardless of the challenges, the study states that Sierra Leone has made important progress towards recovery and rebuilding the fabric of national society.
The study continues that despite being one of the poorest countries in the world, the World Bank estimates the country’s 2006 annual growth rate at 7.3%.
The Sierra Leone Truth and Reconciliation Commission issued a comprehensive report in 2004, analyzing the causes and extent of the conflict, making more than 500 recommendations to promote national reconciliation and prevent future conflict, adding that a National Recovery Strategy was developed in 2002 that outlined plans for the restoration of civil authority and decentralization, as well as reconciliation and stimulation of the economy.
It also heightens that the first local government elections in 32 years were held in 2004, and a Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper, covering the period 2005-2007, was drafted and is being implemented following consultation with relevant stakeholders. The Sierra Leone Police and the Republic of Sierra Leone Armed Forces maintain national security.