Sierra Leone, West Africa, emerged from a decade of bloody civil war in 2002, with the help of Britain, our former colonial power, and a large United Nations peacekeeping mission.More than 17,000 foreign troops disarmed tens of thousands of rebels and militia fighters. The country now faces the challenge of reconstruction.
A lasting feature of the war, in which tens of thousands died, was the atrocities committed by the rebels, whose trademark was to hack off the hands or feet of their victims. There famous and gruesome question was how you wanted your hands – short or long sleeve? Sierra Leone is recovering from a 10-year civil war which ended in 2002.The bloody war centered on a power struggle and had a regional dimension. Sierra Leone is at the very bottom of United Nation's league for human development index.
The country is still considered a fragile state and faces the challenges of poverty, corruption and economic mismanagement.The 70,000 former combatants who were disarmed and rehabilitated after the war have swollen the ranks of the many young people seeking employment in the cities. Challenges facing businesses and individuals include unreliable power supplies, poor funding, poor and unavailable healthcare and education systems, and reliance on external revenues. For, despite the progress, Sierra Leone remains, according to most evaluations, one of the poorest places on earth. It has just earned, once again, the distinction of being the world’s least developed country (for where statistics are available), according to the United Nations Development Program’s annual survey. Important statistics:World highest maternal mortality rates, mortality rates for the under-fives, life expectancy is 41, two-thirds of women are illiterate, 70% of Sierra Leonean get by on less than 70 American cents a day. Trends are moving fast the wrong way. The best improvement is in primary school enrolment but completion rates are much lower; few go on to secondary school, and no more than about 5% of these go on to higher education.
Since a peace deal in 2002, the roots of conflict—chronic poverty, youth disenchantment and huge regional disparities—still go deep. Until they are tackled, Sierra Leone will remain a fragile state at best.
Above all, Sierra Leoneans needs jobs. Probably less than a quarter of adults have “formal employment”, loosely defined; the “okada” motorcycle drivers are the lucky ones. With no regular income, the mass of bored, listless youths will be tempted to join the gangs and rebel armies that used to fight for the control of the country’s extensive diamond fields, mainly in the south-east. Giorgio Biguzzi, the Catholic bishop of Makeni, who helped to set up many of the best post-war peace and reconciliation programs, says “the real healing is to provide people with opportunities”.
But where will the jobs come from? Before the war, Sierra Leone had more than 30 factories or processing plants. Now it has three: brewing, bottling and making concrete. With its fertile soil, agriculture should do well. But in ten years of civil war many of its foreign markets for such products as coffee and palm oil were captured by competitors. The diamond mines provide jobs but they are well away from the main population centers. Few outsiders will invest until the country has regular electricity; at the moment, what little electricity there is usually comes from expensive diesel generators. A new dam and hydroelectric power station crawl towards completion. But these have taken more than 30 years to build, so no one is betting on them joining the grid yet.