A senior United Nations official is on a two-day visit to Sierra Leone for wide-ranging talks on the situation in a country that was the first to be put on the agenda of the new UN Peacebuilding Commission, set up three years ago to prevent conflict-plagued States from relapsing into bloodshed.
Assistant Secretary-General for Peacebuilding Support Judy Cheng-Hopkins’ visit comes a little over a month after the top UN official in the West African nation warned that the journey towards a stable, peaceful and democratic country would will be bumpy, long, and even dangerous despite remarkable progress made since the end of a civil war earlier this decade.
She will meet with Government and UN officials as well as other stakeholders including civil society groups in a country that provides a good case study for examining the work of the UN in peacebuilding.
In September, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s Executive Representative for Sierra Leone Michael Schulenberg told the Security Council the country needs time, patience, determined national leadership and continued international support.
“We must anticipate accidents, derailments and mistakes along this road… there are no easy benchmarks that will tell us that Sierra Leone is out of the woods,” he said, noting that the country is one of the poorest in the world, does not have a large educated middle class, and over 70 per cent of the population remains illiterate.
State institutions, moreover, remain weak and the nation’s journey towards prosperity is taking place in a “difficult” regional environment, with the political and security situation in West Africa remaining “highly precarious” amid worrying signs of military coups, ethnic and inter-religious conflicts, and threats from illicit drug trafficking and international crime, he added.
In October 2006, at its first ever country-specific meeting, the Peacebuilding Commission recommended Sierra Leone for support from the newly established Peacebuilding Fund, set up a week earlier to assist countries emerging from conflict to rebuild and prevent them falling back into bloodshed.
Last month the Security Council extended for another year the mandate of the UN Integrated Peacebuilding Office in Sierra Leone (UNIPSIL) after Mr. Ban stressed in his latest report that greater efforts are needed by all Sierra Leoneans to build on momentum from a key peace pact signed in April between the governing All People’s Congress (APC) and the opposition Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP) to end political violence.