Cameroon Tribune (Yaoundé)

5 December 2012

Sierra Leone's Gradual, Appreciable Democratic Progress

Sierra Leone emerged from a decade of civil war in 2002 with the help of foreign troops and a large United Nations peacekeeping mission. More than 17,000 foreign troops disarmed tens of thousands of rebels and militia fighters.

A decade on, the country has made progress towards reconciliation and development, but poverty and unemployment are still major challenges. The war, in which tens of thousands died, saw the hacking off of the hands and feet of victims by rebels. A UN-backed war crimes court at The Hague, Netherlands in April 2012 found former Liberian leader, Charles Taylor guilty of aiding and abetting war crimes during the Sierra Leonean Civil War. The country has also improved its ranking in the anti-corruption indices of Transparency International.

Sierra Leone last month held its third successful presidential election since the end of the war with the incumbent, President Ernest Bai Koroma, re-elected. Democracy was thus consolidated with the November 2012 general elections being the first to be held without UN supervision. Koroma was elected in 2007 on a ticket of change, and says he has visibly improved the country's quality of life. His supporters point to newly paved roads and a government healthcare programme that provides free medical treatment. It has proved enormously popular in a country hard hit by cholera earlier this year and that has one of the highest rates of maternal mortality in the world.

The country has also experienced substantial economic growth in recent years. In September 2010, the UN Security Council lifted remaining sanctions, saying the government had fully re-established control over its territory, and former rebel fighters had been disarmed and demobilised under the auspices of a professional national army. Ten years after the end of the civil war, a construction boom is underway. The Bumbuna Dam is one of the biggest projects in recent years. But the economy is so run down by years of war and decades of corruption that it will take time before the boom benefits most people.

Youth unemployment and the level of corruption however remain dangerously high. Economic recovery has therefore been slow partly because reconstruction needs are so great. About half of government revenue still comes from donors. The restoration of peace is expected to aid the country's promotion as a tourist destination in the long term. Sierra Leone boasts miles of unspoilt beaches along its Atlantic coast, and hopes to emulate its near-neighbour, The Gambia, in attracting tourists.

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