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Sierra Leone Modern History

After independence in 1961, Sierra Leone suffered a slow start, then rapidly accelerating decay. Authoritarian rule, poor economy and ever worse corruption caused a popular dissatisfaction that triggered one of Africa's most brutal civil wars. It took ten years before the war could be stopped by a major UN effort.

In 1962, the year after independence, parliamentary elections won by the ruling Sierra Leone People's Party (SLPP) were held. Five years later, the SLPP lost power to the opposition party General People's Congress (APC) led by Siaka Stevens. He declared the country a republic in 1971 and made himself president. The SLPP boycotted the parliamentary elections in 1973, and in 1976 Stevens was re-elected without a counter-candidate. In practice, Sierra Leone was now a one-party state and a new constitution in 1978 made APC the only permitted party.

  • ABBREVIATIONFINDER: List of most commonly used acronyms containing Sierra Leone. Also includes historical, economical and political aspects of the country.

During Steven's reign, imports increased rapidly and the government took large foreign loans to finance the deficit in the state budget. Widespread corruption diluted the problems. Strikes, violence and state of emergency characterized the last years of Steven's tenure. He resigned in October 1985 after making sure his hand-picked successor, Commander-in-Chief Joseph Momoh, was elected president with 99 percent of the vote.

Momoh promised improvement, but most things continued as before. The popularity that the new government first enjoyed fell quickly after new corruption revelations. Momoh resorted to harsh methods to overcome corruption, but also introduced press and letter censorship to silence criticism.

Contemporary History of Sierra LeoneThe increasingly dictatorial policy increased the demand for a new multi-party system. Momoh gave way and drafted a new constitution, which was adopted in a referendum in August 1991. The general elections that would have been held in May this year had been postponed for a year because the country was now drawn into the civil war in Liberia. Sierra Leone contributed 500 men to the international force Ecomog (Ecowas Monitoring Group; Ecowas is the Economic Cooperation Organization of the West African States) sent to Liberia in 1990. As revenge, Liberian warlord Charles Taylor sent his militia NPFL across the border and the Sierra Leonean army was drawn into fighting. A domestic rebel movement, Revolutionary United Front (Ruf), was formed in 1991 by former corporal Foday Sankoh with support from the NPFL.

Military junta governs

A military coup in April 1992 brought a group of young officers to power. The military junta revoked the constitution but still announced elections until the end of 1995. New parties were allowed to re-form, but the Rufrebeller refused to participate in the political process or initiate peace talks. Ruf depended on the illegal mining of diamonds ("blood diamonds") and went hard towards the civilian population. The war made almost a million people homeless, half a million of whom ended up in townships around the capital Freetown.

Before the elections were held, a new military junta took power in January 1996. The elections were nevertheless carried out as planned in February of that year and led to the re-born SLPP regaining government power. Its candidate Ahmad Tejan Kabbah was elected president.

But that the country got a civilian government did not mean that there was peace; on the contrary, a more devastating chaos soon erupted than ever before. While President Kabbah and Ruf leader Sankoh signed a peace agreement in November, before it was implemented, in May 1997, Kabbah was dismissed by a group of officers headed by Major Johnny Paul Koroma. Kabbah fled to neighboring Guinea. The military junta, which called itself the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC), was supported by Ruf and Sankoh was named vice president.

A Nigerian military force sent to protect Kabbah was placed under the command of Ecowas and reinforced with soldiers from other countries in the region. The force was named Ecomog by model from Liberia. The exile president Kabbah was also supported by Kamajor, a traditional hunter militia recruited among the Mende people in the south.

In February 1998, Ecomog took control of Freetown and Kabbah could return. The UN sent a small group of observers. While fighting continued outside the country, junta members and runners were brought to trial. 24 junta soldiers were executed and even Foday Sankoh was sentenced to death.

At the end of 1998, the AFRC and Ruf made a sudden counter-offensive and returned to Freetown in January 1999. They were driven out after a few days, but only managed to burn and loot large parts of the capital. Hundreds of thousands of city dwellers were killed, hundreds of body parts were cut off and women raped.

A new peace agreement was signed in July 1999, giving Ruf and AFRC government seats. Both Sankoh and Koroma received high items. The death sentence against Sankoh was abolished and all rebels were granted amnesty.

Almost immediately, however, the peace agreement began to fall apart. Crimes against the ceasefire and attacks on UN observers prompted the World Organization to establish a peacekeeping force, named Unamsil (United Nations Mission in Sierra Leone).

The UN enters

In late autumn 1999, 6,000 UN soldiers began stationing in the country to disarm a total of approximately 45,000 soldiers. However, they immediately met resistance. After Ruf attacked Unamsil and took around 500 UN soldiers hostage, Britain sent 800 elite soldiers with air and war support to help the government troops. Foday Sankoh was arrested again. The UN Security Council banned all diamond trade from Ruf-controlled areas to stave off the rebels' funding. Following international mediation, Ruf signed a new peace agreement in November 2000 but continued to fight against the disarmament. It was not until January 2002 that the war could be concluded, after about 47,000 members of Ruf and government-friendly irregular forces left their weapons.

The peace and stabilization of the country was largely UN merit. Unamsil had been expanded to the world's largest peacekeeping force with 17,500 men and the soldiers participated on a broad front in the community-building work.

In early 2002, the government and the UN signed an agreement on a war criminal court (see Democracy and Rights) and the government appointed a Truth and Reconciliation Commission. In addition to killing at least 50,000 people, about a quarter of a million women had been subjected to sexual violence and thousands of people were mutilated and mutilated. About 10,000 children were abducted and more than half of them forced to become soldiers. The Commission collected over 9,000 testimonies and held public hearings with around 450 people. In its October 2004 report, it concluded that the abuses of previous regimes and violations of human rights were an important trigger for the civil war. The Commission recommended, among other things, that political power be spread downwards, from the capital to the provinces.

The UN-supervised elections in May 2002 became the quietest in the country's history. The turnout was high and Kabbah received over 70 percent of the vote. In the parliamentary elections his party SLPP got a large own majority. The support for the parties of the former rebels was almost non-existent.

After a year marked by a strong hope for the future, the residents' dissatisfaction soon grew that conditions did not get noticeably better. Few new jobs were created, poverty persisted and rumors of coup attempts created concern. Above all, the rulers failed to do anything about the corruption that created constant problems in everyday life.

The growing discontent led to SLPP's dominance being cut to the brim when the first local elections of over 30 years were conducted in 2004. The ruling party lost local power in both Freetown and several other municipalities. That result was taken at the same time as income that democracy had begun to take hold after all.

The court gets a problem

The Special Court for war crimes had problems right from the start. Shortly after a series of charges were filed in early 2003, Ruf leader Foday Sankoh departed, while rebel commander Sam Bockarie was shot dead in Liberia. AFRC leader Johnny Paul Koroma was reported to have been killed in Liberia, but since his body was never recovered, the case has not been closed. Sam Hinga Norman, leader of the Kamajormilisen, the Kamajormilisen (officially Civil Defense Forces, CDF), died in custody in early 2007, shortly before his sentence was served.

Two former members of the AFRC were sentenced in 2007 to each 50 years in prison and a third to 45 years. They were convicted of a variety of war crimes, including murder, rape and mutilation. They were also the first to be convicted by an international court for the recruitment of child soldiers. In the same year, two CDF leaders were sentenced to six and eight years in prison for, among other things, murder and cruelty, but the penalty was sharply increased to 15 and 20 years respectively.

In 2003, the Special Court also prosecuted 17 points against Liberian President Charles Taylor, who was believed to have played a major role in triggering the war through active support for Ruf and his personal friend Foday Sankoh. After his departure in 2003, he lived in exile in Nigeria until 2006, when he was sent to Sierra Leone. After initial formalities, he was moved to The Hague in the Netherlands for security reasons, where the trial took place in 2008–2011.

After steadily declining in strength, the UN squad Unamsil was decommissioned in December 2005. Instead, a civilian UN organization, Uniosil, whose main task was to pilot the country until the summer elections in 2007, was also included. human rights and giving residents greater transparency in the work of the authorities.

During the 2007 electoral movement, there were some unrest of ethnic nature and quarrels between supporters of rival parties. There was concern about violence during the elections, which could, however, be carried out without major problems in August / September, although some electoral fraud and harassment by voters was reported. The parliamentary elections were won by the General People's Congress (APC), whose candidate Ernest Bai Koroma also won in the presidential election. In the decisive second round, he defeated SLPP's Solomon Berewa. Thus, APC took back the government after 15 years.

Behind the change of power, in particular, there was a dissatisfaction in the cities that the leading politicians had not used the inflow of aid money to improve basic social services. Real political issues were considered to have played a greater role than in previous elections.

The Sierra Leoneans therefore had high expectations for their new government, but during Koroma's first year in power, little progress was made. Lack of resources and experience played a major role, but the government was also criticized for lacking a clear political line. The APC was criticized for the party being ill-prepared to take over government power.

Nevertheless, the municipal elections in July 2008 became a success for APC. The elections were generally considered to have been correct, but more than 150 complaints about irregularities were submitted to the electoral authorities.

A seizure of about 600 kilos of cocaine at Lungi Airport off Freetown in 2008 raised fears that Sierra Leone, like other countries in the region, would end up in the clutches of Latin American drug cartels. About sixty people were arrested for involvement in the drug trade.

Corruption is a big problem

A new law against corruption was adopted in September 2008. According to this, the president and other senior representatives of the administration must report their assets to the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) every year. The law also tightened the penalties for those who are guilty of corruption, and strengthened the protection of people who report suspicions that irregularities have occurred.

A number of ministers were also allowed to go after corruption charges, and several senior executives, including the police and the immigration authority, were threatened with dismissal if they did not deal with misconduct in their own operations. Several charges were brought against high-level people, for example against the head of the tax authority, which was, however, released in court. In 2010, two high-ranking officials were convicted by the Ministry of Defense for Corruption and Abuse of Power. It was the first time people in such prominent positions had been convicted in accordance with that law.

After 2009, Sierra Leone has largely been able to put the war behind it. A symbol of the establishment of peace was that the Special Court could then be wound up after three leaders of the Ruf militia were convicted of war crimes and crimes against humanity (civilian murders, rapes and mutilations). They were sentenced to 52, 40 and 25 years in prison, respectively. The men were also found guilty of robbing young girls and forcing them into "marriage" with rebels. It was the first time an international court sentenced someone to forced marriage. In 2012, Charles Taylor was also sentenced to a long prison sentence for helping and facilitating war crimes in Sierra Leone (see Democracy and Rights).

The fact that the UN Security Council in September 2010 lifted all sanctions - including an arms embargo - was also a recognition of Sierra Leone becoming a peaceful and more normal country.

In September 2008, the UN organization Uniosil was replaced by Unipsil, whose main mission was to coordinate the work of the World Organization in the country.

 
 

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