POLITICAL PARTIES AND PROCESSES: AN NDI ASSESSMENT MISSION REPORT
March 6-10, 2000
I. EXECUTIVE SUMMARY
In July of 1999, Sierra Leone's brutal civil war - in which tens of thousands of citizens died and hundreds of thousands were displaced from their homes - came to a close through the signing of the Lome Peace Accord. In response to a request by the U.S. Agency for International Development and the U.S. Department of State, NDI assembled an assessment team which traveled to Sierra Leone to review the state of political parties and political processes, as well as to develop recommendations for assistance as the country prepares for elections in early 2001.
The team traveled to Sierra Leone from March 6-10, 2000 and was comprised of Dr. Paula Newberg, a specialist in the political economy of states encountering conflict and economic dislocation; Dr. Luis Serapiao, Associate Professor at Howard University's African Studies Department, a specialist in conflict and post-conflict analysis and U.S. representative for RENAMO during the peace process in Mozambique in the 1990’s; and Shari Bryan, Deputy Director for NDI's Central, East and West Africa programs.
Within Sierra Leone, the mission was restricted to the capitol of Freetown and was limited to five days in the country. The team met with political party leaders, members of parliament, cabinet ministers, election commission officials, NGO leaders and representatives of the donor community. The inability to travel outside Freetown, however, prevented the team from meeting with citizens living in the areas most affected by the war and from assessing the political situation outside the capitol. The team however, was able to visit Sierra Leoneans in refugee camps in the Forecariah District of Guinea, about 20 miles from the border of Sierra Leone.
Most Sierra Leoneans with whom the team met were cautiously optimistic about the possibility of a lasting peace. The strong hunger for stability is evidenced by the acceptance of the Lome Accords, which provide for a general amnesty to all combatants, including the Revolutionary United Front (RUF), thought to be responsible for most atrocities committed over the past eight years. While few citizens suggested that they would be willing to support the RUF in an election, their desire to return to their homes in peace and without threat of violence, overrode most objections to the peace plan and to the participation of the RUF as a political party.
Even though rebel leaders have taken positions in key government ministries, and legislation implementing the peace accords has been passed in parliament, the disarmament of combatants is proceeding at an unacceptably slow rate, calling into question the motivation and commitment of the former combatants, particularly the RUF. As a result, almost fifty percent of the country remains inaccessible, the return of refugees has been hampered, and United Nations troops have failed to deploy to all parts of the country. The process is at a standstill and the political actors find themselves in a vacuum where blame is cast by all and resolve is taken by none.
The ability of organizations to assist in strengthening political parties and the political process in Sierra Leone will depend on improving the protection of civil and political rights; the disarmament and demobilization of the former warring factions; the verifiable commitment by the major political actors to implement the Lome Accords; and the repatriation of refugees. Should these conditions exist, NDI recommends that assistance be provided to strengthen political parties and political processes in Sierra Leone through efforts that will:
II. POLITICAL BACKGROUND
While the SLPP managed to remain in power in these first crucial elections, the APC showed its strong base of northern support and secured 16 seats in the 62-member Parliament. By all accounts multi-partyism along ethnic lines was flourishing. By 1967, the APC managed to win 48% of the seats and forming a coalition, built a narrow majority in Parliament. Within hours of being sworn in as President, however, Siaka Stevens was ousted by a coup encouraged by unhappy leaders of the losing SLPP. Stevens orchestrated a counter-coup, reinstalling himself as President in 1971, and after seven years in power a 1978 referendum approved his plans to create a one-party state.
Emergence of the RUF
Sankoh, an army corporal discharged and jailed for participating in a 1969 mutiny, formed the RUF as a rebellion against the years of an authoritarian, one-party state that had sunk the country into poverty and corruption. Appealing to the unemployed and disenfranchised youth in the early 1990's, Sankoh's movement promised free education and medical care, an end to corruption, nepotism and tribalism. Most observers are quick to point out that Sankoh's viability throughout the 1990's was a result of external supporters, particularly Charles Taylor who has acted as a surrogate for Sankoh, transhipping diamonds out of Sierra Leone and providing the RUF with the arms and money necessary to keep the rebellion afloat.
By 1992, the country's third coup took place, removing Momoh from office, only to be replaced by a disgruntled junior army officer, Valentine Strasser. Strasser remained in power for four years, with the help of private South African mercenaries who managed to fend off RUF attacks and at the same time mine and export diamonds out of the Kono diamond region. Strasser was eventually persuaded to commit to multi-party elections and announced a time frame for presidential and parliamentary elections for 1996. After an attempt to negotiate with the RUF failed, and just prior to the elections, Strasser was himself a victim of Sierra Leone's fourth military coup, led by Brigadier Maada Bio, who claimed that Strasser had a hidden agenda to stay in power. Bio held fast and ushered in multi-party elections in March 1996.
Six parties won seats in the 80-member Parliament. The SLPP, led by Ahmad Tejan Kabbah, a former United Nations official recruited from New York to run for President, won a plurality of seats in Parliament. In the second round of presidential ballots, Kabbah was elected president. Kabbah's tenure was fleeting and in May 1997, a fifth coup carried out by Sierra Leonean Army (SLA) Major Johnny Paul Koroma and other soldiers unhappy about their poor pay, overthrew the newly elected SLPP government and forced Kabbah in to exile in neighboring Guinea.
Economic Community of West African State Cease-Fire Monitoring Group (ECOMOG) forces intervened to reinstall Kabbah. Meanwhile, Koroma renamed his rebels the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC) and joined forces with the RUF.
For the next several months, sporadic and intense fighting continued between ECOMOG forces and the joint forces of the RUF/AFRC. In March 1998, through a political and military negotiation, Kabbah was re-installed as President and Koroma and his fellow coup-makers were given blanket amnesty. Over the next twelve months fighting continued throughout the country, when some of the most brutal atrocities against civilians occurred, culminating in peace negotiations which resulted in the signing of the Lome Accords in July 1999.
Key points of the accords include: 1) a cease-fire monitored by United Nations Observer Mission in Sierra Leone (UNAMSIL); 2) an interim power sharing government, maintaining Kabbah as President but guaranteeing RUF representation in the cabinet; 3) the transformation of the RUF in to a political party; 4) the formation of a Commission for the Consolidation of Peace -- to monitor the implementation of the Accords; 5) general amnesty to all combatants; 6) the establishment of a truth and reconciliation commission; 7) the appointment of a new election commission; and 8) elections to be held in accordance with time frames established by the 1991 constitution (presidential election to be held by March 2001, and parliamentary by June 2001).
The implicit acceptance of an accord void of human rights repercussions by the international community, particularly the United Nations, the United States and Great Britain, was in sharp contrast to peace plans being negotiated around the same time in Kosovo and East Timor. This double standard is not lost on Sierra Leoneans who are outspoken about the need for the international community to facilitate the peace process. As one observer noted, "they're the ones who pushed the Lome Accords, so they're the ones who must be there to back it up."
While no one in Sierra Leone expressed enthusiasm for the provisions of the Accords, there appears to be a consensus that the agreement is a preferable alternative to continued war and instability. Allowing the RUF and other rebels the enjoyment of immunity and the privilege of managing the nations natural resources, is a difficult and bitter reality. Yet, most Sierra Leoneans accept the fact that political participation by the RUF is a pre-condition of peace.
Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration
Different interest groups provided their own explanation for the delay in disarmament -- sheer lack of political will by the rebels; deliberate attempts to illegally mine diamonds; slow deployment of UN troops; insufficient financial incentives for disarmament; delays in the funding for and start-up of demobilization camps; and lack of international pressure. Some speculate that rebels fear returning to their villages where they may face rejection by their peers, and where it is unlikely that they will find jobs or economic viability. Whatever the root cause, Sierra Leoneans find themselves in situation where blame is cast by all and responsibility taken by none. The government believes that it has complied with all requirements of the Lome Accords, parties in parliament argue they have passed all provisions of the accords into legislation, and the RUF asserts that not enough has been done to accommodate their needs.
The government, the RUF, political parties, civil society and international donors agree that peace through disarmament is a prerequisite to elections. Yet the current situation, left unattended, can only result in either a delay in elections or in conducting elections in an environment where significant portions of the country are inaccessible, insecure and in control of armed combatants.
IV. POLITICAL PARTIES
Political parties in Sierra Leone resemble nascent parties throughout the developing world. Given the country post-independence history punctuated by coups and counter-coups, coupled with over ten years of one-party rule, political organizations have lacked the opportunities to develop into representative bodies. The parties are urban based and largely personality driven. They are not identified with issues and ideologies, have little or no relationship to constituents, and derive electoral support along ethnic and regional lines. As described by one party head, "politics in Sierra Leone is not based on issues, it's based on leaders."
There are currently seventeen registered parties in Sierra Leone, fifteen of which have emerged since 1996. These parties, especially the newer ones, have little infrastructure and lack the operational characteristics that would permit them to perform the functions usually associated with modern parties, which are more solidly rooted in social forces. Substantial international assistance will be required before these newer parties develop the capacity to broaden their social and geographical bases of support and can mobilize their constituents around electoral goals.
The political party laws in Sierra Leone require that each party establish offices and representatives in each of the four geo-political regions of the country as a pre-requisite to registration. As a result, all of the parties interviewed view themselves as "the party of national unity" or the party that bridges the gap between north and south. Nevertheless, each party has a clear ethnic and regional base of support, challenging the assumption that a registration criteria can overcome a culture of ethnicity.
Many of the leaders of today parties emerged from Sierra Leone's two historical parties - the SLPP and the APC. Others include academics, business leaders and lawyers. Newer parties leaders emerging in the post Lome period include Omrie Golley, former RUF spokesperson and attorney, who left the RUF in the fall of 1999.
Of the parties currently registered, only the six parties represented in Parliament were available during the assessment. The paucity of reliable information about the parties, their structures and membership was not surprising. With little or no financial resources, most parties emerged only four years ago in a hastily constructed election that failed to provide ample time and opportunity for true party development. None of the parties interviewed had data on membership, nor did they have mechanisms for constituency outreach. Only a few of the parties had actual knowledge of the percentage of votes they received in the 1996 elections.
Only the All People's Congress (APC) and the Sierra Leone People's Party (SLPP) could be considered capable of having an institutional framework. As the longest ruling party in Sierra Leone, the APC had the luxury of little or no political opposition for almost twenty years. Its organization and structures survived the war and its regional base of support still lies within the Temne ethnic group based in the northern part of the country.
The ruling SLPP, effectively banned since the mid 1960's, re-emerged in 1996 under the leadership of former UN bureaucratic, Tejan Kabbah, and boasts a national infrastructure divided into the four geo-political regions of the country, with a purported special focus on women and youth. SLPP regulations provide for a biennial national conference where internal elections are to take place. There is a national policy council, but no articulated party policy or platform. The predominant constituencies of the SLPP are the south and the east, primarily the Mende ethnic group.
The United National People's Party (UNPP), organized in 1996, and representing 17 seats in Parliament, distinguishes itself as the party with a middle of the road's party ideology. Drawing its support from the north and western regions, the UNPP performed well in the 1996 elections, according to one party stalwart, because of its "strong grassroots support, a citizenry disillusioned with the status quo, and a presidential candidate with a strong and appealing personality" - Dr. John Karefa Smart. Smart ran against Kabbah in the 1996 runoff elections, winning 40.5% of the vote, but has since retired and is living in California, unlikely to return to Sierra Leone.
The People's Democratic Party (PDP), a party built out of a coalition of five smaller parties, with representation throughout the country, and a regional stronghold in the north, also emerged in 1996. It is the third largest party and holds 12 seats in Parliament. The PDP aligned itself in the presidential elections with SLPP, and benefited from a close relationship with ruling party. Recently, the party chairman passed away, and the party is now under the new leadership of Osmon Kamaro, a member of parliament and practicing pharmacist who officially split with the SLPP in February of this year.
Smaller parties in parliament like the National Unity Party (NUP) and Democratic Center Party (DCP) are barely recognizable. The NUP was, like many others, designed to bridge the gap between the north and south. Standing for national unity, the party claims to have no distinct regional base, and with four seats in Parliament, each coming from one of the four regional area Like most of the parties, the DCP, was formed in 1996 and won 4.9% of the national vote, which led to a total of 3 seats in Parliament. There is no articulated party structure or party ideology.
RUF as a Political Party
Even the most disenfranchised of Sierra Leone -- refugees living outside the country -- understood and accepted that the RUF would exist as a political party. While no one the team met with suggested that they would be willing to support the RUF in an election, their desire to return to their homes in peace and without threat of violence, overrode any apparent dissatisfaction with a peace plan that provides amnesty for the rebels.
At present, the RUF has received a provisional certificate of registration, but has not completed the final requirements of establishing an office in Freetown and the four geo–political regions. When the RUF found that it could not find office space in the Freetown area, the government suggested that it might provide federal office space in order for the RUF to receive its final certification. Although the RUF has yet to establish the framework for its party as an institution, there was speculation by RUF officials that the selections or nominations for leadership positions will be taken in the near future.
The RUF's political platform continues to call for free education, medical care and an end to corruption, with a free market system in place where the nation's wealth is in the hands of the people. Most Sierra Leoneans argue that the RUF has no real political legitimacy in the eyes of the citizens, and its followers are largely "disenfranchised" and illiterate youth, many of whom may be too young to vote. The RUF has pleaded for assistance to develop itself as a political party and argues that it is greatly disadvantaged because it lacks the funding necessary to fairly compete with other parties. This claim rings hollow to most Sierra Leoneans who point out that the RUF is still actively mining the diamond-rich districts in the country, filling their coffers with funds for the elections. Likewise the RUF purportedly owns an FM radio station in Buedu which is broadcasting RUF propaganda across the country's eastern territory.
At the same time, the newly appointed National Election Commission (NEC), the political parties and other key stakeholders face the challenge of determining the framework and structure of the electoral process. The NEC, appointed by President Kabbah in February, purportedly in consultation with all parties including the RUF, will have primary responsibility for determining the electoral framework. Yet the political parties in parliament insist that the decision will ultimately be made by the legislature.
The discussion will center upon choosing between the single member constituency system, otherwise known as First Past the Post (FPTP), or the proportional representation system (PR) used in the 1996 elections. Many parties seem to favor maintaining the PR system, in part because the requirements of FPTP elections are too burdensome given the short time frame before elections. In addition, many refugees and internally displaced persons may not be able to return to their constituencies prior to registration. Because the choice of an election system can determine, in large measure, which party gains power, this decision is difficult and necessarily highly politicized. Clearly, these decisions will be made in the political arena, and ultimately it will be parliament that will pass legislation establishing the electoral framework.
The importance of the role of civil society in the current transition process in Sierra Leone should be underscored. Serving as the only link between a disenfranchised and traumatized citizenry, and an isolated political elite, civil society may ultimately provide the fabric of political discourse in Sierra Leone. Working as an assertive and organized constituency in a country where the government has abdicated many of its responsibilities, civil society may actually be in a position to shape the discourse. As noted by one government minister, "civil society is extremely strong and vocal. It should play a role in the elections and can help bring credibility to the elections."
NGOs, religious organizations, labor unions and the media are well placed to play an integral role in educating citizens about the Lome Accords, in assisting the implementation of the DDR process, and in preparing for elections. Local and international NGOs are currently involved in providing relief to the thousands displaced by the ravages of the war. Other non-governmental organizations have taken on the task of educating citizens about the Accords, the process of disarmament and the plans for elections. For example, a donor sponsored program entitled the "Education for Peace Program" is designed to provide civic education to citizens in rural areas on the content of the Lome Accords, and an explanation of the DDR process. Through a training of trainers program, a core group of 30 Master Trainers will train Community Trainers every month, seeking to provide civic education to a majority of the rural population prior to elections.
The Inter-Religious Council (IRC), a coalition of Muslim and Christian religious organizations has also played a significant role in the peace process. Viewed as non-partisan and apolitical, the religious community was one of the first interlocutors to "go to the bush" and meet with Foday Sankoh to discuss possible cease-fire. The Council may now be able to use its non-partisan position to assist in moving forward the stagnant disarmament process.
Another attempt to help citizens restore normalcy to the lives of citizens is an innovative program sponsored by the Government of Sierra Leone, designed to restore paramount chiefs to their homes and villages. The government will sponsor a two-day seminar on issues identification and conflict resolution in all of Sierra Leone's 149 chieftaincies. The seminar will attempt to identify the specific issues that are critical to residents of the particular chieftaincies, prior to the return of the paramount chief. Conflict resolution committees will be formed and will be responsible for monitoring the peace process. All of the information that is gathered at these meetings will be compiled and archived.
Recently, human rights and pro-democracy NGOs in Freetown began an effort to speed up the process of disarmament by lobbying the various stakeholders. Holding firm that elections should not take place until "substantial disarmament" takes place, the NGOs are planning to organize workshops and seminars with leaders of the rebel groups and other political actors with the aim of reaching consensus on disarmament.
Recognizing the importance of assisting these institutions and individuals, the ability to implement political assistance programs in Sierra Leone will depend largely upon the factors mentioned earlier: 1) the protection of civil and political rights; 2) the disarmament and demobilization of the former warring factions; 3) the verifiable commitment by the major political actors to implement the Lome Accords; and 4) the repatriation of refugees.
Realizing these benchmarks will undoubtedly call for strong and continued international pressure and assistance. Lessons from successful transitions -- such as those in Mozambique and El Salvador, and from the not so successful transitions in Angola and Cambodia -- suggest that international facilitation is a key factor in ensuring peace and stability. The short time frame set for elections, the current slow pace of disarmament, demobilization and disarmament, and the apparent lack of political will by some parties -- particularly the RUF -- make this even more critical at this juncture.
International pressure, however, should not be viewed as an alternative to a Sierra Leonean solution. Ultimately, the current state of affairs must be viewed as a "political process" in which Sierra Leoneans negotiate a way forward. International technical assistance can only provide the tools for establishing the framework in which a peaceful transition and elections, recognized by the major political actors and the international community, are viewed as legitimate.
Recommendations for Strengthening Political Processes and Parties
Phase I: Inter-party Dialogue
Activities during this initial phase could be conducted immediately, and would aim to assist Sierra Leonean political parties by providing the leadership with information on comparative frameworks for implementation of the Lome Accords; to encourage inter-party dialogue on the electoral framework; and to create mechanisms for reducing tensions among political actors.
The transition process in Sierra Leone is similar to the experience of many other countries emerging from conflict -- slower than expected disarmament; lack of refugee repatriation; an undetermined electoral framework -- all of which are exacerbated by disputes as political rivals inevitably challenge their opponents's commitment to the process. During the transitions in Angola, Cambodia, El Salvador, Mozambique, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Liberia, many of the same obstacles threatened the prospects for peaceful election.
A post-conflict roundtable, drawing on political actors from other countries who participated in their respective transition process, can assist in moving the process forward. By sharing experiences and learning lessons from countries that actually completed successful transitions, as well as those that failed, Sierra Leoneans may be able to create mechanisms that will build consensus within the country on key issues, encourage collaborative problem solving and inspire confidence in the process.
Dialogue on Electoral Framework
Important decisions must be made by members of the election commission, political parties, members of civil society and government officials about the framework for elections and the technical and legal rules which will support that framework. These decisions must be reached through an open, deliberative and transparent process that provides for the participation of all political parties, civil society representatives, government officials and members of the election commission.
The International Foundation for Election Systems (IFES), in conjunction with the National Election Commission and the political parties in Sierra Leone, has recommended the establishment of Consultative Committee, comprised of the relevant stakeholders, which would meet regularly throughout the election process to address questions of electoral framework. NDI believes that the establishment of such a Consultative Committee would increase public confidence in the process and ensure political buy-in to the decisions that are made. NDI is prepared to contribute to that process by providing comparative legislation, elections experts and other assistance, should the need arise.
Political Party Code of Conduct
Critical to the success of any post-conflict transition is the participation of all parties in a process that is deemed fair and equal to all political actors. The process of developing and implementing a political party code of conduct can help ensure that parties work cooperatively towards the success of the transition and can diminish the prospect for a spoiler's to disrupt the process. The process of discussing and reaching consensus on a political party code of conduct encourages inter-party dialogue, increases confidence in the use of elections to effect peaceful change, reduces tension and creates possibilities for the creation of a level playing field.
The experience of countries such as Cambodia, Namibia, Mozambique and South Africa further shows that in addition to developing a code of conduct, political parties must train their cadres on the provisions of the code. Parties must also reach consensus on creating a mechanism for filing, arbitration and settlement of any complaints that may arise due to violations of the code.
Phase II: Operational and Structural Development
Phase Two activities would address the need for political parties to develop leadership skills, internal structures, organizational capacity, and functional accountability, which they all currently lack. While the lessons from post-conflict transitions suggest that all parties should be provided assistance to increase their capacity as a means of ensuring a level playing field prior to elections, only those parties that have renounced violence and are actively committed to the disarmament of armed combatants and the implementation of the peace plan, should be assisted during this phase.
Workshops on Party Development
Political parties in Sierra Leone could benefit from technical assistance in developing: leadership skills, membership and recruitment plans, national, regional and local party structures; and organizational capacity. In the case of the RUF, ensuring that the rebel organization and its followers understand the principles of political plurality and the representative nature of the parties, will increase the likelihood that they remain a participant in the process through the elections.
The political parties represented in Parliament have conducted a needs assessment and developed recommendations for training assistance (see Annex I). Working in consultation with all parties in Sierra Leone, including the RUF, a series of workshops could facilitate the establishment of the fundamental principles of political party development.
Phase III: Platform Development & Campaign Training
The gulf between the citizens of Sierra Leone and political party leaders is enormous. Geographically cut off and displaced, most citizens have not had an opportunity to interact with their elected officials in the last four years. In addition, the political culture in Sierra Leone, like in many African nations, is not based on the issues of the citizenry, but rather on the personalities of the politicians. Critical to post-transition period of rebuilding of Sierra Leonean society is for political leaders to develop a practice of consultation with their constituents. A large number of disenfranchised youth and unemployed adults will expect elected leaders to not only ensure a lasting peace, but provide opportunities for economic redevelopment. These concerns must be expressed by citizens and understood by parties and politicians, prior to the elections.
Phase Three activities are designed to assist the political parties and their candidates in understanding the issues critical to most Sierra Leoneans, and to develop platforms and programs that will bring credibility to the political system; develop communication and outreach systems; and prepare for the identification and selection of candidates. Activities require that parties have secure access to all regions of the country, that all combatants are disarmed, and that the repatriation of refugees has occurred.
Information Gathering Roundtables
Political leaders, parties and candidates must be able to understand the many issues that face the majority of citizens in the country. As most parties are urban-based and lack access to travel throughout the country, their ability to gather first-hand information from citizens is hampered. Currently, a number of government agencies and NGOs are conducting programs in Sierra Leone that will provide a wealth of information about citizens views of the peace accords, the DDR process and the problems they face in rebuilding their lives. By bringing together political parties, civic organizations and government agencies, roundtables could provide a forum where valuable information is shared with parties and their representatives, as they begin to develop campaign platforms. These interactions will also provide parties the opportunity to develop relationships with various interest groups and expand their base of political activists.
Workshops on Platform and Message Development
Parties in Sierra Leone currently lack identification with particular programs, policies or platforms. Using information gathered from civil society, as mentioned above, parties can learn how to develop the platforms and the various ways of communicating their message through the print and radio media, town hall meetings and other constituency outreach programs.
In order to effectively reach voters with policy platforms, parties must have strong and organized campaigns. Workshops and roundtables with party leaders and their candidates can address how to develop strategic campaign plans, how to build campaign management teams, and how to motivate and mobilize party membership.
Phase IV: Election Monitoring
In the lead up to the elections, Phase Four activities would build Sierra Leonean capacity for political party pollwatching and nonpartisan monitoring, in order to increase public confidence in the electoral process. By working with civil society organizations and political party representatives to train a cadre of domestic and party monitors, citizens of Sierra Leone can play a critical role in overseeing elections and in build public confidence in the election process. Complete disarmament of all combatants, secure accessibility to all regions of the country, and deployment of UNAMSIL troops throughout Sierra Leone, should be a prerequisite to the implementation of the activities.
Political Party Pollwatching
Effective election monitoring by political parties increases prospects for a genuine election process and helps deter fraud and irregularities at various stages of preparation and on election day. Mobilization of party pollwatchers encourages public confidence and acceptance of election results. Collection by party activists of information about electoral abuses allow the parties to effectively use electoral complaint mechanisms, reinforcing the rule of law to resolve election disputes peacefully. Pollwatcher training also builds capacity within parties and provides opportunities for party members to participate in the political process.
Non-Partisan Domestic Monitoring
Domestic monitoring efforts by non-partisan groups can also contribute to a more genuine election process by encouraging fairer campaign practices and reducing the possibility of fraud and irregularities on election day. Working with civil society organizations, including the National Labor Congress (which has participated as domestic monitors during the 1996 elections), domestic monitoring can enhance organizational skills, and provide citizens with an opportunity actively support and serve the process.
The prospects for sustainable peace in Sierra Leone will depend largely upon the commitment of all political actors in the country, including the international community. At present, most observers question the commitment of Foday Sankoh and the RUF, as combatants continue to control large portions of the country and refuse to disarm. Elections scheduled for the first quarter of 2001 appear to be in jeopardy, as the time required for preparations and the repatriation of refugees cannot begin until most areas of the country are secure.
Technical assistance for political parties can be a critical element in ensuring a credible and peaceful transition and should be provided in Sierra Leone. However, assistance should be provided in a phased approach, only to those parties that have renounced violence, disarmed their combatants or followers, and show a commitment to the ongoing implementation of the peace process. Furthermore, later phases of assistance should be contingent upon secure access to all parts of the country and the repatriation of refugees.
NDI would like to express its gratitude to the people of Sierra Leone for their hospitality, time and insights; and would particularly like to thank U.S. Ambassador Joseph Melrose, the U.S. Embassy staff; and the Office of Transition Initiatives (OTI) in Freetown for their invaluable assistance.
TO: Ken, Tom, Chris, Pat, Ivan, Shari
Thank you all for suggesting that I visit Sierra Leone. Our visit was far too short to offer any but the most preliminary observations -- my own are far from definitive -- but offered at least a partial portrait of a state endeavoring to escape the many traps of violence. My comments here are personal, and can at best supplement those of my fellow mission members and other NDI staff.
Sierra Leone is an exceptionally interesting country, living through very trying times. I went in search of prospects for peace and democracy, and found little of either -- just yet. Its troubling political environment seems, at least at this moment, to be at odds with the aspirations of most of the people with whom we met. As you will quickly note, I do not think that Sierra Leone is a place in which NDI can contemplate a traditional political parties program now. The political and security obstacles that exist by virtue of its proximity to war are considerable, and create an environment that I do not believe is conducive to effective political party work at this time. I hope, however, that the accumulation of concerned visitors sends a message to Sierra Leone's citizens that when opportunities arise in the future, outsiders will be quite willing to help them take advantage of them.
A. Politics, peace and democracy
Peace has not yet come to Sierra Leone. The agreements reached last year at Lome are aspirations, not decisions, and most have yet to be fulfilled. The government appears unhappy with what it signed, and seems to be having considerable difficulty creating an environment that will bring peace closer. Everyone with whom we met believed that peace was a future good, not a present one; this peace treaty has yet to signal an end to conflict. The relationship between peace and elections has not been settled, notwithstanding rhetoric to the contrary. And elections are unlikely unless much more progress is made in stabilizing the country, politically and economically.
Every mission is captive to the moment in which it lives; I would be delighted to learn that the difficulties we observed in our meetings in Freetown are transitory. But prevailing circumstances suggest that peace is still illusory, recovery is distant, and weaponry still constitutes the country's primary political currency. To the degree that the Lome accords are acceptable to the government -- and based on our meetings, they appears to be only minimally so -- it is because the government cannot sustain its tenure without moving closer to resolving conflict. This is not entirely bad, but for now, however, the demands of Lome are treated as valid primarily because the establishment seems to have run out of ideas.
In a sense, therefore, the demands of the accord may clash with constitutional requirements to hold elections within the year. It is likely, at least just now, that the government may contemplate an election postponement, and the main opposition parties may, by the time this decision is taken, decide that delay is also in their best interests. Once again, this may not be all that harmful to future preparations for democracy. But if a choice were presented between peace and democracy, I suspect that most of Freetown -- including the international donors whose funds keep the national budget afloat -- would choose peace.
This is, or should be, a false choice. I see no way to sustain a future peace except through democratic institutions founded on equitable political participation. But few individuals with whom we spoke -- and this includes almost every political party leader we encountered -- fully believe this.
The accords have also contributed to a vocabulary of false or inadequate expectations. Almost every political discussion turns around concepts and practices that might encourage disarmament. The government, its foreign supporters, and most of the political commentators with whom we met seem to believe that ridding the country of guns is the primary, if not exclusive, condition for organizing elections. This is radically incomplete. After nine years of fighting about disagreements too distant to remember, the economic structure of the country is dreadfully deficient for supporting the recovery that Sierra Leone requires. Unless demobilization can be accomplished thoroughly and equitably, the disarmament process is likely to become a weapons-recycling program -- surely not the stuff of which democracy is made.
For now, the absence of active fighting is at best in the nature of remission. The political pressures on the government to move forward are not those of an actively political population, but of the small political clubs around which the capital is organized. The country's primary agenda, however, is recovery from war. For that to happen, the passing priorities of a small group of people are irrelevant: the story of Sierra Leone's future politics is likely to be written initially in space that lies outside formal politics. Unless, or until, parties and politicians associate themselves with the substance of recovery -- activity that is difficult but neither impossible nor proscribed by the government -- formal politics is likely to play only auxiliary roles in reconstructing Sierra Leone.
B. Parties and programs
There are many ways in which Sierra Leone today resembles its neighbors: it is in transition from one party rule and from military dictatorship, both persistent phenomena in post-colonial Africa. But these transitions have been overtaken by a long series of wars, and it is war that colors the political environment. To a considerable extent, however, political parties remain extrinsic to this environment, a choice that allows them to blame the government for its inadequacies without taking responsibility for change.
Sierra Leone's war has been remarkably dehumanizing, and reflects, among other things, the failure of pre-war politics. The parliamentary opposition is comprised of members who not long ago were members of the state's single party. They have assumed their positions by virtue of their ethnic or geographic origins, as well as their relationships to one another, not because their ideologies or policies differ. Although everyone with whom we met underscored the essentially peaceful nature of ethnic and sectarian relations, the 1990s have shown us many places that began their wars in social harmony, and ended them in explosive enmity. Sierra Leone is not immune to such future dangers; moreover, there was little that we learned from the political parties that would suggest that they view these problems as theirs to solve.
The country is therefore left with a political discourse that exists at an unmistakable remove from the political needs of the citizenry. The ties of community have already been strained by fighting, and the ties that bind the state to its constituents have been frayed by a gun culture that has removed the writ of the state from as much as 45% of the country. Reviving politics in Sierra Leone requires local-level, grassroots commitments that can tie the disarmament, demobilization and reconstruction agenda to future representative politics. Political parties, in my view, may be useful vehicles for local level democracy building; they should not be mistaken to be the immediate beneficiaries of such efforts.
The current status of the RUF, and its seeming reluctance to turn from combat to politics, seems to reinforce this view. In addition, the seeming incapacity of the government to create an environment that might enable the RUF to rethink the incentives that could bring it combatants out from the bush reinforces a climate of indecision and insecurity. The direct attention that the RUF receives in the Lome accords clearly unbalances an already bumpy political playing field. The resentments that the accords have fueled lead me to believe that the government does not yet believe that it will ever have to meet the RUF/P in polls. The opposition may be coming to similar conclusions. But what appears politically clever could turn out to be quite dangerous: a policy that attempts to separate the RUF leader from his gun-toting teenagers, particularly without any obvious alternate leadership, could lead to armed chaos. The same might be said for other armed factions whose activities are currently of less direct consequence to the ruling party.
I offer this diagnosis with reluctance: I am all too aware that our exposure to Freetown was not complete, and our exposure to the rest of the country was nil. The little we were able to learn about local level politics appears to be highly contestable. It appears that the government is trying to rejuvenate old administrative structures, but these policies -- which seem to build on the traditional chiefs' networks -- may as easily be used to reduce future opposition influence or, alternatively, to remove local administration from politics. However familiar these tactics may seem, they are nonetheless inappropriate in a state attempting to reintroduce democratic practices.
C. Planning for the future
My personal punch line is fairly clear: this is not the time to organize, or even prepare, for a traditional political parties program. It may be the time, however, to contemplate a fuller assessment of the country's complex political, military, economic and social environments. This would require, at the least, a thorough analysis of DDR programs, and an equally thorough examination of the remaining links between the capital and those citizens who live in regions beyond government control. The rudiments of the government's development policies, the intersection of rights protections and political participation, the scope and stability of peacekeeping, and the capacity of NGOs to work with and around government-created constraints -- all are elements of an assessment that, despite security problems, seems appropriate and practicable.
Such an assessment would make it much easier to take future judgments about the timing and content of broad civil society initiatives with which political parties might be associated. Neither assessment nor program planning are easy to organize, particularly if the prospect of renewed violence remains high. As long as Sierra Leone is encircled by sharp political divides between north and south, among exiles and residents, and between former combatants and their victims, recovery and redevelopment are likely to be difficult. Under such circumstances, however, participatory governance is an integral element in recovery.
I would therefore steer clear of the capital's elite, and look toward programs that can bring politics to the agrarian areas. This may mean looking for new or unaccustomed partners— possibly including relief organizations and development NGOs that are not NDI's usual program partners. Refugee camps proscribe political activity, with good reason; but the incentives for refugee and IDP return may well lie in their ability to participate in recovery. If these activities can be joined to future political party activity, then it is ground worth tilling.
List of Contacts and Meetings
Political Parties in Parliament
Political Parties Development Support Project (P.P.D.S.P.)
PREPARED BY: Hon. Dr. Ahmed Ramadan Dumbuya in consultation with Leaders of Political Parties in Parliament
DEVELOPMENT SUPPORT DOCUMENT-FRAMEWORK
 Dr. Newberg’s observations are attached in Annex 1.
 SLPP - 27 seats; UNPP - 17 seats; PDP - 12 seats; APC - 5 seats; NUP - 4 seats; and DCP - 3 seats; (paramount chiefs hold 12 appointed seats).
 The U.N., ECOWAS and OAU directly facilitated the peace agreement, which was also unofficially supported by the British, American and Nigerian governments.
 16,000 RUF, 8,000 AFRC (former Sierra Leonean soldiers loyal to the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council), 15,000 are Civil Defense Forces (former pro-government militias), and 6,000 current Sierra Leone Army.
 The 1991 constitution requires that all parties be registered by the Political Party Registration Commission, an entity that has never been constituted. Currently, the Electoral Commission performs this function.
* The PDP was formed shortly before the NPRC Coup of April 29th 1992, but was banned before it could take off the ground.
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