Today marks the official end of the UN Mission in Sierra Leone, the third and final phase of an engagement by the world body that started 15 years ago and at one stage saw the single largest peacekeeping force in its history deployed.
More than 17 000 peacekeepers served under the UN flag alongside Sierra Leoneans to achieve a hard-won peace during an 11-year-long conflict to disarm rebels and return the West African country to stability.
“The general atmosphere of peace now prevailing is the culmination of more than 15 years of successive Security Council mandated peace operations in the country,” Jens Anders Toyberg-Frandzen said when he delivered his final briefing to the Security Council on the work of the UN Integrated Peacebuilding Office in Sierra Leone (UNIPSIL) which he heads.
He pointed out that while the country has gained a solid footing on the path to recovery it will still require sustained international support to address the lingering challenges from the “brutal civil war” of the nineties.
Though the country is continuing on the right path, it still faces a number of challenges linked to the root causes of its decade-long civil war that require sustained attention and support, he said, emphasising the work ahead for Sierra Leone in addressing pervasive poverty and unemployment, especially among the youth, as well as endemic corruption, in addition to upholding the rule of law and widening the political space.
UNIPSIL would now transfer its responsibilities to the UN Country Team, which consists of 19 agencies, funds and programmes based on the UN Development Assistance Framework, known as UNDAF, and in support of the Government’s “Agenda for Prosperity,” a social and economic development strategy for 2013-2018.
The UN helped the Sierra Leonean government combat illicit diamond mining that fuelled the conflict and assisted with establishing control over the affected areas. With the UN’s help, Sierra Leone’s citizens voted in successive free and fair elections for the first time in their history.
UN peacekeepers disarmed more than 75 000 ex-fighters, including hundreds of child soldiers, and destroyed more than 42 000 weapons and 1.2 million rounds of ammunition. The United Nations assisted more than half a million Sierra Leonean refugees and internally displaced persons to return home and supported training for thousands of local police.
The world body’s peacekeeping operations have advanced a long way from the Sierra Leone model with an offensive mandate given to the MONUSCO Force Intervention Brigade in the DRC. The brigade, with includes South African air and ground elements, has played a major role in driving the M23 rebel group back into Uganda. It has just had its mandate extended for another year and will be operational until March 31 next year.
The success of the FIB will, if indications from the UN are accurate, be an influence on the still to be established UN peacekeeping mission for the Central African Republic.