Fresh from an electoral cycle, Sierra Leone is slowly transitioning into a new political climate. Although the elections were largely peaceful, instances of alleged politically motivated violence were seen across the country. Intimidation, harassment, and hate speech resulted in internal displacements and injuries, and drew lines of division. Many of the victims of the violence resulting from these actions were women and children. Additionally, there are claims that the Sierra Leone Police did not properly address these incidents, further straining relations between police and some communities.
“Why did these incidents happen in these areas, and how do we make sure they do not happen again?”
This question from the Minister of State, Madam Francess Piagie Alghali, set the tone for the two-day workshop on peace and national social cohesion in post-election Sierra Leone. The workshop, jointly hosted by the Office of the Vice President and United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), was well attended by representatives from NGOs, national security institutions, Ministry of Internal Affairs (MIA), and donors—UK Aid and Irish Aid. The aim was to promote healing, reconciliation and social cohesion in communities affected by violence during the elections.
The workshop was officially opened by the Minister of State, Mr. Sunil Saigal, UN Resident Coordinator, and Ms. Chigomezgo Mtegha-Gelders, DfID Sierra Leone Governance Team Leader. Mr. Samuel Doe, UNDP Country Director, moderated the opening panel. During their respective addresses, all recognised the need for a commitment to strengthen national social cohesion across the country. As UN Resident Coordinator Sunil Saigal said, “all citizens of Sierra Leone must be and feel part of the country and society in order for development, and indeed peace and stability, to be achieved.” The DfID Head of Governance reminded participants that Sierra Leone, as a country in transition, is expected to go through periods of turbulence. “There will be progress but there will also be times when there is regression”. To sustain peace in such a society and maintain upward sustainable development trajectory emphasis must be on strengthening institutions, she underlined.
It can be recalled, in his address at the State Opening of Parliament in May this year, H.E President Julius Maada Bio committed the Government to promoting unity and national cohesion across the country. Several NGOs were there to answer his call, alongside the Office of the Vice President and UNDP. The NGOs with whom UNDP is collaborating to support the effort of the Government include the Institute for Governance Reform (IGR), Fambul Tok, Campaign for Good Governance (CGG), WANEP, and the National Election Watch (NEW). The project is supported by the UN Peacebuilding Fund.
The workshop concluded with a statement of hope and affirmation from the Honourable Minister of State; “The Vice President’s office is committed to this exercise and we want to take resilient steps towards peace.”
Article written by Claire Flynn-Byrne.