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SIERRA LEONE: Not a lot of guns but a lot of frustration

FREETOWN, 6 September 2007 (IRIN) - With an estimated 72,490 fighters disarmed in less than two years, observers agree Sierra Leone now has surprisingly few weapons for a country that was awash with them just six years ago. For this, credit goes to the UN and government disarmament and demobilisation programmes, but many say the root causes of the armed conflict remain.

Efforts to re-integrate ex-combatants into society have been largely ineffective, the observers say.

“Sierra Leone should not be wiped off the list of post-war countries that could return to conflict,” Ibrahim Bangura the director of PRIDE, a non-governmental organisation working with ex-combatants, told IRIN. “Under the right conditions all the peace-building efforts we have seen so far may yet collapse.”

A portent, he said, can be seen with the campaign for the 8 September presidential election in which each of the main parties has brought in ex-combatants as bodyguards and for security.

Bangura said security for the opposition All People’s Congress is headed by former rebel soldier Idrissa Kamara nicknamed ‘Leather Boots’, who was only recently released from prison for having committed treason. The Sierra Leone People’s Party’s security is headed by Tom Nyuma, a well-known former army officer accused of multiple rights violations.

Youth groups supporting the two parties have also battled each other in various cities and towns around the country using stones, sticks and, at times, machetes, with several people wounded and at least one killed.

"Just imagine if there were still guns around,” Bangura said. “Far more people would have been killed, and the situation could easily escalate.”

Despite the many clashes ahead of the election, no one has so far reportedly used fire-arms other than police shooting in the air.

Where have all the guns gone?

Ex-combatants were persuaded to give up their weapons in 2002 for money. Donors paid a total of US$80 million for Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration (DDR), according to the UN DDR website’s summary of its activities in Sierra Leone.

Each combatant in Sierra Leone reportedly received $150 for handing in a weapon. However DDR statistics show that while around 72,490 combatants were disarmed fewer than half that number of weapons was collected.

One explanation, according to Allan Quee, the founder of PRIDE, who recently returned from working as a DDR consultant for the UN mission in Liberia, is that many weapons in Sierra Leone ended up in Liberia as the DDR programme there offered twice as much as DDR was offering in Sierra Leone. He said other weapons may have gone to Cote d’Ivoire where the DDR programme has offered four times as much.

What ever the means were by which it happened, Sierra Leone is now largely weapons free, particularly in the countryside, according to Mohamed Kamara who heads the last phase of disarmament in Sierra Leone with a UN Development Programme project called Arms for Development.

The project now provides communities with development incentives of up to $60,000 to each chiefdom once it achieves an “arms free” rating, but of the more than 6,000 weapons that Arms for Development has collected nation-wide most are antique hunting shotguns, Kamara said.

“Now the problem is that farmers are complaining about buffalo and other wild animals destroying their fields and they have no means of chasing them away,” Kamara said. “We are trying to help the government create legislation that will allow people to own guns again for legitimate reasons.”

“We are powerless but… angry”

The other good news for Sierra Leone is that not only did the former rebel Revolutionary Armed Front (RUF) disarm but observers agree that without weapons the organisation’s command structure largely dissolved. After the death of its leader, Foday Sankoh, in 2003 the armed group even failed to turn itself into a political party.

Yet the ex-combatants are all still around, and most are unemployed, idle and frustrated.

Many say they feel cheated by DDR. “We were made promises about what would happen to us after we disarmed but the promises were empty,” an ex-combatant in the former RUF stronghold of Makeni told IRIN, refusing to give his name.

“Now we are powerless but we are angry,” he said.

Lessons learned

One of the lessons learned from DRR in Sierra Leone, according to DDR’s summary of its programme there, is that not enough attention was paid to re-integrating ex-combatants. “The duration of the six month skills training was insufficient and did not provide recipients with the required experience to favourably compete in the labour market,” the DDR summary stated.

About 54,439 ex-combatants were taught various skills, including carpentry and masonry. Also 45,000 ex-combatants as well as some dependents received food and cooking utensils.

However, an analysis based on an independent survey of ex-combatants published in the August issue of the Columbia Journal of Conflict Resolution, found little evidence that those ex-combatants who went through the DDR programme re-integrated into society any better than those ex-combatants that did not go through the programme. “Non-participants in DDR do just as well as those who entered the formal demobilisation programme,” the authors of the report said.

UN DDR also laments that other post-conflict programmes in Sierra Leone did not try to work with ex-combatants. “The loose linkages between the DDR programme and other longer-term reintegration and recovery programmes in the country have affected the smooth transition to longer-term recovery.”

Allan Quee of PRIDE agrees: “The problem is that the DDR was thought of as something separate from reconstruction,” he said. “The planners of infrastructure projects didn’t think about bringing in ex-combatants to do the work.”

What will happen to the tens of thousands of idle ex-combatants is an open question. “This country’s long term future depends on finding an answer,” Quee said.

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Copyright © IRIN 2007
This material comes to you via IRIN, the humanitarian news and analysis service of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. The opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the United Nations or its Member States.
IRIN is a project of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.



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