Aasmund Andersen


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The Sierra Leone Recovery Coordination Experience 2002 - 2005

I was working for the UN in Sierra Leone from June 2002 till July 2005. For the first 6 months I was posted in Kenema, as a Regional Field Coordinator for the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). The remaining period I was the OCHA Recovery Advisor (until July 2004), then the UNDP Capacity-building Advisor, based in the Development Assistance Coordination Office (DACO) under the Vice President.

My engagement in Sierra Leone lasts throughout the Recovery period, starting at the 2002 Consultative Group (CG) meeting in Paris , and ending in conjunction with the full PRSP appeal at the 2005 CG meeting in London . During these three years Sierra Leone recovered from a state failure with very limited territorial control, till a state with economic growth, functioning security institutions, and re-established lovel government institutions with devolved powers.

The poverty and governance problems in Sierra Leone is far from resolved, and will need constant attention and support from the international community in years to come. But during these three years some fundamental foundations were laid for further development. This is also reflected by Sierra Leone finally stepping up from the last place in the UNDP Human Development Index (HDI) in the Human Development Report of 2005 (which is based on 2003 data, and therefore describing the progress of the first year of recovery).


(Government-led) Emergency Coordination Mechanism

There were two core principles for coordination we followed, which were laid down by the then Humanitarian Coordinator, UNDP Resident Representative and Deputy SRSG Alan Doss (later SRSG for Liberia ):

1. No matter how weak the government was, coordination should be government-lead.
2. The Coordination Mechanisms should be inclusive and consultative.

In aftermath, having worked in other countries were the UN does not have much leverage, I understand that we were able to orchestrate 'government-lead' coordination because the UN had a uniquely trustful government. Because of the successful UN peacekeeping operations, government regarded UN Advisors as their natural counter-parts, and not hostile international probes into their internal affairs.

The coordination mechanism setup is more or less like everywhere UN and the humanitarian community operates; it is sector based, and decentralised to districts / province. Like in most other contexts, the vertical information flow in the mechanism was poor, even within the sectors. However, the insistence of government-lead coordination promoted the sector ministry at national and district level to be confronted with its responsibility and mandate. Often did this not improve government performance in its self, but at least it set the expectations right, and triggered other actors to take action agreed in the right forum.

On a more personal level, the role of government taking the lead put a range of civil servants in the international spot light, which was an individual incentive. Frustrating as it was, we often thought the meetings were more a formal performance exercise in the spot light, rather than of any substantial content. There was a small group of advisors in UNAMSIL, OCHA and UNDP who drove the recovery planning process and staged all the meetings of the National Recovery Committee, chaired by the Vice-President, even in each one of the newly accessible districts. Even so, the idea was clear; the government was accountable for the process. It is ultimately the democratically elected government that is responsible for the progress, not the donors.

The spotlight provided put the opposition parties totally in the shadow of the ruling party, being shuttled back and forth by a powerful UN across the nation to present their progress and well thought plans supported with international expertise. Such were the objections before the 2004 local government elections; but the results were surprisingly an overwhelming victory to the main opposition party, indicating wide-ranged discontent with the progress as against people's expectations.

At the technical level, all written documents, such as even the whole National Recovery Strategy (NRS) released in 2003, was written almost entirely by international advisors. We suspected that the Secretary of the Ministry of Development even endorsed the NRS in a technical committee meeting without having read it. Nevertheless, it was the cornerstone reference point in the concerted recovery work undertaken by a large and broad range of agencies. Its effects I suspect, were more as a data and information reference manual, rather than a plan setting out objectives and targets. At the point of writing it, there was really no information at all available from the newly accessible areas. The writing of the strategy produced crucially needed planning data, and made it available for all agencies to use in their documentation and planning process.


Reinstating Local Government

As the UNAMSIL peacekeepers took over areas after areas from the RUF, we had, at least in theory, a systematic approach to declare the areas open for resettlement and initiate the recovery efforts. We established a District Resettlement Assessment Committee (DRAC), comprising the security agencies (RSLAF, SLP, UNAMSIL) chaired by the newly re-instated District Officer, co-chaired by NaCSA and OCHA. This committee would assess the overall situation in the areas within their district, and according to a list of criteria, recommends to the National Recovery Committee to declare the areas safe for resettlement.

This process was not free of politics. I remember in particular the process in Kailahun district, were UNHCR was pushing very hard to make all areas free for resettlement. The Head of the Sub-office participated in one meeting, which concluded all areas safe for resettlement. The recommendations to the national committee was rejected, and seen as premature. A new meeting was summoned, this time with a senior official from NACSA Freetown, a meeting UNHCR boycotted, claiming that the last meeting was conclusive. The recommendations were revised to declare only two more chiefdoms safe for resettlement, while the border areas to Liberia did not qualify, including the three Kissi chiefdoms, the southern forested chiefdom of Malema and the border chiefdom Dia were Charles Taylor and 100 of his rebel soldiers crossed into Sierra Leone and started the war in 1991. Throughout the next six months there were several raids by Liberian rebels raiding parties into villages in these areas, which justified the position of the committee.

Once the resettlement process has started, it is difficult to limit its operations geographically. UNHCR resettled thousands of IDPs to Daru, south-west of Kailahun, improved conditions and declaration of the committee in Kailahun town and surrounding areas. Subsequently, the town of Daru grew far beyond its original size, and many of the IDPs chose to continue on to their original village. Even if there was nothing left of it, and it was not considered safe for resettlement. Hence the interest for UNHCR to get all areas declared safe. It did indeed feel like a symbolic and historic event, when we later declared Dia chiefdom safe for resettlement, and firmly under government control.

Much of the work of the DRAC committee was done outside the district of concern, and while the security was improving in the district, there was a need to re-establish the presence of line ministries, and have them take the lead and chair the sector coordination meetings. As a continuation of the DRAC, the District Recovery Committee (DRC) consisted of all senior ministry officials in the district, and representatives from UN, INGOs and civil society. It was again chaired by the District Officer, co-chaired by NaCSA.

Most of the senior government officials preferred staying in more comfortable areas, even as far away as Freetown . But through the DRC, we could put pressure on the individual ministry official to return permanently to the district and resume duties. It was also a preparation for the coming elected local government councils. After the elections in 2004, the local councils would fill in a much needed gap, putting more accountability pressure on the senior ministry officials.


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