Cablegate: Scene Setter for a/S Frazer Travel to Sierra Leone

Published: Fri 9 Nov 2007 05:07 PM
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1. (U) The inauguration of President Ernest Bai Koroma is an
important milestone in the recovery of Sierra Leone from
years of conflict and upheaval. Your visit to this country
at the time of peaceful transition from one elected
administration to another is an opportunity to underscore
U.S. commitment to democracy in Africa. Heads of state from a
number of neighboring countries including Nigeria, Ghana,
Liberia and Guinea will be attending, making the inauguration
a regional celebration. The UK will be represented by
Baroness Amos, former Secretary of State for International
Development. The United Nations representative will be
Assistant Secretary General for Peace Building Support,
Carolyn McKaskie. Other countries sending delegations include
Japan, Canada and, possibly, France.
2. (U) After a decades-long civil war, Sierra Leone has
maintained a fragile peace since 2002. However, the
conditions that lead to the war still prevail: high
unemployment, lack of infrastructure and the population's
perceptions of corruption. The venal and inept leadership of
the previous government also stymied progress. During the
recent national elections, Sierra Leoneans, tired of the lack
of progress, overwhelmingly voted for change. The opposition
All People's Congress (APC) won a parliamentary majority in
August, and the opposition party's presidential candidate
Ernest Bai Koroma, won a presidential run off held September
8. All observers lauded Sierra Leone on the conduct of the
elections and hailed the transparent, relatively violence
free process as a model for sub-Saharan Africa. The
campaign period was marred by skirmishes between supporters
of the rival candidates, but the Sierra Leonean Police were
able to intervene effectively. Local elections are scheduled
for mid-2008 and will be another important step in
strengthening democracy in Sierra Leone.
3. (U) The new government will need to manage the voters,
unrealistic expectations that change will happen within the
first few months. In his speech following his September 17
swearing in, President Koroma pledged 'zero tolerance' for
corruption. He reiterated this pledge during his address at
the occasion of the opening of the new Parliament,
Revitalizing the Anti-Corruption Commission will be a part of
this effort. He also promised government encouragement of
private sector development as this will drive the growth and
employment that the country desperately needs. One immediate
goal is the restoration of electricity to Freetown. Our U.S.
goals reflect the priorities highlighted by the government
goals under their Poverty Reduction Strategy and set forth in
the President's parliamentary speech.
UNIOSIL and the Special Court
4. (U) The UN peacekeeping follow-on presence, UNIOSIL
(United Nations Integrated Office in Sierra Leone), has been
very effective and, through strong leadership, has been
extremely active in continuing the UN mandate to sustain
peace and security. Sierra Leone garners a fair amount of
international attention, and the UN has put the spotlight on
the country by naming it as one of two (with Burundi)
countries for Peace Building Commission (PBC) attention and
it is eligible to benefit from the new Peace Building Fund
(PBF) for rapid intervention "peace sustaining" activities.
Funding so far has been directed at youth employment
initiatives, security sector assistance, electoral funding,
and support for the newly formed Human Rights Commission. The
U.S. is currently the only major donor that has not
contributed to the PBF, although evaluation of the PBC
continues in order to determine potential needs the USG may
fill in the future.
5. (U) The Special Court of Sierra Leone (SCSL), the war
crimes tribunal charged with prosecuting those most
responsible for the atrocities committed during the civil war
is based in Freetown. Two completed trials have moved on to
the appeals phase. For security reasons, the SCSL chose to
use the International Criminal Court venue in The Hague to
prosecute former Liberian President Charles Taylor. The SCSL
is unique, as it relies solely on voluntary contributions and
must constantly fund raise for operating expenses. We are
the largest contributor, and have provided about $48 million
to date. The Taylor trial has been delayed and will reconvene
on January 7, 2008 so we anticipate the court will extend
into 2009, or even early 2010. In FY 2006, $5.94 million in
ESF for Sierra Leone bilateral assistance, which would have
supported our assistance programs in agriculture, local
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governance, diamond sector reform and media programs, was
diverted to fund our contribution to the SCSL.
Bilateral Relations and Assistance
6. (U) Our relationship with Sierra Leone has been generally
positive. We enjoy good access and respect for our views most
of the time. We are considered a major bilateral donor, but
the U.K. far outstrips others in terms of its support to the
country. Under the previous government, corruption was
endemic and impeded good governance and private sector
reform. Our partnership with Sierra Leone seeks to bolster
democratic growth through support for national and local
elections, diamond sector reform and assistance to local
governance at the district level. We also support
opportunities for economic growth, particularly through the
agricultural sector. Our efforts are in line with the
GoSL,s three- year Poverty Reduction Strategy (PRS), which
runs from 2005-2007. Sixty percent of the national budget is
donor funded, mostly through the EU and the UK. Sierra Leone
received Heavily Indebted Poor Country (HIPC) relief status
in late 2006 and we signed our debt cancellation agreement in
June 2007.
7. (U) The overall security situation in Sierra Leone, post
election, is calm. However, there have been reports of
sporadic politically motivated incidents, primarily assaults
and intimidation tactics, which have occurred in several
locations up-country. Violence emanating from ethnic and
cross-cultural issues such as rights to chieftaincy and
boundary disputes, especially in the rural regions, has also
been the root cause of numerous incidents up-country. While
people are remarkably resilient given the appalling
infrastructure and lack of economic opportunity, various
groups here have shown a willingness to lash out at any
perceived injustices in the form of demonstrations, rioting,
clashes with police and even attacks on police stations in
Freetown and the provinces. The immediate threat to safety
and security continues to be crime and the likelihood of
traffic accidents due to the abysmal road conditions.
Criminal activity against westerners is rare, but remains a
concern. There has been a noticeable decrease in the number
of armed robberies since the presidential election, and
encouraging sign considering the propensity of assailants to
carry out robberies, home invasions and assaults without fear
of retribution.
8. (U) Post has prepared a Press Statement, which will be
distributed to the print media on Tuesday, November 14 (copy
to be forwarded). Post recommends the Assistant Secretary
give one short interview with Cotton Tree News, a local radio
organization which distributes material to stations
nationwide, including UN Radio. Radio is the primary means
by which Sierra Leoneans obtain information, and the Cotton
Tree News will give broad, diverse coverage. Talking points
will be prepared at post expressing our support for the new
government and satisfaction at the anticipated success of the
inauguration as well as a positive outcome of bilateral
meetings. Please advise if this is acceptable.
9. (U) A scenario and schedule will be sent separately for
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