Cablegate: Scenesetter for Codel Nelson December 15 Visit To

Published: Thu 11 Dec 2008 05:51 PM
DE RUEHFN #0578/01 3461751
R 111751Z DEC 08
E.O. 12958: N/A
REF: STATE 128396
1. (U) Embassy Freetown looks forward to welcoming you to
Sierra Leone. Your visit comes at a prescient time in our
bilateral relationship with the Government of Sierra Leone
(GoSL), as we attempt to support its ongoing efforts to
re-build and flourish. Sierra Leone is known worldwide as a
country beset with challenges, many of which are the result
of the brutal decade-long civil war that destroyed
infrastructure and truncated political, social, and economic
development. The country currently sits last on the UN's
Human Development Index due to high unemployment, the worst
mother-child mortality rates in the world, and widespread
illiteracy. Despite this background, however, Sierra Leone is
of significant strategic interest to the USG:
-- It is the most stable country in the Mano River Union
(MRU), and instrumental in helping to maintain peace and
-- Sierra Leone is a model for post-conflict reconstruction,
one of two countries chosen for the UN's pilot Peace Building
-- The 2007 Presidential Elections and 2008 Local Council
Elections, both judged free and fair by international
observers, occurred with limited violence and peaceful
transitions. These elections are considered a model for the
-- Sierra Leone is an ally with the USG on critical issues.
For example, the Government of Sierra Leone (GoSL)
immediately and publicly recognized Kosovo's independence
following its secession;
-- The GoSL is becoming a leader in international forums,
such as the AU and the UN, and is actively promoting human
rights issues through multilateral engagement. Sierra Leone
co-sponsored the U.S. Zimbabwe Resolution, and was one of few
African countries to make public statements against the
violence there;
-- There is strong political will to combat narcotics
trafficking in Sierra Leone and throughout the sub-region;
-- Despite the pervasive culture of corruption, the GoSL has
taken significant steps to combat it, including passing one
of the toughest anti-corruption laws in Africa;
-- The GoSL is actively engaged in assisting with
counter-terrorism efforts.
2. (U) Though the GoSL is making strong attempts to escape
the "Blood Diamond" branding and soar as a regional leader in
democracy, human rights, and governance, the country is
highly vulnerable to failure. Economic, social, internal, and
regional insecurity, coupled with insufficient capacity, have
a negative impact on progress. It would not be in the USG
interest to have GoSL efforts falter, impacting our bilateral
and multilateral relations and priorities. Picking up the
pieces after another bloody conflict would be more costly
than to fully provide assistance so desperately needed now.
The following paragraphs outline issues of critical concern
to USG interests.
3. (SBU) The civil war destroyed the country's
infrastructure, including physical and human capital, and the
process of rebuilding is a long and arduous one. A country
known for its natural resources has neither the capability to
effectively harness them nor the capacity to regulate others
intent on exploiting them. Unemployment is estimated at 70%,
with no industrial or manufacturing employment prospects for
unskilled and skilled workers. The borders of the formal
economy are constantly receding to make way for the informal,
where regulation, taxation, and legitimacy are non-existent.
In this environment, poverty is an endemic killer. A nation
rendered fragile by the impacts of war feels external market
shocks more keenly. This level of desperation creates
opportunities for heightened criminal activity, and bilateral
assistance requests to countries whose true motives are
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4. (SBU) Though Cote d'Ivoire and Liberia are persevering in
their struggles to rebuild after their respective conflicts,
the situation in Guinea appears to be ever-worsening. Given
the porous nature of Sierra Leone's borders with its
neighboring states, as well as the close historic, familial,
and economic ties between them, insecurity in one country
quickly spills over into another. For Sierra Leone, the MRU's
current bastion of peace, heightened tensions in Guinea drive
people over the border, though Sierra Leone has no capacity
to support refugees. An increase in organized crime in one
country can also lead to an upswing in similar activity in
another, and smuggling contraband such as narcotics and arms
is known to occur throughout the MRU. External forces such as
these threaten Sierra Leone's fragile internal security.
Through the Department of Defense, the USG works strenuously
with the military and larger security sector to build
capacity to protect Sierra Leone's land and coastal borders.
5. (U) Economic hardships are a significant destabilizing
force. The massive unemployment, particularly among the
nation's youth population whose education was interrupted by
war, leaves many angry and idle individuals more than willing
to make mischief or worse. Easily manipulated, the
"unemployed youth" cohort is responsible for political
violence and petty and violent crime. The Sierra Leone
Police, riddled with systemic corruption, hampered by
virtually no resources, and lacking the most basic training
and equipment, is poorly matched against a hungry population
already sensitized to brutality. Though a peaceful country at
the moment, battle fatigue could dissipate as economic
deprivation worsens. If the delicate balance supporting
stability wavers, the GoSL has few resources with which to
quell violence and insurgency. The USG supports training
initiatives for the police, and the Embassy hopes to provide
additional technical assistance in FY09.
6. (SBU) An element of both regional and internal insecurity
concerns, narcotics trafficking through Sierra Leone to
Europe is on the rise. The largest cocaine bust in the
country's history took place in July, 2008, netting over
700kg. of premium cocaine and 21 suspects of Sierra Leonean,
South American, and American citizenship. The size and
sophistication of this trafficking attempt indicates a
well-organized syndicate which has likely used Sierra Leone
as a staging ground for its criminal activity in the past.
The fragility of the governance and judicial structures,
coupled with economic insecurity, makes Sierra Leone highly
vulnerable for further narcotics trafficking, especially as
USG and others focus on neighboring countries. Without
constant vigilance, Sierra Leone is at-risk for increased
organized crime. The Embassy seeks additional funding in FY09
to support the GoSL in their efforts, to include such
activities as strengthening their National Anti-Drug law,
providing judicial assistance, and equipping and training the
Joint Drug Interdiction Task Force.
7. (U) The President made a "zero tolerance for corruption"
campaign pledge in 2007, and made good on that promise during
his first year in office. Placing great confidence in Abdul
Tejan-Cole, new Commissioner of the Anti-Corruption
Commission (ACC), the President has supported a revamping of
the ACC organization, the passage of a revised
Anti-Corruption Act (signed into law September 1), became the
first Sierra Leonean Head of State to declare his assets, and
forced every ministry to include anti-corruption activities
in their missions and strategic plans. Though no charges
under the new law have been brought yet, the ACC is actively
investigating and prosecuting prominent current and former
government officials. The Embassy liaises regularly with the
ACC, and plans to support training and technical assistance
in the areas of forensic accounting and extraditions.
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8. (U) The SCSL, funded by voluntary contributions from UN
member states, is responsible for prosecuting the primary
leaders of rebel groups during the war. Former Liberian
president Charles Gankay Taylor stands before the SCSL in The
Hague on 11 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity.
The AFRC and CDF trials, including appeals, are complete,
with the accused found guilty of numerous counts and
sentenced to prison terms ranging from 15 to 40 years. Final
arguments in the RUF trial concluded in August, with a
judgment expected within weeks. The USG is the largest
contributor to the SCSL, of $60 million to date, and is
actively encouraging the Court to complete its mandate
according to the agreed-upon schedule in 2010.
9. (SBU) Having languished on various GoSL desks for several
years, signing the SOFA agreement is a current Embassy
concern. The issue has been raised at the highest levels, and
though promises of movement were recently made, there are no
signs of actual progress. Finalizing this agreement is a
critical priority for the USG, so that increased military
assistance can begin to be provided.
10. (U) Assistance efforts focus on building institutional
capacities through: strengthening good governance and
consolidating peace and security through democratic political
processes; supporting economic growth and private sector
investment, particularly in the productive agriculture and
natural resources sectors; and, reducing food insecurity and
increasing the standard of living through developmental food
aid. USAID is just starting to implement the Promoting
Agriculture, Governance and Environment Program (PAGE) as a
means to assist Sierra Leone in promoting good governance and
transparency while also impacting agricultural and
environmental productivity and increased access to markets.
This is a 4-year $13 million project. Although not a PEPFAR
country, Sierra Leone was the recipient of $500,000 in FY08
for HIV/AIDS education for awareness building around
prevention and treatment and to strengthen the health system
for improved and reliable HIV/STD surveillance assessment.
Other USG assistance efforts include funding for trafficking
in persons, child labor, refugee assistance, special
self-help grants to communities, and IMET.
11. (U) Again, Embassy Freetown looks forward to your visit
on December 15. Though your time in Sierra Leone is limited,
the targeted meetings with President Koroma, members of the
government's security sector, and USG staff will give you
valuable insight into the pressing issues facing the
country's continued development and further entrench our
bilateral relationship.
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