Decentralisation and inclusion
Many political and economic resources in Liberia and Sierra Leone today are still concentrated in urban centres – particularly Monrovia and Freetown. Political decentralisation can help to promote community development, and is intended to broaden political inclusion. But examples from this publication show that in practice community engagement with local government structures in Sierra Leone has been patchy at best: in some places, regular community consultations are usefully strengthening state–society relations; in many others, communication with local people is dysfunctional, for instance limited to posting decisions outside local government offices – that communities did not agree, and which most local people cannot read.
A particular problem relates to confusion and contradictions between state and customary local governance structures, which undermine the effectiveness of service delivery and can lead to tension. The 2004 Local Government Act in Sierra Leone, for instance, transferred responsibility to set tax revenue and spending from paramount chiefs to local councils. Chiefs had not been consulted, but were still left with responsibility for tax collection. In response, in Lower Banta Chiefdom in Moyamba district, the paramount chief denied the council access to recover dues from fishermen and stationed vigilantes around the jetty to enforce this.
Civil society has been working to find ways reconcile different sectors. For example, the Sierra Leonean NGO Network Movement for Justice and Development (NMJD) organises ‘accountability forums’ at chiefdom and district levels, which bring together local and central administration, as well as marginalised and community groups, to promote dialogue on key local and national issues, and to provide a forum where citizens can challenge political leaders about their intentions and activities.
Elections and participation
Democratisation is a long-term process to transform institutions of state so that they are able to respond to the needs and wishes of ordinary people, not just elites. Elections can be an important component of democratic transformation. But they do not present an inherent or inevitable path to political participation or representation. This is especially evident in post-conflict contexts like Liberia and Sierra Leone where bad governance contributed to violence. Structures of patronage have survived both the wars and post-war elections to permeate a range of institutions of governance, including political parties, parliament and election management bodies.
Although ECOWAS observers approved Liberia’s November 2011 presidential elections as credible, violence marred the run-off vote. Electoral malpractice remains common in Liberia and Sierra Leone: political parties have deployed young former combatants to intimidate voters during post-war elections, while appointing the Chairs of ‘independent’ Electoral Commissions is the reserve of respective presidents. Also, women are grossly under-represented at all levels of government – in Sierra Leone, but also in Liberia, despite having Africa’s first woman president. Electoral candidates seek young people’s votes during elections but subsequently ignore their needs and interests when in power, causing alienation and resentment. Police strategies for elections should prioritise security for citizens’ participation, including training and local dialogue programmes to help and encourage police to build trust with communities. At present, most police capacity during elections goes to protecting politicians and electoral institutions.
Restoring people’s trust in politics and democracy means supporting and encouraging inclusive and responsive governance, and penalising corruption and undemocratic practices. Greater representation of politically or socially marginalised groups should be promoted, in particular women, young people and ethnic minorities, as well as building capacity for civil oversight of parliament and promoting internal democratisation of political parties. A practical measure can be to facilitate exchange between communities and local government, which can strengthen demand for participatory politics and transparency, locally and nationally.
Natural resource governance
Wars in Liberia and Sierra Leone were fought in part over access to natural resources, and were funded by them. But violence was also underpinned by interaction between poor governance and gross resource mismanagement. In response, Liberia and Sierra Leone have experienced the full range of available options to improve natural resource governance: military intervention, diamond certification, sanctions, and the Extractive Industry Transparency Initiative (EITI). Broad lessons from these interventions suggest that to be effective they need to be fast and flexible: they must respond to rapidly transforming resource sectors, and fast evolving conflict dynamics and revenue flows.
To have a clearer peacebuilding impact, resource governance reforms should also be built into peace talks and electoral campaigns, so that they become part of broader social discourse and debate, rather than remaining in the domain of elites. The breadth of interested and intervening parties involved in natural resource governance requires close interaction among them: UN sanctions committee expert panels, and peacekeeping and peacebuilding missions; INGOs and the investment community; and local authorities, communities, business and civil society. Promoting and sharing information locally about the potential impact of resource extraction and development can sensitise and empower affected communities about their rights. A suggestion in this publication is to establish ‘resource forums’ – to facilitate exchange of information about resource sectors. These could help extractive companies and authorities to understand and update local communities and businesses. They could also promote consultation, to link official and corporate policies to local perspectives and concerns, in particular regarding livelihoods and land ownership.