Building peace in Sierra Leone requires both patience and urgency – UN envoy

Michael von der Schulenburg

9 February 2009 – The daunting challenges that still face Sierra Leone, seven years after a brutal civil war, require both urgent action and patience on the part of the international community, the head of the United Nations operations in the West African country told the Security Council today.

“Finding the right balance may largely determine our success in peacebuilding,” Michael von der Schulenburg, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s Executive Representative for the UN Integrated Peacebuilding Office in Sierra Leone (UNIPSIL) said, as he introduced the first report on the office since its October opening.

UNIPSIL represents the latest in a series of UN missions over the past 10 years that have helped the country get back on its feet from a horrific 10-year war that killed tens of thousands of people and injured countless others, many of whom had their limbs amputated by rebel forces.

Mr. von der Schulenburg said that since 2002, when the war ended, the use of arms in political and ethnic disputes has almost completely disappeared, there have been several peaceful, democratic elections, Governmental institutions are developing well and poverty has declined.

However, youth unemployment, poverty and illicit drugs threaten to unravel those gains, and Sierra Leone remained one of the poorest countries in the world, at the bottom of the Human Development Index of the UN Development Programme (UNDP).

“Despite all the progress that has been made, many Sierra Leoneans do not yet fully benefit from any peace dividend; this is especially the case for many rural poor and the country’s youth,” Mr von der Schulenburg said.

In overcoming such problems, he said he sees UNIPSIL as the nexus of the partnership between the Government of Sierra Leone, elected a year and a half ago, and the UN, particularly the Peacebuilding Commission and the Security Council.

“In this spirit, we see ourselves at the forefront of developing and testing a new and, above all, practical concept of effective peacebuilding,” he said, pointing to a common vision of the road ahead recently agreed upon between all UN agencies.

He said that expectations that the new Government will deliver are still high among Sierra Leoneans, and it is important that momentum is not lost.

For that reason, international development partners should stay the course and fulfil their commitments, even during the global financial crisis, to make Sierra Leone a success story and “turn it into a beacon for democracy, stability and economic progress,” he maintained.

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