Senior members of Sierra Leone’s government and diplomatic corps were among the 47 people who attended the ceremony to launch ACSS’s 29th Community Chapter, August 17, in Freetown. The new chapter provides a forum for community members to develop independent programs in support of common defense and security interests, maintain communication with the Africa Center and in-country U.S. Embassy colleagues and have networking opportunities with military and civilian colleagues in their country and region.
Following opening remarks by Michael Owen, U.S. Ambassador to Sierra Leone, Ambassador Joseph Blell, chapter vice president thanked the audience for coming at this important event. The Honorable Alfred Paulo Conteh, Sierra Leone’s Minister of Defense, also offered congratulatory remarks to the new chapter.
The chapter launch was an important component of the first Topical Outreach Symposium held in Sierra Leone. The symposium was an opportunity to integrate ideas on Transnational Threats and Organized Crime as well as Elections and Security. Simon Davis, an expert in anti-money laundering and counter-terrorism financing – and Dr. Monde Muyangwa, ACSS’s Dean of Academic Affairs and Faculty, made presentations during the event.
Participants heard from Davis about the current issues in combating terrorism and other illegal global activities. He provided a comprehensive review of transnational threats and organized crime including terrorism, drug trafficking, weapons and minerals smuggling, and human trafficking. These discussions helped the participants re-shape their perceptions on drug trafficking and transnational threats. Resources –human and infrastructure- were also a key theme in the discussion. Davis acknowledged that even though financial resources were limited, government officials can be more creative in their resource management, and also seek a greater engagement with civil society in addressing the transnational threats. Davis also addressed future threats and threat assessment.
Dr. Muyangwa followed with a presentation on elections and security, a timely topic with Sierra Leone national elections scheduled for 2012. She reminded participants that elections are not an event; but rather a key and essential part of a much larger democratic process. She talked about overall trends and trajectory of democracy and elections in Africa, as well as the key principles and benchmarks underpinning credible elections. While using case studies to acknowledge the progress that Africa has made in this regard, she also highlighted several key challenges including the very high stakes associated with elections, which are a key and integral part of democracy, the imbalance of power among government branches as well as the lack of capacity of key agencies. She talked about the need to enhance qualitative democracy in Africa, including the need to hold leaders and governments more accountable on what they do to improve the well being of their citizens in between elections. She then concluded by addressing the key elements of successful elections to include: the development of frameworks, planning of elections, election administration and management bodies, best practices and lessons learned in the execution of elections, and mechanisms for addressing post-election grievances. When the question of ethnicity came up, she encouraged participants to think more broadly about a vision for Sierra Leone, encouraging policy makers and scholars to, rather than shy away from ethnicity and what it means to be a citizen, who can and can’t be a citizen, and how one becomes a citizen. She cautioned however, that given the sensitivities involved, this national discussion on ethnicity and citizenship should not be held at the same time as or in close proximity to elections.
During the panel-led discussion, numerous hot-topic issues and views were presented, discussed and farther examined by participants, to include corruption, unemployment, power-sharing arrangements in Africa, ethnicity and nationality in elections, and life after elections.
In his closing remarks, Ambassador Blell reiterated that the new chapter was committed to helping the government focus on creative resource management and implementation of policies and community members will address issues related to ethno-centrism during non-election periods. Corruption will continue to be a serious impediment to progress in Sierra Leone, Ambassador Blell said, but with the launch of the ACSS chapter, participants will work to use academic principles to address some of these current challenges.