This country study, published by the LSE-Oxford Commission on State Fragility, Growth and Development, broadly surveys the socio-political dynamics of Sierra Leone through the lenses of legitimacy, capacity, security, the private sector, and resilience in order to understand the root causes of this historical and contemporary fragility. It draws from both secondary research and primary source interviews.
Sierra Leone has experienced two brief periods in its history in which it appeared
at least superficially, that state consolidation was taking place, and that the country was on a path away from fragility and towards greater stability and peaceful development. These were the period immediately following independence in 1961 until the first military coup in 1967, and the contemporary period after the end of
the civil war in 2002 until the Ebola crisis of 2014. In the earlier period, institutions such as the judiciary, the civil service, a civil aviation authority, and a national university took form in ways that suggested the emergence of a modern state apparatus. In the latter period, we see independent state institutions such as Audit Services emerged; a free and vocal press became evident; and for the recently concluded General Elections, the National Electoral Commission took a stand for good governance and accountability. This also suggested that the social contract between the citizenry and the Government could and would be enforced. In both periods, the economy (at least at first) grew robustly. And both periods were kicked off by substantially free and peaceful democratic elections – in 1961 accompanied by celebrations in the streets, and in 2002 accompanied once again by celebrations, and also by a seemingly rapid process of accountability for war crimes, forgiveness, and return to normalcy.
Yet throughout Sierra Leone’s history, conflict seems to lurk just below the surface, and often enough to boil over. Indeed, since the uprising of the inland chiefs in 1898 in response to the declaration of the protectorate of Sierra Leone by the British in 1896, Sierra Leone has known few periods of stability. In the earlier period, military coups in 1967, 1968, 1992, 1996, 1997, punctuated a history of endemic social unrest that escalated into overt civil war in 1991, lasting until 2002. More recently, in a country where localised riots and strikes historically preceded national conflict, seven major strikes and riots in and around mines and concessions have taken place over the period 2009 to 2014, in some cases accompanied by the loss of life. Analyses of the Ebola crisis in 2014 showing it to be less a health crisis, and more a crisis of governance and a crisis of lack of confidence of people in their Government, uncomfortably echo analyses of crises past. They give ample reason for continued concern to those whose hope for Sierra Leone is a resilient peaceful and prosperous future.
This paper broadly surveys the socio-political dynamics of Sierra Leone through the lenses of legitimacy, capacity, security, the private sector, and resilience in order to understand the root causes of this historical and contemporary fragility. It draws from both secondary research and primary source interviews. It finds that constructs of performance legitimacy common in contemporary state building discourse – which assume that the core challenge is to reinforce the state so that it is willing and able to meet popular expectations, and that it is the failure to do so that explains instability – inadequately explain Sierra Leone’s current dilemmas. These models put state-society relations, in particular between the formal national Government and the population that constitutes the electorate, at the heart of the fragility question. This may be truer in other contexts and will be to some extent true in Sierra Leone as well. In Sierra Leone, however, we find a different driving dynamic throughout its history, summarised below and explored in greater detail in the analysis that follows…
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