Improving the status of the Republic of Sierra Leone Armed Forces (RSLAF)

President Koroma Turns Sod For New Military Barracks

Cocorioko  a credible local Sierra Leone newspaper stated in its February, 11, 2014 publication that the President Dr. Ernest Bai Koroma who is also Commander-in-Chief of the Republic of Sierra Leone Armed Forces (RSLAF) turned the sod for the construction of fifteen accommodation blocks for personnel of the 5th Infantry Brigade headquarters at Gondama, Tikonko Chiefdom, Bo District. According to the newspaper, the president vowed and made a commitment that government will continue to seek the welfare of the army and make the RSLAF one of the most professional armed forces on the African continent.

The president statement: is like wow!; This is a plausible venture by the government in the country this critical life stage of seeking to consolidate its peace, security and stability  and restoring the dignity and credibility of the army within the country and the world at large. My only concern is for the sustained subsequent government commitment to this drive.

The Republic of Sierra Leone Armed Forces was formed after independence in 1961, on the basis of elements of the former British Royal West Africa Frontier Force then. The RSLAF is responsible for the territorial security of Sierra Leone’s borders and defending the national interests of the country, within the framework of its international obligations. However, the RSLAF lost it’s credibility nationally and internationally as a result of the complete breakdown of command and control coupled with it’s unclear and suspicious role during the ten years of civil war and after the AFRC coup of 1997. The civilian population negative perspective include the military’s intervention in politics through a series of coups, the unprofessional attitude displayed by soldiers who perceive themselves to be above the law and the military’s inability to stop the atrocities perpetrated by rebels, and in some cases, men were robbed, beaten or killed and women were abused and raped by soldiers who came to be known as sobels meaning: soldiers by day and rebels by night, (Paul Jackson & Peter Albrecht, 2008).

Nonetheless, the military was reconstructed and trained by the British military, through the International Military Assistance Training Team (IMATT) after the civil war ended in 2002 and became the largest and best equipped branch of service with 8,500 personnel according to, (RSLAF, 2013). According to Sierra Leone Constitution and the government Defense White Paper, the functions of the security sector include guarding and securing the country, preserving its safety and territorial integrity, participating in its development and protecting the Constitution. This implies support to civil authorities in the promotion of wider national interests, encompassing the promotion of regional peace and stability, humanitarian operations and disaster management activities, both nationally and internationally. The RSLAF has since resumed its fundamental role of providing peace, security and stability both within and around the country’s borders after its reconstruction. Also, the RSLAF’s Navy continues to actively safeguarding the country’s waters against illegal fishing, piracy, smuggling and crime at sea. In addition, RASLAF are also currently significantly contributing to the common good and solidarity around the continent and world peace through its participation in peacekeeping missions in Somalia and Darfur in South Sudan.

This critical role of the army in providing peace and security in Sierra Leone and beyond remains a justification for the army to be supported and treated with utmost dignity and worth as a motivation for their continued loyalty to the state. Peace and security are fundamental components of human existence and development. They are everything that a state needs to effectively remain functional, as there will be no development without peace and security in a nation. Regardless of this, RSLAF continue to suffer from limited budget allocations, which impacts on their capacity and has led to poor pay and conditions for soldiers, as are veterans’ benefits. The military has little in the way of serviceable equipment, with the Air Force being dysfunctional. Housing for the military in the country is a notable concern. Based on my observations, there seem to be more civilians in the various military barracks around the country than the soldiers themselves. Civilians encroached and continue to build dwelling houses in very close proximity to the barracks and use the barracks as a route to access their dwelling houses on a daily basis. Most junior officers in the military in rural postings around the country live in dilapidated buildings as well as in mud and thatch houses with deplorable conditions. My observations are ascertained by Paul Jackson et, al (2008), who stated that most of the defense estate is in a dilapidated state. Furthermore, the conflict inflicted serious damage on many buildings with the result that water supply, latrines, sewage disposal and electricity wiring are now highly inadequat

Reforming and building the capacity of RSLAF can only be guided by political will and strategic direction to ensure professionalism, commitment, dedication, courage and a sense of purpose of the military. To restore dignity, social prestige and service pride to armed forces it is essential that the basic needs of our soldiers are met. The RSLAF should be cared for and properly managed to enhance a sense of belonging. The state should also at the same time adapt honesty, openness, promote a culture of merit, fairness and high standards by taking precise and resolute decisions in the interest of troop welfare to ensure their loyalty. Achieving these aims requires immense support from the GoSL in terms of resources, as well as a cordial working relationship and mutual understanding of purpose with donor agencies and the Ministry of Finance. Without such support, RSLAF’s task becomes impossible.

A major practical step is to accommodate all RSLAF personnel in barracks built to acceptable standards. If the current unsatisfactory arrangement is not addressed, it could lead to disaffection and lack of discipline. Single personnel should be accommodated in barracks and not allowed to find accommodation in the local community as it is at the moment in some part of the country. Additional married quarters are also required. The provision of this housing facilities will minimize RSLAF interaction with wider society and undue exposure to socio-political pressure. According to Major Paolo Conteh: Minister of Defense, previous attempts to address the huge accommodation needs of RSLAF through “Operation Pebu” lunched in 2003 failed to achieve its objectives. Hence, the government plan to construct barracks accommodation for personnel in all military deployments in the country is strategic and a step in the right direction. Besides the provision of accommodation for the military, the president also said: “While we seek peace for ourselves, and aspire to transform the RSLAF into a respected guarantor of peace in not just our Motherland, but on the continental stage, my Government will never turn its back in ensuring that soldiers live a decent and respected life.”

Photo of the President of Sierra Leone mixing mortar for bricklaying of the new barracks at Gondama barracks

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Moreover, Sierra Leoneans now believe and espouse that there is ‘no sustainable development without security.’ If serious and sustainable measures are not taken to build and maintain a strong national security apparatus, then the nation’s vision of a peaceful, prosperous and progressive society will remain an empty dream. Most Sierra Leoneans are appreciative of the government’s security reforms, reflected in the ongoing reform of the military and police, the creation of Office of National Security and other such institutions. However, more needs to be done to build, consolidate and sustain the national security apparatus. In particular, the country needs modern, well-trained and equipped, highly motivated and dependable security forces imbued with professional values. Also a nationally owned clear strategic plan should be put in place to ensure that subsequent governments are held accountable to the completion of these commitment towards improving the quality of life of the military in Sierra Leone.

Reference

Awareness times newspaper, (2014), In Sierra Leone: “We shall do more for our Armed Forces” — President Koroma Vows.  Retrieved from: http://news.sl/drwebsite/publish/article_200524758.shtml

Awoko Newspaper, (2014), Sierra Loen News: Army to build new quartersRetrieved from: http://awoko.org/2014/02/13/sierra-leone-news-army-to-build-new-quarters/

Paul Jackson & Peter Albrecht, (2008),Reconstructing the Republic of Sierra Leone Armed Forces (RSLAF)Retrieved from: http://www.ssrnetwork.net/documents/Publications/SierraLeoneWPs/working%20paper%203.pdf

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