A new approach to UN outreach, aimed at strengthening peacebuilding through communications capacity-building and dialogue between and among the UN’s national and local development partners. The project will be managed as an integral part of UNIPSIL’s Democratic Institutions Unit.
The Inter-Faith Council; The Sierra Leone Association of Nongovernmental Organizations; Women’s Initiative for Safer Health; The Sierra Leone Broadcasting Corporation; The Independent Media Commission; The Sierra Leone Association of Journalists (including the affiliated Reporters Union and Association of Women Journalists).
The United Nations Integrated Peacebuilding Office for Sierra Leone (UNIPSIL) was established on October 1, 2008, under Security Council Resolution 1829, to support the Government in strengthening democratic institutions and human rights, addressing potential catalysts of renewed conflict, and making further progress on human development goals.
Sierra Leone has made great political progress since the peacekeeping intervention that began a decade ago, but it is still potentially volatile. Tensions between the two traditional parties remain acute, with those divisions roughly paralleling the divide between North and South.
There is also widespread popular disenchantment with the entire political establishment, fed by the frustration of unmet economic expectations. In urban areas only one in five young men and women has full-time jobs paying above the poverty line. Few rural communities have the requisite skills, tools, or market access to escape the impoverishing cycles of subsistence agriculture. Illiteracy is the national norm, exacerbated by the ‘lost generation’ of school age during the war years. Basic health care is severely wanting: One in seven pregnancies results in the death of both mother and child. Long-promised public works projects have been delayed or left unfinished. And the world financial crisis now threatens the three foreign-exchange pillars of the national economy: diamonds and other mineral exports; remittances from emigrants; and development aid.
Yet at the same time, Sierra Leone is rebuilding a political system that was shattered by war, with two successive post-conflict elections resulting in a peaceful transfer of power and public acceptance of the legitimacy of the results. There is a determination to avoid backsliding into the past. This will require a greatly strengthened communications culture, with communities being not just informed but fully consulted and involved in the decisions that shape their future.
This dialogue must be mediated and constructive, with a conscious commitment to tamp down partisan passions and face development challenges together
The “Outreach” initiative has three reinforcing objectives:
- Promoting constructive dialogue on development and democratization needs from the national to the district and village level, with the broadest possible participation from all regions, creeds, parties, professions, and ages, and from women as well as men;
- Strengthening the communications capacity of the civic institutions, professional organizations, religious sects, and other stakeholder groups that would provide the forums and leadership for this national dialogue;
- Supporting the implementation of the Joint Vision of the UN country team, as outlined in the Joint Vision statement and exemplified by the new interagency regional centers in Kono, Makeni, Bo and elsewhere, with a shared emphasis on human development and political progress.
The purpose of UNIPSIL’s outreach efforts is not to publicize its projects and activities, but rather to spotlight the goals and impact of all UN-supported initiatives – and to connect more directly with the communities these projects are designed to serve. The focus is on Sierra Leone and its people, and the programs that should benefit them, not UNIPSIL or other UN agencies.
And the communications must be two-way, so all groups and social sectors can voice their concerns and identify what they see as their most pressing needs. These open communications channels can also serve as an early warning system for rising local or national political tensions, deepening economic distress, and other threats to stability, such as corruption or violence from drug trafficking.
The ultimate purpose of the Outreach program is to facilitate constructive social change, by promoting dialogue and helping to build resilient local and national institutions and a deeper sense of civic engagement. The program’s primary emphasis is on non-state actors, to complement support for the communications capacity of government departments through a UNDP-backed National Communications Strategy. Taken together, these communications and outreach programs should help lead to more responsive and effective governance.
Joint Vision of the United Nations Family for Sierra Leone: The Outreach efforts must be undertaken with a genuine “One UN” approach, emphasizing the synergies of the UN agencies working in coordination from their respective areas of expertise towards shared national goals. This is an integral part of the Joint Vision of the United Nations Family for Sierra Leone — a common strategy developed by the Executive Representative of the Secretary General in consultation with national partners, which is fully supported by all UN agencies and programmes in the country and endorsed by the Government.
The Joint Vision combines the political mandate of UNIPSIL with the development and humanitarian mandates of the UN agencies, in support of the Government’s Agenda for Change and poverty reduction strategy. Within the overall goal of consolidating peace, the Joint Vision identifies four programmatic priorities:
(a) the economic integration of rural areas;
(b) engagement of unemployed youth;
(c) access to health care; and
(d) good governance.
Each of these four areas will require outreach to involved communities, including in setting goals and priorities which reflect their own assessments of their urgent needs. It will also require constant monitoring and evaluation through dialogue within these communities, as well as between the communities and government officials, UN project leaders, and other national and international partners. Fishermen need opportunities for input into fisheries protection initiatives; farmers need to be consulted about land tenancy problems; artisanal miners must be part of discussions about industrial mining contract reforms and the reclamation of their mining-scarred lands.
The Outreach strategy puts special emphasis on women’s forums; youth groups; local district councils and municipal governments; paramount chiefs; religious leaders; and journalists and media institutions, as communications facilitators but also as important social actors in their own right. The approach to media should be from a development rather than ‘public diplomacy’ perspective, with the goal of strengthening media institutions in the same way that the UN and international community have supported other independent democratic institutions, such as the National Electoral Commission and the Human Rights Commission.
The Inter-Religious Council of Sierra Leone was established in 1997 and represents both main religions in Sierra Leone, Christianity and Islam. The country’s religious leaders are greatly influential and should be engaged more fully in UN-supported initiatives in a wide range of areas, from anti-corruption measures to political tolerance to the engagement of disaffected and jobless youth. The IRCSL has proved effective in uniting these voices on a national level through its deep connections to all communities and the most remote localities.
The Outreach project’s work with the Council would have two prime objectives:
- Encouraging the diverse religious communities of Sierra Leone to identify areas of common cause within their respective traditions, and
- Helping them to draw on those shared values to support social progress through dialogue, joint actions and moral leadership.
Areas of concentration would include combating political and regional polarization, especially during and after election campaigns, and raising the awareness of religious leaders, women and youth about principles of good governance, democratic engagement, and human rights.
Estimated Project Cost 160, 0000
Sierra Leone Association of NGOs (SLANGO)
SLANGO is the umbrella association of all national and international non-governmental organizations in Sierra Leone, providing oversight of the sector and compiling information about locally registered NGOs and their activities. Support for SLANGO from UNIPSIL would include logistical help, the equipping and/or sharing of office space in the provinces where appropriate, and joint working relationships with the component members of SLANGO in all its regional and sub-regional offices. Through a capacity-building programme, SLANGO will train its members to access information from internal and external sources for policy guidance, potential funding, and management tools, preparing national NGOs to assume control of projects from their international NGO partners.
Estimated Project Cost 140 000USD
Women’s Initiative for Safer Health (WISH)
In recent years Sierra Leone has had the highest measured materiality mortality rates in the world, and among the lowest female life expectancy rates. As stated in the joint vision, the UN agencies will work together to ensure that the highest priority is assigned to health care services for women, with resources pooled to deliver better medical care and nutrition programmes for mother and child alike.
The First Lady’s WISH initiative offers an avenue for related advocacy work, including the promotion of tolerance; campaigns stigmatizing violence against women; the protection of the internationally guaranteed human rights of women and children; commitments toward progress on the key gender-based targets in the Millennium Development Goals; and greater awareness of the treatment and prevention of HIV/AIDS and other diseases affecting women and their children.
Project Cost 200, 000 USD
SLBC: Transition from UN Radio to National Public Broadcasting
Radio is by far the most important medium for news and public information in Sierra Leone, reaching four-fifths of the population and most of the country’s territory. Fewer than ten percent of adults read newspapers on a regular basis. Even fewer watch the two small national television news services. In the case of both print and television, the audience is almost wholly confined to Freetown.
Since its establishment under UNAMSIL in 2000, UN Radio has been Sierra Leone’s dominant national news and public affairs broadcaster. As a legacy of the peacekeeping period, UN Radio is now scheduled to close in September 2009, at the end of the first year of UNIPSIL’s mandate. But a new independent national public broadcaster is to be established as UN Radio closes.
On March 25, 2009, the cabinet of the Government of Sierra Leone approved draft legislation for the creation of an autonomous public-service broadcaster, the Sierra Leone Broadcasting Corporation (SLBC), to replace both UN Radio and the long-established Sierra Leone Broadcasting System (SLBS), which functions as a division of the Ministry of Information and Communications. The proposed SLBC would be overseen by a board of independent trustees representing all regions, creeds, social sectors, and other civil society stakeholders, including private sector and media representatives. Senior management would be hired by and report to the SLBC board, not the President. The new corporation would have the explicit mandate to serve as a ‘watchdog’ on the people’s behalf over all branches of government, as well as civil society and the private sector.
The broadcasting reform project has been assisted by UNIPSIL on several fronts, including through consultations on draft legislation, the provisional allocation of PBF aid for start-up costs, and the promised donation of the assets of UN Radio, which is scheduled to close in September 2009. But longer-term support will be needed to bolster SLBC’s technical capacity and operational autonomy. UNIPSIL is preparing to provide such assistance to the new broadcast corporation as an integral part of it mandate to support democratic institutions here, including independent and professional media.
The “Outreach” program specifically envisages support for the new SLBC as a new national platform for inter-party, inter-faith, and inter-regional dialogue, with special emphasis on women and underemployed youth. There is wide awareness of the destabilizing impact of partisan and/or ethnic radio outlets in many parts of Africa over the past decade. The violent partisan clashes in Sierra Leone in March 2009 were exacerbated by programming on party-operated radio stations which were subsequently suspended by government order. Creating an independent broadcaster where all voices can be heard removes the rationale for partisan radio and offers a superior alternative. Leaders of the opposition SLPP and the governing APC have both endorsed this major national media reform.
Since 2000, UN Radio has been Sierra Leone’s dominant broadcaster, reaching 90% of the country and cited in listener surveys as the most trusted source for national news. SLBC should play a similar nonpartisan role, but under national rather than international control. The closure of UN Radio – and the opening of an independent broadcaster to take its place - should be seen here and abroad as another milestone in the country’s return to stability and democracy.
Projected Cost: 500,000 USD
IMC: The Independent Media Commission
The Independent Media Commission was established in 2002 with the statutory authority to “promote a free and pluralistic media throughout Sierra Leone” and as well as to “protect the interest of the public against exploitation or abuse by media institutions.” This includes ensuring balanced broadcast coverage of and for all sectors of the population, and sanctioning stations that do not adhere to the IMC’s Media Code of Practice.
The IMC also has the general mandate to raise professional standards in Sierra Leonean journalism through training in skills and ethics. With the establishment of a new public broadcasting corporation, the IMC will have the additional task of ensuring that SLBC programming remains strictly nonpartisan and its news services meet their obligation to be fair, accurate, and truly national in scope.
To fulfil these responsibilities, including the monitoring of more than 40 radio stations throughout the country, requires more resources and technical capacity than IMC has enjoyed to date. With its limited budget, small support staff, and no presence outside Freetown, IMC has been unable to monitor media thoroughly on a national basis. It is hence unable to fully exercise its authority to review all broadcasting licenses on the basis of programming content and adherence to agreed industry standards. This deficiency must be addressed.
Through the “Outreach” Program, the IMC would be able to build a network of trained part-time media-monitoring volunteers throughout the country, improving its capacity and increasing its impact. The IMC would also be able to hold forums on media rights and responsibilities in Bo, Makeni, Kenema, and elsewhere outside the capital, with participation by key groups and constituencies targeted in the Outreach program, such as women, youth, clerics and paramount chiefs.
Greater support for the IMC would be consistent with UN and international assistance to analogous semiautonomous democratic institutions in Sierra Leone, such as the National Electoral Commission, the Political party Registration Commission, the Human Rights Commission, and the Anti-Corruption Commission. In some ways, support for the IMC is more urgent.
As noted, the violent disturbances in Sierra Leone in March were exacerbated by broadcasts from radio stations owned by the two major parties. The stations were subsequently suspended by government order. There is a consensus in the public at large and in the international community that the party stations should remain closed. Most of the media establishment shares that view, but journalists insist that this should not be done by executive fiat, but as a matter of due process by the IMC as the designated regulatory authority.
To meet this challenge as well, the IMC must have the capacity as well as the mandate to conduct a thorough review of the case and reach a determination.
Projected cost: 200,000 USD
The Sierra Leone Association of Journalists (SLAJ)
The Sierra Leone Association of Journalists is the country’s leading professional grouping of reporters, broadcasters, editors, publishers and other media practitioners. The diversity of the SLAJ membership is reflective of Sierra Leone itself, with representation from all regions, religions, and economic strata.
Most SLAJ members, however, are poorly paid, with limited professional training, little job security, and scant support from newspaper or radio owners to improve the quality of their professional output. Working with SLAJ directly -- and also in coordination with the IMC – offers the opportunity to raise standards of journalism in the country as well as to build the capacity of a key civil society institution, the SLAJ itself. The Outreach program can offer SLAJ members new opportunities for training in investigative journalism, Communication for Development practices, and principles of democratic governance. The SLAJ leadership can be offered support in undertaking regional outreach, governance reforms and other means of strengthening its effectiveness as a national membership organization.
Targeted for special Outreach projects would be SLAJ affiliates of rank-and-file reporters and of women journalists, as well as SLAJ members in the provinces.
Estimated Project Cost: 125,000 USD