COVID-19's Impact on Sierra Leone
Sierra Leone is a nation in recovery. As with many countries throughout the globe, COVID-19 has left a lasting mark on the West African nation. In a June to October 2020 survey that Innovations for Poverty Action in Sierra Leone implemented, nearly 50% of respondents reported income reductions and about 60% of respondents reported depleting their savings to secure food for the household. However, in the wake of COVID-19’s impact on Sierra Leone, some sectors are regaining strength.

The After-Effects of COVID-19

Sierra Leone went into lockdown quickly in response to the initial outbreak of the novel coronavirus within its borders in March 2020, declaring a state of emergency prior to any confirmation of infection. Rapid policy changes followed, restricting travel and putting into place extensive testing programs which, coupled with a high level of social compliance, brought the infection and death rates to an early plateau. This impressive effort in containment came at a great economic cost, however, with the nation’s GDP contracting around 3.1% in 2020.

Revitalizing the Economy

Forecasts predict that Sierra Leone’s GDP will grow roughly 4% by the end of 2021, eclipsing the contraction of 2020, with further acceleration predictions in 2022. This projected growth links to a renewed demand for exports, particularly in the country’s mining sector.

World Bank experts state that sustaining this growth will require structural reform, strong monetary policy and a robust vaccination program, allowing businesses and employees alike to return to full-capacity operations both quickly and safely.

To that end, “the World Bank approved an $8.5 million grant” in June 2021 to further vaccination efforts in Sierra Leone, building upon an earlier $7.5 million monetary injection provided by the International Development Association in 2020 to shore up economic deficits resulting from COVID-19’s impact on Sierra Leone. Additionally, The Sierra Leone Central Bank announced a redenomination of the national currency in an effort to combat inflation. However, not all efforts for economic regrowth fall within the confines of the financial sector.

US Assistance

Sierra Leone saw a marked increase in poverty as a result of wage depression and job loss stemming from the pandemic, particularly in urban areas. The remediation of economic damages in these areas is an important step in breathing new life into the Sierra Leonean economy.

The Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC), a U.S. government-funded agency dedicating efforts to international growth and development, is working to do just that. The MCC completed a $44.4 million project “to improve the water and electrical services in and around Freetown,” Sierra Leone’s capital and largest urban center, in March 2021. The MCC has recently begun talks with government representatives and the private sector to make further, larger investments in the nation’s growth in the form of an economic compact.

Further Help for Citizens in Need

In August 2021, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) announced a new program specifically focusing on aiding women and youth affected by COVID’s impact on Sierra Leone. The program will provide grants of $60,000 to $140,000 for distribution by NGOs to women and youth-operated businesses in both rural and urban areas that were forced to scale down or cease operations during the pandemic. The aim is to bring these businesses back into the marketplace and stimulate the local economy. These efforts work in concert with Sierra Leone’s internal efforts to help the nation get back onto its feet in the post-pandemic environment.

Mining Sector Leads Growth

With a return to pre-pandemic GDP levels in sight, Sierra Leone hopes to continue growth in 2022. Forecasts predict the nation’s GDP to grow by as much as 5% by 2022, outpacing its sub-Saharan neighbors, which could grow to 1% to 2% less over the same period. The country’s mining sector is a strong driver of the national economy accounting for 3% of national employment in 2018 as well as “65% of export earnings.” The mining sector is on track for a 34% overall increase, led by a predicted 850% increase in demand for iron ore over 2020.

With such a major market component leading the way, other economic areas may expect revitalization as well. In the agricultural sector, employing about two-thirds of Sierra Leone’s workforce, the government encourages mining companies’ investment in communities local to their operations, furthering citizens’ access to food as well as gainful employment. Predictions estimate that the domestic construction and energy industries, both with close links to mining infrastructure, may see growth as well. This combined push for economic renewal assures better days to come for the sub-Saharan nation.

A Bright Future Ahead

Through ongoing foreign support and careful economic measures, Sierra Leone hopes to breathe new life into industries ravaged by COVID-19. With a renewed encouragement of domestic business, the nation looks to bring its citizens forward into a thriving economy and a safer, healthier society. The culmination of these efforts is proving clear less than two years after the nation’s first lockdown with a strong reemergence from the trials of COVID-19’s impact on Sierra Leone, promising a brighter tomorrow for the Sierra Leonean people.

– Alexander Diaz
Photo: Wikipedia Commons

Juice Companies in Sierra LeoneIn the African country of Sierra Leone, the annual “wet season from May through September” is commonly titled “the hunger months” because farming and harvesting conditions are not ideal. Many impoverished farmers in Sierra Leone survive on less than $1 per day, only able to afford the costs of one daily meal. Fruit juice companies in Sierra Leone aim to improve the lives of impoverished farmers and ignite economic growth.

Poverty in Sierra Leone

Out of the nation’s population of 7 million, 53% endure conditions of poverty. According to a June 2020 report, more than 700,000 people in Sierra Leone suffer from severe food insecurity. In addition, “Only one-fifth of the estimated 5.4 million hectares of arable land is used for agriculture.” This leaves much room for agricultural expansion in the nation. The agricultural sector is underdeveloped, “dominated by smallholder farmers practicing subsistence farming with traditional methods and limited use of improved seeds and fertilizers.” As such, Sierra Leone’s agricultural sector has much potential to contribute to economic growth.

Sierra Juice

In 2013, Hamza Hashim, a cacao trader living in Sierra Leone, created the Sierra Juice company as a way to reduce food “waste and give farmers better livelihoods.” While transporting fruits to sell to markets, Hashim realized that due to a lack of cold storage facilities in Sierra Leone and the high cost and unreliable nature of electricity, fruits would start rotting before even reaching the market. Hashim came up with the idea of turning the fruits into “juice as a way to process and preserve the fruit.”

Today, the Sierra Juice company provides more than 5,000 farmers with steady livelihoods by supplying fresh fruit to the company to produce juices. The company’s goal is to provide affordable, natural juices to the community while providing farmers with an outlet to sell their produce.

The company takes it upon itself to train farmers and key equipment operators in order to keep costs low. The company is also responsible for its “own water filtration” and “electricity generation,” making Sierra Juice a “360-degree company.”

Juice Worth the Squeeze

Juice Worth the Squeeze is a 2019 project that came to a close at the end of 2020. A collaboration between Sierra Agra Inc. (Sierra Leone’s “only juice processing company”), Woord en Daad, FairMatch Support (FMS) and IDH The Sustainable Trade Initiative, the project aided “mango and coconut farmers in Sierra Leone.” Sierra Agra itself was responsible for providing incomes to more than “3,500 smallholder farmers” who provided fruits to Sierra Agra, which the company then exported “to the global market.”

Women account for about 70% of the farmers providing fruits to Sierra Agra. In 2018, Sierra Agra bought more than 2,000 metric tons of fruit from these smallholder farmers.  Many of these smallholder farms “have undergone organic audits by Control Union” in order to achieve organic certification that will assist these farmers in accessing “higher market prices” in order to raise their incomes further.

The Juice Worth the Squeeze project provided training and assistance to these farmers to increase agricultural productivity, raise profits and strengthen livelihoods, targeting roughly 7,000 farmers.

Juice companies in Sierra Leone support the people of Sierra Leone by strengthening their livelihoods and providing job opportunities to communities. With support and training to increase productivity and profits, these companies empower impoverished citizens to rise out of poverty.

– Makena Roberts
Photo: Unsplash

USAID’s Intervention in Sierra Leone
Sierra Leone’s decade-long civil war (1991-2002) commenced a humanitarian crisis that severed its relationship with the international community. The conflict decimated the country’s infrastructure, stinted its agricultural economy and killed over 50,000 citizens. At its end, the war left a legacy of destruction and bequeathed to its predominantly young citizens a highly underdeveloped economy with no strategy for reconstruction. As a result, for the last century, Sierra Leone has desperately needed economic aid for reconstruction to repair its infrastructure and stimulate economic productivity. In response, USAID has worked alongside Sierra Leone’s administration, granting foreign aid to help with development and poverty alleviation. Following USAID’s intervention in Sierra Leone, the country evolved and is slowly incorporating itself back into the international community. 

Infrastructural Development

Infrastructural development fosters steady trade and higher profits and enhances the economy. Consequently, it increases wages and results in a higher quality of life for people.

In recent years, the relationship between infrastructural development and poverty alleviation has become noticeable in Sierra Leone. In 2015, the United States Government’s Millennium Challenge Corporation gave the underdeveloped country $44.4 million to rebuild infrastructure, homes and highways. As a result, Sierra Leone has made significant strides, creating a network of highways as well as the Freetown Port, which could increase boat traffic by 30%. In 2021, the United States International Development Finance Corporation (DFC) also pledged to give $217 million for a new power plant in Freetown, “providing power generation to meet approximately 24 percent of projected electricity.”

With the help of foreign aid, Sierra Leone also published the “New Direction” manifesto, an infrastructure plan that will connect valuable mining belts through a series of roads and construct a new railway line through its provinces. Infrastructural development has also let Sierra Leone adopt humanitarian initiatives, evident in its establishment of the Ministry of Water Resources in 2013. Although the project has a pending deadline, it promises to provide 21,000 m3 of portable water, which will serve 420,000 citizens located in the East of Freetown communities.

Such initiatives will allow for trade efficiency and economic independence, which will augment Sierra Leone’s economy, alleviate poverty and let the government provide for its citizens. USAID’s intervention in Sierra Leone has resulted in infrastructural reconstruction initiatives, which will continue to fuel economic and social uplift.

Economic Productivity

To further assist economic growth, the United States invested $12 million for development in Sierra Leone’s agricultural sector, which accounts for 60% of the country’s GDP. These funds will let Sierra Leone buy the technology and equipment it needs to expand its agricultural sector onto previously uncultivated lands, which make up 75% of the country. Such an expansion would decrease the percentage (80%) of foodstuffs it imports from other countries and allow for further economic self-reliance. A thriving agrarian sector would also derive higher profits and provide the funds for higher quality fisheries, improved mining techniques and other large-scale business enterprises.

Overall, these economic developments, which USAID’s intervention in Sierra Leone spurred on, have positively affected its economy, which has increased 5.1% to a GDP of $4.2 billion. In 2016, labor employment grew to 2.472 million, contrasting the 1.985 million employed in 2004. Recently, only 4.47% of the total labor force did not have employment. These numbers hold a bright future for Sierra Leone’s economic productivity and, as such, promise to eradicate the poverty that has long plagued its borders.

Medical Institutions and Aid

USAID’s intervention in Sierra Leone has also involved disease relief by aiding the country’s medical sector. In 2014, an Ebola outbreak contaminated 14,124 Sierra Leoneans, killing 3,956 people. In response, USAID established the Pillar II activities and investments, where U.S. organizations and partners gave $2.4 billion to Sierra Leone’s government, and West African countries, to contain the fatal disease. Significantly, 60% of these funds went into Sierra Leone’s medical sector, effectively strengthening the country’s healthcare system and putting an end to the spread of Ebola. USAID continues to support Sierra Leone’s medical field, beginning the Strengthening Post-Ebola Health Governance (SHG) program in 2017, which gives healthcare services and establishes Village Development Committees (VDCs) to oversee health services throughout the country.

By helping improve Sierra Leone’s health services, USAID not only saves lives and neutralizes viral diseases but also contains them before they infiltrate the international community. USAID’s intervention in Sierra Leone has let the country prosper and move away from its dark past. Sierra Leone’s civil war ravaged its infrastructure and economy, while Ebola exposed the weakness of its medical sector. However, organizations such as USAID have significantly impacted reconstruction, thereby promising a brighter future for countries that have been long underdeveloped.

Although USAID’s intervention in Sierra Leone has proved beneficial, more progress is necessary. Funding from countries and organizations will be beneficial for Sierra Leone so that it can prosper well into the future.

– Jacob Crosley
Photo: Flickr

Human Trafficking in Sierra LeoneSierra Leone is a small country off the west coast of Africa where human trafficking is rife due to a concept called “Temple Run.” The phrase “Temple Run” refers to operations that traffickers run to lure young men and women into paying large sums of money to embark on risky journeys that victims believe will lead them to employment or educational opportunities, allowing them to escape poverty. Here is some information about human trafficking in Sierra Leone.

Human Trafficking in Sierra Leone

Authorities did not address human trafficking in Sierra Leone up until 2005 when Sierra Leone’s government instated the 2005 anti-trafficking law. “The 2005 anti-trafficking law criminalized sex trafficking and labor trafficking,” making the punishment “up to 10 years’ imprisonment, a fine or both.” This law is a step in the right direction but is not without flaws. The law allows for perpetrators to avoid jail time by paying a fine instead — a provision that received backlash from citizens seeking justice.

Even though there was finally a law against human trafficking in Sierra Leone, the ability to pay a fine in place of facing jail time makes trafficking a less punishable offense than rape. Sierra Leone decided to make a change. On August 28, 2012, Sierra Leone passed the Sexual Offenses Act. This act criminalized sex trafficking under its “forced prostitution” and “child prostitution” provisions and prescribed penalties of up to 15 years of imprisonment. This amendment made the crime of sex trafficking equal to the punishment for rape in Sierra Leone. Sierra Leone decided to update the law again in 2019  to legislate harsher punishments for sexual offenses, including sex trafficking.

First Human Trafficking Convictions

Even with the 2005 Anti-Trafficking Law and Sexual Offenses Act in place, it was not until February 11, 2020, that the Sierra Leone High Court finally convicted perpetrators for human trafficking. One Sierra Leonean woman received a 20-year sentence and another woman faced an eight-year-long sentence for money laundering and human trafficking charges — the first two human trafficking convictions in Sierra Leone’s history. Sierra Leone is also currently working to replace the 2005 anti-trafficking law to increase penalties, improve victim protection and remove the option of paying a fine as an alternative to imprisonment, but this still remains as a pending draft to date.

How IOM Assists

The International Organization of Migration (IOM), an organization with links to the United Nations, is taking significant steps to help reduce human trafficking in Sierra Leone. In April 2019, the IOM launched a project called Reducing the Risk of Irregular Migration through Promotion of Youth Employment and Entrepreneurship Support for the Youths. This project’s goal is to prevent human trafficking by reducing the struggles within the country that would influence migration out of the country. For example, in March 2021, the IOM held a $4.3 million vocational training program to help prepare “2,000 unemployed young men and women to meet the domestic demand for skilled jobs.” With more job opportunities, fewer citizens may be lured into human trafficking. The IOM is also trying to raise awareness about ‘Temple Run” lures and the dangers victims potentially face.

With these efforts, human trafficking in Sierra Leone should reduce as the overall quality of life in Sierra Leone improves.

– Ethan Douglas
Photo: Flickr

Technology in Sierra Leone
Ranking as one of the least developed nations in the world, Sierra Leone aspires to increase development through investments in advanced technologies. President Julius Maada Bio’s ambitious plans for digitization center around the Directorate of Science, Technology and Innovation led by Dr. David Moinina Sengeh. The creation of DSTI could have a revolutionary effect on the government’s capabilities to help its citizens and progress the technology in Sierra Leone.

What is DSTI?

DSTI is the main element of the Sierra Leone National Innovation and Digital Strategy. It emerged in 2018 and is based on the philosophy of “digitization for all.” Its primary mission is to use science and innovation to promote the Medium-Term National Development Plan, which strives to improve people’s lives through education, inclusive growth and a strong economy. Furthermore, DSTI hopes to make Sierra Leone a country where innovation can thrive and where people of all ages can come together to lead their own start-ups and initiatives.

Headed by the country’s first Chief Innovation Officer, Dr. Sengeh, DSTI has created an opportunity for the development of technology in Sierra Leone for its citizens. One of those opportunities presents itself in the form of a partnership between UNICEF Sierra Leone Country Office and DSTI. The organizations have come together to create government processes that revolve around the use of data for successful decision-making. The UNICEF Office of Innovation team provides its expertise and advises DSTI regularly. This support will strengthen and secure the partnership and aims to improve the lives of Sierra Leone’s women and children.

Current Technology in Sierra Leone

In 2020, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation supported DSTI with a grant of $131,130. This grant assisted the plan for a viable and cost-effective drone-delivery system for Sierra Leone’s medical supply chain. Drones could potentially provide access to places in Sierra Leone that others previously thought were too remote or too difficult to navigate. The efficacy of these drones allows authorities in Sierra Leone’s Ministry of Health and Sanitation to have on-demand delivery for essential medical supplies; restock rural community health centers and hospitals in a timely, cost-effective manner; extend limited diagnostic coverage and decrease response time to pathogen outbreaks. DSTI has joined forces with the National Medical Supply Agency and development partners and intends to plan a five-year project that integrates a nationwide medical delivery service in Sierra Leone using drones.

In April 2019, Sierra Leone became a drone-testing site to better the lives of children in the more rural areas of the nation. UNICEF and the government of Sierra Leone established a drone corridor aiming to develop and test drones for “aerial imagery and transportation.” DSTI and the Ministry of Transport and Aviation lead the project for the drone corridor. In addition to aiding Sierra Leone’s medical system, the drone initiative will set up education programs. These programs will help locals build the skills needed to use and maintain the drones.

The Importance of Technological Advancement

In September 2019, President Bio revealed the first portable DNA sequencer. This sequencer can provide quick, efficient information in multiple fields such as medicine, agriculture, food, water and education. Additionally, police can utilize the sequencer for investigating sex crimes. This is a huge breakthrough for Sierra Leone because President Bio had declared a national rape emergency earlier that year.

All these technological and scientific breakthroughs have a transformative effect on Sierra Leone’s government and its ability to meet the needs of its citizens. Along with improving the nation’s development, Sierra Leone could provide a blueprint for the rest of Africa and recognize the nation’s economic potential.

Addison Franklin
Photo: Flickr

Human Trafficking in Sierra LeoneAs the COVID-19 pandemic emphasizes the importance of protecting vulnerable people from human trafficking, the need for a global solution has never been greater. Preliminary research shows that Sierra Leone acts mainly as a country of origin from which traffickers move individuals; this refers to victims trafficked within the country and abroad. Traffickers traffick both adults and children from Sierra Leone for a range of different purposes, including prostitution, labor, service as child soldiers and adoption. The government of Sierra Leone does not fully meet the minimum criteria for the prevention of human trafficking, but it demonstrates increasing efforts to do so.

Trafficking as an “Emerging” Issue in Sierra Leone

Civil society groups regularly comment that trafficking is “an emerging issue” that has existed in Sierra Leone for a long time, but now has a fresh identity as a form of exploitation. Traffickers move a large proportion of Sierra Leoneans internally from mostly rural areas to cities and towns. This form of trafficking impacts a significant amount of children who experience exploitation for sexual or labor purposes.

However, the population generally did not have access to knowledge about internal trafficking. Many people understood this term only in a very limited sense involving the abduction of children for adoption abroad. Overall, there was a great deal of uncertainty about what did and did not constitute trafficking. As an emerging issue, there is an urgent need to clarify the subject among civil society, the government and the population. This will require comprehensive awareness-raising and sensitization activities, as well as technical training. Addressing trafficking problems efficiently can help people make wise decisions about counter-trafficking interventions. Child protection agencies across the globe will therefore benefit from the successes and lessons learned from counter-trafficking efforts.

Sierra Leone as a Source Country

Information collected from various destination countries reveals that traffickers have trafficked Sierra Leoneans abroad for different forms of exploitation. Much trafficking to the E.U. appears to be for prostitution, as data shows that all assisted trafficked persons in the Netherlands were working in the sex industry. In the Middle East, Lebanon underwent identification as a key destination for Sierra Leonean children. Traffickers generally recruited them with promises of education or well-paid jobs. However, in reality, these children worked as domestic workers and often experienced sexual exploitation from their employers. Available data suggests that traffickers trafficked children to West Africa for working in plantations in Guinea and on the Ivory Coast, begging, committing petty crimes and prostitution. The presence of Sierra Leonean unaccompanied minors (UAMs) in various destination countries is arguably a signal of trafficking risk.

It is important to be aware of the extent to which human trafficking is an issue and how trafficking cases occur. Baseline information that one can use to evaluate the further growth of the problem, as well as the effectiveness of the policies and programs in place to tackle trafficking must also emerge. More in-depth qualitative research is necessary to understand the nature of trafficking in the country, including the recruitment process, the routes and destinations, victim profiles and the forms of exploitation.

Government Action

The government has demonstrated substantial efforts to prevent human trafficking; therefore, Sierra Leone has received an upgrade to Tier 2. These efforts included the increase in investigations and prosecutions, the arrest of traffickers for the first time in 15 years, increased training for trafficking officials, the commitment of an NGO center to the development of victims’ shelters and the establishment of anti-trafficking task forces at the district level.

However, the government still did not meet the minimum standards in several key areas. Shelter and services, especially for male trafficking victims, remained inadequate. Law enforcement did not investigate past reports of corruption and complicity which impeded law enforcement efforts. Sierra Leoneans remained susceptible to traffickers as labor migrants. The government had to rely heavily on NGOs and private shelters, including UNICEF — a large advocate against child trafficking in Sierra Leone.

Recommendations to Stop Human Trafficking in Sierra Leone

The key to stopping and addressing human trafficking in Sierra Leone will be the implementation of anti-trafficking legislation. The police must learn about the recent trafficking law and its required elements, and the judiciary must receive training regarding how to enforce the law. Enforcement of policies and legislation on child protection needs to undergo urgent development. The porous nature of the borders of Sierra Leone requires attention in order to tackle trafficking and other forms of crime. Moreover, awareness-raising campaigns and income-generating programs must target rural areas that many trafficked children originate from. While human trafficking in Sierre Leone is a serious issue, the increased counter-trafficking efforts are a step in the right direction.

– Aining Liang
Photo: Flickr

Wheelchair DonationThere are 100 million people in the world who need a wheelchair. However, of this number, an estimated 75 million can not afford one. A low-cost standard wheelchair costs anywhere from $100 to $300. In countries where families live on less than a dollar a day, that cost is astronomical. Therefore, they rely on wheelchair donations.

From genetic disorders to infections that require amputation, people need a wheelchair for any number of reasons. In Sierra Leone, 1,600 people are amputees due to the devastating civil war that ended in 2002. Countries in Africa that have been hard-hit by Ebola, Malaria and other diseases are home to thousands of people that need wheelchairs but can’t afford them.

These people regain their sense of dignity and self-worth when they can move freely on their own. Without the assistance of a wheelchair, they have to rely on others to get from place to place. This makes school and work extremely difficult. With a wheelchair, people with physical disabilities can bring themselves to work and school, breaking themselves out of the vicious cycle of disability and poverty. Here are three organizations that are helping to make mobility a reality for people through wheelchair donations.

Walkabout Foundation

The brother and sister team Luis and Carolina Gonzalez-Bunster founded Walkabout Foundation in 2009. In 1994, Luis suffered damage to his spinal cord in a car accident. The injury paralyzed him and doctors told him he would never walk again.

Since its creation, Walkabout Foundation has donated 17,400 wheelchairs to people living in poverty in 25 countries. The foundation has also raised $1.642 million for research and founded two rehabilitation centers, one in India and the other in Kenya.

“Walkabout Foundation restores dignity, freedom and independence by providing wheelchairs and rehabilitation in the developing world and funding research to find a cure for paralysis,” the foundation’s homepage reads.

Free Wheelchair Mission

Free Wheelchair Mission is a faith-based organization that raises money for and donates wheelchairs to developing countries. It celebrates its official 20th anniversary this year.

The organization builds its own wheelchairs, which engineers have designed with cost efficiency and availability in mind. For example, the wheelchairs’ wheels are bicycle wheels because bicycles are a common mode of transportation almost anywhere in the world, making replacement parts for the wheelchairs easy to find and install.

In the 22 years since Founder and President Don Schoendorfer started producing and donating wheelchairs, Free Wheelchair Mission has donated more than 1.2 million wheelchairs in 94 countries.

Latter-day Saint Charities

Latter-day Saint (LDS) Charities is the humanitarian section of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Among its many charitable outreaches, it provides not only wheelchairs but also education on how to maintain and build wheelchairs so that community members can build their own wheelchairs.

In 2018 alone, LDS Charities made 53,800 wheelchair donations in 40 different countries. Volunteers work together with local governments and non-governmental groups to distribute wheelchairs and provide training for those receiving wheelchairs, their loved ones and their communities. Even with the COVID-19 pandemic, LDS Charities made 21,365 wheelchair donations in 2020.

Vulnerable groups receiving these wheelchair donations from the three organizations and others alike have their lives changed forever. The gift of mobility is irreplaceable and invaluable, improving the living conditions of those with physical disabilities.

– Holly Dorman
Photo: Flickr

American Peacekeeping
The role of United Nations peacekeeping forces – impartial troops that the U.N. deployed to ensure the promotion of human rights and democratic ideals – has been in question for years, especially due to concerns over their efficacy in situations where decisive military action is necessary. It is partly due to these concerns, as well as general opposition to international organizations from the Trump Administration, that American contributions to peacekeeping efforts have waned over the last five years. However, recent evidence shows that American peacekeeping not only plays an important role in the stability of many fragile democracies but that it often serves American interests more efficiently than U.S. military action could.

Controversy Over American Peacekeeping

U.N. peacekeeping efforts have long been the subject of controversy over their efficacy in conflict zones. Peacekeepers bind themselves to neutrality and may intervene only when the country in question invites them and use force exclusively in self-defense.

Traditional peacekeeping operations had the intention of maintaining demilitarized zones between warring parties in order to prevent either party from taking advantage of the other through abuse of cease-fires. An example of this includes the U.N. peacekeeping operation based in Jerusalem to prevent violence between Palestine and Israel. Peacekeeping’s detractors often point to this example as proof of the endless and ineffective nature of peacekeeping, given the failure of the Jerusalem mission to produce a peaceful regional agreement despite being implemented over 70 years ago. A better-known example of inefficacy in peacekeeping is the Rwandan genocide, where U.N. blue helmets – rendered powerless due to orders forbidding them to intervene – became witnesses to the slaughter of over 800,000 people.

Given the failure of the Rwandan peacekeeping mission and the fact that the kind of territorial conflicts the peacekeeping program intended to prevent are becoming less common, many believe that peacekeeping has no future in an era that ideological conflict and extremism define. This perspective, however, ignores blue-helmet successes and peacekeeping’s cost-efficiency in comparison to military interventions.

The Success of Peacekeeping

Blue helmet successes in East Timor and Sierra Leone point towards a new kind of peacekeeping that includes the mandate of military force where necessary in combination with the promotion of locally-led sustainable development initiatives. In East Timor, a country that integration with Indonesia and a desire for independence once tore apart, pro-integration militias began a bloody campaign which resulted in the deaths of thousands and the displacement of many more. After successfully registering hundreds of thousands of citizens to vote in a poll that demonstrated overwhelming support for independence, the U.N. provided peacekeepers with a mandate to restore stability to the region and assist in creating a local government. The multinational forces were successful in their use of force to quell violence in East Timor, and worked with local leaders to implement a new government that the Timorese designed rather than having Western nations force one upon them.

One can also see the efficacy of peacekeeping in the example of Sierra Leone, where a bloody civil war raged over the last decade of the 20th century. In the wake of a conflict that human atrocities characterized, U.N. peacekeeping operations (though initially modest) eventually brought nearly 18,000 troops into the region with the intention of restoring peace and disarming the country’s warring parties. In 2000, the U.N. negotiated a cease-fire under the Abuja Agreement, at which point peacekeeping operations shifted to prioritize the facilitation of fair elections and the rebuilding of the country’s infrastructure. Peacekeepers remained in the region until 2005 to ensure stability, and later surveys found that over 80% of Sierra Leoneans approved of the U.N.’s response to the conflict.

American Support for Peacekeeping

Under the Trump Administration, American contributions to the program have decreased from 29% of the American peacekeeping budget to under 25% over the last five years. Despite being the only organization for effective “burden-sharing” in the international effort for security, the Trump budget cuts stemmed from the belief that American contribution to the U.N. was unfairly large. The U.S. is currently the largest contributor to peacekeeping operations. Each country’s participation, however, depends on its size, wealth and veto power.

Despite claims that peacekeeping does not benefit American interests, recent studies show that it can be more efficient than American military intervention. A study by the Government Accountability Office found that, though U.N. peacekeeping operations cost roughly $2.4 billion (USD) over three years in the Central African Republic, a hypothetical American military operation with similar objectives would cost more than twice as much. When one factors this cost-analysis into the benefits to the U.S. from the global security gained by peacekeeping operations, it becomes clear that continued contribution to peacekeeping is in the best interest of American security.

Kieran Hadley
Photo: United Nations

Maternal Mortality in Sierra Leone

Maternal mortality may not be a constant fear of yours if you think about pregnancy. However, this threat has not been eliminated in many parts of the world. Simply because developed countries have significantly decreased this issue with medical advances, many women in various regions must contend with this terrible plight. Maternal mortality in Sierra Leone, specifically, is still considered to be of high risk and something women should consider prior to pregnancy.

The Most Dangerous Place to Become a Mother

The most dangerous place in the world to become a mother, in fact, is Sierra Leone. This country has one of the highest maternal mortality rates globally. Around every one in 17 pregnancies end in the death of the mother- an overly alarming statistic. An endeavor that is supposed to be filled with joy and excitement is now clouded with fear as mothers worry about their health instead of being able to focus on their babies. This worry is not one experienced globally: Sierra Leone women are 300 to 400 times more likely to die with each pregnancy in comparison to women in Sweden, Finland, and other high-income countries.

Factors That Contribute to Higher Rates of Maternal Mortality in Sierra Leone

Postpartum hemorrhaging has accounted for 32% of deaths along with bleeding, hypertension, abortions, obstructed labor, and infections. Hemorrhaging is problematic because a blood transfusion is required immediately to resolve the issue. However, when a woman gives birth at a local clinic, it can take hours to transport her to a hospital for the procedure. Unfortunately, many women bleed to death while waiting. However, most of these conditions can be treated with the correct healthcare, but due to extreme poverty, an overwhelming percentage of families do not have access to the necessary care.  This has resulted in unnecessary deaths.

Another significant factor that contributes to higher maternal mortality rates is that women in low-income countries tend to have more children. As a result, this increases their risk of complications. On average, women in Sierra Leone have five children, which, is considerably high when looking at countries like the United States whose average is 1.73 children. More children typically mean earlier pregnancies. In a 2016 report, researchers found 20% of deaths were girls ages 15 to 19 years old; a grim statistic especially when considering a 15-year-old is three times more likely to die during childbirth than a 22-year-old.

The Good News

Although the facts appear troubling, all hope is not lost. The United Nations has recognized maternal mortality as a serious issue. Thus, it has begun to combat the risk of death during pregnancy and the six weeks that follow.

The UN agency called the United Nations Fund for Population Activities (UNFPA) has started supporting midwifery through three government-run schools that graduate 150 students each year to tackle the high mortality rates. This alone will not improve the situation, as the majority of women in Sierra Leone already have midwives. It should result in better outcomes as these midwives will be better trained and even more common.

The UNFPA also focuses on family planning which reduces mortality by 25 to 30%. This UN organization provides 90% of the country’s forms of contraception through an annual $3 million budget. They estimated that from 2015 to 2017 this service prevented 4,500 maternal deaths and 570,000 unplanned pregnancies.

Maternal mortality in Sierra Leone may be among the highest rates in the world, but the country is taking imperative steps to diminish the risks, steps that have been working thus far. By 2023, UNFPA hopes that they can reduce adolescent births to 75 per 1,000. This, in turn, will massively decrease maternal mortality.

Victoria Mangelli
Photo: Flickr

FGM in Sierra Leone
People in Africa, parts of the Middle East and Asia frequently practice the archaic custom of female circumcision or female genital cutting. The act involves the cutting away of the external genitalia from young girls for non-medical reasons and often results in severe pain, bleeding, infections, and in the most severe cases, death. Moreover, victims of female genital mutilation also frequently suffer from fertility issues, pregnancy and childbirth complications and mental disorders, such as post-traumatic stress disorders, that inhibit their individuality and sexuality throughout their youth. Female genital mutilation (FGM) in Sierra Leone remains a common practice throughout the country as only 10% of Sierra Leonean women have been able to evade the tradition. Here is some information about FGM in Sierra Leone.

The Social Norm

The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that 140 million girls and women worldwide have experienced female genital mutilation as the practice has become so heavily integrated into the patterns of the societies they live in; the custom is often essential in traditional initiation rites and marriage rituals, and because these societies are highly patriarchal, girls have no choice but to undergo FGM due to their male counterparts dictating it. Additionally, many also view female genital mutilation as a symbol of status and honor to families, making it a social norm that girls have no choice but to abide by. Two million young girls are at risk of female genital mutilation every year as this archaic tradition lives on.

Female Genital Mutilation in Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone is one of the 28 countries in Africa where female genital mutilation is a common practice to this day. The practice, which an elderly female figure in Sierra Leonean villages typically performs, occurs in unsafe and unsterile environments. Female genital mutilation in Sierra Leone often happens without proper medical equipment; elderly women perform this operation with razor blades, penknives and even shards of broken glass without receiving any training on any medical practices. With these women severely uneducated about the gross human anatomy yet performing dangerous procedures without the proper tools, girls end up in dangerous health conditions where they experience laceration and infection without medicine to offer relief. UNICEF estimates that nearly 90% of all Sierra Leonean women have suffered genital mutilation.

FGM in Sierra Leone is particularly dangerous for young girls who are in poverty and live in poor and rural villages. Individuals in poverty are more vulnerable to the most unsafe conditions when undergoing female genital mutilation as they have little to no access to monetary means to acquire the necessary medical supplies during and after the mutilation. Moreover, classism plays a significant role in this archaic practice as more affluent families are able to afford a private medical professional to perform the procedure safely while impoverished girls must fend for themselves.

A Brighter Future

Because female genital mutilation is a practice inherently ingrained in the Sierra Leonean culture, attempting to pervade the custom is a difficult task. However, one may find a brighter future in the women who had once undergone this archaic practice. The Amazonian Initiative Movement is a nongovernmental organization in West Africa that campaigns to ban FGM in Sierra Leone and neighboring countries. Rugiatu Turay created it in 2002 with women who met in a refugee camp in Guinea during the 1991-2002 civil war in Sierra Leone. As the organization’s leaders themselves have experienced the horrors of female genital mutilation and the abuses of societal patriarchy, the activists have long searched for a resolution and discovered that the strongest combatants against the tradition are education and literacy.

With an estimated 66% of the Sierra Leonean population illiterate and 60% living beneath the poverty line, education and gender equality campaigns directed towards young girls have become some of the best ways to resist female genital mutilation. Moreover, the initiative offers a safe house for young girls who are fleeing from domestic abuse, forced marriage and genital mutilation where they can live, become educated and learn how to provide for themselves independently. The Amazonian Initiative Movement has empowered young women so that they may be capable of making their own choices with their bodies with the hopes of one day eliminating the dangerous practice of female genital mutilation throughout West Africa.

– Caroline Largoza
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