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Creating a Role for the RSLAF

In conclusion, it is clear that within the MoD, the process of working to create an organisational culture that ensures accountability, efficiency and effectiveness in defence management, is a very difficult and slow one. The continuing differences and culture clashes between the military and civilians need careful management in the long-term.

While the reform process was rendering RSLAF more professionally focused, the force continued to be plagued by continued lack of equipment, low levels of operational activity and welfare and perceptions of being comparatively worse off in terms of salary and training than their neighbours in the region. Not surprisingly, the Government was seen as failing to honour them. In 2006, it was noted that “a clear commonality with the wider population […] is perception of the government […] as a hindrance rather than an ‘enabler’”223.

A clearly identified role for the RSLAF and its mandate in Sierra Leone was also needed – and sought for. The security system transformation process had been designed to contain the army and enhance policing as the unambiguous providers of internal security. “Professional identity would be further strengthened by a constitution for security akin to ‘Police Primacy’”224. A great deal of effort had been expended to remove the army from the political sphere and matters of internal security, but it had proven difficult for the RSLAF to emerge with an identity that would give the armed forces a clear purpose.

This issue was exacerbated by comparisons between RSLAF and SLP performance. Over the years the two organizations had received fundamentally different types of external assistance through IMATT and CCSSP, respectively.

In 2005, there was a distinct perception within the SLP that RSLAF achievements had been delivered or driven by IMATT, ultimately making reform efforts less sustainable in the long run. Nonetheless, a qualitative perception survey among RSLAF officers conducted in 2006, also showed that since 2004, relations between the police and the army “had become, if not stronger, then more accepting […]. In 2004, it was suggested that although aware of the message of police primacy, participants perceived RSLAF and police roles to be unclear and overlapping […]. Furthermore, tension between the RSLAF and the police was a result of a perceived discrepancy in reward levels rather than an RSLAF desire to take back elements of the police’s domestic security role”225. Such vagueness in roles and responsibilities appeared less pronounced in 2006, with RSLAF members “perceiving their role in relation to the police more clearly with less need to make direct comparisons between themselves and the police”226.

One reason for this perception shift no doubt related to ONS’ formulation of the policy defining Military Aid to the Civil Power (MACP). (MACP outlines how the SLP may call on RSLAF assistance in the extraordinary event that the security situation demands it.) Previously, in the words of one of RSLAF’s senior officers “acrimony, misconception and rancour” existed between the two security organizations227. During a seminar for key security system actors held in December 2005 in Accra, slight puzzlement over the centrality and weight conferred upon the MACP was expressed. Yet, the MACP gave much needed clarity to relations between the SLP and RSLAF, and as such was crucial in outlining precisely when and how the armed forces may play a role in internal security in Sierra Leone. It also defined an inclusive rather than exclusive role for the armed forces.

MACP itself revolves around when and how the RSLAF may be employed in support of the ‘civil power’ in conditions of relative peace, stability and normality and in the absence of any substantive threat to the territorial integrity of Sierra Leone. Its functions are defined by ‘standing’ and ‘emergency’ categories:

A standing MACP task is one where authority is granted by the NSC for the RSLAF to conduct a defined operation in support of civil power agencies for an indefinite period. The period will end when the relevant government authorities, the NSC specifically, decide that military support is no longer required.

An emergency MACP task is one where specified support is provided to the civil power by the RSLAF after a specific request and NSC authority has been granted. Each task will be considered on a case-by-case basis.

Tasks in this category will only be conducted in specific situations of dire emergency and where the civil power is unable to deploy sufficiently appropriate resources to cope with the emergency confronting them (including counter-terrorism and crime in the event that the SLP is unable to provide sufficient resources in a timely manner). This type of MACP also includes point security, providing armed or unarmed RSLAF personnel to secure installations (e.g., the Presidential Lodge or a critical infrastructure site) and specialist assistance to the police in dealing with civil disturbances.

Soldiers from the RSLAF 4th Brigade and Force Reconnaissance Unit taking part in crowd control training exercises at the Armed Forces Training Centre in Freetown.

It was within the MACP framework that RSLAF supported the SLP during the 2007 elections. After a request by the SLP through the NSCCG, RSLAF assistance was granted. RSLAF played an essential role providing pre- positioning troops before, during and after the elections, even though apprehensions about its success were expressed by major stakeholders228. Involvement of the RSLAF in such internal security situations was made public knowledge through a press statement.

Another means of investing RSLAF with a stronger identity has been through its potential contributions of troops to the ECOWAS Standby Force (ESF).

Indeed, RSLAF aspires to participate in ECOWAS as well UN and AU peacekeeping missions. In 2006, RSLAF contributions to international military operations were seen as “an important mechanism for reinforcing national pride and developing operational capability”229. However, while providing international peacekeeping forces was noted as one of RSLAF’s priorities230, the RSLAF lacked several of the important capabilities essential for successful involvement.

IMATT noted its willingness to support the development of some of these capabilities, but this assistance was to be preconditioned on what was referred to as a ‘comprehensive and sustainable plan’ for an appropriately-sized and trained force, effectively a Core Review, which could have paved the way for a defence review after the elections. This remains an unresolved issue at the time of this writing.

Nonetheless, the RSLAF has already contributed a staff officer to the ESF Headquarters in Nigeria, led by a Nigerian Brigadier. Whilst currently not deployable, a force structure has also been prepared, which sees Sierra Leone generating at least an infantry company and possibly a battalion to the ESF.

The debate in 2006 revolved around whether to select the company or battalion as a whole, which would be based on the best operational evaluation reports, or whether it should be done by selecting the best individuals to make up the company/battalion231. Either way, there was an obvious incentive in the possibility, through ECOWAS Standby Forces contributions, of being employed on UN subsistence rates. Indeed, as noted in 2005, income generation could in the long run emanate from RSLAF contributions to peacekeeping missions232,

IMATT and RSLAF soldiers during an ESF exercise at the Armed Forces Training Centre.

although the possibilities to do so should not be over-estimated (and the African Union would be unlikely to generate any). Of greater potential have been the perceived gains from patrolling the seas for illegal fishing, an idea that surfaced since ‘Plan 2010’ was produced in 2004. This would be accomplished by collaborating with the Government of Sierra Leone to establish a Joint Maritime Authority, but despite preliminary planning, this initiative has not been implemented.

From the very outset of the defence reform process, support to build capacity, educate and train was guided by the wish to see young, motivated officers emerge in the same manner as occurred in the SLP. It was obvious that there were good lieutenants and captains in RSLAF. They had undergone training in Ghana and at the Horton Academy at Leicester Peak in the hills above Freetown, but they had limited or no opportunity for promotion233. From the perspective of senior RSLAF officers, however, such perceptions, even if not explicitly communicated, were clearly understood: “IMATT personnel were tempted to turn to these officers [i.e., young officers] as the best chance for consolidating reform. IMATT believed that these officers had the flexibility, open-mindedness and idealism of young officers everywhere. They were recruited specifically to wash away the stains left by their predecessors, i.e., most senior officers still serving”234.

This approach understandably led to tension between a new generation of up- and- coming officers and those officers who had served through the years of conflict, including, in some cases, under NPRC and the AFRC. It was a fine balancing act, but by 2005, a drive for voluntary retirements was initiated with economic and political support from the ‘Freetown troika’ (DfID, the High Commission and IMATT). Several Brigadiers and Colonels were removed and paid the amount that they would get had they stayed in service until retirement age. From the perspective of IMATT, the focus was on “people who they knew were corrupt. RSLAF had no disciplinary mechanisms, even with all the evidence. We were able to bring through Majors who were more competent”235.

At the same time, the issue of further downsizing the armed forces to an affordable and sustainable size continued to be hotly debated. RSLAF and the MoD had already experienced a considerable drop in numbers between 2000 and 2006, from around 15,000 to less than 11,000 personnel. However, there is a continuing tension between the need to produce a Core Review of Defence and political resistance to do so, partly because this may imply significant further reductions. It may even imply revisiting the original figures of 6,000 for the armed forces envisaged in the 1990s before security-related programming took off, but the more likely level would be 8,500 (close to the target discussed from the early 2000s), as is currently being discussed. The need to produce a Core Review had been identified by some of the civilian staff in the MoD as a UK- driven constraint on the future size and shape of RSLAF. However, issues of sustainability and affordability could not be addressed without it. In 2007, it became clear that whatever decision was to be made about the size of RSLAF had to come from the incoming Government. The executive powers held by expatriates, civilian and military, had been greatly reduced in 2007; reluctance to enforce difficult decisions on behalf of Sierra Leonean counterparts was increasing.

In conclusion, by 2007 RSLAF had come a long way and was continuing to consolidate its own position, even if affordability issues remain a primary concern. The development of MACP and the turnover of senior officers helped define more clearly a new mandate for a democratically accountable institution and to make changes in the organizational culture to reflect this. These developments are critical in the RSLAF’s ability to establish a clear picture of its own identity outside of domestic political involvement and the provision of internal security where the SLP has primacy. At the same time, the MACP sets down a clear framework for RSLAF support to SLP activities. The RSLAF was beginning to see a clear, democratic framework within which to operate and a target (peacekeeping) as something to aim for in the long-term. For all the difficulties and challenges that remain, both are arguably measures of how far RSLAF has come.

RSLAF in training at the base in Wilberforce, Freetown.

A map reading and navigation training exercise at the base in Wilberforce, Freetown