Major international donors are gathering in Paris to draft a long-term development strategy for the impoverished West African country of Sierra Leone.
Hosted by the World Bank, the Paris conference is the first time the government of Sierra Leone and major donors are meeting to discuss the country's long-term development needs since 1997. In the intervening years, the West African country was torn apart by a civil war in which thousands were killed and thousands more displaced.
Now, under the new peace-time government of President Ahmed Tejan Kabbah, some development experts believe the country is turning a new page. That includes Mats Karlsson, the World Bank's country director for Sierra Leone. "[In the past year, two years] there is peace and there is furthermore democracy. In May there were free and fair elections that created democratic renewal. And the government is dealing with its past through a truth and reconciliation commission, a special court to deal with the political side," he said.
The World Bank has already given $75 million this year to help Sierra Leone's transition from war to peace. The money has helped to fund the repatriation and resettlement of roughly 300,000 refugees and displaced people.
Mr. Karlsson said the Sierra Leone government has already made strides in securing economic stability, and now has a growth rate of six percent.
During the two-day meeting in Paris, the World Bank officials hope Sierra Leone officials and donors, including the United Nations, the European Union and the United States, will agree on funding and a blueprint for the country's long-term development.
"Now is the time to lay out perspectives for the future. How to sustain six to seven percent growth year after year? How to revitalize agriculture? How to bring roads, energy, telephones, water to people? And of course, how to address the tremendous backlog of human development," Mr. Karlsson said.
Currently, Sierra Leone is at or near the bottom of almost every economic development indicator. Per capita income is about $130. Average life expectancy is just 39 years.
Despite praise from some groups like the World Bank, others like Human Rights Watch remain skeptical about the country's future. A special war crimes court and reconciliation committee in Sierra Leone are underfunded, Human Rights Watch has said.
The group also says many of the problems that led to warfare in the first place, including rampant corruption and an army and police not always accountable to the public, still remain.