Striking for engagement: State-citizen relations in peacebuilding in Sierra-Leone

International Alert


Despite a clear emphasis on improving state-citizen relations in the Lome Peace Agreement and post-war peace-building agenda, challenges in Sierra Leone’s state-citizen relations remain. The report analyses the scope and opportunities for citizens to influence government actions; the extent to which citizens take these opportunities and why; and the outcomes and impacts of such engagement. It recommends flexibility in approaches to improving state-citizen relations through the use of informal and unofficial channels, and reactive programming. It calls for a greater integration of the private sector in state-citizen relations as a result of its increasing role in fragile states.

Post-war Sierra-Leone has implemented legal and institutional reforms with some positive impacts on state-citizen relations, but in recent years this progress has stalled. These impacts include: the creation of civil society space; the use of public consultation in policy making processes; the setting up of institutions (e.g. Human Rights Commission) for citizens to channel grievances; improved access to information; and the devolution of powers.

The government identifies many the challenges highlighted in this report in their Fragility Assessment, these include:  limited effectiveness of new laws and institutional reforms; inadequate funding; limited organisational platforms for citizens; the politicisation of state-citizen processes along party lines; and the residual challenges that dominated the Lome Peace Agreement.

Other findings include:

  • The addition of the private sector as an actor in state-citizen relations.
  • Government and citizens view do not hold the same view on effective engagement channels: citizens do not often see official channels as the most effective means of communication. For example, striking is viewed as being effective tool for communicating, engaging with, and influencing big business and governments when official channels do not work.

The report adds to a broader understanding of state-citizen relations and peace-building in fragile contexts. State-citizen relations are interest driven and very fluid, communication is key. Specific events, such as the Ebola outbreak, can be key opportunities for assessing and building relations. Orthodox approaches to state-citizen engagement require sustained and adequate funding. Fragile states (governments) are often more accountable to donors and business than to their citizens.

This report contributes to broader understandings of the nature and dynamic of citizens’ engagement in fragile states and more broadly. It recommends donors:

  • Focus on indirect approaches to improving state-citizen relations in fragile state, which are likely to be more effective.
  • Invest in reactive programming, such as protests and demonstrations, to support and build state-citizen relations during and after crises.
  • Identify and support citizens’ formal and informal channels of communication with the state.
  • Ensure that programming is guided by a political economy analysis to identify context-specific issues and sectors fundamental to citizens’ livelihoods.
  • Analyse and adjust all donor funding mechanisms, scale and trends in relation to their impact on state-citizen relations.
  • Support and strengthen citizens’ capacity to engage with and monitor policy implementation (not just policy formulation).
  • Coordinate and integrate business activities into state-citizen programming.


International Alert. (2015). Striking for engagement: State-citizen relations in peace-building in Sierra-Leone. London: International Alert.