Ibrahim Mansaray spent seven years in Sierra Leone’s Office of National Security before pursuing a master’s degree at Arcadia.
By SARAH R. SCHWARTZ ’10 Photography PEDRO LEAL ’13
It’s one thing to listen to a news report or read a case study on international conflict. But if you’re on the ground defending your life and country from rebel fighters and militiamen, conflict looks a little different. Former National Security Officer Ibrahim Mansaray ’13M, a graduate student in Arcadia’s International Peace and Conflict Resolution (IPCR) program, is using his skills and making the right connections to ensure the future is bright for his home country of Sierra Leone.
Mansaray is familiar with the realities and challenges his nation faces, having spent seven years in the Office of National Security. He reported to former President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah, who declared an end to the 11-year Civil War in 2002, following intervention by Nigerian and then British troops, which helped drive out rebel groups. In his position, Mansaray was part of a team tasked with building the security sector, disarming and demobilizing combatants.
“It was tough, really tough,” he says. “Especially when we were dealing with nationalists from Liberia, from South Africa, from Zimbabwe.” Mansaray worked directly with the United Nations and the British government as they attempted to dislodge rebels from the country.
Mansaray nearly lost his life—twice—during the seven years he spent in the position. “Because we were working on the side of the government, even after the disarmament process, there were still ex-combatants targeting government officials. So it was really scary. When we left the office at night, ex-combatants were stalking us.” Mansaray had to fight for his life on once occasion as security guards rushed to his aid.
Even though the job made him a target, Mansaray was grateful for the opportunity to serve his country. “I was just lucky,” he says of being appointed to the position.
His education was disrupted by the Civil War. A graduate of Government Secondary School for Boys, a prestigious boarding school in Magburaka, Mansaray matriculated to Njala University. But in 1991 the school was forced to close and relocate to the capital city, Freetown, due to rioting. In 2001, he graduated with a both a bachelor’s and master’s degree in Education from Njala University.
A well-known, trusted and respected student, Mansaray was elected the Student Union President of Njala University College, from 1999 to 2000. During his tenure, he worked hard to establish advocacy groups and began making contacts and working with members of Sierra Leonean government. So even before he left the university, he knew most of the ministers.
When President Kabbah’s term ended in 2007, Mansaray decided it was a good time to make some changes in his career. He continued working in his field, presenting on security and intelligence at two African Union conferences in Kenya and Zimbabwe. However, he quickly realized that he would need an extra skill set to light the path to mutual understanding and resolution. So in 2010, he moved to California to attend Argosy University in San Francisco to pursue a Psy.D. in Clinical Psychology. But after a semester, he realized that the program wasn’t in alignment with his professional goals.
“Counseling wasn’t my calling,” says Mansaray. Not long after this realization, he connected with fellow ex-pat Alie Badara Kargbo ’12, who shared his experiences in Arcadia’s International Peace and Conflict Resolution program. “He told me all about Arcadia and about how good this program would be for me, especially if I ever wanted to go back into politics or work with international non-governmental organizations.” After further research, Mansaray decided to transfer.
“I’ve really enjoyed my time at Arcadia—this is the turning point of my life,” he says. “My professors are so fantastic and accommodating, they are always ready to help, especially to students who are coming from developing countries.”
Mansaray explains that the program has given him a different lens with which to view the conflict and challenges Sierra Leone faces. “The Social Life of War,” a course led by Dr. Jennifer Riggan, Assistant Professor of International Studies, revealed the “way some of our leaders have mismanaged the nation, the way they have mismanaged the economy, the way they have perpetrated and waged wars in our country and our continent…. When you go through the material that she teaches and reflect on your knowledge of the continent, it is glaring—you see it every day.”
Nearing graduation, Mansaray felt the time was right to attend “Challenges Facing Sierra Leone in Post Conflict Era: What Lies Ahead?” an international conference at the Hague in December 2012. The conference invited professors from the University of Sierra Leone to discuss water sanitation infrastructure, which was destroyed in the wake of the Civil War and never reestablished. President of Sierra Leone Ernest Bai Koroma was also present and made a statement on the political challenges of funding sanitation projects with money from mining the nation’s natural resources.
After the President spoke, Mansaray was called upon to respond. Thinking on his feet, he was able to draw from his research in “Law, Disorder & Globalization,” a course taught by Dr. Hilary Parsons Dick, Assistant Professor of International Studies. Using his knowledge of the impact of undocumented immigrants on the economy in African states, he added some complexities to the discussion.
“I discussed the insecurity of the West African sub region and the responsible mining of our country’s natural resources, such as oil and gold. I drew upon an example of the effect that Islamists in Mali and Nigeria are having on the sub region in West Africa to discuss the immigration of the non-documented West Africans coming into Sierra Leone.”
He was even able to speak with the President after the session. “He said that my points were really valid and he advised that when I go to Sierra Leone in June, that I pay him a visit in his office. For me, that was a blessing. I know that the IPCR program has really equipped me to go back and really handle some of these conflicts and the initiatives that are introduced to the government.”
Eventually, Mansaray hopes to work in the United Nations, but in June he will focus on returning to Sierra Leone and, with his new contacts, addressing some of the problems that his nation faces.