An Ombuds Journey: My experience in the office of a classical Ombudsman

By Abdul Hassan Sesay,

I was not the Ombudsman, but I had a passion for helping people in distress and I was able to utilize this when I worked as an investigator and later principal investigator in the office of the ombudsman Sierra Leone.

The question on how someone becomes an ombudsman varies from country to country and from organizations. With my experience in the office of a classical ombudsman, here are examples of what I found to be the process for appointment. When I visited the Justice Ombudsman’s Office in Stockholm, Sweden in 2011, I came to realize that there are two sets of ombudsmen in Sweden. The Justice Ombudsman is also called the parliamentary Ombudsman and he is elected by Parliament with a two third majority. You also have the executive ombudsman who is appointed by the prime minister. However, in most African countries the Ombudsman is appointed by the president and approved by parliament. I have not had the opportunity to work as an organizational ombudsman whose appointment might be different from those mentioned above.

My journey started when I was hired as an investigator in that office in July 2009. I was the only trained investigator then, as I transitioned to the office from the Sierra Leone Police. Upon taking office there, I found there was nothing to lean on as the office was in its embryonic stage. So, we had to network with sister offices in South Africa, The Public Protector, The Malawi Ombudsman Office and other similar offices in our region to start off. We later developed a complaint handling manual, Standard Operating Procedures and an office Charter. We embarked on massive public education campaigns to get the attention of the Sierra Leone public on the essential functions of the office. We also held intake clinics and embarked upon an ombudsman meeting the people tour where the ombudsman crisscrossed the length and breadth of the country. This yielded dividends as the number of complaints received and concluded rose significantly.

In Sierra Leone the office faced a lot of challenges as the country was emerging from the ashes of the civil war. One main complaint that I can vividly remember is one having to do with the military vs ex-servicemen. We had to partner with the human rights commission to conduct a public hearing which seriously indicted the military’s conduct towards the former soldiers.

Let me conclude by saying, working as ombudsman or ombudsman’s staff is in itself self-fulfilling and gratifying. The office serves to bring to the fore the suffering of the down trodden in the societies. By confronting the powers that be with the advertent or inadvertent misdeeds against the people they serve and mediating those concerns with the victims, the ombudsman plays a critical role in bringing lasting peace and justice to communities.

How to Submit

This post continues our series representing the various pathways one may take in their journey as an ombuds. If you would like to share your journey, please email your narrative to [email protected]. We will be collecting stories throughout the month of June and we encourage both members and non-members to submit and share their experiences here on IOA's Blog. 

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  • Name
  • Job Title
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Need help getting started?

Here are some prompts to help you frame your narrative:

  • What first inspired you to fulfill the role of an ombuds?
  • How has your educational background helped you succeed in this role?
  • What professional experiences helped shape your path?
  • What allows you to stay prepared for success in your role?
  • How do you care for yourself to ensure your sustainability in this role?
  • What guidance would you give others that are interested in starting their journey?


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Comments on "An Ombuds Journey: My experience in the office of a classical Ombudsman"

Comments 0-15 of 2

KRISTINE K PARANICA - Thursday, September 02, 2021

Your story is inspiring. Thank you for sharing your journey as an Ombuds working in Sierra Leone, where you were able to help people in often dire straits. It puts some perspective in my view of our shared work and I am grateful to have heard your story.

Mark - Tuesday, July 27, 2021

Thank you for sharing your story, Abdul. It is quite a powerful perspective from what is [for me] an unimaginably trying environment in which to practice.

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