|Palace coup heralds era of further uncertainty
for Sierra Leone as ...
CAPTAIN STRASSER IS OUSTED FROM OFFICE
It was bloodless and most people refused to call it a coup. There was no closing of borders - there is little control over it anyway - no seizure of the national radio or the continuous playing of martial music; links to the outside world were not cut off nor was the airport closed to international flights. Barring a few days’ imposition of a dusk to dawn curfew, things were normal and there was no significant disruption of life in Freetown. Elsewhere in the country the event might as well have not happened because it had no effect there.
In fact it was a changing of the guards or, as somebody described it, a game of musical chairs with one soldier replacing another who had tried to rock the NPRC’s boat. It was a palace coup to be more precise.
The events of January 16 will count for little as long as soldiers remain at the helm. Its significance is in re-awakening moribund expectations that the peace process will be affected one way or the other - either through a fresh commitment by the NPRC government to pursue the war to the bitter end or a more determined and sustained bid for peace. There are strong pointers to the latter being the case.
This is a strange paradox because Brigadier Julius Maada Bio, the new Chairman who was deputy to Captain Valentine Strasser - the man he has ousted from State House - was widely believed to be in favour of pursuing the military option and, therefore, against handing over to civilians until the war was won. The BBC’s West Africa correspondent who broke the news of the "coup" to World Service listeners described Bio as a "hardliner", by which he must have meant the new Chairman was not in favour of a peaceful settlement. That was alright while he was not in charge but now his role is different
One cannot fail to notice the diplomatic initiatives which Bio has undertaken in the two weeks since he took over from Strasser. He has visited Nigeria, Ghana, Ivory Coast, Burkina Fasso and Guinea.
Captain Strasser seemed quite happy to accommodate the humdrum state of uncertainty in the country. It is baffling therefore that he should have committed a last minute volte face to hang on to power as his oust-ers have claimed. But far from it being a personal disaster for Strasser, this ‘coup’ is a serious blow to those who saw him as a safe pair of hands for seeing through the programme for democracy in Sierra Leone.
The veneer of legitimacy which comes with any pretext of commitment
to democracy makes it easier on the conscience of the international community,
especially international investors, who do not wish to be publicly associated
with a discredited military government. For them, exploitation under a
civilian government is more respectable than that under a military dictatorship.
The point, though, is that the exploitation of the people of Sierra Leone
is immoral and unjust and should therefore not be encouraged or facilitated.
Strasser’s government was guilty of that and they encouraged him. The ‘coup’
has not changed that.
A VERY PRIVATE ‘COUP’
It followed a showdown between the Chairman and members of the NPRC and the Supreme Council of State. Ex-Chairman Strasser was physically manhandled by his colleagues and frogmarched to a waiting helicopter, his wrists restrained with handcuffs. He had fallen out with his once loyal friends. When it came to the crunch they did not show him any mercy. Strasser was thus unceremoniously and gracelessly bundled into the plane and despatched to the neighbouring Republic of Guinea - adding to the statistics in the growing list of de-stooled Heads of State of Sierra Leone. In Guinea, Strasser will be joining the man whom he overthrew - ex President Joseph Momoh and hundreds of thousands of Sierra Leoneans driven by the civil war who are living in dreadful conditions in refugee camps.
Depending on whom you talk to, the sequence of events before and on Tuesday, 16 January tends to vary from one raconteur to the next. The manner of his exit from the country is not disputed.
One version - probably the most accurate one - is that Strasser felt so aggrieved by his colleagues that he decided to sack those members of his Cabinet who opposed his bid for leadership of the National Unity Party (NUP). The ‘coup’ was therefore a preemptive strike by the refusniks who included top military men like Brigadier Maada Bio, Lt Colonel Tom Nyuma, Lt Col Komba Mondeh, Lt Col Reginald Glover, Lt Col Idriss Kamara, Lt Col Karefa-Kargbo and the Secretary-General of the NPRC, Mr John Benjamin. For his part Strasser allegedly had the support of his "loyal" ministers - mainly civilians - like Mr Hindolo Trye, Mr Sam Maligie, Mr Arnold Gooding, Mr Victor Brandon, Mr Lesley Scott, Miss Christiana Thorpe and Dr Mohammed Samura. Some say that legislation was at that very time being drafted for lowering the adopted age limit to enable Strasser to stake a claim for leadership of the NUP and the presidency.
What brought matters to a head was the alleged attempt by Captain Strasser to install himself as the leader of the NUP and thus its Presidential candidate. This, despite the fact that under the Constitution he of a mere 29 years was barred by virtue of the age limit of 40 imposed on presidential aspirants. In a confrontation with members of the NPRC- cum-NUP, Strasser was left in no doubt that he would not be allowed to carry out his plan. He was reminded that he was the first person to be asked if he had any interest in becoming the leader of their party which he turned down, saying he would be leaving office after the elections. In accordance with his expressed wish, colleges had been found for him and other military colleagues who wanted to proceed abroad for further studies. Others like Bio and Nyuma had decided to stay in the army. He was told bluntly that it would be dishonourable for him to renege on all these undertakings which would prove an embarrassment for the regime. Strasser argued - here again the details vary - that the election of Dr John Karimu as leader of the NUP was improper. He protested that it was not right that Karimu was selected at a conclave. The names of can-didates should have been presented at the NUP’s convention, not before. His opponents countered that any one who wished to contest had been given adequate time to give notice to enter the contest after paying the stipulated fees. Strasser did not do so and therefore disqualified himself.
Strasser’s friends claim that the "coup makers" had no intention of handing power to civilians and that they were using the NUP as a smoke screen for the NPRC. They point singularly to the new Cabinet which they claim consists of the clones of Benjamin, Karimu and Bio. They say that there was a plot to deceive the country which Strasser was going to spoil. It is difficult to believe this story. Captain Strasser could have gone to the country to explain what was happening. He might have had sympathy. Why didn’t he?
Undaunted but, by now, irate and unhappy Strasser summoned Karimu - his former minister of Finance and the man preferred by the others as the Presidential candidate of the NUP - to his office. He tried to persuade him to stand down in his favour but Karimu stood his ground, arguing that the decision to select him was not his but the Party’s and could only be reversed by it.
On Tuesday, 16 January, unknown to Strasser who had gone to take the
salute at a passing out parade at Benguema, just outside Freetown,
in the morning, his colleagues hatched the plan for his dethronement. Their
moment came at a scheduled afternoon meeting of the Supreme Council of
State at the Defence HQ at Cockerill in Freetown. Just as he entered
the inner precincts his body guards were disarmed and he was put under
arrest. His once "trusted" bodyguard Captain Patrick Koigor-Amara
allegedly refused to let Strasser’s other security access to the store
containing the personal arsenal; he was promoted for his cooperation by
the new Chairman. A scuffle ensued but this was quickly brought under control,
Strasser coming off the worst for it. He was allegedly punched in the face
and others had a go at him with a few body blows. Another former close
friend reportedly tore off his captain’s stripes. The poor man was humiliated
and manhandled. They manacled him and frog marched him into a helicopter
for his banishment to Guinea. A self-styled revolutionary had fallen foul
of his comrades. Will the others learn?
DEPUTY CHAIRMAN ASSUMES OFFICE AFTER BOSS IS EJECTED
Brigadier Julius Maada Bio, recently appointed Chief of Defence Staff, has taken over as Chairman of the NPRC and Head of State. The announcement was made by NPRC member Lt Col Karefa Kargbo, the Director of Defence Information, following the ousting of Captain Valentine Strasser in a palace coup on Tuesday 16 January. He claimed on radio and TV that the Armed Forces had decided to change the leadership of the NPRC because "of the former Chairman’s blatant attempt to force the NPRC to make some major legislative changes in the electoral laws of this country and start machinations to ensure that he is installed as the next president, come February 26".
He went on: "This change would not only have derailed the whole democratic process but would have also put a lie to the NPRC’s avowed stance of not only creating a level playing field and ensuring free and fair elections but it would have been going back on the leader’s promise to the nation and the international community at large that he would not be taking part in the forthcoming general elections".
Bio who is 33 years old was deputy Chairman to Captain Valentine Strasser.
He is married with two children.
NEW CHAIRMAN MAKES PEACE OVERTURES TO RUF
One of the very first acts of the new Chairman was to announce
his government’s preparedness to negotiate a peaceful settlement of the
civil war with the RUF, without any preconditions, on any day, at anytime
and place. He invited the leadership of the RUF to respond to the invitation
in good faith so as to end the suffering of the people. He also visited
the leaders of several West African countries and asked them to use their
influence to bring the parties together for peace talks.
RUF RESPONDS FAVOURABLY TO CHAIRMAN’S OVERTURES
The dramatic events unfolding in Freetown were closely monitored by the RUF contingent in the Ivory Coast as well as in RUF controlled zones. Moments after the coup, the leadership of the RUF and its War Council went into a closed session during which the developments in the country were discussed including Chairman Bio’s unconditional offer to negotiate. By Sunday night the war council had decided to accept the offer by the NPRC for dialogue. The RUF, as if to match the NPRC word for word, came the following Monday with a statement proclaiming that it too was ready to talk peace with the NPRC provided the forthcoming elections due to be held on 26 February are postponed. None of their other previous conditions were mentioned. Some had pro-ved particularly difficult for the NPRC to even countenance, such as the removal from Sierra Leone of all foreign troops and mercenaries, etc.
Next day Tuesday the RUF declared a unilateral cease fire for one week "To reinforce its willingness to negotiate and to demonstrate its sincerity". Their spokesman Fayia Musa described Brigadier Bio as a patriot. "That is why we are responding to his offer" he said in an interview.
LORD AVEBURY - A CHAMPION FOR JUSTICE AND PEACE
Lord Avebury the Chairman of the UK Parliamentary Human Rights Group is Sierra Leone’s unsung hero. He has been a prickly thorn in the side of Foreign and Commonwealth Office mandarins from whom he constantly demands explanations for, and answers to, critical human rights issues concerning Sierra Leone.
Unknown to most Sierra Leoneans Lord Avebury - Eric Lubbock is his real name - has been firing a salvo of enquiring letters at Baroness Lynda Chalker (of Wallassey) and officials at the Commonwealth Secretariat in London about the wisdom of, and the conditions for, holding the forthcoming general elections. He is probably the only one apart from the Minister herself, on both sides of an indifferent House of Parliament, who is closely watching events in Sierra Leone despite his worldwide brief on human rights. His knowledge of the current situation is phenomenally detailed and his concern for Sierra Leone’s future is equally unbridled. His quest for the truth is insatiable and like a beaver he will persist doggedly until he gets an answer. His tenacity is such that, according to him, "I have a feeling they think I’m a bit of a nuisance in asking some of these awkward questions. They would rather let sleeping dogs lie". He has been kind enough to pass copies of his correspondence to Focus and extracts from those to Lady Chalker are reproduced below:
To The Rt. Hon. The Baroness Lynda Chalker of Wallassey (December
(January 2, 1996)
(January 7, 1996)
You say there is no case for delaying the elections, but this is not true. Even the UN Secretary-General recognised that some people believed that postponement was the best course, when he was in Freetown before Christmas, and now the chiefs in the South East have urged postponement. Just because you happen to be of a different view, that doesn’t mean there should be no discussion, though I am not surprised, after the recent behaviour of the government, that you should be following such an authoritarian line.
(January 9 1996)
(1) IF THE ELECTIONS ARE POSTPONED, WHAT NEXT?
The argument for no elections now and their postponement makes
good sense. Where this paper and others who share our view differ from
other proponents of this argument is that we insist further that Sierra
Leoneans should be offered the next best thing to a hurriedly improvised
election that could easily fail. It is the idea of an Interim Government
Of National Unity comprised preponderantly of respected members of
the civilian population with some representatives from the warring sides.
We have not mentioned the NPRC because they are notionally loyal
members of the Sierra Leone Armed Forces - the military. The interim government
will take care of the governance of Sierra Leone and oversee the negotiation
of a peaceful settlement of this war, under which issues like rehabilitation,
resettlement, demobilisation and assimilation, relief and reconstruction
could be addressed without suspicion from this or that section or party.
The soldiers and their friends in the NPRC must understand that they cannot be judge and jury in their own cause? Both they and the RUF are the principal combatants in this conflict. They must let neutral parties intervene between them. Ideally it should be the democratically elected representatives of the people. But since conditions on the ground are far from being conducive for holding free and fair elections, we strongly urge that an interim government takes over the governance of Sierra Leone for the time being with the agreement of all - the people, the RUF and the Military - while tempers cool down and the dust settles.
The international community should adopt this solution as its main objective
and put all its influence, power and tremendous resources behind the search
for individual Sierra Leoneans to carry the mantle of power during the
next few months. There is still time for it to change direction. Only fools
and God do not change. Such a cross-sectional, representative government
stiffened with the resolve and support of the country as well as the international
community could work wonders. Let’s try it!
(2) WHAT IF THEY GO AHEAD?
If the elections are not postponed then events will be dictated by the reality on the ground. It must be assumed that the absence of certain conditions which we have so often pointed out would have been rectified to ensure that the elections are free and fair.
Mr James Jonah, in his analysis of what has gone wrong so far with the electoral process, identified many discrepancies which did not satisfy INEC’s own criteria for free and fair elections. He expressed his unease about "alterations in the electoral law which were being implemented unilaterally by the government" to suit, we might add, their political purposes and further the interest of their own Party. He had also pointed out that there was no electoral code. But more importantly, he was quoted as saying "If you try to manipulate the process, you are against peace".
We would hope that this hurdle has been cleared. If the government is in charge of the process, or transparency provisions have not been included in their decrees and INEC itself was still subject to government directives then the prospects for free and fair elections are bleak.
This is aside from the fact that the threat of violence will be in attendance come February 26. As long as peace negotiations have not started - the principal parties have expressed a desire to negotiate - we cannot with any certainty pretend that we are out of the woods yet, unless there are cast iron guarantees that adequate security will be provided. Lt Karefa-Kargbo, PRO man for the army, categorically declared at INEC’s Consultative Conference in August 1995 that the military could not guarantee security at the elections.
Bringing civilians out to vote during an ongoing war is therefore a big gamble. It could needlessly be endangering the lives of electors during conditions of impending violence. Should anything go awry, the responsibility for it must be borne by those whose idea is the election. There will no doubt be the usual assortment of observers - election tourists - to provide the assurance that the elections are conducted with propriety. It is to be expected that, unlike some of the NGO’s on the ground, they will not be confined in Freetown but that they will be free and able to go wherever polling booths will be placed.
When that happens and the elections are deemed to have been free and fair, we can then get back to the main issue of the day - how we can bring peace to Sierra Leone.
One hopes that the government that emerges will not be averse to talking
with the RUF - unconditionally - and that the RUF will respond in the same
spirit. That is all that counts. The elections could never alter that basic
(3) LET’S USE OUR OWN PEOPLE IN THE SEARCH FOR PEACE
It is the pinnacle of folly to continue in the belief that only
foreigners can make peace between us. That is why progress towards peace
is taking so long. We must learn to trust one another and that means recognising
the efforts of those publicly, not secretly, committed to peace. Use them
if they have the potential. Let the international community help in the
provision of the necessary resources to facilitate their work. But let’s
use our own people to solve this problem. In the traditions from which
most of us come, a serious family upheaval like ours would involve honourable
and experienced elders who would be asked, or will act on their own motion,
to intervene. Let us consciously seek those in our midst who command respect
and are above suspicion. Let us give them the challenge. It might just
work for us for once.
(4) EXECUTIVE OUTCOMES - SEND THEM BACK HOME
First they lay land mines and encircle the inhabitants and their towns and villages in the diamond areas in the Kono District with them. Then they create a so-called Kono Community Council - a latter-day version of the puppet councils set up by the apartheid regime in black townships across South Africa. In this way they controlled the lives of black people, monitoring their movements into and out their homes. Being virtual prisoners in their towns and villages, Kono people are being isolated from the rest of the country by their gaolers who are masquerading as protectors. The only difference is that in South Africa they used dogs and razor sharp barbed wire fences to hem the people in and they were not mining diamonds in Soweto and other townships.
We do not want Executive Outcomes in Sierra Leone. They should pack up and go. On that there can be no compromise. We do not want a state within a state.
We plead with Baroness Lynda Chalker at the Foreign and Commonwealth office to use her good offices to get them out. We accepted her denial, last year, that her government was involved in the hiring of Gurkhan mercenaries for Sierra Leone, though she did nothing to stop it despite protestations that a British company was their paymaster. Now another British company, Branch Energy Ltd, has replaced the Gurkhas with Executive Outcomes - a rapacious bunch of multinational fortune hunters - without a disapproving whisper.
How would the British people react if the IRA or the Irish government hired Executive Outcomes to fight alongside the IRA in Northern Ireland? We bet they won’t tolerate it. So why should Sierra Leone have to put up with them? Surely what’s good for the goose must be good for the gander. There is duplicity all around!
We appeal to the British government and the rest of the international community to remove these "apartheid killer dogs". We also ask President Nelson Mandela of South Africa to use his influence to secure the removal of his nationals in Executive Outcomes from the sovereign territory of Sierra Leone. We have an internecine war that is sapping the will and energy of our people. We do not want to embark on another war after this one. Please get them out now.
SO WHAT WAS WRONG WITH THE NATIONAL ANTHEM?
A National Pledge aimed at instilling a sense of national duty and pride in Sierra Leoneans was launched last year by the National Commission for Democracy (NCD). This is in tune with their programme for civic education. The pledge is almost a carbon copy of its Ghanaian counterpart and has led some people to question the extent to which it was influenced by the ideological friends of President Jerry Rawlings who are based in Freetown as advisors of the NPRC government.
So what is wrong with the Sierra Leone National Anthem? Does this pledge add to it? Does it not in fact detract from it? How many members of the NPRC or even among the top people in Sierra Leone can sing the first, let alone the second verse of our National Anthem? More emphasis and focus should therefore have been on explaining and propagating the theme of the national anthem and getting every citizen to sing at least the first verse. That would have been a worthwhile exercise in civic education.
We reproduce the National Anthem, the National Pledge and the for good
measure the RUF’s Anthem for the ease of reference of readers. Let us hear
The Sierra Leone National Anthem
High we exalt thee the realm of the free
Knowledge and truth our forefathers bredOne with a faith that wisdom inspires
Mighty the nation whom they led
Might they made thee, so too may we
Show forth the good that is ever in thee
We Pledge our devotion our strength and our might
Thy cause to defend and to stand for the right
All that we have be ever thine own
Land of our birth our Sierra Leone.
The National Pledge
I vow to serve her faithfully at all times.
I promise to defend her honour and good name,
Always work for her unity, peace, freedom and prosperity,
And put her interest above all else.
So help me God.
RUF is fighting to save her people
RUF is fighting to save our country
RUF is fighting to save Sierra Leone
Go and tell my parents, they may see me no more
When fighting in the battlefield I’m fighting forever
Every Sierra Leonean is fighting for his land.
Where is our gold, APC?
RUF is hungry to know where they are
RUF is fighting to save Sierra Leone.
Our people are suffering without means of survival
Sierra Leone is ready to utilise her own
A new impediment to peace in Sierra Leone
EXECUTIVE OUTCOME WILL START THE NEXT WAR
The mystery surrounding the dreaded Executive Outcomes (EO) - the Pretoria-based company, which last year replaced the British firm Gurkha Security Guards, Ltd., becomes more curious every day. The company employs South African veterans of combat in Angola and Namibia and the former Rhodesian Selous Scout anti-insurgency personnel. The riddle of their involvement in Sierra Leone is no where close to being solved but scraps of information pieced together are gradually unfolding a picture that is ugly and murky.
In a recent talk at the University of London, Stephen Ellis of the African Studies Centre in Leiden (Holland) commented that there is no doubt that "EO are a force to be reckoned with in terms of the type of political economy emerging in parts of Africa where sovereign governments no longer control the entire country and thus cannot exercise the monopoly of violence". He went on further to say that while in some cases this does not always lead to warfare it nonetheless opens the way for external actors - particularly large mineral companies. If they wish to control a resource they can drive a good bargain with the government. Although such governments as ours have legal rights, they are so weak economically that they have no real control and are therefore willing to sell rights for relatively small sums, through apparently legal contracts which cannot be challenged. There is no shortage of these external "merchant adventurers" who are then able to call upon people like Executive Outcomes.
This is the curse that has been imposed on Sierra Leone. Put simply, EO are in Sierra Leone not to fight to end the war - that would destroy their raison d’etre - but because we have the gem diamonds and gold which they want. For that reason alone if they have their way they will ensure that peace does not come about until they have got most of what they want. In other words they will stoke up the war long enough for them to attain their objectives. The war is inconvenient but they can put up with because it was included it in their vicious calculations. We can already see signs of their meticulous planning in the establishment of a mini state, reminiscent of the South African black homelands, in Kono -through the creation of a surrogate Kono Community Council. This heralds an element of their intention to stay permanently. They have planted land mines around the towns and villages.
It is also quite wrong to assume that these people go to prop up a government. It is only peripheral to their aims. If the NPRC believes somehow that EO will keep them in power or help them win the war, they have a shock in store for them. This group twice changed sides in the Angolan civil war - alternately, depending on the price - fighting on one or the other side of that conflict. It is not morality that governs their thinking - it is money. They are mercenaries. They are not philan-thropists for the establishment of peace and good governance. They are, in plain parlance, the dogs of war. Knowing this, the NPRC members who negotiated and awarded this unequal contract could only have done so in the assurance that their own personal (as opposed to the national) interests in the mines would be guaranteed.
A political scientist has claimed that EO employees allegedly identify Sierra Leone Army personnel as potential enemies and that from the moment they arrived in Sierra Leone they indicated quite clearly that they would not distinguish between rebels and Sierra Leone Armed Forces soldiers if they are engaged in battle with rebels. (Ironies of Post Cold War Structural Adjustment In Sierra Leone by William Reno, Florida International University, to be published in the March issue of The Review of African Economy, No 67, 1996.) The aim is to make the State so weak that it develops a culture of dependence on, in this case, EO.
De Beers the diamond conglomerate who, last year, won a 25-year concession for inshore/offshore exploration have denied that they have anything to do with EO. The suspicion is that De Beers are paying the mercenaries to protect their diamond mines. Though the company vigorously denies this it is "worried about illicit exports of diamonds from Sierra Leone, which could have the effect of sabotaging their managed market". They probably believe that somehow an electoral process would help shut down clandestine exporters. The suspicion nevertheless persists that they have very close ties with Branch Energy Ltd (BE), the company that allegedly brought EO to Sierra Leone.
For BE, taking part in the war is only to protect their interests if threatened. The company is a British subsidiary of Heritage Oil, Ltd. It has commenced kimberlite - deep - mining operations near Koidu in Kono where diamond deposits are reputed to be the best in the world. Nearly ?11 million pounds worth of mining equipment arrived last July at Freetown’s docks for their operations. It is further claimed that under a joint agreement, the company owns 60% of the shares while 30% went to the government leaving the remaining 10% to be "offered to the public". BE reportedly gave the NPRC government ?50,000 towards preparations for the forthcoming elections. The company also has six other concessions for mining gold and other minerals in Sierra Leone.
Focus has been told by South African sources that the South African government and individuals in South Africa believe firmly that EO is run by the British. At the point of going to press, a source in Sierra Leone has claimed that EO are now controlling the daily issuance of operations and ammunition at the Wilberforce Barracks of the Sierra Leone Military Forces; that they operate two groups - one involved in mining diamonds, the other in training and security; that on the first of February between 15-20 EO personnel went to the Republic of South Africa on a Chinese vessel which then brought back 120 more personnel to Freetown; that they control security and operational activities at Lungi airport. In particular that on or around February 4 a number of their personnel carrying a large wooden box believed to contain diamonds bulldozed their way through the airport to board the Sabena aircraft bound for Brussels. They hustled local fare-paying Sierra Leoneans who were going through the formalities to board the same plane while they proceeded to board without any such formalities. There were initially 120 of them at the time when the unpatriotic NPRC government signed the agreement with them. This then rose to 400 and now currently stands at 1,200. If these sources are correct, this is a whole army.
The questions that Sierra Leoneans and the friends of this country should be asking themselves are: Should Sierra Leoneans be looking elsewhere for people to fight the war? If it was wrong for the Cubans to go into Angola, why are South Africans who do not belong to a regular army invading our country? Is this not the new politics of political and economic enslavement? Why do they allow them to get away with it? Should this trend be allowed to continue?
(THE COMPANIES MENTIONED ABOVE ARE INVITED TO COMMENT ON THIS STORY IF THEY SO WISH.)
INEC CONFERENCE - MARK 1
(A personal view by Dr Columba Blango, one of three delegates who represented the OSLO Peace Conference.)
The National Consultative Conference on the Electoral Process, organised by the Interim National Electoral Commission (INEC) from 15-17 August in Freetown last year, demonstrated that Sierra Leoneans can come together and resolve issues by consensus. The conference attracted 156 delegates and representatives from the 157 invited. They included paramount chiefs; councillors; members from different political parties; refugees; internally displaced people; national and international organisations; diplomats; police force; armed forces, and Sierra Leoneans from abroad. The RUF did not respond.
James Jonah warned that "unless the RUF is wiling to sit at the table it will be a mirage because we cannot achieve what we want to achieve". Captain Valentine Strasser raised more questions than answers: "We need very quick solutions and answers if the country must move forward". The question he asked - what happens if the RUF and NPRC do not have a general cease-fire before the elections? - was never adequately addressed.
Working Groups discussed security, the electoral timetable and code, financial regulations and the system of voting. The conference agreed on elections in February 1996, using proportional representation, while registration of voters and civic/voter education would start soon.
Reaction was mixed ranging from excitement to scepticism. The politicians were excited because they saw this as an opportunity for a comeback, some to enrich themselves and mess up the country once again. Most people wanted the NPRC out; its revolution had shattered their hopes and dreams. They saw in the elections a chance to boot the soldiers out of power. Others felt that the peace process was paramount; if peace was achieved, the political questions would be easy to resolve.
To the international community Sierra Leone is like a drowning person who will grab anything to survive. They supported the conference with lots of money; if you ask why, they will answer that it is what Sierra Leoneans want. In fact it is that which suits them best, because they realise that people are best exploited when they are desperate.
There was consensus among Sierra Leoneans for a return to civilian government through free and fair democratic elections. The differences in opinion lay in the timing of such elections. The conference underplayed the peace process but there were those who felt it should have been the priority for the simple reason that free from fear elections could not be held in the present situation while the civil war was still going on. They feared that the exercise would look like a quick fix. Only time will tell.
Drama at Danane (Ivory Coast) as kidnap attempt fails
SIERRA LEONE COMMANDOS BUNGLE KIDNAP ATTEMPT
Dramatic scenes of frenetic activity took place recently in Danane, Ivory Coast, which is home for hundreds of thousands of Liberian and Sierra Leonean refugees, including RUF officials. A squad of about seven commandos had been sent to this bustling city but unknown to them their presence was already known to the RUF contingent in the town. So when they tried to carry out their mission nearly two months ago, it ended in fiasco and all seven were seized, beaten up and handed over to Ivory Coast security.
Their mission, it turned out, was to abduct certain members of the RUF’s team who were known to be living in the town. A spokesman of the RUF claimed to this paper that after RUF leader Foday Sankoh had been told about the attempt he gave instructions that the Ivory Coast security should release the would-be kidnappers because "he was a man of peace and did not want any trouble with the Ivory Coast authorities". The men were reportedly sent back to Sierra Leone without further ado.
The incident has caused disquiet and anxiety among RUF officials living in the town. Focus called Freetown but no one had heard about the story.
One of those who took advantage of the incident and returned to Sierra Leone was the influential and popular Kono businessman, Mr Konomanyii, who was reportedly abducted by the RUF when they seized control of Kono District for nearly 3 months in November 1993.
Speculation has mounted since the failed attempt that the intended abductees included Mrs Agnes Jalloh (nee Bio) and her children. Mrs Jalloh is the wife of RUF spokes-man Ibrahim Deen Jalloh, and the elder sister of the former deputy Chairman, now Chairman and Head of State, Julius Maada Bio. Bio, it is alleged, believes that his sister and her husband were taken away by the RUF against their will. It was Mr & Mrs Jalloh who looked after the deputy Chairman when he was in primary school in Pujehun. Those who know about this period testify to Maada’s close attachment to his sister and his unhappiness and disapproval at her association with the RUF, not to mention the personal conflict and embarrassment he feels. Mrs Jalloh is currently a senior member on the RUF’s Public Relations Committee which has been meeting delegations in Ivory Coast.
At the time of the abortive attempt, unknown to the kidnappers, she
was in fact in Abidjan with other members of the mission.
MISSING RUF ‘DELEGATES’ STILL BEING HELD IN FREETOWN
Two RUF members seized and handed over to the authorities in Sierra Leone after entering the Republic of Guinea last November (see FSL Vol 1 No 10) are still being held at a secret location in Freetown.
In protest at the capture of their men, the RUF issued a statement demanding the release of its delegates who, they claimed, were on their way to take part in meetings with the international community which were being arranged by the London-based NGO - International Alert. The statement claimed that funds found with the delegates were meant for the purchase of "much needed medicine, essential non-perishable food items and educational materials for our civilian population. The military junta in Freetown has effectively prevented humanitarian organisations like ICRC and MSF from operating in RUF/SL administrative areas".
It blamed "International Alert, our sole facilitators, for not taking all necessary precautions for the safety of our delegates on their mission to dialogue with the international community".
The RUF’s statement also claimed that the delegates had with them a special message by Foday Sankoh meant for all Sierra Leoneans and challenged the NPRC "to make public the recorded message which should be in their possession". It demanded the immediate and unconditional release of "our delegates from the hands of the NPRC so that they can proceed with the planned opening of dialogue with the international community and Sierra Leoneans".
The NPRC has maintained a discreet silence over these statements but continued to question and parade their captives on national press, radio and TV. There are no claims that they have been maltreated in any inhumane way although they have allegedly been "making confessions to their captors".
Sources close to Focus say the two - Isatu Kallon and James Massally - are in fact being held not in prison as is widely believed but at a house at Hill Station. A government official said both were comfortable and receiving visitors
RUF representatives talk to Focus
A MISSION FOR PEACE (Part 2)
The first part of this serialisation of the encounter last November between the editor of Focus Mr Ambrose Ganda and two senior representatives of the RUF appeared in the last edition. The following is the discussion about the violence of the civil war.
Editor: It is widely believed that you are just a bunch of bandits roaming the countryside aimlessly? Is this true? Do you operate a proper command structure?
Rep 2: Yes we do. We consider such comments that people make so stupid that it is not worth commenting on them. How could we have sustained this struggle for 4? years if we were not organised? The RUF has a proper command structure. We cannot give details except to mention briefly our leader who is also our commander-in-chief Corporal Foday Sankoh. We have one Battle Field Commander who is supported by five general staff - G1 Recruitment and Training; G2 - Security and Military Intelligence; G3 - Administration; G4 - Supplies; arms & ammunition, food etc; G5 - Political Ideology and Civilian Matters
Rep 1: I think I should add a word or two to that. How many times have you not heard claims by the NPRC that they have "killed 20 rebels today ... 50 rebels were killed yesterday ... 300 have been killed and 150 captured in Kono", and so forth and so on. It even became fashionable for Karefa-Kargbo to announce that this or that rebel base was destroyed. If we had bases then we must be organised. Secondly if they destroyed the bases as they claimed how come they have yet to win the war as they said were about to? As for the claims of our casualties, from their radio announcements alone, we should by now have lost more than 600 men and an equal number captured by them! At that rate alone, could any sensible person expect the RUF to be in existence? Who is telling the lies? Believe me, the day they kill more than 15 RUF fighters in any one operation, we will give up the struggle. They say we are a bunch but would you call 600 "dead soldiers" just a bunch?
Our secret lies in the way we fight. We fight with trained personnel. The RUF do not believe in quantity. So if we lose just one man it is considered a very serious setback. How much more 50, or 100 as the NPRC claim! Rarely is more than a platoon deployed, except perhaps where we detect a military presence in a large town.
Ed: You have been accused of some of the worst violence in Sierra Leone. The killing of innocent, defenceless citizens; men women and children have been slaughtered, maimed, traumatised and brutalised. People’s - poor people’s - properties have been completely destroyed. Why this level of violence? Who is responsible for this carnage?
Rep 1: In the first place we have to take responsibility for our own actions and if it can be proved that we are the ones who have committed all of these atrocities we will own up to them. But it is not right that the RUF is blamed for all the violence that is taking place. Remember war is violent and we are at war. Casualties will take place and innocent people get caught up in the fray. But we do not set out to destroy life and property. Most of the violence has been coming from the other side - the NPRC’s soldiers, the Nigerian troops, the Guinean troops, Liberian ULIMO soldiers. Secondly, on their side they have mercenaries like, first, the Gurkhas and now the Executive Outcomes soldiers who used to enter the townships of South Africa and Angola and manufactured scenes of violence to justify their brutal actions against defenceless blacks. They used to kill and then blame the ANC. Have you not heard that they have been training a special squad of Sierra Leoneans? Do you think they are taught to fight conventionally? It is the same tactics they are deploying here and we are surprised that intelligent people cannot see through all of this. They deliberately set up a scene of horror and after executing it they attribute it to the RUF through the NPRC’s propaganda machine. The RUF then gets blamed by everybody. But the truth of all this will come out. We also have our documentation of these events and someday the truth will come out.
Ed: But there was still violence and carnage long before they arrived on the scene.
Rep 2: Yes, but what do you say to the fact that the Sierra Leone Army recruited hooligans, robbers and raray boys (street urchins) and, after less than two weeks’ training, sent them into combat against us without a proper command and supervision. What do you think these people do when they are left on their own in the countryside, armed with lethal weapons without regular food rations or decent salaries? They go around helping themselves, looting and killing to sustain themselves and setting up their own independent areas of influence and control. But then everybody blames every bit of their violence on the RUF.
Ed: So are you still saying you are not committing atrocities? What about the attacks on Sierra Rutile and the killings that took place there? The RUF claimed control of the mines, didn’t they? What about Mattru Jong? Moyamba? The frequent attacks on convoys at Mile 91, Magbosi and other points along the Highway? Who is responsible for all that carnage? Surely your people have a share in all of this!
Rep 1: Of course we have legitimately attacked all areas where we suspected there was a military presence. We do not attack civilian convoys unless they are accompanied by military escorts. The military are our targets and we have always made that very clear. We have no quarrel with civilians - we would like to win them over. But where for example you employ kamajohs (native hunters) to play a military role in support of the enemy they too become legitimate targets.
Rep 2: A civilian who takes up arms to fight against our freedom fighters is not an innocent civilian. They are not, if they are helping soldiers fighting us. This includes groups like the Kamajohs, Tamaboros and other civilian vigilante units.
Ed: Ah! But they only resorted to these organisations for their own protection. So even before they created such groups the violence was still there and they had to protect themselves.
Rep 2: Yes, against the violence of the renegade NPRC soldiers - people who lacked military discipline and were committing these atrocities on them. Government soldiers, meant to protect them, turned their guns on them. But they have no justification to fight us. They are targeting the wrong people and we have no choice but defend ourselves.
Ed: I would say over 95% of the casualty of this war has been the innocent ones. How do you tell the difference between an innocent citizen in the midst of those you claim to be collaborating with the national army?
Rep 2: That can be problematic. Most ordinary citizens and inhabitants of a town or village are innocents. It is the NPRC’s policy of sacrificing innocent civilians as a vanguard for their attacks on us that is the issue. They send them like lambs to be slaughtered. They have even sent child soldiers ahead as shields. This has happened many times before. In that case, innocents have been killed in the crossfire. But it was not deliberate on our part.
Ed: Everybody now knows the name Foday Sankoh. Tell me about your leader. Some say he is dead; others, that he is wounded and disabled. For example some people say the picture of him in Focus is a fake, or an old picture. Is he alive?
Rep 1 (In fits of convulsive laughter): Our leader is very much alive and kicking. He is a good man. He is father to all of us. If people want to deny the evidence of their eyes and ears then that is their problem not ours. Actually I just spoke to him this morning and he was OK. He is fair and honest leader. He has no favourites, does not discriminate between us and treats us all fairly and the same. But he recognises the strength of each of us and respects everyone - child or adult; man and woman; young or old. He is angry that Sierra Leoneans have not gone to find out about the RUF. Only foreigners have risked to go and see him in the camp. But he says he created this organisation for Sierra Leoneans and they have not espoused it as their own.
Ed: But whose fault is it? You people started a war without telling the country about your aims and intentions. The first time we heard about you, guns were already pointing at civilians. All that they knew about you was that you were fighting against the then APC government. When that government was overthrown everybody assumed that your aims were fulfilled. Instead the fighting continued. In the absence of a proper political message from you why should Sierra Leoneans support a fighting machine that they believe is without a purpose?
Rep 1: That question is rather unfair. We told you before that we were prepared to meet the (Strasser’s) NPRC but they decided to continue fighting us. But I take your point about the RUF’s political aims and objectives. We certainly did not sell our aims and objectives very well but we are trying to get our message out. It will take time. In RUF held territories people are quite familiar with, and indeed support our objectives for the country. We will now intensify that aspect of our campaign so that all Sierra Leoneans get to know the true aims and intentions of the RUF. We hope by talking to you and giving candid answers to your rather difficult but fair questions you will understand us better. Everyone has a place in the RUF. It is a people’s movement.
Ed: Tell me more about Foday Sankoh.
Rep 1: He is a true patriot of Sierra Leone. We respect him for that. He is humble and unostentatious. He hates tribalism and does not encourage it in the RUF. He believes in discipline and good manners. He is of the old school which believes that "manners maketh the man and the woman". His hope for Sierra Leone is that its citizens should be given a chance to decide their own destiny. But that is not possible until they assert political control over their lives and their own resources. With ownership of resources you have power. At this moment our resources are in the hands of oppressors and exploiters. He is facilitating Sierra Leoneans to own that which rightly belongs to them and for them to chose the system of government they wish to live under. His aim is not to become President of Sierra Leone. If that happens then it will be the real choice of the people not his own.
Ed: That is plausible but I am sorry that I have to come back to this issue of the violence. You obviously have an attractive political message which many Sierra Leoneans will not quarrel with. Why do you have to use violence to bring home this message? Surely it defeats your purpose, does it not?
Rep 1: Well we have to fight for what we believe in. We embarked upon a struggle - a people’s struggle - which we knew would involve a lot of sacrifice. Sierra Leoneans need to inculcate the idea of laying down dear life for ones country. We took that stand. Don’t forget most of us are young people. We too have had our casualties. We have lost relatives and close and dear friends. But Sierra Leone needs fundamental change in its political, social and economic fabric. You know as well as I do that our country was being abused by a certain clique for over twenty-five years. They were helped by selfish Sierra Leoneans and foreigners who benefitted from that system. The country needs a radical change. We are therefore in conflict with those who do not want this change. Unfortunately conflict can sometimes, as in our case, lead to war. War is violent. But as far as the RUF is concerned the violence is incidental and has never been an end in itself. (To be continued.)
(In the next edition - Decision making in the RUF; child soldiers and abductions; civilian life in RUF controlled areas; and the way forward.)
It’s history repeating itself
Fortunately, some human beings of this world have evolved more sophisticated methods of resolving conflict and tensions in their communities, making the sanctity of life as their paramount interest. Even so, efforts by FOCUS to expose the bankruptcy and shame of all sides could be seen by some people as "pissing in the wind" - a lone voice in the wilderness obliterated by opposing powers of destruction. Nevertheless, one must maintain the belief that the pen is mightier than the sword. People die but the word or message once kindled can never be extinguished, and there springs hope eternal.
I do not take the simplistic view that the "boys in the bush" are necessarily a force of evil. Although atrocities are committed on all sides when all human decency is suspended and forsaken for self-preservation, guerilla leaders are not rebellious hotheads or the devil incarnate. They are usually people whose existence has been intolerably abused from all angles and have decided to take a decisive stand. The question that therefore needs to be posed to your other citizens who truly want a peaceful and prosperous country is how many of them are willing to cross their Rubicon; instead of wringing their hands and conscience, instead of spouting meaningful words from afar in London, New York, Washington, Hamburg or the capitals of Africa, they should stand up and be counted in more practical ways. How many, for example, are prepared to use their moral conviction and brave themselves for any reactionary onslaught?
Military force on its own will not solve the problem facing Sierra Leone. Unlike South Africa, there is not the financial and economic time bomb to threaten the ruling minority’s existence; nor is Sierra Leone in any shape or form of strategic value on the world stage for urgent attention from the outside world. Self-appointed so-called leaders - barons, as I prefer to call them - must be shamed out of power with the concerted effort of all forces who genuinely put the welfare of the Sierra Leone people first and foremost without the expectation to use the country for personal profit.
History has proved that out of the depths of despair a lone voice such as yours can create a well of support for conciliation. The pen can overcome the weapons of destruction but only if like-minded countrymen and countrywomen are willing to come off the sidelines, both inside and outside of Sierra Leone. Their words and angst are worthless unless they put true patriotism above self-preservation or expectation of reward.
You are personally commended for your stance. But how many others, I wonder, are willing to make sacrifices in achieving and establishing a tradition of legitimate democratic governance?
T C ClarkeCouldn’t they have staged a coup instead of killing our people?
I just have a few questions for the RUF, which I hope you would pass on to them either through International Alert, a future issue of Focus on Sierra Leone, or by any other means.
(1) Why all the violence against innocent civilians? The RUF cannot honestly believe their own propaganda that they are a "democratizing catalyst" when they go around killing innocent civilians. And they cannot honestly say that they do not target civilians because when they took over my home town, Baoma Koya, months before SLAF ever got there, they used violence against innocent civilians.
(2) If the RUF’s motives were so "democratic", why didn’t they use the minimum force necessary by making a coup? Why did they opt for war against innocent civilians? Obviously if they knew anything about Sierra Leone, they must have known that Freetown was characterized by blackouts in the early 1990s. They knew that the military was very weak and that many Sierra Leoneans, even within the military, would have supported a coup at the time they invaded the country. They also knew that the police were so corrupt that anyone could ferry anything in and out of Freetown at will. Thus they could have smuggled in whatever ammunition they needed for a coup without detection. Why did they forgo this obviously less bloody route? For goodness sake, why did they wage war on the people of Sierra Leone, whom they claim (so piously now) to have come to liberate?
(3) Finally, please ask them if they would negotiate with a Committee of Paramount Chiefs, one from each district, and an elected Mayor of Freetown, since they do not feel that the NPRC is legitimate. What a better group of "representatives of the people" can there be than such a group, since its members would all be elected representatives of their people?
Kelfala M Kallon
University of North Colorado, USA
I’m totally disgusted
It seems Sierra Leone may be ruled by people who acquiesced - or even participated - while people starved and were slaughtered, and then played saviour when that served their purposes. I hope you can make people outside know what these guys in this country are up to. I am just totally disgusted with all that is going on here.
Jonathan D P TaylorThank you all
I refer to the notification in your paper, Focus on Sierra Leone, of 30 November 1995 on an awareness exercise plus a public collection on behalf of Children Associated with the War. On behalf of CAW, I thank all who have remembered us in this way and indeed the proceeds of the collection will be most welcome.
Kindly extend our gratitude to all who have participated and who extend the hand of solidarity to us in Sierra Leone at this time.
Michael Hickey (Fr)
Children Associated with the War, Freetown
RESPONSES TO THE IDEA OF AN INTERIM GOVERNMENT
In response to our advertised invitation to readers, in previous editions of Focus, to suggest names for an Interim Government of National Unity, the following were suggested by the end of October 1995. Lack of space prevented earlier publication. 34 readers responded but it was not clear from most whether the nomination was for leader or member of an interim government. Fifteen readers suggested more than one person. The exercise, for what it may be worth, has provided a curious but interesting assortment of names. The number of votes are enclosed in brackets;
Dr John Karefa Smart (3) - Politician/elder statesman
Dr Boi Kamara (3) - President Women’s Movement
Lt S A J Musa (3) - ex Deputy Chairman NPRC
Dr Akim Gibril (3) - Chief Secretary of State
Mr Salia Jusu Sherriff (2) - Former APC vice President
Corporal Foday Sankoh (2) - Leader RUF
Mr John Benjamin (2) - Secretary General of NPRC
Dr Davidson S H Nicol (Deceased) (2)
Dr James Jonah (2) - Chairman Interim National Electoral Commission
Dr Ahmed Tejan Kabbah (2) - Chairman, National Advisory Council
Ex President Joseph S Momoh (2)
Sir Banja Tejansie (2) - ex Governor General/ex Chief Justice
Mr Albert Metzger (2) - Lawyer/Lecturer Fourah Bay College
Mr B S Massaquoi (2) - Former SLPP Resident Cabinet Minister (Eastern Province)
Paramount Chief Yumkella (2)
Professor Strasser-King (2) - Principal of Fourah Bay College, University of Sierra Leone
Mr Mban Kabu (2) - Trade Unionist/President, National Coordinating Committee For Peace
Lt Col Tom Nyuma (2) - Member of Supreme Ruling Council
Mr Thaimu Bangura (2) - Lawyer/ Former APC Minister; Leader, Peoples Democratic Party
Dr Kadie Sesay (2) - Lecturer/National Commission for Democracy
Justice Sheku Kutubu (1) - ex Chief Justice
Justice Beccles-Davies (1) - Acting Chief Justice
Brigadier Julius Maada Bio (1) - Deputy Chairman, NPRC
Dr H Joko Smart (1) - Lawyer/Lecturer FBC
Mr A G Sembu Fornah (1) - Former APC Cabinet Minister/one-time peace envoy
Mr A B Timbo (1) - Sierra Leone Teachers Union
Paramount Chief Madam Ella Koblo Gulama (1)
Professor C P Foray (1) - Former High Commissioner to UK
PUBLISH AND BE DAMNED
Ambrose GandaA Herculean task for the NUP
It is difficult for the National Unity Party (NUP) to discard the label of the NPRC’s favoured party. I assume that Captain Strasser felt confident to contest its leadership only because he was already convinced that the NUP was the government’s party. Why else did he not contest the leadership of the 16 other registered parties? The leader of the NUP Dr John Karimu and his supporters like Mr John Benjamin have the unenviable herculean task of explaining away the severance of any link that might have existed between the NPRC and their Party. It is important that they do this so that people are left in no doubt that if they win the elections and become the government tomorrow, they will not feel obliged to, or be compromised by the men in uniforms.
Do not laugh! Reconciliation is in the air
We must grab whatever it takes to make peace
If Maada Bio wants peace and shows this in his actions then we must encourage and support him in that. Already there is talk that the RUF and Maada Bio are edging towards a summit meeting. If it is because his sister is in the opposing camp, then we should see it as a blessing - a catalyst that should bring the rest of the country together. Let’s welcome this revelation with magnanimity and hope.
Sani Abacha.... a peace maker for Sierra Leone?
Why did they try to discredit us?
Coups apart, what right have they to question the motives of those who
chose the path of peace? The only reason I can think of is the forthrightness
of Focus in reporting those issues that they would rather sweep
under the carpet. A simple enquiring question to me would have helped to
clarify matters but the they did not want to know.