LET THE PEACE TALKS RESUME
We must avoid another war in Sierra Leone. Even with the present war, the cost of peace is always going to be too high. But then, so much higher will be the cost of not achieving it. Having come so close to a settlement as the negotiators on both sides have assured us, they should go that little further to ensure that a peace deal is signed, sealed, and delivered for the sakes of the long suffering citizens of Sierra Leone.
Our editorial in Focus Vol 1 No 8 presaged these hiccups when we said thus: "All of this will not happen overnight. We can make a start by agreeing on what our differences are; secondly what our fears are; thirdly, identifying the things that we agree on because they can be the basis on which we can start to negotiate on all the others".
It would appear that the first and last of these have been applied. The second, ie the fears of the parties, is probably the dominant factor at this stage and, therefore, accounts for the "impasse" - to quote the Chairman, Ivory Coast's Foreign Minister Mr Amara Essy. Both parties have genuine fears which the next phase of the negotiations should address and allay, come what may. Let us briefly say what we think these may be:
(1) Corporal Foday Sankoh's problem is that he must do a deal that is defensible with, and acceptable to, his combatant faction. Otherwise he may be ignored and a more militant section (or sections) may hold sway. So far he has succeeded in keeping them in check, despite the recent increase in violations of the cease fire.
(1) President Kabbah's government might argue, reasonably, that it has just inherited a war, not of its own making, from an unpopular military government which was reluctant to give up power; that it is probably too early to trust the Sierra Leone army. Its first duty therefore is to protect the electorate.
(a) There is urgent need for confidence building. Any peace accord should be so calculated that those who want to create mischief are marginalised. In the current state of Sierra Leone, with the popular mood as it is for full blown democracy and the hopes that have been nurtured with the election of a civilian government - however imperfect some may claim its mandate may be - a coup d'etat by disgruntled soldiers is bound to collapse. So government should not be petrified by the prospect of a military uprising. Unlike the past, there is now a government which for all practical purposes has a better mandate than the APC ever had.Of course we need loans and we will pay the mandatory call on the IMF, the World Bank and the Africa Development Bank but that does not mean our national government loses control over the economy. There is an issue of governance and control. Some like this paper would argue, that IMF and World Bank policies tend to kill their patients with recommended regimental cures - cures that require the very poorest in our countries to economise. But then that is another issue altogether, which we shall happily come back to in future.
No! As far as the budget and debt structure is concerned, what would be correct to argue is that the government presents its budget to Parliament and the latter approves and scrutinises it. Parliament is the watchdog and that's where the scrutiny and monitoring should take place, not at the IMF or the World Bank. Thus the problem now is that one of the parties - the RUF - is not represented in parliament. Surely that conundrum can be overcome with a short term palliative until elections are held in the future.
For these reasons, the Government and the RUF should be encouraged to
persevere with these talks. That is why we are pleased to learn through
the grapevine that, despite the break up of the talks, informal chats have
been taking place between Freetown and Abidjan. That is a hopeful sign.
A rundown on the Ivory Coast Peace Talks
IMPASSE AT ABIDJAN
After nearly four weeks of negotiations, comprising five separate rounds of talks in Abidjan (Ivory Coast), twenty-eight provisions were hammered out to form the substance of what would be an eventual peace accord. The negotiations went reasonably well with a lot of good will being shown on both sides. But when it came to the crunch there was disagreement on two vital issues - the presence of foreign troops especially the Executive Outcomes and the control/monitoring of the national budget and the debt structure. As a result, the talks were variously described as "broken down", "deadlocked" or "reached an impasse".
The talks had been going on since the meeting between President Kabbah and Corporal Sankoh. The RUF leader has remained in Abidjan throughout the discussions since first coming out of his own stronghold and, at the moment of writing, is still there. Unlike the earlier peace meetings the RUF delegation has been increased with the personal attendance of the Chairman of their War Council - the main decision-making body of the RUF - Mr Solomon Rogers and some of the RUF's frontline commandos.
The government's team has been high-powered and led by the Foreign Minister, Mr Maigore Kallon. It included the Attorney-General and Minister of Justice, Mr Solomon Berewa, the youthful Minister of Presidential Affairs and the Public Service, Mr Momodu Koroma, and the Secretary to the President, Mr Sheku Bayoh.
.... HOW THE GOVERNMENT SAW IT
The Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr Maigore Kallon, has briefed members of the diplomatic community on the peace process. He restated the principal objectives of the government. These were (a) to establish jointly with the RUF delegation key elements of a peace agreement between the government and the RUF; (b) define the modalities for the effective implementation of these elements; and (c) draft a peace agreement that would be recommended to President Kabbah and Corporal Foday Sankoh for signature.
Commenting on the talks, Mr Kallon said that substantial progress had been made toward the attainment of these objectives and that both delegations had succeeded in establishing the essential elements of a peace agreement including (a) encampment, disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration of RUF combatants; (b) down-sizing or reducing the Sierra Leone army and the return to barracks of troops not essential for normal security duties; (c) repatriation of foreign troops; (d) measures for the consolidation of peace, such as political, legal and socio-economic reforms as well as the creation of relevant institutions; and (c) formulation of draft peace agreement.
The minister then explained that they had been unable to agree in two areas: (a) the demand by the RUF for a complete withdrawal of the Executive Outcomes prior to the signing of a peace agreement before they can agree to encamp and demobilize; (b) the creation of a committee on the national budget and debt which the RUF demands, to give them power to participate in decisions on the allocation of resources to the various sectors as well as on the contracting and liquidation of the national debt. The statement went on:
"The government resisted both demands suggesting that in the first case repatriation of foreign troops including Executive Outcomes should proceed in tandem with the process of disarmament and demobilisation of the RUF combatants. In the second case the government agues that the creation of the proposed committee on the budget and debt is unnecessary since the Socio-Economic Forum which was proposed by the RUF and accepted by the government already gives the RUF considerable powers to influence economic policy. Moreover since the government embarked on a structural adjustment policy in 1992 with the support of the World Bank and IMF, the country's budget and debt are scrupulously supervised by these institutions, rendering superfluous any other management or supervising institutions such as the one proposed by the RUF."
The statement ended on a note of optimism that the recent round of talks has significantly improved the prospects for a definitive settlement of the conflict.
WHAT HAS BEEN AGREED SO FAR?
A formal agreement has not yet been signed because the talks broke down. Both delegations were expected to go and rethink their positions. But considerable agreement has been reached broadly on several vital issues which, taken as a whole, point to the inevitability of a peace accord in the near future. At least six Commissions, probably more, are envisaged to be created.
F There was a consensus declaration on the immediate and total cessation of hostilities for which a Commission for the Consolidation of Peace was proposed. It would verify compliance with the provisions of the Agreement (if and when it comes to being) and coordinate the work of the supplementary bodies agreed upon by the parties to further consolidate the peace efforts in the country. The constitution of the Commission including powers, composition, etc are spelt out.
The deadlock appears to have arisen from the difficulty of synchronising the withdrawal of Executive Outcomes with the disarmament of the RUF. Whereas the RUF insists that it disarms only after the withdrawal, the government on its own part insists that both events take place at one and the same time. In principle therefore there is an implicit agreement that all foreign troops should leave the country. The problem would appear to be one of timing, especially the sequence or simultaneity of these events. (See Editorial).
Public Service issues
JAMES JEKYLL AND JONAH HYDE
Dr James Jonah's position remains the most contentious in the current new administration. In the first place we believe that the former Chairman of the Interim National Electoral Commission (INEC) should not have been given (what seems to be) a "reward" for running an election in Sierra Leone. That is not to say he did not make a good job of it. Of course in the prevailing circumstances at the time, he did, and we have said so. Jonah was recently appointed Sierra Leone's Permanent Representative to the UN, with Cabinet rank in which capacity he reports directly to the President. It would be interesting to know how, and to which extent, this overlaps with the functions and accountability of the Minister of Foreign Affairs and the general conduct of foreign policy.
To be fair to him, Jonah tried recently to justify his appointment, saying that because there are very few permanent diplomatic missions in Freetown and because of the wide experience and contact with most countries which he gained in his years at the UN, he will be able to make things happen for Sierra Leone. It may well have been a foreign minister talking! We doubt his claim, laudable though it may sound. Should it not be the need of the people that should determine whether or not aid is necessary and in place? And does it need a retired under-Secretary General who did nothing at all when the country was being abused for 30 years, to make that case? Are there not other capable Sierra Leoneans, desirous of rendering public service to their country, who can make a reasoned and convincing case on our behalf? It is dangerous to imply an exaggerated importance or indispensability of an individual. Considering the fact that Mr Jonah and quite a few others like him did not lift a finger to protest when successive governments dragged this nation to its knees, it does not go down well that those who bore the brunt of those regimes, and risked and lost everything in the process, continue to be marginalised (See our comments in Focus Vol 1 No 3.) for their sakes.
Secondly, even more dangerous and the real reason why we object to his appointment, is the anomalous position in which he is also a special envoy of the UN Secretary-General, Mr Boutros Boutros Ghali, to Liberia. Jonah can not serve two masters - either he is representing Sierra Leone's interest at the UN and keeps his nose out of other people's business or he decides to remain the UN man that he was prior to his retirement.
Already his inflammatory suggestion that Liberia should be treated as a UN trust territory has been seized upon by NPFL leader, Charles Taylor, who called him deceitful and a liar. We cannot have that said about our state functionaries. Jonah's intervention was not helpful and stems from his patently conflicting roles. Sierra Leone cannot afford to get involved in other peoples' wars. In any case we have got our own war to settle and the most we can do is to help others settle theirs not inflame it. Those who follow these matters know very well that it was the ill-timed and ill-advised agreement by President Momoh's government to allow Sierra Leone to be used as a base for mounting bombing raids on Taylor's NPFL territory in Liberia that encouraged the latter to support the incursions into Sierra Leone by the RUF in retaliation for Sierra Leone "meddling in the affairs of Liberia". We should have learnt our lesson then.
An unguarded statement of Jonah - wearing his UN hat - could rebound on Sierra Leone. This Jekyll and Hyde syndrome is not the stuff of diplomacy these days. You cannot serve two masters. One is enough. Jonah must chose to serve Sierra Leone or return to the UN where he spent his last forty years.
NEW EMPHASIS SHOULD BE ON MAKING UP, NOT BREAKING UP THE NATION'S PEOPLE
With peace coming more and more tantalisingly close, many issues that impact on our internal relationships should be addressed now, not later.
One such is the way we are going to treat those whom we currently look upon as villains, that is to say those who have hurt us and whom, despite the bland references to peace, we nonetheless continue to look upon as enemies. Peace means we will have to live together, hopefully, in harmony, and share with them the common soil of Sierra Leone which has been blistered by a senseless fratricidal war of devastating proportions.
But the question will inevitably be asked whether "they are going to get away with it, without account" or we should exact "an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth", to quote the biblical refrain. The answer lies somewhere between the two.
If we are going to learn anything from what has happened and why it did, then they - at least the principal offenders - must be made to give account. We have previously argued the case for a Truth Commission.
However, the question then should not be how do we punish these offenders - whoever or on whichever side they are - but how do we repair the damage done by them. This is the idea of Restorative Justice. We believe that it is the philosophy which must govern our internal relationships, henceforth, as we embark on the hazardous trail to reconciliation. It will help towards the strengthening of family bonding and national cohesion the day after peace is promulgated in our country.
Restorative justice embraces a wide range of human emotions, including healing, mediation, compassion, forgiveness, mercy and reconciliation, as well as punishment when and where appropriate. It enables the best virtues of human interaction to occur. It gives practical interpretation to the generally accepted view that we are all interconnected and that what we do - good or evil - whether as ordinary citizens or military rulers, armed combatants, rebels, etc, has an impact on others.
This idea is not new because when you think of it, it has underpinned our own cultural and traditional laws for generations - only now it has been pushed into the background in the face of the desire for retribution by modern materialistic societies.
In our original traditional systems, everyone was bound to work towards the common good. The crime and violence that we have in our country militate against this common wellbeing. Restorative Justice will therefore provide us the opportunity whereby those affected by the war, and during the last military rule or, even before that, under the APC - whether they were victims, offenders, families or the wider community - all have a part in resolving the issues which flow from these events.
The way it works is that victims and offenders assume central roles and the State takes a back seat. That is why even now it must be stressed that the present government must not nurture any belief that government edicts and functionaries will solve this problem.
The greatest enemy of peace is authoritarianism. It was most disappointing, and a serious miscalculation by government, that representatives of the civilian peace groups were not involved in the actual negotiations that took place in Abidjan. This is a people's affair. Therefore, policies for peace, reconciliation and healing must emanate from, and be placed firmly, among the people. Bureaucracy will be the wrong medium for this purpose.
The goal, always, is to heal the wounds of every person affected by the war. No easy task, mind you, but surely it is a more honourable aim than merely focusing on punishing the offender under the system of retributive justice, as obtains under our present adversarial court systems.
This is where a Truth Commission may be useful. In this case we do not have to ape Truth Commissions in other countries although we can draw on their experiences. For examples, South Africa and Rwanda come to mind. The main point is to have people admit to what they have done, ie to their guilt, and apologise for their actions. If they claim innocence then the matter can proceed in court in the usual way.
The full implications of the offence need to be spelled out and confronted as the offender faces the causes of offending so that they understand the effect their crimes have had on their victims. Having admitted their guilt and apologised, they then get a chance to explain their behaviour. Their own friends and relatives, if present, can add any mitigating background information to fill out their personal circumstances. This is offered not as an excuse but simply to help fill out the picture.
The victim is then asked to express their feeling on the matter. Then they work towards a consensus and recommend a package to an adjudicator.
Restoration could involve community service, helping the victims rebuild their homes which the offender(s) destroyed, take the amputees every day to hospital for their treatment, rebuild community facilities, eg. the schools, hospitals, court houses, churches and mosques that were destroyed by the offender(s) and their comrades.
The victims of course have feelings and these will play a key factor in such proceedings. But the restorative process helps victims to see that their own victimisation will be intensified by feelings of retribution against the offenders.
The community's role therefore is to create the conditions most favourable to the restoration of both victim and offender. The community will aid the healing process by providing counsellors, mediators, judges, and the like. Provided there is cooperation, the parties can reach agreement about repairing the damage where that is possible.
Obviously, not in the cases of rape and murder, or various incidents of mutilation. You cannot reverse the rape, you can not restore the dead from their grave, and you cannot replace the severed arms although in the latter case, with the help of modern science and the availability of resources, something can be done to qualitatively improve the functionality of the victim through, say, prostheses.
The truth, though, is that the more serious the offence the more numerous are the secondary victims, eg family and friends. In a country like ours, with foundations buttressed in the extended family - it is bound to affect the core elements of our communities' wellbeing. Our present system of retributive justice, ie that which obtains in our courts currently, totally ignores them. After a murder, the deceased's family and friends remain to feel the hurt of losing a loved one. Restorative justice ensures that the victim is not alone. The community will share in their grief.
NEWS **** NEWS **** NEWS **** NEWS **** NEWS
KABBAH OPENS 2ND SESSION OF PARLIAMENT
The new Parliament of Sierra Leone resumed its second session after a month's recess following its State opening on Friday June 7. Pomp and pageantry were very much in evidence as President Ahmed Tejan Kabbah performed his very first ceremonial of the people's chamber. In a long address, replete with popular policy intentions, he held the nation spellbound till the very end. Only, he had to enforce an unscripted break mid way through his speech to take a breather, before continuing the final stretch. He touched on every aspect of life in the country.
He said the economy was in a bad shape, with export earnings at an all-time low - $39.3 million last year from a peak of $150 million in 1992, leaving a trade deficit of $100 million; By the end of March this year, the budget deficit was Le 28.5 billion and domestic debts amounted to Le 263 billion. But the gravest revelation was that the country's reserves were empty, with only $26.5 million in gross foreign exchange - the equivalent of two month's imports.
On the pressing issue of the moment - the war and the peace - he said his government would be guided by the three Rs - reconciliation, rehabilitation and reconstruction. His main priority was peace and the restoration of security throughout Sierra Leone. On the question of amnesty for the RUF, there was a gentle hint at preparing Sierra Leoneans for the price of peace and reconciliation. "When we think of the thousands of Sierra Leoneans, our own brothers, sisters and children, those who would have been leaders tomorrow, who have suffered over the past five years in this conflict, the granting of amnesty may be a bitter pill to swallow" the President said.
(Reference will be made to the President's speech in future editions of Focus.)
INEC'S CHAIRMAN STEPS DOWN
Dr James Jonah has held his very last press conference as Chairman of INEC - the Interim National Electoral Commission - which successfully supervised the last general election in the country. He will take up his new appointment as Sierra Leone's Permanent Representative to the UN.
Both before and since those elections, the Commission has been plagued by financial troubles including arrears of salaries for over 8,000 electoral officers. Jonah announced to the resounding relief of his creditors that the shortfall of $1.3 million has now been met by a donation from the European Union. But employees were told they would be paid in Leones - the local currency. Jonah wished the Commission good luck and expressed his hope that it will remain as independent as it had been under his chairmanship.
JAMIL SAID IS BACK
As reported in the last edition, Mr Jamil Said Mohamed is back in Freetown. The prominent Afro-Lebanese business magnate who, in the days of President Siaka Stevens, gained national notoriety for his overbearing and controlling influence over the country's economy, has returned home after nearly six years of self-exile. He took advantage of the new dispensation promulgated by the government of Alhaji Tejan Kabbah, although some people have claimed that he was specially invited back.
The controversial Jamil has not had it easy since his return. Many people associate him with the bad days of Siaka Stevens when, with almost cavalier disdain, Sierra Leoneans were made to feel subservient to the ruling clique in order to make their living. There has been real anger in some quarters, notably among the Press and the business community - Lebanese and non-Lebanese alike - who blame Jamil for ruining their businesses while advancing his own. In those days, Jamil's house was virtually a mandatory stopover for Cabinet ministers and key civil servants. He had them all in his pocket and felt sufficiently confident to do as he wished.
Jamil recently hit back, claiming he had his rights like any other Sierra Leonean. He denied accusations that he was in any way responsible, as was then and is still being widely alleged, for the impoverished state of the country's economy under Stevens. Instead, he said, his companies provided work for the people. He claimed that he was persecuted by the Momoh regime and strongly refuted the charge that he had something to do with an alleged attempted coup against that government. It was in the wake of those allegations that he quit the country under clouds of suspicion.
He and others will, no doubt, be watched closely from now onwards, no less by this paper, to see what, if anything, they get up to this time. Ministers and public functionaries should like wise be monitored because in the past several have been literally in the pockets of people like Jamil. Never again should one person hold the rest of the nation to ransom.
EX-PRESIDENT'S WIFE DIES
The death took place recently of Sierra Leone's former First Lady, Mrs Hannah Momoh (nee Wilson), wife of former President Joseph Momoh, in Conakry, Republic of Guinea. Lady Momoh died after a short illness. The ex-President accompanied his wife's body for the funeral in Freetown. It was his first visit to the country since he was ousted by the NPRC coup of 29 April 1992.
Throngs of people turned out to give her a civic burial. Among them were supporters of the All Peoples Congress (APC) Party, including some of its former senior Cabinet Ministers. The present First Lady, Mrs Patricia Kabbah, represented her husband, President Kabbah, at the interment. General Momoh returned to Conakry immediately afterwards. Speculation is rife that he will be returning home soon.
Focus would like to express its condolence to ex-President Momoh and his family on the loss of a decent and kind companion.
ARCHBISHOP GANDA CELEBRATES
His Grace Archbishop Joseph Ganda, the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Sierra Leone, has been celebrating his episcopal silver jubilee. Celebrations to mark the event have been taking place throughout the country with festivities in Bo, Kenema, Makeni and, most recently, Bonthe. Twenty-five years ago, he was appointed bishop of the then new Diocese of Kenema - becoming thus the first indigenous Sierra Leonean to achieve that accolade. The Ganda family and friends recently feted the Archbishop at a sumptuous reception in his honour. Some weeks ago he returned their gesture with a `thank you' reception at his official residence at Thunder Hill, Freetown. Congratulations to his Grace.
Early this year, the Archbishop witnessed the launching of his autobiography, Triple First. Researched and written by Mr Michael Jusu of the Department of Modern History at Fourah Bay College (FBC - the University of Sierra Leone), the book traces the history of the Catholic Church in Sierra Leone culminating in the ordination of His Grace to the priesthood, his enthronement as Bishop and, later, his appointment as Archbishop of the Archdiocese of Freetown and Bo. The ceremony was chaired by the Principal and Pro Vice Chancellor of FBC, Professor Victor Strasser King. The MC was Dr Henry M Joko-Smart, Dean of the Faculty of Law. Other speakers included Dr Akintola Wyse, Head of the Department of History, Dr Joe D Allie of same Faculty, and Professor Newman Smart of the Faculty of Arts who taught the Archbishop when he was a pupil at the St Edwards Secondary School in Freetown. Also there was Rev Fr Patrick Koroma, The Catholic Education Secretary.
Archbishop Ganda leaves Sierra Leone at the end of June for a two-month tour of Europe and the USA. He arrives in the UK early in July.
(Triple First can be obtained, through Focus, at £5).
FINANCE MINISTER GETS THE VOTE
Mr Thaimu Bangura, Minister of Finance, was recently given a vote of confidence by his peers who met at the Africa Development Bank in Abidjan, Ivory Coast. A $10 million debt owed to OPEC will now be eased out as a soft loan. The ill-fated Bumbuna Hydro-Electric Project which was started in the late sixties will be restarted and be completed, hopefully, by 1998 to produce 50 megawatts of power.
BRITAIN GETS TOUGH WITH REFUGEES
In the last few months, many Sierra Leonean applicants for refugee status in Britain have been turned down and deported. Others are being called up, about now, for a decision to be made in their cases. There is widespread belief that the British government, after investing a lot of money in the country's last general election, is taking the strict line that Sierra Leone is reasonably safe for those who may have entertained a fear to return there. It is also determined to capitalise on the advent of civilian rule to repatriate applicants who had claimed persecution under the military regime.
These beliefs are held despite the fact that atrocities continue to take place up country, with macabre incidents of mass torture, maiming and death. The peaceful atmosphere in the capital, Freetown, which is about the most that many commentators see of the country, gives a false picture of conditions barely twenty five miles outside it. But Freetown is not Sierra Leone even though it is the capital. The bulk of the suffering hence the casualties, including lost relatives some of whom have been brutally murdered, is borne by those who hail from the Provinces in the North, East and South. There are many Sierra Leoneans currently in the UK who left after the coup of April 1992. They were not just running from the military junta or masquerading as economic refugees. They were running away from a war in which their villages and towns were rased, daily, to the ground, and their parents and families were wiped out, abducted or displaced. Most have no homes to return to. In any case the war has not yet come to an end.
Of course in any situation like this, there are bound to be those who will abuse the system and put up an elaborate pretext. It does not help the case of those people who are genuinely seeking a safe haven from the troubles at home. That is why it is important that the British authorities should look at the merits of the individual cases more closely and sympathetically and not go by some edict from the Home Office about controlling (Sierra Leonean) immigrant numbers. It is a life and death situation not a numbers game.
While, on the whole, things have improved with the election of a civilian government, the violence, as indeed the Sierra Leone government itself recently claimed, is still taking place beyond the capital. Sierra Leoneans very much appreciate the help - indeed the continuing help - of the British government in the democratisation process. But that is to do with governance. The crux of the matter is personal security which most Sierra Leoneans still do not have, and the humaneness of their host government. Repatriating refugee applicants simply to make an impression for the electorate is not humane and is immoral. Let's get back to basics on this issue, at least!
A LETTER FROM IVORY COAST
We are struggling for status and recognition
Under the hot blazing sun on a market day in the Ivorian border town of Danane, Fatu (Bangura) Kemoh carrying a two-year old infant on her back and an half-filled bag of assorted relief supplies met her compatriot, Mariatu. They exchanged hearty greetings in Creole and Mariatu enviably asked Fatu "Boe, how you manage get food?" Fatu smiled whimsically and in a tone of half frustration explained that she had to pose as a Liberian during the registration of refugees six months ago. She added that she changed her name from Bangura to the suitable Liberian name of Kemoh and mimicked the Liberian way of speaking in order to get through.
Fatu's story epitomises the case of hundreds of Sierra Leoneans who took residence in Liberia after the outbreak of the civil war in Sierra Leone five years ago. They are double refugees, fleeing with Liberians from the scourge of the complicated imbroglio in both our countries. They have now taken refuge in Cote d'Ivoire. Unlike the Liberians whom the Ivorian government consider as "friends cum refugees", the Sierra Leonean community remains in limbo without any status. In the expediency for survival the more than 7,000 Sierra Leoneans scattered throughout the Ivory coast had to deface or pretend simply not to exist. The burden of shame that accompanies this type of expediency negates the pride of the Sierra Leonean nationhood, leaving a blister on the conscience of Sierra Leone.
In an attempt to surmount this trauma, a group of Sierra Leoneans in Danane in October 1995, organised the Sierra Leone Descendants Association (SLDA). The derivation of the nomenclature emphasising "descendants" instead of citizenship was a shrewd move by the SLDA executive to encourage Sierra Leoneans to come forward while not endangering their relationship with Liberians, at least for now. The first meeting brought out only 12 Sierra Leoneans; the second meeting netted 52. Elections were then held and Mr M A Camara who had lived in Liberia for 25 years and in the Ivory Coast for 5 years was elected Chairman. A school teacher with Liberian refugee schools in Danane, Michael Sandy, was elected by acclamation as Secretary-General while Mrs Agnes Dean-Jalloh of the RUF became Treasurer.
The stated objective of SLDA is to assist Sierra Leoneans in times of distress. "This blanket proposition, no doubt, covers our quest for identity and official status" says Sandy. He added that a special committee to contact the Ivorian authorities has been set up.
A sister organisation, the Sierra Leone Youth Association (SLYA), already exists in Abidjan, the capital. It was formed in 1993, I was told, to develop and realise the potentials of Sierra Leoneans in the city and to help each other. "Looking back since then, we are satisfied that our aims have been achieved" says Aruna Rashid Kamara, its President. "We have been able to redirect Sierra Leonean youths from waywardness to an awareness of dignity in hard work". Most members of SLYA are petty traders who ply their trade in various parts of the city such as Adjame and Plateau. They complained about growing harassment by Security, especially the city council police. "This harassment" said Kamara "is not so much because of failure to register our businesses but because of location problems and the general Ivorian hostility to foreigners." Kamara said that because of this, SLYA was in touch with the Sierra Leone Consul-General Sheik Abraham Fofana to pursue the matter of the grant of an "official" status for his compatriots with the authorities.
Members of SLYA are however loathe to accept refugee status because of the demeaning effects associated with it. For example refugees are expected to live within 10 kilometres of the border and in refugee camps despite the unpleasant conditions. "What we actually want in Abidjan is recognition as brothers and sisters and protection by the Ivorian government", the SLYA president remarked.
Hopes for such a status are growing after the first Sierra Leone peace conference in Yamoussoukro in March this year. Many Sierra Leoneans take it that the conference confirmed the Ivorian fraternal interest in the sub-region. Moreover, the peace process seems to have enlightened the average Ivorian that Sierra Leone is a country in West Africa. "Until the peace talks started, the Ivorian policemen took a Sierra Leonean to be a non-African" says Komba Alliou. "Now, at last, they know we exist."
Sharing this hope also is the Sierra Leone Consul-General himself. At a meeting with SLYA in Attiecoube, Abidjan, he told nearly 50 Sierra Leoneans that even at the highest diplomatic levels, Ivorians have commented in a characteristically surprising tone "Il y avait Sierra Leonais ici? Ah bon, ils sont solidaire". He also referred to a recent letter from President Ahmed Tejan Kabbah in which he lauded Cote d'Ivoire for its efforts to bring peace to Sierra Leone. The letter said the name of Cote d'Ivoire has never stood higher in Sierra Leone and intimated that he looked forward to the elevation of the ties between the two countries to full diplomatic status - something which we think has been long overdue.
Sylvester V Paasewe II
BAKAAR SANKOH IN A LEAGUE OF HIS OWN
Mr Alimamy Bakaar Sankoh - 35 year-old former Foreign Relations spokesman of the RUF - who broke ranks in January to re-launch the Sierra Leone People's Democratic League (PDL) (see FSL Vol 2 No 2) - is back in circulation again.
In a telephone call to the editor of Focus on Tuesday 18 June from Accra (Ghana), where he has been based ever since his defection, Sankoh expressed his "profound disappointment with the Kabbah Government in Freetown. "I had hoped that we would try and involve new and untainted people in this new government but all he has done is to bring back these tired and useless people who threw away the first chance they had to make our country progress. I am very disappointed".
He said he had broken away from the RUF in order to give the people of Sierra Leone a real chance for peace. That was why he had supported the elections in the country and had not supported their postponement. He had personally telephoned and spoken to the winner and offered him his full support. Sankoh told this paper that he felt, indeed he knows, that "both sides are not serious about peace" and "are only playing games". He believed that Corporal Foday Sankoh will continue with the war not withstanding whatever deal came through at these peace talks.
Sankoh claimed that the PDL has been in existence since April 1986. It's ideology, according to him, is Burehism which he described as "a new indigenous philosophy that takes its inspiration from the consistent, democratic, traditional principles, practices and policies followed, implemented and taught by Sierra Leone's national hero - Bai Bureh - the first African to awaken the conscience of the African people".
He said he had a core group of fourteen members with him in Accra. The PDL was intent on setting up an office in Sierra Leone. They had sent emissaries to refugee camps in Guinea and were recruiting members for the PDL there as well as in Europe and America. True enough a full pack of PDL literature was received last week by Focus, including a pamphlet entitled "Our Mission, Vision & Structure". At least two other recipients have been confirmed in London.
Sankoh lamented that "the new civilian government has not lifted
the threats and ban imposed on me by the NPRC". He said his aim is
to unite all Sierra Leoneans abroad to present a united voice with the
aim of returning home to contribute to the governance of the country. "At
the moment there is a lot of disunity inside and outside the country."
The PDL would soon launch a newsletter to be called Network Sierra Leone.
ASLA VIEWS INTERVIEW WITH SANKOH
A video interview, in which Corporal Foday Sankoh explains his views and thoughts on the war, was shown recently to an audience at the last meeting of the Association of Sierra Leoneans Abroad - ASLA. Reactions ranged from outright anger and cynicism to mild disapproval tinged with selective approval for some key statements made by Sankoh in the interview. There were also sustained moments of sheer hilarity. The interview was conducted by Ambrose Ganda, editor of Focus, during his last visit to the Ivory Coast when Sankoh and former NPRC Chairman Bio met to herald the current peace talks. At one point Sankoh admitted: "Yes, we have committed atrocities. One day we shall stand before the people and ask for forgiveness".
May to June
A CHRONICLE OF VIOLENCE
..... AND SUFFERING
Even where there has been a drop in the number of attacks, whenever they have occured, the nature of the violence has been cruel and barbarous in the extreme. Routinely, victims have been subjected to tortures including the severing of limbs - usually the arms and hands - ears, gouging of eyes and, unbelievably for a once placid-natured people, genital mutilation.
Recently, the new government blamed the RUF, alleging that the "violations were many and widespread, resulting in the death of many civilians" and invited the International Community "to put pressure on the RUF" to observe the truce. This prompted an angry and strong disclaimer by RUF spokesman Mr Fayia Musa who refuted the government's allegations. He counter-charged that the government's own kamajohs (local hunters) and renegade soldiers were the real culprits. He said that their fighters were not active in those areas where the violence had been reported. "They are busy farming" he said in an interview on the BBC's Focus on Africa programme.
***** Breaches of the cease fire were reported in several areas. There were skirmishes between the RUF and government soldiers in the Moyamba District between Rotifunk and Bauya. Both sides blamed each other for the violations.
***** 15 people were reported killed in an attack at Gondama. A Pregnant woman was eviscerated in presence of her mother. Several others were macheted.
***** In Sahn Mallen in the Pujehun District, about 100 persons were reported killed after an armed attack in an area to which displaced people had started returning, following a lull in the fighting.
***** In Sumbuya in the Bo District, it was claimed that 7 rebels went to army command in the town and surrendered. But this may have been a decoy because late that night an attack was launched on the town from all sides leaving just one escape route - the river - for the inhabitants. At least 11 people were reported drowned. Others just stayed in the town to await whatever fate lay in wait for them.
***** Several small villages in the Southern Province near Bo were attacked and about 12 people were killed - at Waiima, Dodo and Ngaiagorehun. One person died at Malombo. Many people were alleged to have been abducted by the armed attackers. The villagers said they were attacked by men, armed with guns and sticks, some of them in military uniform. The attackers engaged in an orgy of torture, in some cases using molten plastic to brand their victims. Some victims were subjected to genital mutilation and gouching. The marauders then took away seed rice. One man whose arm was amputated was still magnanimous in his grief when he pleaded desperately: "Let them come and let us make peace. We are prepared to forgive them". Refugee camps in the area are full beyond capacity with a fresh influx of escaping villagers. Many had left the safety of Bo to return to their villages when the fighting seemed to have died down, only now to be uprooted again.
Association of Sierra Leoneans Abroad (ASLA)
The Organising Committee of ASLA invites members, all Sierra Leoneans and friends of Sierra Leone to a special meeting on Sunday, June 30 1996 commencing 1 PM at the Central Club Hotel, 16-22 Great Russell Street, London WC1. Theme of the meeting: Sierra Leone - Dawn of a new era?
The KDPDA will hold their summer ball on Saturday July 6 1996, commencing 8.30 PM at the Africana Hall, 24 Ashwin Street, London E8.
The PDDA announces that there will be another outing to the seaside resort of Margate on Saturday 28 July 1996 with live disco and plenty of entertainment on the beach. The event is being staged in support of the Appeal for War Relief, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Aid. Coaches will take off from Brixton Town Hall at 8AM prompt returning 6PM.
PUBLISH ..... AND BE DAMNED
Ambrose GandaPay those salaries
It is suicidal and almost courting disaster, if as it is being widely believed, government ministers have not been paid since assuming office. One can safely assume that there must be a minority who are self-made and have, therefore, sufficient funds at their disposal which, in the absence of a regular salary, they can fall back on in the course of serving their country and people. They must be commended. But this cannot be true of the majority who are only just emerging with "nothing in the bank". It is dangerous, and unfair, to put people in control of vast resources without remuneration. They could easily dip their hands into the national till as has happened before. If people have nothing to fall back on, and they have not been paid, how are they surviving and supporting their immediate and extended family, and friends? This could lead to corruption because, very soon, someone is going to be tempted to take a bribe, be compromised with a commission for a deal, or accept a "gift" for doing someone a favour. I would have thought these are the things we are hoping to correct in a new civilian-governed Sierra Leone. We should not create any conditions to succour corruption. Pay the ministers now or cut down their numbers! And cut down on their trips abroad.
We must live within our means
Most of the trips that have taken place so far have been totally unnecessary - a waste of valuable and much needed resources. We must learn to live within our means. Why not instruct the Ambassadors and High Commissioners to carry out some of these errands? Do we always need these ministerial calvacades every time there is a conference here or there? I believe ministers should preoccupy themselves with practical things right now such as ascertaining the real, basic needs of their ministry, developing a simple task plan, prioritising them within a time scale, and prudently applying the limited resources we have now to them. Their role then will be to monitor implementation so that at the end there is something tangible to show for the effort. Sierra Leone does not need grandiose, capital intensive, adventurous spending now. Let's do the simple things that matter to the ordinary man and woman ... for the time being.
Lady Hannah Momoh RIP
After a few hours in their company, I took leave and returned to my hotel. The next day there was a knock on my door and a man whom I had seen at their house came in, carrying a basket. It was laden with - yes, you guessed it! - a generous helping of freshly cooked, delicious cassava leaves and rice. It was like home from home. May she rest in the peace of the Lord.
No apologies for corrupt officials
Top marks for the Minister of Information
In tune with SLBS Radio
Freetown is not Sierra Leone