COUNTDOWN TO A SHOWDOWN
[Ambrose Ganda]
(Published in Focus Vol 3 No 4
June 1997)


NIGERIAN military finery and prowess is poised to be pitched against the junta in Freetown with the tacit blessing of the International Community, including those countries belonging to the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). 

The International Community, unprepared and, in any case, reluctant to intervene, has entrusted the poisoned chalice of intervention to its most celebrated bête noire - the beloved pariah State of Nigeria under the military dictatorship of General Sani Abacha. He has gratefully accepted the task, seeing it as a clear vote of confidence and as the long sought-after means of laundering his now tarnished and profoundly discredited image abroad. 

But as he embarks upon the expedition to re-instate the ousted Government of President Tejan Kabbah, an expedition whose success is by no means assured, it should not be forgotten that he, Abacha, as has been mentioned several times in this newsletter and elsewhere, continues to hold, under secure lock and key, Chief Mohshood Abiola - the elected President of his own country - as well as the keys to both the gates of Nigeria’s Federal Parliament and the cemetery containing the unmarked graves of his most famous victims, the Ogoni martyrs including Ken Saro-Wiwa. They were executed in open defiance of a strident chorus of world-wide condemnation which, in hindsight, turned out to be manifestly hypocritical, feeble and inconsequential. June this year marked the fourth anniversary of Abiola’s incarceration by the Nigerian military junta.

Some people have argued that Nigeria’s own political credential is irrelevant to the case of Sierra Leone. I beg to differ. It is relevant especially in the application of uniform international standards that must command universal respect and adherence. As someone who has joined mass demonstrations in London against the continued detention of Abiola, I can not selfishly go out now to extol the virtue of Nigerian military might simply because my country has been usurped by a group of people (emphasis people, not animals) who have a totally different concept of how a government can be changed. It is a concept which is by no means different from the logic that drove General Abacha and a host of West African leaders of the past and the present, to seize power in complete disregard for the popularly expressed will of their electorates.

Might is right! 
The assertion that the accession of military governments to power by force must be a thing of the past is a statement that is profoundly flawed and does not hold up to the test of history. It can only be tested against a country like Sierra Leone which is thought of as weak and without the military muscle to withstand the onslaught of a determined military assault. That is all. 

The stronger the country militarily the less likely is the prospect that others would try to reverse a coup in it other than by diplomatic pressure and peaceful negotiations. For instance, did the international business community not start signing mining agreements with Laurens Kabila weeks ahead of his eventual arrival in Kinshasa and months before President Mobutu had been overthrown? On that occasion Nigerian diplomacy to save a fellow dictator failed, while South Africa’s fresh credentials in democratic governance qualified it in every sense to mediate. Sweet revenge for President Mandela who was snubbed and humiliated by Abacha over the execution of Saro- Wiwa and others! 

The genesis of the governments of Nigeria, Ghana, Guinea, Gambia, Burkina Faso and a host of other nations on our Continent, but especially in the group of 14 states that form ECOWAS, is a history of the Military taking power by force. But for the extensive looting, murders and rapes that accompanied their unlawful act, the coupists in Freetown have done nothing different. Ghana’s uniquely sensible stand in opposition to the clamour for military intervention is probably due to an acute awareness of its own history. President Jerry Rawlings was himself once sprung out of jail to become Head of State of Ghana a rather striking parallel with Sierra Leone’s Johnny Paul Koroma! The principle of the illegality of coups d’état is undermined, thus devalued, as much by those who propound it but are not prepared to defend it, as by the bad credentials of those who are sent into the fray to correct it. 

Another point, often the case in underdeveloped countries like ours, is that as long as there is bad government in a country, there will always be those who will not be able to resist the temptation to apply unconventional methods for changing it. Where the State is weak and not securely based in democratic practice, it occasionally caves in. And where, in effect, the processes for effecting change are themselves usurped by the government in power and made inaccessible to the electorate, a coup or some kind of violent change is almost always inevitable. 

That partly explained the success of the NPRC coup against the APC government, which was initially welcomed by most Sierra Leoneans. This time, however, the AFRC coup has been totally rejected because people know and believe that they now have a means of changing the government they do not like. The coup was therefore a most unnecessary and unfortunate blow to popular morale. 

The International Community 
What about the role of the International Community? A positive message would have gone out to the coup makers in Sierra Leone if, say, anyone of the super powers like Britain, France or the US, which have a proven exemplary track record in changing governments by peaceful democratic means, had taken practical steps to vindicate this principle in Sierra Leone.

Without doubt, it would have been both credible and, most probably, successful, and a strong and much needed signal would have been sent as a precedent. 

The US actually had one of its warships with 1,200 marines in the area. Instead of offering to take the swift decisive action that was necessary to reverse the coup at the material time, both the Americans and the British and other foreign governments, in the true spirit of their own national self-interest, came ashore and shamelessly removed only their own citizens including Sierra Leoneans with dual nationality, and then left the rest of our people to an uncertain fate.

Even when a disoriented AFRC Junta declared its airspace inviolate, the US defiantly breached it, but only for their own selfish reasons, to get their people out. They were not prepared to go the full length to help the people of Sierra Leone restore their government. That was how much faith they had in the re-statement of the principle that coups d’état should not be used to remove legitimately elected governments. 

Yet it was the International Community that forced an election, opposed by this paper, on the people of Sierra Leone last year at a time when they were least prepared for it. But when the elected government was pushed out by the recent coup, they showed their true colours by nominating the foremost offender against the principles of democratic governance - Nigeria – to restore it. 

Was this some practical joke on Sierra Leone, I have wondered since? Is this what morality means in the conduct of affairs in the new world order? No one should be surprised if, as Major Koroma continues to consolidate his grip on power, the international business fraternity start signing mining agreements with his regime. 

International Hypocrisy 
A golden opportunity to reverse the coup was allowed to slip by. Military intervention is too late and will no doubt be a very nasty operation now. It should no longer be considered as an option. We must move into the phases of dialogue, diplomatic pressure and argument. 

At the risk of repetition, let me re-iterate that the charge against the International Community - in this case the West – is one of hypocrisy. They witnessed the overthrow of a legitimate government whose election they financed and supported. Instead of responding swiftly to secure its re-instatement, they settled for pious condemnation. Even though one of them had its warships in the vicinity, they did not act to forestall the blow. 
At the material time, both the elements of surprise and the use, or even the mere threat, of overwhelming firepower would have been enough to reverse the coup, or at least create doubts in the minds, and possibly dissension in the ranks, of the coupists before the arrival of RUF reinforcements in Freetown. They waited, and waited, while the AFRC consolidated its grip on power.

At one stage they trailed their lethal weapons at the coupists, but only momentarily, so that they could remove their own citizens from the fray. Once that task was completed they disappeared, leaving our poor defenceless citizens to their fate. What ambivalence! What futile words, leaders of the world! “Keep your own President under lock and key” they told Abacha, “but go now and restore the other one in Sierra Leone whom your clones have just removed from office”. 

So Abacha finds himself in the enviable position of being the restorer of democracy in anarchic Sierra Leone while the rest of the civilised world watches the countdown to a showdown that has all the ingredients of the wild west cowboy movie – where the expectation is that the strongman arrives in town and creates mayhem, floors all his opponents, inevitably with the lethal gun, and walks away to the silent awe and admiration of flummoxed onlookers. A triumph of the strong over the weak. 

The AFRC will probably notice how unfair the world has become. They have come to power using the same process as their big brother who is clearly unhappy at the efficiency of their attempt to emulate him. What cruel irony for them!.

Major Johnny Koroma and his allies, the RUF, have by now realised the enormity of the consequences of their action and the world-wide condemnation they have reaped. They are yet to gain recognition from a single country.  But even more significantly, the junta has won neither the approval and support of the population of the country nor, possibly, the overwhelming endorsement of all in its military ranks.

With jittery nerves it seems nonetheless that the battle-hardened RUF, who had been suffering serious setbacks including a dwindling supply of arms just before the coup, is prepared for a fight with the Nigerians and would dearly relish the chance to display what they did to our rural population during six warring years. The scene has been set. The world is waiting and watching for the drama to commence. 

The great national divides
I must acknowledge that Sierra Leoneans are split right down the middle over the issue of whether to settle this matter by force or by peaceful negotiation. Nobody can claim a monopoly over the best answer. I very much understand and respect the wishes of those of my compatriots who believe that only the use of force will bring about the resolution of this crisis. But I do not agree with them or their reasoning because I believe it will bring further untold misery and disaster to our country.

I believe intervention was necessary to reinstate President Kabbah’s government right at the onset of the coup. However, as we drifted into the second, third and subsequent days and, now, weeks soon to be months, it is totally unjustified and unnecessary. Intervention now is too late and is bound to be bloody no matter how professional the Nigerians may claim to be. 

Moreover it does not guarantee anything other than the possible, not even the probable, removal of the AFRC. In fact it might fail! And whether successful or not, we will still be left with the main problem concerning ‘how Sierra Leoneans can be governed so that that they can live in peace and harmony now and in the future’. That is why I oppose military intervention now. It only helps to fudge this extremely vital issue by simply papering over the deep fissures in our society. We need a long term solution which can only come now through meaningful dialogue between all the parties concerned.

No human aberration, however heinous and unsavoury, should be put beyond the pail of dialogue. That is why efforts, which need not be solely on the diplomatic front, such as those of Focus, groups of concerned (with the small ‘c’) apolitical Sierra Leoneans in the Diaspora, and conflict resolution NGOs, should be allowed to come into play so that their weight, experience and concern can bear on all the parties in working out proposals for a peaceful way out of this impasse.

Imponderable Questions 
I only wish to ask those of my compatriots who genuinely, and I should hope not for their own selfish political reasons, believe in the military option as way of resolving this matter, the following questions: 

Don’t they see any parallel in their demands for a military solution with those made during the war with the RUF? Did it end the war? Why do they want to start another war when we have not yet finished that other? 

Do they realise that notwithstanding the exodus of the middle classes from Freetown, there is still a resident population that has become a human shield for the coupists, following the eternal dithering by the international community?

What if most parts of the city have been booby-trapped by some elements in the expectation that if they have to beat a hasty retreat they can destroy all and anything in their path of escape? 

Are we sure that since the AFRC assumed power and took full control over the entire stock of the State of Sierra Leone’s arsenal of arms and ammunition, some elements have not already taken contingency measures to spirit some of it away in the event that they have to continue a guerrilla war against any authority that may be put in its place thereafter? 

As regard those who advocate Nigerian military, as opposed to diplomatic, intervention, we ask them to consider the following questions: 
What does it say for the authority of the United Nations? Might it not weaken, or even usurp, its authority considering that its Charter states clearly that all peaceful measures should be exhausted before the use of force is contemplated and, further, that such use of force must be sanctioned by the Security Council? Have any of these considerations been genuinely pursued? 

The meeting of ECOWAS Foreign Ministers in Conakry (Guinea) was held in conditions of emotion and unreality. While there appears to be a visible display of unanimity on the surface, is there still a risk that intervention per se could promote dissension within, and against ECOMOG itself? It is already being alleged that Ivory Coast, Ghana, and possibly Burkina Faso may be having second thoughts about the use of force. Will this not let Nigeria off the hook and strengthen its position internationally through its use of this campaign as an image laundering exercise, thus making it impossible for proposed Commonwealth action against it for sabotaging the democratic process in that country, and for its frequent and flagrant breaches of the fundamental human rights and basic freedoms of Nigerians? (It will be interesting to see how this matter will be dealt with at the forthcoming Commonwealth Ministers Action Group (CMAG) in July when Sierra Leone’s junta and the move to reverse the coup by force using Nigeria as a vehicle is placed alongside British Foreign Secretary Mr  Robin Cook’s recently re-stated position, namely, the UK’s determination to impose sanctions against Nigeria. One wonders whether that will include an arms embargo!) 

Assuming Nigeria overcomes the AFRC and the RUF in the Capital: 

Do they then remain indefinitely in the country? To maintain law and order? To fight off the resurgence of new guerrilla activities? Could this not signal Liberia mark 2 for Sierra Leone? 

Does that not make Nigeria an army of occupation? Are we suddenly wanting to be re-colonised all over again? 

Who will foot the bill for this operation and for the necessary continuing presence of the intervention force in the country, especially if some of the ECOWAS States refuse to go along with the decision? 

In the meantime, how do we eventually replace the Nigerian/ ECOMOG force if our army and its RUF allies do not wish to co-operate? Blow them up? 

Finally, will Nigerian, or any, intervention bring about the lasting peace that all Sierra Leoneans want?  Or, would intervention itself not result in a lingering and lengthier period of political instability for Sierra Leone? 

It Is Folly To Raise A New Army 
As a parallel strategy, some pro-interventionists are also looking to the local hunters militia - the Kamajohs - to complement a Nigerian-led invasion. This is wrong and should be discouraged. I also have questions for the hawkish protagonists of this strategy. They talk about arming the Kamajohs to fight to restore President Kabbah. Fine!
But what right has any body to do this? 

Would such action be any different from the mentality of those whom we have accused over the last six years of arming the RUF? 

Are we also sure that we can achieve the reinstatement of Kabbah and his government with less bloodshed than the RUF campaign against our people? 

Are we saying, in all seriousness, that we are even more competent in avoiding the barbarity, senselessness and brutality that accompanied the current civil war and which revolted all of us? 

How many more of our citizens have to die violent deaths before we get this democracy of ours back into place? 

How would they feel if a new set of rebels - for that is what they also will become in due course if they fail to remove the AFRC - resort to the very methods that we have decried whenever they have been used by the RUF? 

Are the Kamajohs so professional that their own killings will be less barbarous and gory than those by their sworn enemy – the RUF, the sobels who have now formed an alliance with them, and the rest of our Armed Forces? 

Would such action really afford us a platform for building unity in the future? 

Would it start remotely to address and rationalise those issues, including the genuine grievances of the Army and the RUF, that have led to the current national crisis? 


This being so, one must ask specifically also: 

What role, if any, is Nigeria playing in the arming of the Kamajohs? Has Nigeria got another agenda which is yet to see the light of day? 

Why, and under whose aegis did Captain Hinga Norman, President Kabbah’s Deputy Minister of Defence, hold a press conference in Monrovia to re-iterate a call exhorting Kamajohs “to fight to restore their government”? Whom does he represent? President Kabbah, the Government of Sierra Leone, the people of Sierra Leone, or himself? 

I honestly feel that the idea, though attractive, is pure madness. President Kabbah, a peaceful and gentle person who has kept a level head all this time, should really not have allowed himself to be driven into toying with this option. It is a recipe for unmitigated disaster. 
 

Keeping the State viable 
That I have raised these questions is not to support the AFRC. Nor is it in opposition to the Kamajohs. Far from that!

Firstly, I am more concerned here with the survival of the state of Sierra Leone intact, as a viable entity, from this major crisis. We cannot solve this crisis by creating a new one. Hence these questions are asked in advocacy of a rational approach which must mean dialogue, however protracted, with Major Koroma’s regime in Freetown.

Secondly, I believe that unsuspecting and naive Kamajohs are being misused by politicians for a purpose that they were never intended for in the first place. I can understand the eagerness of ministers who had started to believe in their own indispensability and largesse having withdrawal symptoms as they feel the earth shifting under their feet. But Sierra Leone’s future survival cannot be forfeited or tied like an umbilical chord to the personal predilections of, on the whole, failed ministers. That is why I would urge caution and not encourage any activity that we might find impossible to reverse in future. 

Thirdly, all armies have their own allegiances which are by no means constant. Sometimes they shift, and like their boots, they get too big for their own good. Today it is the Kamajohs for Kabbah (or is it for Norman?) But tomorrow it may be the Kamajohs staging a coup against him. Institutional militarism without an ideology to underpin its existence is a perilous and foolhardy exercise that only leads to tears for our country. It will create yet another power group that has nothing to do with the bread and butter issues of the day but everything to do with maintaining the domination of one point of view over the rest. I am not saying that the kamajohs are a tribal, i.e. Mende organisation even though the latter are currently its dominant component. But I know and I have heard it being alleged all over the place that it is a kind of Southern and Eastern ploy to wrest power from the North. This is not true but it has been repeated so often that it is beginning to ring true in the ears of those who want to use it to create tribal divisions. It is a perception that, though wrong, is enough to create a new kind of threat to Sierra Leone’s already fragile unity. As a Mende, I am proud of my traditional heritage and customs.

The Kamajoh phenomenon is one which has a positive role to play in our country and I applaud it. They took a decisive stand to protect their communities against armed attacks on lives and property. They succeeded to a very large extent. But Sierra Leone already has enough armies.

Captain Norman is a clever and courageous man. But he is like a wounded lion that should be held in check. This paper recently applauded his action in forming the Kamajohs for the protection of communities in our small towns and villages that were exposed to frequent raids by armed rebel groups. But now that he appears hell-bent on re-inventing a new role for them, he should be isolated. He is behaving no differently from Corporal Foday Sankoh in seeking to lead a new army. And if Sankoh has been removed from the scene because he is the leader of a rebel army in Sierra Leone, then so should Norman. He could be placing serious difficulties in the path of President Kabbah in his quest to reclaim his rightful entitlement as President of Sierra Leone. 

Back to base 
As for younger upstarts like Kabbah’s Minister for Presidential Affairs Mr Momodu Koroma who, it is alleged, has been globe-trotting in search of funds for the arming of kamajohs, he should be warned that if any further fighting commences to engulf Sierra Leone, and the country is sentenced to another six or more years of warfare, he and his clients will pay very dearly for any harm and damage a new or continuing rebel war will cause to our already beleaguered country. 

I appeal to him to stop his war-mongering travels and get back to base and sit down with his boss and others to work out a rational strategy for recreating a new society in which we - I mean everybody - gets duly recognised as having a stake, and in which everybody is treated with respect, love and care. These considerations were being speedily eroded under his government and he and quite a few in that Cabinet are, to a very large degree, to blame. Koroma, whom I know personally, is a very intelligent and committed activist. But on this occasion, he like many others, is misguided. He should be concentrating his very fertile mind on how to rebuild Sierra Leone not to destroy it. 

There are others to whom no message need be addressed. They are the political and tribal bigots who can see nothing beyond the tips of their protuberances, and whose intelligence is only matched by how far it extends beyond their faces. These people are hell-bent on plunging Sierra Leone into another war, even before the current one is finished - only because of their selfish and political ends, including the positions they hope to gain by pretending to be helping to restore Kabbah back to power.

Such naked ambition is destructive not just of one’s self but of all else around. They should not be allowed to hold sway. Incidentally, I note that those who are most vociferous in advocating Kamajoh militarism to restore President Kabbah are doing so at a very safe distance from London, New York, Banjul and Conakry. They should seriously consider returning to swell the ranks of the Kamajohs if they sincerely believe in it as the way forward and as their only redeeming factor.