THE ICG’s RECIPE FOR CRISIS MUST BE REJECTED
Simultaneously with this commentary, we have posted today (see here) an article written by one of our most able and committed patriots, Mr Chukwu-Emeka PF Chikezie, about a report on Sierra Leone, produced and recently published by the International Crisis Group (ICG). We endorse the views that he has so lucidly expressed in his essay and recommend it for close attention and careful study. We invite you also to read the ICG’s report, which can be reached via this link Sierra Leone: Time for a new military and political strategy.
The ICG must be living on a different planet if it believes that all of the recommendations contained in its report will carry the day for peace in Sierra Leone. It is hard to imagine that this organisation has been closely monitoring the ups and downs of Sierra Leone's conflict, for it to come up with these ridiculous proposals. Our view is that its gung-ho militaristic solutions will exacerbate and prolong the conflict well into the future. They must be stoutly rejected.
We are prepared to accept other aspects of the report because they contain good ideas. Once we remove the inflammatory language in which they have been couched, we can for example readily identify with those on the DDR programme, the strengthening of UNAMSIL and the setting up the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. They are not new ideas and have featured prominently in most commentaries on this site. Our view on an international court or tribunal has been briefly discussed.
We would however have liked to see a clearly defined, active and positive role for Sierra Leoneans to play in the ICG's peace configuration. But since it has opted for a military solution, i.e. a strategy for war, it would seem to us ex hypothesi that the input of Sierra Leonean civic society, which they most probably think is served by depositing Mrs Zainab Bangura on their Board, does not really enter into their calculations.
The ICG's conclusions are reactionary and defeatist. Has it been driven to advocate a renewed military initiative because it senses that the current British political initiatives, which are covering up for and bolstering the failures and failings of President Kabbah's government, are not working? We hope that it is not a precursor to some planned covert adventure in violence for the sake of it. The ICG ought to know that whenever there is conflict, those who hold themselves as having influence - in its case because of the resources that it controls and the 55 or so powerful personalities who (it appears, nominally) sit on its Board - must beware that if they cannot change the situation for the better, then they should at least refrain from making it worse than it is.
But we also sense that there is frustration. It is not unusual. It is often the case that many who are engaged in the long-drawn out search for peace in this crisis-ridden world, at times reach the nadir of their patience and endurance. But that should never be allowed to cloud one’s judgement. So, even when the task gets as tough and enervating as ours, the temptation to rush to irrational conclusions and actions that we may not be able to reverse should be resisted. The ICG has allowed its frustration to run away with it and has come up with a recipe for more crisis and mayhem.
Paradoxically, it has produced an informative report. But this is then spoilt with a non sequitur of an executive recommendation, which is at variance with some of the analyses in the body of the main report and amounts to little more than a gloss of their own predisposition.
Focus on Sierra Leone's position cannot be stated too often. As long as the RUF and its allies out there are determined to keep their weapons, and are prepared to use them to pursue their own agenda, they must be resisted and met readily if need be with counter-force. The alternative is to allow them to walk over everybody and take over the country. We are convinced that the RUF and others realised this to be the case sometime ago. Although not a cause for complacency, one encouraging instance has been the welcome drop in the virulence, frequency and randomness of the hideous attacks of previous months and years.
Having thus spelled out to the RUF and their associates the futility of pursuing such an agenda, we need now to continue engaging in serious and meaningful dialogue with them as long as no one ups the stakes. In the meantime we must move rapidly to create attractive political options and demonstrably engaging and gainful economic alternatives so that this urge to fight, fight and fight (a contagion that appears to have infected even the ICG) and the understandable desire for revenge become less alluring for all sides. Let the Peace Commission be given more resources to do the good job that it is already doing so well and take its message deeper and wider into rebel-held areas, to the combatants. Let the DDR programme be reconfigured so it can be recognised by the RUF, ex SLAs and the CDF, and their respective communities, as something for their benefit. These are the messages of hope that are not being heard or spelt out loudly and clearly, simply because it is not in the interest of some people, and some concerns, for this to happen.
The ICG’s recommendations assume that outright military victory per se is the answer for Sierra Leone's political problems. But there are difficult political matters, which cannot be overlooked in trying to end a conflict that has been around for too long. They are inextricably linked to the violence that we want to stop. The urgency of the need for attractive political initiatives, which we often talk about, cannot be overstated. The aim is not to reward the men and women of violence but to encourage and steer them for good, towards a new way of life. This springs from our realisation, which is very well sign-posted in ICG's own account of the background to the conflict, that serious political aberrations since independence in 1961 have produced a class of alienated and desperate people who have been forced to exist on the fringes of society. You cannot assuage the feelings of such people simply through the use of military force.
Nowhere is the ICG’s reasoning more confused than when it brazenly states in its main report: “The international community has confused the signing of agreements with achieving peace. Lomé and earlier negotiations need to be understood as interludes within a wider strategy of war through which the RUF bought time to seize power. A new peace agreement that relies on the RUF being a cohesive force willing to adhere to a document is pointless.” This is a strange and indelicate statement, coming from a conflict resolution organisation. Surely, it is not the signing of agreements that is wrong but, rather, how they are negotiated, what they contain and, above all, how they will be implemented – whether fairly or not, in good faith or not, by ALL the parties (and not just the RUF). But where more than one party is involved in conflict, if the decision is taken to find a lasting solution, how can one hope to proceed without consideration of the other party or parties involved? To whom do we talk about ending the atrocities of this war and ultimately about ending the conflict? Is the RUF – admittedly a prime (though not the sole) agent of the misery of Sierra Leoneans - to be considered as extraneous to the establishment of peace in that country? No!
If the ICG were to revisit its charter and redefine its own character, it will discover that on this occasion, from the logic of its inflammatory statements, it is in the wrong vocation and will be seen hence as existing to create rather than end crises. The essence of what they are saying is that we must forget about all agreements and discussions and instead hunt the RUF down or, in the words of Zainab Bangura on BBC Radio 4 which gave this report prime time coverage on the day it was published, “bring them to their knees”. We acknowledge that many Sierra Leoneans share this standpoint as well. But we do not.
We have heard this meaningless militant drivel before and as we know, even when those who ought to know better have misguidedly tried such action, it has neither worked nor shown any prospect of success. Does the ICG and those who follow its lead now consider that the glorious ECOMOG campaign led by Nigeria, which was so widely supported and during which so many thousands of Nigerians and Sierra Leoneans lost their lives, was anything less than taking the war to the RUF? Did it "finish them" or "bring them to their knees"? Was it not the very escalation and its resultant potential for further chaos and suffering that most certainly led to the hastily improvised Lomé agreement? The ICG wants us to throw even that away and substitute it with their kind of peace.
Make no mistake about it! We agree with the ICG when it says, “ Sierra Leone is a human tragedy”. But if its go-for-broke recommendations are followed to the letter we will have crises and tragedies on our hands for the foreseeable future. Sierra Leone is not a case for a quick fix. It needs a solution that will hold and last. Escalating this conflict in the name of ideology or because of the torpor of the political set up currently bankrolled by the international community, will be ill advised and unnecessary, and must be resisted fiercely.