LET US assume that the RUF is beaten into the dust once and for all, as a result of the concerted effort of the International Community led by the UN, with the very active and public support of Great Britain. When this putative result is handed down to the present Government of Sierra Leone, what might it do to harness the precious opportunity thus presented to it? What plans has it in store right now, which it will activate to enable it to seize this window of opportunity to advance the cause of this long suffering nation?

As far as we can see, none!

Interim administration for national unity (IANU)
President Tejan Kabbah must be persuaded that he has done his best but it is not enough, and that the time has come for his government to move aside to make way for new minds, so that Sierra Leone's problems can be looked at with fresh insight. What the country needs is a new interim administration to take charge of its affairs while others are trying to bring the violence to an end in one way and another. The government appears to be afflicted by tunnel vision and does not seem to see the country's problems from the wider perspective. 

As a matter of extreme urgency, Focus on Sierra Leone is taking this unprecedented step to call for the immediate creation of an Interim Administration of National Unity (IANU) for a period of at least four years.

During the period of the interim government that we propose, we strongly suggest that all partisan political activities should be put on hold. In their place there ought to be:

  • a national consensus-driven process of stock-taking;
  • a redefinition and prioritisation of key national objectives;
  • the development of schemes to satisfy the most basic needs of the people;
  • the inauguration of an on-going process of formal national soul-searching; and
  • the initiation of a mandatory regime of regular consultation with the masses.
There has been no leadership in any of these directions.

Priority areas of policy for the next four years should be clearly identified so that no one is left in doubt about what the national agenda and goals are, for the whole and not just part of the country or sections of its population. 

Our call for an interim administration comes after sounding opinions inside Sierra Leone, and here among Diaspora in the United Kingdom, Europe and the United States. Admittedly, these soundings have been limited in scope but even they point inexorably to a desperate call for change and the involvement of Sierra Leone's best talents in the phase of rebuilding the country. There is a sense of confusion, exasperation and frustration over the lack of activity by the present cabinet to come up with new ideas to demonstrate their sense of urgency, realism and commitment to fundamentally reversing the parlous state of affairs in Sierra Leone.

The interim arrangement that we are demanding will have the singular virtue of assuring external donors and benefactors such as the British government which is ploughing a large amount of resources to help make the country viable again, that the majority of citizens are solidly united behind their government in support of every policy and project that is put forward in their name. 

This is not the first time that we have made this kind of call. In 1996 when the issue of elections was being discussed as a way of getting the soldiers out of power (see here), we put the idea forward as a way of avoiding divisions in our society which, we argued then, would be the inevitable consequence of electoral competition in the midst of civil strife.

There is no doubt that single-handedly President Kabbah has done the most for peace in Sierra Leone and has, at times to the irritation of Sierra Leoneans including some of his own cabinet colleagues and political advisers, leant over backwards to accommodate peace initiatives involving the RUF. But he has lacked the drive to see his decisions through, allowing others to dictate the pace of developments.

So while there is universal acceptance that the present troubles were not caused by President Kabbah and the SLPP government, there is unanimity in the belief that the government has run out of ideas, and that its lack of innovation in policy making and/or implementation has often made matters far worse. This is largely because they have denied themselves full access to the pool of able and patriotic Sierra Leoneans who, because they do not belong to their party or their social network, are treated at best as irrelevant to the process of government and at worse, enemies or rebel collaborators.

Looking at all the odds facing this country and in light of the present government's failure to define the challenges that lie ahead and to prepare Sierra Leoneans to face them as a united country, the time has come for radical action.

The positive way forward, we suggest, is the immediate creation of an Interim Administration for National Unity (IANU), to bring together all of the human resources needed to make the task of recovery and progress easier. 

New National values and the distinction between State and Government
Sierra Leone has reached a critical phase in its history. Therefore it must, as a matter of utmost priority, urgently, drastically redefine its national core values. 

A distinction should be made between those values that characterise us as Sierra Leoneans, i.e. national values, because we all share a common heritage irrespective of which political party or government is in power, or the ethnic and regional origin of our citizens, and those values that change from time to time which bring out the worst in ourselves and sometimes create divisions among us. 

Further, a distinction ought to be made between the government of the country, which can change as often as need be, and the State of Sierra Leone whose core values do not change but should condition any government in being at the time. It is the blurring of the difference between these two that has led to problems in the past and more recently. 

Some in the present government, and no doubt those in the RUF who have set their eyes on grabbing power by force, believe that when once they are in government, they become equal to the State itself and so they can behave in any way they choose. We then end up with serious problems, such as unaccountability, the absence of consultation with those who are directly affected by their actions, the lack of transparency in official transactions, and the avoidance of ownership of responsibility for the myriad of problems created for the country by successive rulers. 

An unpopular and unrepresentative lame duck government
Government is a transient phenomenon. Governments come and go like the seasons of the year. They can not therefore become the yardsticks by which national consciousness should be judged, identified or measured. But the State remains the State for all times. The values of the State cannot be changed merely at the whim and pleasure of the government. If anything, they should govern the behaviour of the government itself. The habitual reversal of this role is another major cause of our continuing predicament.

When we wrote in August last year that this was a cabinet of deadwood (see here), we were not making a joke or frivolous comment about the ability of the present cabinet to run the country. We really meant that they could not deliver the aspirations of the majority of Sierra Leoneans. We arrived at that judgement once we had looked at the background of some the government's leading players and appointees, their antecedents and past performance as decision-makers. Time has proved that they were not just dead wood but they have since become complete and unmistakable lame ducks. Yet they continue to delude themselves that they are in control.

We know from our limited contacts that there is a real fear that the present government lacks the ability to deliver on any of the critical civic programmes that will be necessary to harness the opportunities that will soon come Sierra Leone's way if and when the violence has been contained or, as one sincerely hopes, brought to a complete end. This is the conundrum currently faced by the international community; not least those key states that have literally jumped into the fray to help sort especially our security problems. 

The question that they are bound to ask is whether Sierra Leoneans are ready to face the new challenges that would be thrust on them, following this tragic horror story of their nation, once the fighting is finally over? Is there going to be a relapse into the same internecine squabbles simply because we start off on day one by running the country badly as before? The fear of these countries, Britain and the UN in particular, must be that after all their efforts and resources, if the government of the country is slow and not sufficiently imaginative to deal with those opportunities that will be created, things will again deteriorate as they have before; and worse, the situation could lead to a breakdown in relationships between the citizens themselves, never mind that between them and the rebels! 

It is no exaggeration to say that the Government of Sierra Leone is unpopular among the masses and that it is only the civil war that has helped to maintain a semblance of cohesion between government and the governed. However the government's unpopularity is its own making because for quite sometime it has become inaccessible, having literally closeted itself beyond the reach of the masses. Yet the government could have used basic tactics to head off popular opposition and anger by, for example, advancing the "democratic" colours of Kabbah (which has effectively served as the springboard for launching British military/humanitarian intervention) to appeal for calm, order and time to implement its program.

The snags with this are that firstly, the government has no exciting programs to offer or implement! Secondly, the President and his key ministers have been nowhere to be seen or heard at the critical times when things were on a knife edge, when people needed to be reassured or things needed to be explained about what was happening in the country.

The ruling SLPP government has more or less succeeded in upholding the framework of the corrupt system bequeathed to this country by its predecessors – the APC and the NPRC. If anything, it has been revealed as representing the vested interests of the country's small group of opportunistic politicians of a past era, who are supported by a small core of corrupt and ruthless youngish thugs masquerading as technocrats. They have cleverly parcelled out ministries to their supporters, forgetting that there is out there a mass of Sierra Leoneans who do not belong to their party nor share their own philosophy. Consequently it has failed to meet even the most basic social needs and democratic aspirations of the vast majority of ordinary Sierra Leoneans, such as their concerns about personal safety and national security. Most people feel that the government is only a government in name.

As for this ritual nonsense of being the democratically elected government, the least said the better. In any case, most of the cabinet ministers were not elected or democratically appointed! Careful examination of the ministerial line-up reveals precisely the opposite: that behind the façade of democracy, the present government is unaccountable at the best of times and has not been transparent in most of its transactions. Corruption continues even at a time when the country is enjoying the full attention of the world media. Besides, it is others who are taking the vital decisions for Sierra Leone, sometimes from outside the country.

This situation cannot go on any longer. It is time Sierra Leoneans took charge of their own affairs. We need a change and a radical one immediately. The present cabinet must go – to give chance to a new set of people who can concentrate solely on the specific agenda of steadying the ship of State and injecting a new realism in the thinking and the conduct of government.

National unity is the key
Under the dispensation that Focus advocates, the overarching emphasis should be on national unity and solidarity. 

But can President Kabbah's government deliver this?  No! 

Why? Because he leads a political party whose loyalty is naturally first and foremost to its supporters. But since those supporters constitute a small majority in relation to the rest of the population who do not belong to it, it means that a large proportion of citizens is not represented within government. Even if they had an overwhelming majority on their side, they must accept that democracy is not just the rule of the majority but that it is also the power of the majority to look after the interest and welfare of the minority in society. Yet we have often witnessed nepotistic appointments, with the allocation of ministries and government appointments not on merit but on extraneous loyalties that have largely been bought (we can name you a few ambassadorial appointments of this type!) or, in the rarest of cases, earned.

Focus on Sierra Leone has consistently stressed on national unity to confront the future. Our concern undoubtedly is a reflection of our awareness that divisions, and in particular ethnic divisions, exist politically and socially. In recent times these divisions have been exacerbated to the point of bursting into the open, by self-serving interpretations of who is to blame for the war and whether or not bad governance in this country begot the disgruntled men and women of the RUF and the AFRC who have used their grievances to unleash a most vicious war on the country. 

It is crucial for now that the country is run without the added burden of a divided and polarised society. Only an interim administration of national unity – by its very mission, composed of personalities who are trusted and respected across the entire nation - can avoid such pitfalls.

Party pressures have frustrated the will of the President
The present government is seen by many as part of the problem for Sierra Leone. They have taken many terrible decisions and made just as many serious errors of judgement that have led to horrendous consequences, including the death of thousands of innocent civilians; yet the very people who are responsible for these decisions have either kept their jobs or are still prominently associated with the workings of the government.

Here again internal party wrangling in the SLPP has been undermining the effectiveness of President Kabbah. Credit has to be given where it is due and we must give it to Kabbah for once publicly telling the party that he is the President of all Sierra Leoneans. In a letter to the party in August 1998, Kabbah who was being pilloried from all sides of his party, was forced to react uncharacteristically robustly: "My own task" he wrote "is to improve the country for all Sierra Leoneans without forgetting to help the Party, to give you support, to give you encouragement. My role complements yours, for the development of our beloved Sierra Leone. Please allow me to concentrate on my main role. I am sure you are fully capable of fulfilling your own role, for which you will always get my support. And I am sure you will also help me to fulfil mine."

The letter continued: "My role here, as I plainly see it, is to recruit all men and women with meaningful contributions to make, and for all of them to join us in this national emergency. And in this context, I see myself as encouraging these helpers to help the nation." (See here for the full text, courtesy Andersen's Sierra Leone News Web) This was fine fighting talk but it all came to nought because he failed to show his resolve in his actions and subsequent appointments.

Sierra Leone, as he rightly recognised, belongs to all of us. No one should be discriminated against or be made to feel unwelcome. We have enough problems dealing with a common enemy, i.e. the RUF and those others who want to reduce the country to rubble and ruin; so we cannot afford to expend our energies fighting among ourselves for what is left over by them.

In reality therefore, Focus is offering President Kabbah an honourable way out of his bondage by suggesting the alternative of an interim government. We know that he has been held hostage and undermined by sections of his own party and possibly others outside it. He can now boldly tell them where to get off because he will have the support of not only the sensible members of that Party (which once included this editor), but other Sierra Leoneans who do not belong to it or any other party and simply want to do the best for Sierra Leone in the present circumstances.

We have reached a critical stage in the country's struggle for survival. It is no longer a party political issue. We went passed that stage a long time ago. 

We have whom it takes …So let's use them
Focus believes that Sierra Leone has the men and women with the calibre, energy and zest to steer this sinking ship of ours into much calmer waters, and to lay the new foundations for the prosperity that is yet to come.

We need people who can instil confidence in the viability of our country's statehood and make us believe that we can stand on our own feet once again. We need somebody or group of people who can attract the broadest spectrum of support across the political, social and economic divide in the country. Above all we need strong men and women of proven character who are fearless in taking decisions honestly and with conviction, and are prepared to defend their actions and face the consequences. We want people who can instil in our gun-toting generation the confidence that if and when they lay down their weapons they stand to gain a better future for themselves. Above all we want those who can give real hope to the youth and the disadvantaged in Sierra Leone.

It is important that somebody strong and decisive leads this new arrangement. It is possible that once we assemble them together, they can meet in plenary session and agree among themselves on who shall lead them. But if President Kabbah really likes, and since he is the one that some of our key protagonists like Britain seem to favour (to our national detriment so far!) he can stay as President. In that case we must not let him continue to make decisions on our behalf, that lead us inexorably to our own suicides.  Thus we might need to suspend that section of our Constitution that gives him extensive executive powers, remembering always that the Constitution is a living document that is meant to serve the people and not the other way round!

We would like to suggest names but the danger is that in present day Sierra Leone virtually every name becomes a target for personal abuse and denigration. But we have to dissociate personal/private antipathies from an individual's suitability and ability to perform a job. That is one key reason why the country accepted Tejan Kabbah and his ministers in the first place. But they have failed to deliver results. That is why Focus will continue to argue that they now give way for others to make their contribution.

Outside parliament there are several people who are more than qualified to play a role in this new arrangement. We make bold to name a few: People like Dr Peter Tucker who was, until less than a year ago, chief advisor to President Kabbah; both men fell out over issues relating to Lomé and the conduct of the negotiations. Tucker has an established pedigree in government and administration. Though a very modest man, he carries considerable weight in the ruling SLPP, which he most certainly would  have been elected to lead had he been in a state of good health when the 1996 elections were being held. Although a Southerner, Tucker is well known and respected among Northerners, having been once trusted enough by the then APC government to head its National Authorising Office. He was also the architect of the Draft 1991 Constitution of Sierra Leone. It is scandalous that someone like him is in idle residence here in the UK while the country disintegrates for want of good thinkers and doers!

Dr John Karefa Smart's claim to leadership is incontestable, whether you like him or not. Some use the ageism ploy, saying he is an old man and has therefore passed it. Nonsense! First he is an honest and consistent individual. Secondly, the man is mentally alert, with a superior intellect. He is  well informed on the evolution and political and social history of the country. With his vast knowledge of the country and its people Dr Smart can help steady our rather wobbling state craft. His wisdom and experience would be a great asset under such arrangement. The man gave Kabbah a good run for his money in the presidential elections in 1996 and his party remains the second largest in the Parliament. His charisma and stature among Northern kindred ethnic groups is intact and unassailable. No right thinking person can ignore him. Also, as a gentle reminder to the SLPP, that Dr Karefa Smart was one of the original founders of this party. They would be wise to call upon his counsel.

What blessing it would be for Sierra Leone if people like these decided to bury the hatchet to work together and pull their vast experiences together for the benefit of the country!

Equally also there must be younger men and women who could be brought into such an administration.  For example, there is the good Doctor Willoughby, not a politician but a man of the people who stayed behind inside the country and, for most of the period of AFRC rule, treated the war wounded while the rest of the government and several professionals went off into exile in Guinea. Dr Willoughby has a commitment to the people of this country, which is unsurpassed. He has no political ambitions as far as we can tell, and he can be trusted as a technocrat to get on with the job of healing this nation of all its woes.

Although Parliament as a body has been a total disappointment to Sierra Leoneans, there are individuals who stand out and could play a positive role in government, who do not belong to the present ruling party. One might say, keep the politicians out of it for the time being! Unfortunately, politics is so interwoven with the fabric of Sierra Leonean society that it would be impossible not to involve some politicians of note in this exercise. These people should be identified and drafted in. But they should be involved only on the understanding that they are not there to represent their constituencies or political parties but the interest of every Sierra Leonean to attain peace and harmony. 

For all his faults people like Alfred Akibo Betts, who has recently made calls for a broad-based government similar to this one, could be one of the popular 'on the ground' operatives to drive the nation out of its malaise. Betts has made several mistakes in the past, no more than others have, but he at least has always been a fighter for the ordinary person and he could do a good job under such an interim administration. For good measure also, one would like to see the articulate and fearless PDP leader Mr Osman Kamara who, since his election as chairman of his party, has been coming up with plenty of good original ideas.

Without wanting to be controversial, if we intend to reassure members of the once disfavoured SLA who, rather curiously, are turning out to be the new heroes of the hour, perhaps we should try and bring on board those who may still have a residue of respect among them. Such as John Benjamin-Hirsch who as Secretary to the NPRC was very much at the centre of  'soldier power' in those heady days. He has kept a low profile ever since the elections of 1996, concentrating purely on his business interests. But our understanding is that he has rapport with some members of the old SLA, which can be extremely useful. It should be one way of reassuring what was once, and could probably still be, a rebellious army. Also for good measure as we once suggested, the country should call upon its former military officers such as Major General Tarawalli, currently in exile in the UK, to assist in reassuring the army that they can have a future in the new Sierra Leone that we propose to rebuild.

There are other competent people such as Dr John Karimu who performed very well to the satisfaction World Bank and IMF officials during his tenure of the finance portfolio under the NPRC; Dr Stephen Swaray, one-time Governor of the Bank of Sierra Leone now in exile, Ernest Koroma who allegedly flirted with the idea of joining the Kabbah cabinet but came back to his senses at the last hour; he is popular with Northern youths and could, with others, provide a rallying point for Sierra Leonean youths' expectations. 

Even among Kabbah's cabinet ministers Dr Kadi Sesay, despite certain reservations that we at Focus have about her, could be called upon to play a more positive role. So also Mrs Zainab Bangura of the Campaign for Good Governance, whom we had cause to lambaste recently on this site over her defiant attitude towards accountability; She is another prospective actor, provided she stops believing that she is civil society. Others like Mrs Amy Smyth a former President of the YWCA, paediatrician Dr Fatmata-Boi Kamara a long time peace activist, and the former ambassador to Belgium Mrs Mariama Kargbo are all capable people who have proved their worth in the past.

Frivolous objections
There have already been spurious objections by some SLPP supporters to the idea of an interim arrangement to oversee the next phase of Sierra Leone's liberation. They say, not unreasonably, that they were elected in February 1996 to serve for four years and are even claiming that they should be allowed to serve till 2002 to make up for the periods of interruption, during their rule, by the AFRC coup in 1997 and the rebel invasion of 1999. 

This argument is, to say the least, most unhelpful. Surely if the present government were performing well the question of its continuation would not become an issue. But the fact is they have not performed. Even the SLPP members have been openly critical of the government and gunning for Kabbah for his lack of results as they see it. NO! As far as we are concerned, the SLPP has less than eight or so months to go before it faces a general election. Surely in the interest of peace and national unity they can forgo that period to ensure that we have in place an administration that engages the respect of everyone across the political spectrum and, most important of all, enjoys the popular support right across the length and breadth of this country.

The question thus arises, how do we arrive at this decision if indeed the need for it has been accepted?

We are bound to encounter serious problems here. For a start, the decision unfortunately cannot simply be left to civil society.  Focus remains a strong advocate of the role of civil society. However, as one now sees things from here, Civil society has itself been compromised and hi-jacked, and turned into a vehicle for peddling the personal ambitions of a few well placed individuals. As a result it has not been able to put the requisite pressure on the Kabbah government for reform. Also for civil society to be effective there has to be security. It is only in a peaceful and secure environment that people are able to move around freely and to express their views. It is only when people feel free and secure that they can fully participate in the governance of their country. That has not been the case for a long while. In the absence of such a pressure group, faced with a non performing government, the only possible alternative is for a carefully selected set of patriotic people with integrity and drive, to be at the helm of the country's affairs until such a time that we can revert to multiparty politics and electoral competition.

Focus is under no illusions that this will be a tough idea to sell. There are those who are tied like leeches to Kabbah's tailcoat and know that once he goes they go with him. These people are doing everything possible to block out all progressive views on the way forward for Sierra Leone. 

Luckily, the country has ample experience for making this kind of choice. The Bintumani Conferences of 1995/96 have been milestones in representative mass action in Sierra Leone. There is no reason why a decision about an interim administration for national unity (IANU) to oversee the country's affairs until real peace has been attained, cannot be canvassed, argued and decided there. Bintumani II effectively signed the death warrant for NPRC military rule. So the precedent is there for such debated decision making.

A National Consultative Council, with cross sectional representation from all walks of life, can afford us the ideal forum for the creation of IANU.

We invite the UN, Britain (if they do not want their good work to be in vain) and all other interested parties to put pressure on President Kabbah and use their good offices to facilitate the holding of such a conference even now, while the fighting still goes on. Sierra Leone cannot wait a day longer to embark upon the road to building its new structures for the future. 

The sense of outrage felt by Sierra Leoneans following Foday Sankoh's and the RUF’s failure to comply with the peace accord does not excuse our government for failing even now to come up with a comprehensive plan that would serve as a framework for any eventuality following this latest setback. For example, as late as today, it seems to us the only policy declaration by our Government, and citizens of  Freetown who take their cue from it is "The British must stay". So what happens in the meantime? Do we sit and fold our arms until the war has been won against the rebels? If as a result of the Foreign Secretary Mr Robin Cook saying that his government will go all the way with the Kabbah Government the British do in fact stay, what complementary plans have been made to reinforce this presence? So the British stay and they give us protection and raise a new army. What would we then be doing that would benefit everyone within the safe haven that has been created by the British?

1. The agenda for an interim administration must be precise and time limited.

2. It must make security of the state and of the individual its main concern. Therefore it must be at the forefront of all attempts to get a final resolution of the conflict, whether by the use of force which we believe may not be the answer, or by negotiation and dialogue to which we will continue to advise that doors should not be closed.  The important thing is that the interim administration should be seen to be in charge and taking the key decisions that matter. What it must not do is leave it to others, however well meaning they are in giving us their help and support.

3. It must develop

  • a national project plan
  • new institutional mechanisms that can accommodate the needs and demands of the broad range of social forces that exist throughout the country, especially the youth of Sierra Leone; and
  • a timetable for implementation 
4. It must be an administration that will be seen as actively representing
  •  refugees living in the overpopulated camps, inside or outside the country's borders;
  •  those separated from loved ones since the start of the war, internally and externally;
  •  those who have lost the freedom to speak and organise even in their own country;
  •  the many manipulated children who are forced to kill or be killed;
  •  the vast numbers of physically maimed, psychologically damaged and the destitute;
  •  all Sierra Leoneans disenfranchised by the war; and
  •  the rest of the population of whichever political persuasion.
5. It must invite input from all Sierra Leoneans, at home and in the Diaspora.

6. It must proactively go after, and cultivate, the support of the majority and the widespread plurality of Sierra Leoneans.

7. It must actively promote national reconciliation, in the sense as we understand it, namely as a healing of conflict in a thorough and complete sense, in an atmosphere of truthfulness and tolerance, wherein divergent views are permitted, and the powerless are genuinely given a chance to become part of the process.
  One ought to point out that sometimes when people talk about national reconciliation they forget, probably are not aware, that it cannot be achieved through military means. Reconciliation is possible only through political means, and even then only when the majority of people of various political and ethnic persuasions accept it. For this to happen, leaders of the various communities including from authoritative bodies of the country and from all political parties should meet regularly and discuss the country's affairs. Only then will some consensus emerge about how to move the country forward.

8. Eventually set an election date, taking into consideration the state of preparedness of the country in terms of:

  •  cessation of all hostilities
  •  disarmament
  •  accessibility of all areas of the country
  •  Freedom of movement and travel
  •  reconstruction of electoral boundaries
  •  recreation of an national electoral register 

In conclusion, ultimately Sierra Leoneans will gradually come to recognise that the government's capacity to act in a politically coherent, socially responsive and, above all, democratically accountable and legitimate way will be augmented only when participation is broad based. We need therefore a more democratic process of integration. This not just an ephemeral political demand, but it is the premise for those of us who are seeking to change the present system of government by means of introducing openness, transparency and accountability at every level, coupled with the fullest participation of the greatest number of our citizens.