WHICH NEW INTERVENTIONIST STRATEGY?
(A paper delivered by Ambrose Ganda, editor of Focus, at a conference on Sierra Leone, organised jointly by the Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD) and the Royal Commonwealth Society (RCS) at the Commonwealth Club, London WC2, on Friday 15 September 2000)
ONE of the most lamentable developments in the last 10 years of war in Sierra Leone is the readiness and openness with which the so-called new world order is prepared to finance the war and not the peace. There is so much focus on war and its trappings both in substance and language, and so little on peace itself.
We have seen how much money has been poured into Sierra Leone to fight the rebels. I am one who boldly asserts that if I am given the equivalent sum, I would not only bring peace to Sierra Leone but will have millions of dollars left over to buy every gun from every rebel, rehabilitate everyone of them, give adequate material compensation to each of their surviving victims, and provide the basic needs of every Sierra Leone man, woman and child. For I believe that as long as there is a political will there would be a way out. But there will never be a way out while we, as a nation, remain trapped in a state of denial, actively encouraged by the outside world into believing that the rebels are just a transient group of alien nobodies, without a right to exist, and who should therefore be flushed down the plug hole.
The incontrovertible fact is that what is happening in Sierra Leone is the culmination of years of blatant injustices, bad governance, physical abuse of individuals, the impoverishment of large sections of our communities. Many were left in a state of nothingness and total disaffection as their conditions were glossed over by successive governments and the international community. This does not excuse the violence to date but it is a crucial factor that underlies the continuing violence that has ravaged the country.
The international community was more interested then, and is so even now, in maintaining the comfort and well being of the metropolitan ruling elite, largely in Freetown. That sentiment is clearly evident as I speak, because it is back to business in our capital – with people building new mansions, popping overseas to buy and export new Mercedes Benz and other luxurious cars, and contracts being awarded to the same bunch of discredited political friends and agents of those in government. A false economy is being generated with UN money doing the rounds, while Kabbah's ministers are bragging to their political opponents that the British presence will keep them in power for as long as they want. SLPP activists are claiming to their opponents that they will remain in power in perpetuity!
This is happening against the backdrop of a monumental deception that somehow there is a credible democratic government in Sierra Leone, and the charade of a President and his cabinet whose power and influence does not extend beyond twenty miles outside the Capital, Freetown. The interventionists are helping to create this misleading picture, possibly as an aide to camouflage their own hidden agenda.
These latter day saviours of my country fail to realise that intervention in what is a nasty but obvious internal conflict, albeit with external dimensions which are themselves traceable back to internal local administrative misfeasance and bad economic policies in the past, is only helping Sierra Leoneans to ease themselves into a state of dependency and complacency. The real problem is poverty. Kabbah rules by virtue of poverty. It is ordinary people - the poor classes - that are largely engaged, and affected, in this horrendous situation in Sierra Leone, whether they are RUF, CDF, Kamajohs, AFRC or ex-SLAs. Some half-baked disgruntled self-styled intellectuals may have aided the rebels but at the base of it all is the alienation of a large mass of youths from the main stream of national life, and their lack of a decisive stake in their society.
Those who wish to intervene to help our situation must be clear about their own objectives, as well as about the deciding factors that precipitated the war that they say they want to help us resolve. They must approach the issue with a clearly defined, not open-ended, objective – that is to say, the objective of making and keeping peace. My idea of a peace maker is someone who goes between two or more warring parties to effect a cessation of their disagreement and to facilitate a settlement, of their dispute, that will last so that they can, if possible in the course of time, resume normal relations. But, I have to say, the intervention so far has been too one-sided and threatening to the other parties to this conflict. And considering those other parties have not been defeated so far, it only helps to fan the flames of suspicion, mistrust, defiance and unwillingness to move towards putting an end to the conflict.
Though, overall, the beneficiaries of the safety cordon so effectively flung around Freetown, by Britain, are the civilian population, nonetheless a bunch of discredited, crooked and obnoxious politicians, some of whom themselves contributed to the factors that led to the outbreak of war in the first place, and whose sole aim is to lord it over the rest of us, are taking comfort under British wings. Intervention continues to give these people a blank cheque, enabling them to maintain standards of living not commensurate with their performance in and outside government.
There is, however, one kind of intervention that we must always support, i.e. humanitarian intervention, which one has urged from day one of the civil war, provided it is even-handed, non-partisan (except on the side of victims on all sides), above board and seen exactly for what it is. It must be decisive, resolute and speedy action to stop an abnormal state of affairs that threatens human survival. In Sierra Leone, we reached that state of affairs more than five years ago. But did anyone help to stop the carnage then? One wonders why they waited until now!
Ideally, the United Nations is best placed to carry out such an intervention. But this assumes that it is its own master, which it clearly is not. Secretary General Koffi Annan is seen by many as pampering to the wishes of the super powers. (He would not have got the job, some say, if they had felt that he would be a threat to them having things their way!) Members of the Security Council continued to play silly boys' war games while the world around them burned. Poor Sierra Leone was only a marginal dot on the globe that really did not count. But now our country has recently been discovered to have still more diamonds, gold, platinum, bauxite, rutile, etc. Further, if stories currently doing the rounds - first talked of some 15 or so years ago following the grant to BP, by late President Siaka Stevens, of exploration concessions whose results have never been disclosed - are to be believed, we too have viable deposits of oil! Suddenly we have become desirable and everybody flocks to save us from ourselves.
But as happened elsewhere, they are going about it in the wrong way. They are not talking to the parties. They are not encouraging the parties to talk to each other. It's all war, war! The quest now is for total victory and complete domination. This is not the kind of action that humanitarian intervention demands. It requires that any action taken in this respect must be, to borrow a Latin maxim usually applied to establishing prescriptive rights of ownership, nec clam; nec precario i.e. not by stealth and not by permission. The maxim also imposes a third condition, nec vi, against the use of force; but force may be required when it is judged to be absolutely necessary to end the immediate threatening situation. The invasion of January 1999 was one such instance; the other, possibly, was in May this year when there was talk of another invasion after the collapse of Lomé.
When it comes to peace making and/or peacekeeping, there are disturbing conundrums. One sees contradictions not just in behaviour but also in terminology, which only go to undermine the prospects of Sierra Leoneans ever living in harmony with each other. To me peace means reconciliation. You cannot have peace without reconciliation. But the act of reconciliation is not an abstract concept. It is a reality that is embedded among the people, and in their politics. Ultimately, reconciliation is related to a state of mind whereby the actors accept in their minds and hearts that they have no other option but to learn, and accept, to live with their fellow men and women. The process for bringing the population to such heightened states of consciousness, in thought and action, is the medium of politics via the political and community leaders of our society.
Our leaders have to learn to talk the language of peace and reconciliation. At the grassroots in Sierra Leone there is a remarkable willingness for reconciliation. But, sadly, it is not reflected at the national level, especially from listening to the utterances of our political leaders in government. Remember politics in Sierra Leone has proved many times to be a source of great division. That is why the talk of elections makes me cringe with fear because it reinforces my belief that there are those who refuse to accept the argument about an interim government of national unity, because they know that they can prey on the prejudices and fears of the electorate to retain or gain power and dominate.
The other side of this coin is represented by the rather perverse sense in which the word peace has come to be interpreted upon eventualities like intervention and/or peace-enforcement. There is an inherent contradiction in terms when people talk about peace enforcement. You cannot force peace on people who are neither ready for it, nor want it. And you cannot impose a peace unless you are a victor. But then it ceases to be peace because it lacks consensuality. What you really end up doing is to impose your own solutions and dictate your terms to the other party, as long as you have the means and power to do so. That is the current situation in Sierra Leone. The rebels do not want peace, except on their own terms; the politicians do not want peace except on their own terms. They all feed on each other's bigotry. So now everyone is pulling all punches for final victory – victory that continues to elude both sides. As a result the violence increases and the resolve to win, and not to lose, stiffens on all sides.
The UN should stick to its role of peace making – which should be qualified as impartial peace making - when segments of our society are at each other's throats. Intervention must be seen to be even-handed to earn the respect and co-operation of all the parties; otherwise it runs into serious difficulties, as time has already proved. To this effect I humbly submit that the seemingly independent approach adopted by the British Government which talks about taking the fight to the rebels while at the same time preparing a new army for battle, is very much at odds with their saying that they are there to reinforce UN peacekeeping. I believe it seriously undermines the UN's credibility in this respect. One is also at a loss to explain why the developed countries of the world habitually refuse to put their soldiers under the UN's command, to carry out its peacekeeping mandate. British troops under (not aside from) the UN mandate in Sierra Leone would have helped greatly to add weight and credibility to the UN presence.
I fear now that Britain may well see its role in Sierra Leone not so much as a peacemaker but as pacemaker for a moribund and lack lustre government. Thus it is conducting the government's war against the rebels, which is understandable and is appreciated by most Sierra Leoneans since our government can not fulfil one of its most basic functions, viz. the protection and security of its citizens. Unfortunately for Britain, she will very quickly come to be seen as a partner of this discredited government by many of their political opponents. Some of them are accusing the British of running the government of Sierra Leone by proxy.
Certainly but for the massive British subvention, Sierra Leone would not have a government or the means to function economically. Embarrassingly for the British Government, their man Kabbah has become unpopular and his government has fallen out of favour with the people who elected it. Even members of his ruling SLPP are ambivalent about his leadership of their party. The question therefore that one has to ask is this: Are the interventionists mindful of the need for peace and harmony between the political factions in our civil society? That is a further reason why it has been suggested that in place of another divisive electoral competition, the country should be helped to create an interim administration for national unity.
It is also unusual that we have no other agenda existing along the path to peace except that which preaches militarism and domination. It is a curious way of conducting peace. The soldiers whom we are training today may well be the coup makers of tomorrow because the political system that they are being trained to protect is corrupt, does not reflect the will of the people, and itself created the conditions that have divided the people of Sierra Leone. The real issue in Sierra Leone is one of privilege, poverty and disadvantage. These operate almost exclusively against ordinary people. The political system that is now being buttressed will very quickly collapse once the British and the UN have left our shores. Why? Simply because it is not rooted in the consciousness of the average person in the street.
The political system of Sierra Leone for at least the last 30 years has been based on keeping the majority in a state of total dependency, dropping just enough crumbs from the table to keep them fed (first), but denying them a stake in society whilst the political cats kept all the cream. Conditions like these lead to friction and, ultimately, civil wars. Therefore, like their predecessors, the new military too cannot be relied on solely to keep the peace. It is foolhardy for anyone to assume that somehow a new army is going to get rid of all the conditions that gave rise to the civil war in Sierra Leone - conditions that existed under the (previous) SLPP, APC, NPRC, AFRC, and now the SLPP of today under Kabbah.
It should be remembered also that less than ten years ago, the average persons in the street used to include the thousands of youths who are currently holding the country to ransom. With guns in their hands they believe that they have nothing to lose. They have mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters, and friends who are sane and law abiding, living normal lives in present day Sierra Leone society. Recent events involving the activities of the West Side Boys, whose relatives not only condemned their action but also pleaded with their children for the release of the British military hostages, proves the point. Ask yourselves how many youths have since gone and joined the rebels since the invasion of January 1999? I am told thousands.
Of course it is also easily forgotten that intervention by itself is a source of constant replenishment for the rebel arsenal. Simply by carrying out ambushes of allied, UN, British and Ecomog forces, rebels have been able to acquire uniforms (which they use to impersonate legitimate forces), heavy machine guns and artillery. By their ability to attack and break into sensitive depots they are also able to replenish their stock of food and medicine, etc. And in a war that is essentially about access to wealth at all levels, that is not to minimise the fact that there are rogue elements of all sides, such as odd UN, Ecomog, or SLA soldiers who trade their weapons or turn a blind eye to rebel atrocities in exchange for some favour, e.g. a diamond or stereo or other valuable item that has come into their possession by force. These events only help to prolong the war.
One is aware of the problems that the UN has encountered in Sierra Leone but they are problems of its own making. The UN should be encouraged to revert to its traditional role of peace making between warring factions. It must not be forced to go down the discredited route of imposing peace simply because of its bad experiences in the past. Some of its failures however can be explained by the fact that the UN has often been saddled with implementing bad agreements – agreements that have been put together by bad and insincere negotiators with an eye simply to quick fixes rather than genuine attempts at an all-embracing and comprehensive settlement. Its other bad experiences can simply be put to its internal organisational defects, bureaucracy and misuse of resources.
Yet if even one-fourth of the vast sums that are being used right now on preparing for war in Sierra Leone are spent on community activities and actions for peace, an awful lot can be achieved within a short space of time. Thousands of those who are not involved or engaged in the conflict have, nevertheless, connections of varying degrees with the men and women in the battlefields. According to one of the members of the Commission for the Consolidation of Peace in Sierra Leone, Dr Dennis Bright, in his speech at Conciliation Resources in London recently, "there is hardly any family left in Sierra Leone whose membership does not include perpetrators as well as victims of the war".
This fact alone should be the catalyst for engaging communities as agencies for peace making, remembering always that the rebel fighter/killer of today was once a fully-fledged member of their own community. It is that community that we must turn into a magnet, so as to re-attract the people of violence from the bush back into the mainstream. Again, in the words of Peace Commissioner Bright "when simple development initiatives are ignited in various parts of the country…it sends signals to those stuck in the bush that a peaceful Sierra Leone has something to offer them too, and creates a favourable condition for true demobilisation and reintegration". Surely it does not need billions of dollars to make this reality possible, does it?
One is aware of how intervention and the risk of political fallout from failure has paralysed the US, one the greatest powers on earth. But in those cases also, the strategy that the US sought to apply was wrong in so far as both they and their protagonists believed in their own superiority and might, and therefore lost sight of their main goals, which was to bring the warring factions together and create a corridor for genuine interface and deliberate and calm consideration of all the factors involved. Any purported solution short of that is in essence simply papering over ugly cracks that are bound to reopen later.
But why can't the international community try for a comprehensive settlement that takes into account the history of the country, the people and their political system, which in Sierra Leone's case has been totally rotten at the core since shortly after independence? Why not help the country seek an agreement that maps out a new society based on equal opportunities for everybody, fully accepting that there are degrees of abilities among our people - some strong, some weak - and therefore the need to protect and support each other.
If intervention can facilitate such positive thinking among civil communities then half of their work to make peace between our peoples will have been done, with less pain and suffering. But even that won't happen if most of the talented people of the country are excluded from governance and the process of decision-making.
That is why, again, the international community must push the authorities in Sierra Leone into accepting that in the present precarious circumstances, the least painful but solely effective way forward for the country now, is the formation of an interim government for national unity to hold the reins of power temporarily and facilitate representation of all sections of Sierra Leone's diverse community.