Text Box: Editorial Comment

First published on 30 October 2000 in

 FSL Vol. 5 No. 3





For Focus, pursuing the military option as a final solution for the civil war in Sierra Leone is a dead-end and, in our view, not attainable. Current evidence and past experience in both our country and other parts of the world, point to that conclusion as inevitable.


As a nation that is ravaged by warfare, we need to re- examine our consciences and seek answers to some lingering questions: How come after all our previous expeditions - Ecomog, UN, British/Westside saga, etc., we are still so far away from establishing a peaceful and normal Sierra Leone? How is it that the RUF and their allies still have the stomach to meet and survive our very best efforts?


Partly in defiance of the overwhelming military threats around them and partly in opposition, and possibly due, to the starkly timid and irresolute political edifice that masquerades as a government in Freetown, RUF and allied forces have shown a willingness to fight to the death and carry with them the hapless civilians who live in their areas of operation. Thus without negotiation and a peaceful end to fighting, these areas will only be taken with the loss of not just rebel lives (which will no doubt satisfy some, possibly most Sierra Leoneans!) but also innocent civilians who have been caught behind rebel lines. It is not right that those who have become victims, through no fault of their own, should also be made to pay with their lives simply in order to make the rest of us feel at ease.


Presently, the reality is that there is yet no (existing) peace in Sierra Leone to enforce or to keep. This probably begs the question, what is the role of the UN? But there is still peace to be made …and had, which must be created from scratch. It cannot be created by force. Although the use of force can potentially help to reclaim the vast swathes of territory currently held by the RUF and its allies, it will do nothing to blunt, or win, the minds and hearts of those who are dealing such terrible body blows to Sierra Leone's nationhood and very existence. Moreover, we will have to live with these people afterwards.


New thinking needs to be done. More effort should be committed to the search for peace than before, through new and transparent political initiatives that are just as fully resourced as the ongoing preparations for warfare. The pages of this edition put forward the case for an interim government, to help the country focus its energy and resources on broadly based objectives for peace and unity.


Peace creation requires us to seek to transform the conflict objectively - through explaining and understanding its origins, the fact that it so readily spread out to most parts of the country and refuses to go away, and the consequences that it has wrought for everyone. This must be done without the emotionalism and the (sometimes) deliberate obfuscation of the last ten years.


If, as was often claimed, RUF leader Corporal Foday Sankoh was the main obstacle to peace, why is it that now that he is at least for the moment out of the way, it has not been possible to go all out and broker a new peace deal with everyone else, even if new political concessions have to be made?


What is so repugnant about having a peace 'deal' in Sierra Leone when virtually every current and past conflict in the world has been attended by deals of every description? Take for examples: Northern Ireland where known bombers and killers were freed from jail to facilitate an end to the 40 years of terror in that country; the current Israeli-Palestinian flare-up which is bringing all kinds of closet peace makers out of the woodwork; the glaring absence of disapproval by the international community which turned a blind eye and, therefore, implicitly encouraged Libyan Colonel Mu'amar Quadafi's payment of ransom (or as some people charged, 'blood') money to Philippino rebels for the release of European hostages; then again, some European /NATO leaders only this October were even prepared, for the sake of peace and democracy in former Yugoslavia, to let the former Serbian leader President Milosevic go to a safe haven if he would concede to the 'democratic' wish of his country’s electorate.


Sierra Leone too needs a peace deal, but not a sell-out. The Lomé Agreement tried to do just that, but it was weak in that it did not include all parties to the conflict. It was not appeasement, as was alleged. The violence had to be controlled and eventually brought to an end. At least under Lomé the rebels were going to be made accountable with the task of controlling the excesses of their fighters, which Sierra Leoneans could not make them do except upon outright military victory. But Lomé was derailed, in part, by meddlesome individuals and institutions. Undeniably, there has to be a trade-off for ending the fighting.


There was a time when Sam 'Mosquito' Bockarie was the problem and, deservedly, everybody's hate figure. Then he was removed from the scene, not by the bellicose posturing of our over-inflated military egos but by the RUF itself and the very people to whom he was a hero.


Lt Col Johnny Paul Koroma and the AFRC also flirted with the RUF for a while but see, now, what a proactive disciple for peace in Sierra Leone he has become! He is doing so, despite the personal tragedy of the brutal, barbaric and totally unjust execution of his elder brother and twenty-three other military officers in October 1998, by a vengeful and uncompassionate President Kabbah and his government. People talk about training a new army but never mention the fact that the cream of the country's skilled and experienced officers was wiped out in that mad fit of revenge. Koroma for his part is even now being buffeted on all sides by whispering accusations of betrayal from some of the men he commanded, including surviving members of the group that staged the coup against Kabbah in May 1997 who released him from jail to lead them. His crime is that he has opted, wisely in our view, to work for peace with and for the very man (Kabbah) who, they charge, destroyed the lives of their colleagues. Koroma's courage should be applauded and rewarded by him being brought more prominently into a renewed and more focused quest for peace.


We must also mention the thousands of civil servants who were, and still are being, victimised by the unjust and vengeful acts of the restored Kabbah government which, upon its return, selfishly and recklessly embarked on a witch hunt against those who, in legitimate exercise of their personal freedom of choice, had not found it sensible, possible, or even necessary to join the fugitive government on its flight to Guinea following the May 1997 coup. We should approach and win them over despite all that has happened before. If need be we must cajole, entice and allure them – in fact do whatever it takes our human ingenuity – to bring all of these people on board the peace process.


It is not easy to make peace. It will be a protracted process. That is why, we presume, there is impatience among Sierra Leoneans who see nothing else but the use of force as their only recourse. Many have suffered in this war and most of them are direct victims of it. But we must continue to prevail on them and their inner reserves of goodwill, to engage in a new peace process for genuine reconciliation. We must educate them, and ourselves too, because it will be both a learning process and an experiment in human relations for everybody.


Those who now see British ‘re-colonisation’ as the answer to their problems are shortsighted and selfish. They only live for now and have no stake in the future. But they must remember that Sierra Leone's independence is not up for grabs. It is a legacy bequeathed to us, which was fought with the sweat and tears of a previous generation, some of whom are still around. It is therefore not for them to relinquish it. We foresee that, come the day when there is realisation of the lack of control over their own country (and resources), the present youth of Sierra Leone who have been effectively deprived of a decent and peaceful childhood, will spare no effort to reassert their nationhood in a manner reminiscent of the earlier struggles of their forefathers for independence. Happily, the British have vigorously denied any suggestion of re-colonisation. There is absolutely no reason to doubt that the present British government’s intention and determination is solely to help Sierra Leone attain peace.


So, by all means, let the international community continue to take keen, active and supportive interest in Sierra Leone as they have done before. But let them also encourage the Sierra Leonean people themselves to come to a homegrown solution of their divisions, of which this war is a tragic consequence. It must be a solution that draws upon our traditional methods of conflict resolution, deriving from the society and the communities whence the rebels originally came. This is the pragmatic approach to peace in which we expect the government of the day to take the lead. On the contrary, they seem keener to do only the things that ensure their permanent grip on power.


Nowadays, the Kabbah government is more interested in taking over the mines than anything else. The British seem to agree with this and seem to be working zealously to this agenda. What if that too fails? And since no one wants to address this question, we must assume that failure is not contemplated. So then they take the mines. What next? Whose interest will the mines serve? How would the expedition itself be paid for, now or in future? No doubt, with the proceeds from exploiting the mines! But how much of that will then be left for the citizens of Sierra Leone and for rebuilding their country and economy?


The fact that everyone wants victory explains why, during the last three months of the rainy season when there has been a dramatic lull in the fighting and the incidence of mutilations and amputations greatly reduced, no serious sustained effort has been made to come up with new political initiatives. No one, but for the brave efforts of the struggling Commission for the Consolidation of Peace, has been minded enough to capitalise on this brief respite from violence to instigate dialogue and break the political (never mind, the military) impasse. Instead more resources and effort, including manpower, have been put into the reinforcement of battle lines. Now there is fresh panic as word spreads around about a growing deficit in the ground strength of the UN force, with Indian and Jordanian troops reportedly calling it a day. This has added more pressure on the British to make their presence not only more visible but also permanent and in greater numbers. The expectation is that “they should go in and finish the rebels”. If only that were possible!


We can’t keep on expecting others to do things for us when we do not show sufficient care, concern and appreciation for our own predicament. Any observing stranger to Sierra Leone very quickly comes to the conclusion that the real problem of our civil war lies within and between Sierra Leoneans themselves. We do not like each other.


Focus again affirms that violence never pays and only, always, serves as a temporary cure. The attendant causes of civil strife remain intact and soon reinvigorate and reinvent themselves once the dust of civil war settles down. Among the present authorities in Sierra Leone, there is a lack of new initiatives to motivate the population into the direction of peace and reconciliation. It is a lethargy that is aided in large measure by a miasma of incoherent and knee-jerk policies that point more towards fire fighting than a long-term strategy to forestall the resurgence of violence in the future.



Text Box: FOCUS