|Our initial high hopes for the peace process in Sierra Leone
have been profoundly tempered by delays in implementing key aspects of
the Lomé Agreement. Already, while we were waiting for tangible
signs of a genuine commencement of the implementation process, there was
the unfortunate incident of the abduction of hostages. That incident was
the result of uncertainties that were allowed to build up following the
signing of the agreement, the restlessness of combatants who had been used
to so many years of fighting and now being kept idle, and the failure of
the negotiators to take on board, as we had hoped and advocated, all the
factors and parties to the conflict and treat them with parity.
The kidnapers of 40 UN officials and scores of Sierra Leonean hostages were members of the AFRC, the people who staged the May 1997 coup that toppled President Kabbah's government. It emerged later that they clearly felt that there was no mileage in the agreement for them. So they resorted to the desperate measure of hostage-taking to make their point. Happily for everyone that incident was resolved without any serious mishaps.
However, if there has been any dragging of feet by the international community since that time, or by countries that want to give humanitarian aid to Sierra Leone, that kidnap episode almost certainly forced them to re-evaluate their policies towards the country. Let's face it! No country would knowingly send its nationals into an operational area that is fraught with so much personal danger and uncertainty.
It was for reasons like these that, in one of our commentaries on this site, we said that if there were any imperfections in the terms of the Lomé Agreement, then it should be revisited so that anomalies and omissions can be corrected. That remains our stand. The AFRC do not feel they have been treated well under the agreement. Another shadowy group of soldiers of the former Sierra Leone Army, which some reports say is separate from the AFRC, feels equally isolated by Lomé. But realistically speaking, they are all key elements in the mayhem that ensued in the wake of the 1997 coup d'état. A purported solution that puts these people on the sidelines could spell new disaster for the country. Every effort should be made to take them on board.
It is a problem for President Kabbah, Foday Sankoh and their international minders - the moral guarantors of the Lomé Accord. They must act quickly.
This delay in implementing the peace process has not been helped by the equivocation and dithering of Foday Sankoh who even as one writes is still to make up his mind about returning to the country to help kick-start the process. We appeal to him to pack up his bags and go. Enough of the time-wasting.