...a neutered United Nations

WHILE WE continue to ask the International Community to come to the aid of Sierra Leone during the implementation of the provisions of the Lomé Agreement, it is obvious that they themselves are not sufficiently prepared or equipped to deal with the major problems that will arise if the process got into full swing or ran into snags. They placed so much of their energy and emphasis, as in Abidjan, on getting a deal …any deal at all costs without also ensuring that the necessary apparatuses for immediate support would be in place once the agreement came into force. With the deal secured and signed by the parties, the international community has so far failed to commit enough manpower and money to enable the terms of the agreement to be carried out with speed.

Thus while we warmly welcome the recent decision by the Security Council to mandate the Secretary General to despatch 210 peace keepers to Sierra Leone, it was a gesture that was too little and too late. Now, with so many trouble spots springing up daily for the UN's attention, East Timor being one such recent tragic event, it will only be a short while before our own self-inflicted crisis becomes of secondary concern and less of a priority issue for it. 

One must add, in the United Nation's defence, that the East Timorese genocidal cataclysm has shown the true colour (and prejudices) of the Superpowers. Never before have their policies of self-interest been shown to be so neatly woven into the coercive fabric of the oppressor, in this case, the Indonesian Government. The superpowers have, over the last decade, cleverly conspired and contrived to neuter the once effective and hope-kindling UN and rendered it powerless to carry out its mandate of securing peace in the World. Now they say, in defence of their contrived paralysis to act for the defenceless people of East Timor, that they cannot do anything without the permission of the oppressor. With such innovation in theories for political convenience becoming the hall mark of the new world order, what hope is there for the underprivileged, the poor and oppressed of the world? 

Sierra Leoneans should be smart enough to realise that from now onwards this is the background against which, in future, we can expect the UN to fulfil its role in Sierra Leone. In other words, the odds are simply not good. 

…operational disincentives 

FOR OUR own present situation, this lack of global commitment to our plight apart, we have identified two operational disincentives in everything that has to do with our peace process:

FIRSTLY, on a human resource level, there has been no attempt to bring fresh ideas and new personnel into the field. The same international civil servants who have never accepted the notion of a compromise settlement with the rebels other than by meeting force with force, and who even now do not support some of the main solutions contemplated in the Lomé agreement for that reason, are still poking their noses into the process. 

For quite a while, the view held by these people was that rebels should never be allowed to negotiate their way into power by force, which was all very fine fighting talk! But then as they were pontificating from a safe distance they ignored the carnage that was taking place in the country and they implicitly suggested that it was a price worth paying. 

Sierra Leone does not need such people in the field of operation because they could prove a hindrance to Lomé succeeding. They should be removed and replaced with those who genuinely want Lomé to work. 

During the Abidjan negotiations in 1996, the same officials - from the UN and the Commonwealth Secretariat, and the OAU (to a less extent because they usually have less resources at their disposal) - influenced the course of the talks and brought to bear on it their own ideological opposition to a compromise settlement with the RUF, including the idea of power sharing. For this and other reasons the Abidjan Accord failed.

Again in the months preceding those talks, against all good reasoning and using James Jonah as their anchor man, they manipulated the situation in the country so as to make it appear that once an election was held, the war would end and peace would come. They secured $11 million for that exercise. (Ironically, raising the equivalent amount for peace has been daunting!) We did not get the promised peace but since that time they have spared no effort to prove that their failed "election before peace" strategy and the "democracy" that it delivered to Sierra Leone was the correct thing to have done. The charge against these bureaucrats is that they are equally to blame, along with the rebels, for the fresh outbreak of violence after that election, which has claimed many more thousands of deaths, amputations and destruction.

For these reasons, during this phase of implementation, Focus strongly believes that what Lomé needs are new minds and new ideas, free of the prejudices of the past.  A new team of technical support staff with a fresh outlook on our situation, purged of all preconceptions, will make a significant difference this time. 

SECONDLY, on the practical political level, the international community, represented by the UN, has been let off lightly by Sierra Leoneans. This is so for two reasons:

(1) weaknesses in Sierra Leone's Government and political leadership
There is a lack of  pragmatic programs for attracting aid for the country's needs. We do not seem able to convey to others our sincerity and concern about our own affairs. This is not to say that President Kabbah is not sincere or has no concern. Of course he has! The man personally commands a great deal of respect among his peers. However the outlook of his government, and those whom he often trusts with these decisions and matters, has left much to be desired. This in turn reflects on his leadership, which almost invariably is perceived as weak and irresolute.

 In contrast to the timid and mediocre efforts of our government, the performances of officials from countries like Uganda, Mozambique and Namibia in the wake of their respective wars was phenomenal. We are told that they were such hard-nosed and well briefed emissaries that they got the UN to do virtually everything that they wanted from it. If our Government and its representatives had a clear idea of what they wanted, they would get most of it without compromising the country's sovereignty or recklessly hiving off our resources to foreign and mercenary interests.

The situation has not been helped by the current spate of cases of alleged corruption. Corruption is not just endemic in the country; it has assumed systemic proportions. This has encouraged a lack of trust, by foreign donors, in the transparency of the Government. There is justifiable general perception that our officials are interested more in collecting their bloated salaries, per diem allowances and project monies than in the minutiae of policies that might benefit ordinary people.

The majority of the country's ambassadors overseas is ineffective; they are a disgrace to the image of the country. Whenever they open their mouths, apart from a handful including Ambassador Darboh at the UN, they shut out potential donors and even some of the government's own supporters. The inadequacy of these people reflects on the President because (we assume) he appoints them and ought therefore to have been aware of their ability, antecedence and disposition. Most do not command any respect among the resident communities that they represent.

(b) misconceptions about our entitlements to UN facilities. 
There are two wrongly held views that we must correct. Both arise from ignorance. 

The first is that the UN is doing us a favour.  IT IS NOT! Sierra Leone and its representatives should be demanding from the UN nothing less than Sierra Leone's entitlement as a member of the international community of nations.  Sierra Leoneans should not be made to feel that the UN is doing their country a favour simply by doing the things that are necessary to bring peace to their country. It is the legal and moral duty of the UN to do these things for any country including ours.

The second uninformed view is that when the UN does these things for us, it is because we are led by individuals like Kabbah, Jonah and their nominees. The UN will, and must, do all that is necessary for the maintenance of the peace, security and development of Sierra Leone even if a local unknown or a non former employee of the UN were in charge of the country. It is only because of the inertia and lack of initiatives on the part of our government, and the absence of probity in official behaviour, that we have failed to create the impact for attracting the most amounts of resources. Just because someone used to work for the UN, or as some badly informed and illiterate Sierra Leoneans keep saying that James Jonah "was the Secretary General of the UN''  does not guarantee that these organisations will give Sierra Leone all the money it needs. It would be illegal and corrupt for the UN to operate on that basis anyway.

One of the crudest lies put to the people of Sierra Leone to explain why Mr Jonah was given his present portfolio of finance and economic development was that, with his previous connections at the UN, he would bring plenty of development aid. Jonah's appointment, like so many under this government, was extremely corrupt and is indefensible. Why do we say so? Because as chief electoral commissioner he organised the election of the government from which he then went on to accept office, first as an ambassador then as a cabinet minister. 

But why, in any case, would any other educated, patriotic and capable Sierra Leonean fail to attract resources as a minister if he were able to argue a good convincing case for the country? Oh ye Sierra Leonean men and women of little faith..and no self esteem! Do we all need to have worked for the UN, the Commonwealth, Ecowas, OAU or whatever before we can serve our country at the highest levels of government?

The need for UN action, including helping us solve our crisis, is not a favour but a legitimate entitlement of the country and its entire people, irrespective of whom they are led by. We must get this sobering fact into the poisoned minds of Sierra Leoneans. Let them be assured that it is the responsibility of the international community to secure aid for Sierra Leone, if need be in billions, just as it has done in Kosovo and before that in Bosnia, to support our country's search for lasting peace and reconstruction. 

Unfortunately, as the government is nowadays being revealed as a thinly disguised kleptocratic edifice, it will be hard pressed cutting ice with hard-nosed international bankers at the IMF or the World Bank. And it won't make any difference just because it is President Kabbah or Mr Jonah trailing the begging bowl.