MILITARY RULE, POPULAR EXPECTATIONS,
1. We must seek a peaceful solution
When the National Provisional Ruling Council (NPRC) took over in April 1992 the expectations that were raised were numerous. Sierra Leone would be given a fresh start. There would be a return to civilian rule but, first, certain urgent matters had to be addressed:
(a) The rebel war had to be brought to a speedy and victorious conclusion;
(b) Those who had engaged in wrongdoing under the previous government were to be investigated and brought to give account;
(c) The rule of law would be maintained and the human rights and basic freedoms of citizens would be respected, protected and guaranteed. Breaches would be addressed, corrected and redressed. Intimidation and political victimisation would cease; Never again would Sierra Leoneans be held to ransom in their own country;
(d) Modest expectations of real improvement in living conditions and economic wellbeing would be realised;
(e) Corruption - the diversion of public funds to personal use and its various manifestations, including the use of ones public office for personal aggrandisement - would be cleaned out of the system or at least curtailed;
(f) Nepotism, tribalism and favouritism would be taken out of the system;
(g) Accountability and transparency would be expected from those in positions of authority, power and influence; ministers would be appointed to serve rather than be waited upon, and become examples for others to follow.
Our people nurtured these reasonable expectations when the NPRC took over. Alas it has to be said that they have not been fulfilled and on present form may remain unfulfilled. It must therefore not come as a surprise to the NPRC to learn that people now feel betrayed and bitter at the way things have turned out for them and the country.
The vast majority of Sierra Leoneans remains unimpressed despite the feeble attempts that have been made by the regime to cover up the reality of the rebellion that has engulfed nearly 60 per cent of the country, not to mention its ferocity and the untold misery, devastation and trauma left in its wake. The war exists; it has not been won; it is spreading; rebels appear to dictate the pace. Through sheer arrogance and an almost uncontrolled urge to self-destruct, the NPRC buries its head in the sands of illusion and ignores advice that they must seriously seek to negotiate with the enemy. Witness the most recent call by the Roman Catholic hierarchy of the country for the NPRC to explore a negotiated settlement whilst offering themselves as possible facilitators. NPRC advisers and supporters - including retired BBC disk jockey Mr Hilton Fyle - most of whom have no connection with the areas under rebel attack, continue to advise them to the contrary. They claim "show us the rebels". It is this sham of an argument that must be laid to rest once and for all:
Firstly, Captain Valentine Strasser's army claims to have an army command and a military intelligence. How could they have fought a war for over three years and still claim that they do not know whom their enemy is? Either we have a bunch of buffoons claiming to be military strategists or the country is being deceived.
Secondly, army HQ has admitted that they have about 80% of their men under control. We are therefore entitled to assume that they have no control over the remaining 20%. Now if there are members of the Sierra Leone Armed Forces (SLAF) out there and out of control, why should it be so difficult to identify them as the enemy and bring them to book? Or could it be that these are defectors, probably former comrades-in-arms who are unhappy with the NPRC and can match their firepower? We know that convoys of ammunition supplies have been hi-jacked en route in areas considered to be controlled by government forces. And there is strong reason to believe that the NPRC cannot discipline the renegade soldiers because they are the ones that keep them in power.
Thirdly, the name of Foday Sankoh today haunts the thoughts of every Sierra Leonean. If the NPRC wants to dis-invent him, we wish them luck. But for them to pretend that he and his band of guerrillas do not exist just so as to marginalise him is extremely stupid and foolish. This man and his guerrillas have devastated our country and brought unnecessary death and destruction to it. But they exist!
If we have not been able to defeat them on the battle field even after throwing our best shots at them, then we should explore the possibility of bringing them and any others to the negotiating table. Any other strategy is a death wish for the nation. The people of this country never elected the NPRC to power. They have therefore no right to make that wish for them.
Let us therefore seek a peaceful settlement! Focus says, " Negotiate,
if we must".
2. Civilian programme and involvement.
There are already too many gaping holes in the programme for the return to civilian rule, which was announced by Chairman Strasser in his statement of 26 November 1993. That timetable has clearly fallen behind time and needs to be refreshed. By now, registration of voters and the delineation of constituency boundaries should have been completed. District Council elections should have been realised last November. The NPRC gave itself the power to select one-third of the councillors in order, we suspect, to stuff the councils with their stooges and surrogates. But if the electorate is clever enough to elect two-thirds why not let them elect the lot? The presidential election, too, is to be held ahead of parliamentary elections. Why? Because then, considering that the new draft National Constitution has opted for an Executive Presidency, it will be open to the President-elect to influence the ensuing elections for parliament by putting the weight of that office behind those who would be amenable to rubber stamp his or her wishes.
It is a moot point whether the programme was ever a realistic attempt to return Sierra Leone to civilian rule or conceived merely as a way of deflecting international attention away from the demands for an immediate return to civilian rule. Without it the regime's condemnation and ostracisement from mainstream international affairs would have continued. It was also a condition for IMF and World Bank aid.
Well-informed citizens are now questioning the NPRC's sincerity about handing over to civilians. They have not failed to notice that the NPRC always ends its public statements with "Long Live the NPRC". There is an inherent contradiction in the statements of a so-called "provisional" government wishing itself longevity in all of its public pronouncements!
This presents our country with another problem. How to get the soldiers back to barracks. The solution to this challenge as always lies with the ordinary citizens of Sierra Leone. In the words of Chairman Strasser himself, we would expect "nothing less than the people themselves taking their future and destinies into their own hands".
So far, for example, the debates about solutions for ending the rebel war and the nature of the civilian arrangements thereafter all seem to imply that the army is indispensable to our future. That is poppycock! The way forward is not by continuing to involve the military in government. They compound our problems. Soldiers are not different from other groups in our society. They have got no business in government and their participation in it should be no more and no less than churches and mosques, the civilian police (which tends to be marginalised in the days of "soldier power"), lecturers, teachers and students, doctors and nurses, trade unionists, lawyers and judges, civil servants, farmers, traders and business people, etc.
Our soldiers must be persuaded to go back to barracks, stay there and learn how to better protect and defend the country against national calamities like the present war, which has defied their most valiant efforts. Why should the military, which count many illiterates in their ranks, dictate what happens to the rest of us? Simply because they threaten us with guns that were bought with the country's common resources?
Which then neatly bring us to the issue of "soldier power". The soldiers are accountable to no one but themselves. So their slogan "accountability" and "transparency" is meant for others not themselves. They go about intimidating, terrifying, abusing, bullying and harassing innocent citizens, doing more or less as they like. Who dares question their behaviour? The sooner they don their battle dress and return to the war front the better it will be for the nation.
3. The way forward
A transition programme for civilian rule is not feasible unless the war that has displaced over one-third of our population and rendered between 60 and 70 per cent of the country - including the most economically viable areas - inaccessible is brought to a speedy end. After all that was the pretext for taking over. That expectation remains to be delivered. If most of us Sierra Leoneans were willing to overlook the manner and method of their accession to power it was simply that we hoped that the NPRC at least would, in contrast to the uncaring incumbent civilian government at the time, go all out to bring peace and security to our country. So far they have failed. That is why the country is no longer enthusiastic about Strasser and his men. There is little or no confidence left in them.
What should happen now is for the National Advisory Council (NAC), which at least has achieved something in the nature of a Draft National Constitution, to be further empowered to look around and nominate suitable Sierra Leoneans of credible standing and impeccable credentials to form a Civilian Council of State (CCS). We must build upon the achievements of the NAC not least because in their deliberations they have come into contact with various shades of people and opinion in Sierra Leone. They should therefore be trusted to come up with suitable candidates.
The terms of reference of the Civilian Council should include the immediate opening of channels to facilitate a negotiated settlement. It will also have the sole responsibility for running the country and for overseeing both the resettlement of the displaced and implementation of an orderly and scheduled return to civilian rule, culminating in the full resumption of multi-party parliamentary politics. It goes without saying therefore that the Council should have all the powers necessary for it to govern effectively.
The soldiers then should be relieved of the burden of State which they have so glaringly proved to be incapable of carrying and return to the war front in order to resume the job they did so magnificently before they got carried away by the aphrodisiac delusions of power.
The current problems we are experiencing spring from the failure by our soldiers and some of their civilian comrades to realise their own limitations. Their advisers and the civilian Secretaries of State who seize every opportunity to globe trot and trail the begging bowl for their own personal ends, have failed to impress this upon them because they themselves continue to enjoy the patronage and protection of the soldiers. But really, they, more than the soldiers must know that they are all living on borrowed time. Like the soldiers, they have no mandate to govern Sierra Leone and have proved in some ways to be no better, and in other ways worse, than the APC ministers whom the NPRC overthrew. They are abettors to a cruel usurpation that has outlived its period of grace but which fooled the whole nation into believing that its moment of liberation had come. The patience of Sierra Leoneans is being stretched yet again. But it is clear, at least to Focus, that another coup will not bring the answer the country yearns for. The soldiers must now move aside and let, even if, a less than perfect civilian administration take over. That is the only sensible way forward.
ROUGH JUSTICE . . .
(Incompatible picture format )
An alleged captured alleged rebel commando is dealt with summarily by government forces. There is indisputable cruelty on both sides.
THE PRESS ON TRIAL
(Recently, the Sierra Leone Press has come to bear the brunt of the NPRC's wrath particularly on issues affecting reports from the war front. Threats, some albeit anonymous, have been issued against editors and correspondents of independent national papers. Here a local journalist, Michael Massaquoi, himself a recent victim of such threats, explains.)
Journalism is a difficult job; come to think of it, a thankless one. As a true journalist, you often find yourself in a no-win situation. You are damned if you do and damned if you don't. This is a universal attitude towards journalists. The word `irresponsible' is always hurled at you. But can you imagine a modern world without a press, without a means for the public to make useful suggestions cheaply to the people in power? A society without the means of exposing vices or extolling virtues? How will the governors communicate with the governed? Without a Press, especially a free Press, evil could prevail over good, wrong over right. The process of progress and development would be painstakingly slow because communication speeds up and enhances that process. Civilisation itself could come to a standstill. But journalism has always had a bad name, even in this modern world - more so, in the so-called third world.
This brings me to the situation confronting journalists in Sierra Leone. Since independence in 1961, the country's journalists have gone through several trials and tribulations.
Yet under the regime of the Sierra Leone People's Party (SLPP), with Albert Margai as Prime Minister, the Press enjoyed unfettered freedom. Not once was a newspaper suspended or banned: nor a journalist detained. As a result, the Press played the role of exposing corruption among government officials. Justice prevailed and a climate of real political freedom was enjoyed by all. There was a good measure of development.
Then came the era of the All Peoples Congress Party (APC), after defeating the ruling SLPP government. Soon afterwards, Siaka Stevens unleashed unprecedented terror against the Press. Armed APC thugs destroyed offices and equipment. Pressmen were brutalised and jailed routinely or forced into exile.
The 1980 Newspaper Act was passed with the intention of closing down papers the government did not like or approve of. In the place of a vibrant press came into being a cowered and sycophantic press. In effect, the "watchdog" i.e. the fourth estate - the Press - became a toothless bulldog wagging its tail in front of a corrupt government. In the process: corruption, dishonesty and deceit became the order of the day. The gains of the previous era were destroyed and the nation was plunged into decadence.
When Joseph Momoh took over the reins of government in 1987, there was less hounding of the press though arrests and detention of journalists continued on the orders of the late Inspector General of Police, Bambay Kamara, in whom State power was vested. Five newspapers were banned in 1989 but reprieved a week later.
The Press was regarded as free, but had its paradox. It hardly influenced the behaviour of the government or its officials. It was not unusual for a government official whose act of corruption had been laid bare, for example, to be promoted or given added responsibilities. Thus corruption flourished more than ever before. Accountability, the yardstick of Momoh-ism became a slogan of deceit. Some journalists were sucked into the whirlpool; many became vociferous and ardent defenders of the decadent order. Momoh, who was himself corrupt, did not have the will or moral authority to check his ministers. The result was that the economy of the country and the morality of its people sank to the lowest ebb.
The 29 April Revolution with Captain Valentine Strasser as Chairman and Head of State came with a bang. The Press has had problems with the NPRC, with the introduction of Public Notice No. 25, Decree 6, which made it a crime to publish virtually anything. Within three months, three newspapers had the brunt of the draconian newspaper regulations and guidelines.
The editorial staff of the now unregistered New Breed were detained and later charged for running a story that was critical of government. The introduction of new Newspaper Guidelines added to the misery of journalists and saw many editors out of job, because they failed to 'fulfil the conditions'. The NPRC regime with Mr Hindolo Trye as its Secretary of State for Information, a man who once claimed to stand for Press freedom and for which, he claimed, he was forced into exile for several years, is now seen as the firebrand behind the notorious press laws. Journalists have argued that the guidelines were imposed only as a way of muzzling the press, describing it as draconian.
Following recent accusations heaped on journalists by the NPRC that certain members of the Press were conniving with diplomats to plunge the nation into anarchy, the Press has become remarkably more subdued.
Reports about the current civil war in the country is now a taboo subject. Rigorous censorship has been imposed on all reports despatched by journalists at the war front, so factual reporting of the war and the conduct of soldiers is no longer accurately reported. Testimony to this situation is the sudden disappearance of war front reports in the national papers. Journalists are either fed with censored briefings from the military authorities, or they just do not bother to write anything about the war for fear of being charged with "colluding with the enemy".
It is equally true also that nothing informative is reported on the activities of ministers and government officials. Those who risk doing so have had their lives and families threatened by anonymous letters to their editors and themselves - a sinister development that began about 6 months ago which is still continuing.
It is sad that the NPRC government has allowed itself to come to be regarded as a replica of the corrupt APC regime, which they overthrew - a government that became a byword for fraud and deceit. Transparency and accountability, the slogan of the NPRC, should not only be seen on the lips of government officials, but should be seen to work through and through starting with NPRC members themselves. Otherwise it is not worth a grain of salt ... and the Press should tell them so!
? PUZZLE CORNER?
Who or what were "The Double Jacks"? (£10 for the first correct answer to reach the Editor.)
A WAR SHUNNED BY THE INTERNATIONAL MEDIA
(A view by a concerned patriotic woman)
Even the recent abduction of two Britons allegedly by rebel fighters in Sierra Leone has drawn little attention to the worsening 'war' in the country. Hardly anything has been reported in the British Press, except in one or two national newspapers, about the summary executions by firing squad ordered by the government of 12 soldiers said to be collaborating with the rebels as recently as last month; of the estimated 300 or more people who have been killed every month this year, nor of the quarter of the country's 4.4 million population that has been displaced.
Sierra Leone does not seem to count as an important priority among the international community, that is, until conditions in the country take on a propensity similar to those of Rwanda, Somalia or neighbouring Liberia from where the war spilled into its eastern and southern regions in March 1991.
In April 1992, partly due it is claimed to government inertia over the war, the army overthrew the inept All Peoples Congress (APC) which had governed the country for 25 years. Until then, Sierra Leoneans clung dearly to their reputation for being one of the most peaceful people in post-colonial West Africa as well as its past glory in being daubed the 'Athens of West Africa'.
Beyond these myths lies a country which since post-colonial days was being slowly prepared to tread the road many African countries, especially British West African countries have since trod - that of war and strife. But unlike most of these countries, Sierra Leone's war is not being fought along the stereotypical tribal or religious lines. There is no history of one tribe permanently dominating politics in the country but there is a history of a lost people, a people who seem to have lost their identity, with no sense of patriotism, no leadership, no central infrastructure, no ideology and an uncertain future. It is the story of a country at war with the unseen enemy from within.
When the army's National Provisional Ruling Council (NRPC) took over, they made many promises to a disillusioned and apathetic nation, the most important being the promise to end the war. The army was given a boost through the provision of new and sophisticated weapons, uniforms, boots, raincoats and better logistical support. To start with, backed by the reinforcements of manpower and arms from Nigeria, Ghana and Guinea they slowly began to regroup and started pushing the rebels back. But three and a half years later the fighting still continues with greater ferocity - thousands killed, thousands more maimed for life, hundreds of thousands rendered homeless in murderous attacks on villages, deadly ambushes on the main highways. And now with the war spreading to the previously peaceful central and northern provinces, no one seems to know where it will all end. The complacency in the capital Freetown may turn out to be a big mistake!
There is great confusion and uncertainty about who the enemy is. The government it would appear, as much as ordinary Sierra Leoneans, is in a quandary. In a recent news conference held by the head of state Captain Valentine Strasser, they attributed the escalation of the fighting to the acts of terrorists and bandits. The UK Guardian newspaper (of 9 November) confirmed what is now an open secret among observers and Sierra Leoneans themselves with its headline "Sierra Leone Army Rulers 'fake civil war to get rich'".
Until the abduction of the two VSOs, the understanding had been that the original rebels, the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) from across Liberia were no longer engaged in active combat in Sierra Leone. But when its leader Foday Sankoh emerged three weeks ago to demand recognition of his organisation in exchange for their release it only added to the confusion. It is however clear that the RUF's handiwork has in part been taken over by renegade soldiers from within the army itself who are entering and taking over towns and villages in the gold and diamond area in the south and east of the country under the pretext of attacking rebels. This has caused the local population to flee and those who resist are killed. The recent admission by army command HQ that "80% of troops are loyal" only leads to the conclusion that they have no control over the remaining 20% of their men. In fact a more realistic assessment is that they probably only have effective control over between 50 and 60 percent of their men.
Accusations abound that instead of being at the war front, the experienced fighting men in the Sierra Leone Armed Forces are busy mining diamonds in so-called rebel areas. There are allegations of corruption, mismanagement and misplaced priorities, reminiscent of the deposed APC government. And those like newspaper journalists who try to point this out have had their lives threatened. The editor of Week-End Spark, Mr Roland Martin, who tried to explain why some soldiers might feel the urge to go on the rampage - citing among other reasons their ridiculously low wages (compared with the lavish lifestyles of their comrades in the capital!) - was summoned by the authorities and forced, after 3 hours of intense questioning, to retract his suggestion that the salary of soldiers at the war front should be increased as an incentive.
Extra-judicial executions by the government of so-called dissidents have been carried out and with senseless killings taking place all over the country there is an acute sense of fear among Sierra Leoneans. This coupled with the continuing depressed state of the economy has led to unprecedented numbers of people leaving the country to seek economic and political asylum abroad - that is, despite recent government assurances that all is well in the country.
There are those who suggest that the war is a deliberate effort by the government to get rich and to get rich very quickly. Most certainly many who came into government penniless are thriving rich today. They are accountable to nobody. It is also claimed that the recent escalation of the so-called rebel war has been a deliberate act by the government to perpetuate itself in power and therefore not hand over power as promised, in 1996, to civilian rule. Others claim that factions of the NPRC government have a more cynical agenda, escalating the war to the north to forestall any attempt by opposition forces in the south and eastern provinces to gain any support in the north. By doing so critics claim they aim to generate sympathy for the government in the region.
The German ambassador Karl Prinz who spoke out again the excesses of the government was expelled from the country. It is alleged that while many foreign embassies in Sierra Leone have spoken out or expressed sympathy for those being persecuted by the government, the British High Commission on the other hand, has failed to comment on or criticise its undemocratic actions. Instead, it maintains a warm and rather cosy relation with it and unconfirmed reports suggest that it might have been instrumental, recently, in securing the award of a large concession to explore in-shore and off-shore mineral resources for De Beers from the Sierra Leone government.
At present the country titters on the brink with teachers on strike, the university closed down as unfit as an institution of learning, schools shut down, summary executions taking place, refugees pouring into the capital, journalists' and their families' lives being threatened, lawlessness and disorder as the status quo. Surely Sierra Leone ...is... grinding... to... a... halt....under the soldiers!
PUBLISH AND BE DAMNED . . .
(Ambrose Ganda)Let nobody fool you
The war in Sierra Leone has been going on for three and half years now. By the look of things it is nowhere close to an end. The sadness of this affair should be enough to prick the conscience of all Sierra Leoneans, at home and abroad, as well as all right thinking people through out the world.
Unfortunately this is not the case. There are those of our nationals who show scant concern for the deadly throes of agony and despair which have become the daily routine of life for our people in the Provinces. Add to that the constant threat of imminent rebel attacks and you are left with a population of petrified citizens. During my last visit to my village I could hardly sleep at night because of the ever-present threat of an imminent attack by anonymous rebels ringing in my ears. Only the reassuring nightly chanting of the Poro Devil - the male secret society - gave me, and the inhabitants of my village, the occasional confidence to steal a wink now and then.
This carefree attitude is in part simply due to sheer ignorance of the facts which is not helped when officials at the Sierra Leone High Commission in London tell the world at large that there are no troubles at home and that claims for asylum or refugee status by Sierra Leoneans are bogus. They ignore the basic fact that in the midst of maybe a handful of false claimants there are scores of desperate and deserving men and women of all ages queuing for a safe haven from imminent perils in their homeland. They must remember that you cannot win a war like ours by hiding behind falsehoods.
But if there was need to contradict the statement that emanated from the official at the London High Commission, nothing served better than news items which hit the British media scene three weeks ago. See, for example, the Guardian newspaper of Wednesday 9 November 1994 and note also the recent concern - understandably hysterical - over the abduction of two unfortunate British VSOs in Kabala in the North of Sierra Leone - an area which until then had escaped the ravages of this war.
Britannia ...Wherefore Art Thou Britannia!
Concession to impoverishment
Diamonds are not forever...