Sierra Leone

Volume 1 No 2                                                          12 January 1995

THIS CREEPING AND DEVASTATING WAR


 

(Please note that this map is incomplete due to loss of some of its format during conversion. A scanned image will replace this one shortly)
 

This map shows the nature and extent of the civil war that has paralysed Sierra Leone and is threatening to engulf it. It is a human tragedy that is ignored by the international press and community. Despite the best efforts of our armed forces - and there are thousands of brave and gallant young men fighting for the cause of our country - rebels appear to choose and hit their targets at will. Eye witnesses and victims have consistently claimed that they have seen some so-called rebels wearing Sierra Leone Armed Forces uniforms, re-enforcing the suspicion that the rebellion is waged by enemies both within and without.

Meanwhile the government remains cocooned in a capital that is unwittingly selfish and complacent about the horrible atrocities that daily traumatise the lives of their compatriots in the Provinces. They sit in the safe surroundings of their plush homes, waiting for Armageddon. 

Rumour has it that weapons which could be sent to support the war effort are being stockpiled in Freetown for the personal defence of the comrades should their seat of power be attacked. With Captain Strasser allegedly developing a bunker mentality - he has not been seen or heard of over the two weeks before and after Christmas - the NPRC is at its wit's end over how to tackle this war. Official claims that the NPRC are on top of the situation are invariably bogus - as was that by Abdul Kamara the NPRC's PRO in an interview on the BBC's Focus on Africa programme on Boxing Day, after attacks on the provincial capitals of Kenema and Bo during the Christmas week.

Naturally people prefer to believe the evidence of their own eyes, which is that the rebels have taken the initiative.

What we want to know is: When will the NPRC's big wigs put on their battle dress and join their battle weary comrades at the war front?




Freetown en fête as ...

REBELS CREATE PANDEMONIUM WITH XMAS BLITZKRIEG

Christmas 94 brought a nasty shock to thousands of Sierra Leoneans in the Northern, Eastern and Southern Provinces. In an apparently carefully planned and co-ordinated strategy, the main provincial towns of Kenema in the East, Bo in the South and Magburaka in the North came under sustained attacks by rebels in broad daylight and at night. There was hand-to-hand fighting as young men and women everywhere armed with sticks, spears, bows and arrows, slings and machetes strove to beat back the wave of daring attacks mounted by the enemy.

In Kenema a prominent lawyer, Patrick B Kebbie, was shot in cold blood by rebels in front of his suppliant mother. The NPRC's HQ was attacked as were several houses on the outskirts of the town.

Rebels arrived in Bo after burning down the chiefdom town of Tinkoko, seven miles away. In their trail, they left death, mayhem and fleeing refugees. Torwama about three miles from Bo and New London on its outskirts, being on the route of the raiders, were torched and destroyed as they passed through. In Bo town itself some properties were destroyed including the police station and barracks. But for the gallantry of thousands of young inhabitants armed with the crudest of weapons, the town would most certainly have been overrun. By Boxing Day at least 15 rebels had been killed.

The Displaced Persons Camp at Gondama, 7 miles from Bo, was attacked and overrun by rebels. All its 90,000 inhabitants (mainly from the depopulated Pujehun District) fled to Bo and thousands are now living in pitiful conditions in the grounds of the St Francis (RC) Primary School. Many are reported to have drowned while trying to escape across the Sewa River which runs adjacent to the camp. Others were killed by the marauders but some simply perished in the stampede.

An assault on Kokoi Feileh 2 miles away ended when fleeing inhabitants were persuaded by the Bo youths to return with them to defend their town. Armed with only axes and machetes, they successfully drove the rebels away, killing one SLAF soldier who, because he was wearing the regular army uniform, was mistaken for a rebel. The government claimed that he was in fact on leave from the barracks in Makeni. As a result, there is mounting tension between the army and Bo's townspeople who suspect some soldiers of being behind the attacks.

Another chiefdom town, Bumpeh, was visited by the rebels. First reports say that a lieutenant wearing SLAF uniform entered the town and assured the Regent Chief and the few able-bodied men who had stayed behind - after the rest of the inhabitants had fled following the razing of Tikonko nearby - that reinforcements would be arriving soon. In fact, minutes later, rebels entered the town. Regent chief, Mr Orlando Walters, drowned when he tried to escape by swimming across the mighty Tabe River.

The townspeople of Serabu, 16 miles away, hearing of these events and the burning down of Mokoba village close-by, deserted their town and took refuge in the forests. The town has a first class hospital that had reportedly been earmarked by rebels. It has been now been closed down. Further southwest, expatriate staff in the mining areas at Mokanji were evacuated to Freetown.

Mile 91 in the North, on the main Freetown-Bo highway, was raided and buildings and workshops were set alight. Rebels also moved further North and attacked Magburaka. They freed the inmates of Mafanta prison, forcing some to join them.

On New Year's day, there was a dawn raid on Foredugu on the outskirts of Lunsar, which ended after a gun battle with government troops that lasted 3 hours. Rebels were reported to have surrounded the hospital. Over 100 civilians were reported killed. The proximity of this particular attack to the capital, Freetown, is significant and marks a critical phase in the both the bravado and confidence shown by the so-called rebels. Simultaneous with the Lunsar attacks, the rebels mounted fresh assaults on Kenema, with its outskirts in particular coming in for some of the fiercest bombardments.

But true to form, Freetown carried on with its merry making as if nothing untoward was happening to the soul of the nation. A scheduled ragga concert went on. A party here ... and a party there.... For Freetonians, things could not have seemed more normal! The only abnormality was the conspicuous elusiveness of NPRC members. Captain Valentine Strasser has not been seen for sometime now. The country wonders - who indeed is in charge? ?


STATE OF DESPAIR

(Part 1)

In April 1994 the article "State Of Permanent Disrepair" appeared in West Africa Magazine (23 April-1 May), on the 2nd anniversary of the NPRC coup. The NPRC took offence and sought to identify who wrote it. I did! It is serialised here for those who did not read it because the authorities allegedly bought up and destroyed the consignment of West Africa sent to Sierra Leone that week. I stand by what I wrote then because not much has changed since and, by all accounts, things are far worse now. 

Ambrose Ganda
 TWO years ago this week the National Provisional Revolutionary Council - the NPRC, came to power in Sierra Leone in a somewhat bloodless coup. On that occasion almost the entire population, barring those who benefited directly from the prevailing orgy of misrule by the discredited All Peoples Congress (APC) Party, hailed the change as divine providence coming to succour a long suffering nation.

This correspondent was among those who articulated the case for change and applauded the clinical timeliness and precision of the take-over. Paradoxically, the coup was welcomed even by some passionate believers in the concept of democratic pluralism which was being so enthusiastically advocated at the time, as a golden opportunity for Sierra Leone to make a clean break with its infamous past. The outgoing government's pretensions about returning the country to multi-party politics had proved to be hollow and everybody could see as they set about mechanistically to subvert strategic democratic institutions through clandestine operations which they hoped would ensure victory for them at the polls at any cost.

At the same time, a long drawn out rebel war was holding the Southern and Eastern provinces captive, paralysing both economic and social activities. Compellingly credible stories were circulated about the unwillingness of the APC hierarchy to commit resources to fight the war and of particular individuals attempting to use the ongoing hostilities as a pretext for hanging on to power. It was argued "We have got a war on our hands; how do people expect us to hold elections?" Corruption was rife and the country was plunged metaphorically as well as physically into darkness. Freetown the capital became the darkest city in Africa as electricity supplies became sporadic. The APC was so unpopular that people longed for a miracle to be rid of it and, at last, they thought they got one.

The young men of the NPRC came like a thunderbolt from the blue and the APC was no more. Merriment and months of national self-expression and esteem followed as the whole nation flirted with the new masters - the heroes of the day. As we approach the second anniversary of the NPRC's coup it is clear that all is not well with the saviours of two years ago. Hopes nurtured and flourishing soon after they took over the reins of government have all but disappeared into clouds of vanished expectations. There is muted but widespread disillusionment with nearly everything that NPRC has come to stand for: official secrecy about vital national issues, a breathtaking level of administrative incompetence and a very obvious lack of national leadership, direction and purpose. Corruption characterised by an indecent haste to get rich has taken precedence over the legitimate pursuit of the national interest while the routine and habitual bullying and harassment of innocent men and women has all but destroyed the tremendous goodwill they enjoyed in the beginning. A lot of Sierra Leoneans now feel that NPRC i.e. Nar Pikin Rule Country (Kids are running the country) can no longer be considered as derogatory but in fact aptly describes the waywardness of the "boys". So what has gone wrong with the revolution?

To be fair to the present government they certainly made a good start to the satisfaction of most people. There was a discernible sense of urgency and a realisation that there was work to be done. Young men and women were mobilised and their idle energies were for once being propelled into positive pursuits. The streets were cleaned as emphasis was placed on personal responsibility and the environment.

Colourful murals and statues of indigenous historical and contemporary heroes sprouted all over the streets of the principal towns. Power supply to the capital marginally improved even though it is still only spasmodic. The sluggish civil service was once again moving even if unwillingly. The rebel war, on a much smaller scale than now and at that time mainly confined to the East and certain parts of the South, was being fought gallantly and with resounding successes.

On the whole most people were happy with the boys of the revolution until the tragic decision to carry out the brutal execution of 26 citizens in December 1992 when their troubles began. The process of rehabilitating the NPRC in the international community was long and painful but, thanks to the timely replacement of the brash Lt Solomon J Musa as Chief Secretary of State and his hurried banishment to the UK, they finally managed to assuage some of their most fervent critics.

Soon there was a lapse into the familiar traits of old. Flashy new cars with dark tinted screens were appearing all over the city with military men at the wheels. The blatant use of cars and houses seized from former politicians and civil servants and the lack of accountability for monies and items seized from civilians up and down the country pointed to a sinister development. There appeared to be no accountability contrary to the NPRC's stated guiding principles of "accountability and transparency". Transparency appeared physically to be negated by the fact that the revolutionaries chose to hide themselves behind dark Gaultier and Ray-Ban glasses. Soldiers started behaving as they pleased and ordinary citizens had no recourse. The downward slide of the NPRC had indeed begun and soon Head of State and Chairman Captain Valentine Strasser would become elusive and reclusive.

The other day one very experienced foreign resident reflected sadly that Sierra Leone had moved from a position of stagnation under the APC to that of de-evolution. In nearly every facet of life in the country you can see elements of chronic dysfunction. There is simply no government in the Sierra Leone of today and frankly the old malaise and carefree attitude that was a hallmark of the last days of the APC are creeping back in earnest. True, there are still those who despite the glaring failures of the NPRC still wish that the boys would mend their ways and stick to their original agenda of cleaning the system before returning the country to civilians. But that seems to be a forlorn hope because the way things are it is the NPRC that needs to be cleaned up.

Strasser has been plagued by several problems. The most recent and probably likely to be his undoing has been a creeping allegation of nepotism and tribal bias in his appointments. The recent appointment of James Jonah, the retired Assistant Secretary General of the UN, as Chief Electoral Officer has further reinforced allegations of a Creole grand plan to take over the government of the country by stealth.

The fact that Strasser's kitchen Cabinet is reputed to be entirely dominated by Creoles is only compounding his problems. He panicked when word first got around about the allegations of tribalism. For example, he held back on his move to sack both the Secretary of State for Finance Dr John Karimu and the Governor of the Bank of Sierra Leone Dr Stephen Swaray when both men in their professional judgement decided to close down operations of the International Bank for Trade and Industry (IBTI) because of an unprecedented drain on its reserves. It was alleged that they had done so without informing the Chairman. Karimu and Swaray however claimed that they informed the Chief Secretary of State, Captain Julius Maada Bio who apparently forgot to tell Strasser, and that they passed all the relevant papers to the Public Liaison Officer Captain Komba Mondeh who shadows this department on behalf of the ruling council. Mondeh's timely intervention saved both men as the already signed letters of dismissal were about to be despatched from State House. But it was also clear that to sack two high profile Mende state functionaries would have added fuel to flaming accusations of tribalism. It emerged that Swaray's job had already been offered to someone abroad. He wisely turned down the offer, saying he could not serve in a military government.

As if his troubles were not enough, Strasser's lack of touch and concern for the ordinary citizen is resented by most of the population. He and his lackeys are never seen by the Sierra Leone public. The most that people see are the intrusive, disruptive and heavily armed motorcades careering down the narrow streets of the capital at between 50 and 60 miles per hour. Gleaming anonymous Pajeros and Jeeps terrorise on-lookers as they tear their way along choking lanes and streets. There have been numerous reports of NPRC motorcades forcing drivers off the road, causing serious - even fatal - collisions with ordinary motorists and pedestrians and then not stopping, but driving on. On one occasion, displeased by some minor "misdemeanour" they beat up a driver and smashed his vehicle, leaving him writhing in agony by the roadside.

The NPRC's obsession with cars, some of them illegally obtained during the coup of 1992 while others have been recently bought out of monies meant for the war effort, is a matter of urgent concern to Sierra Leoneans. It is a common sight that nearly every official vehicle in the possession of NPRC members has some dent or a broken windscreen, or some other serious defect. And still they continue to bring out the latest models of four-wheel drive vehicles. Where is all this money coming from?

There is the case of houses seized from previous owners which continue to be illegally occupied by NPRC members, their families, girlfriends and nominees. After driving the civilian occupants out of houses in the OAU village, NPRC members have now ensconced themselves in the exclusive suburb at Hill Station. No one dares question the behaviour of the regime.

Information is hard to come by in Sierra Leone, whether about the war or the intentions of the government. Since the introduction of draconian press laws last year, the Press has been rendered impotent and what there is of it is a group of sycophantic and toothless editors pandering to the petty proclivities of the regime. The recent appointment of self-styled Retired Captain Abdul Kamara as Public Relations Officer has not helped the situation. SLENA (the Sierra Leone News Agency) has been telling downright lies about the state of affairs in the country, either by subversion of the truth relating to events on the war front or not saying anything at all about them. The fact that it was common knowledge throughout Sierra Leone that the Bo - Kenema highway had been attacked and cut off by the rebels was nevertheless denied glaringly on the government controlled media. Then when in March the rebels with the aid of dissident Sierra Leone soldiers brutally murdered Father Felim MacAllister the Irish priest who had worked in the country for 26 years, and the Dutch couple Dr and Mrs Elko and their three-year old daughter Zita, local and national radio only reported the news one week later, several days after the BBC's Focus On Africa had broadcast the news to a shocked and perplexed nation. SLBS - the national radio had been busy talking about Bosnia and reporting the text of congratulatory messages from Captain Strasser on the feast of Eid-Ul-Fitri to the Saudi King and Princes, each of whom was mentioned by name, three days after the celebration of the holy feast of Ramadan.

(To be continued in Focus Vol. 1 No. 3)


PUBLISH AND BE DAMNED . . .

[Ambrose Ganda]
A Smugglers' Paradise
Sierra Leone's economic plight is worsened by the sheer dishonesty, greed and reckless indifference of the present rulers. Many NPRC officials are in government to make money. That's all! Look at the way some of them have become rich all of a sudden. I saw one the other bedecked in gold - triple chain, watch, rings on all fingers - you name where, he had gold hanging from there! Smuggling gold and diamonds has become their stock-in-trade. Some have shipped girlfriends and wives to London to "do business for them". Go to Petticoat Lane (near Liverpool Street) and you'll see what I mean.

Did you know that last year two out of every three diamonds mined in Sierra Leone were smuggled out illegally? That is nearly $100 million out of some $150 million worth of diamonds produced in the year. You need not look far down the hierarchy of our rulers to find the ringleaders. Sadly for us, Western governments who benefit simply turn a blind eye to all of this!


STOP PRESS 5/5/94 .. Baiima near Bo attacked last night; .. STOP .. Civilian convoy attacked in Tongo .. many killed; .. STOP .. Rebels threaten Makeni .. citizens taking no chances .. say will attack anyone in army uniform .. STOP



©