|They will stop at nothing...
EUROPE'S TOXIC WASTE FOR SIERRA LEONE?
FIRST they failed to give adequate protection and security to the population of Sierra Leone. Now they want to decimate the people.
The story goes that the NPRC government has sold or leased off-shore Banana Island (see inset) to a European conglomerate to be used as a dumping ground for some of Europe's most lethal toxic wastes. If this story is true, and its source is fairly well placed to know, Sierra Leone is once again being revisited by the ghost of a similar attempt in 1980 when American-owned Nedlogg Technology Group Inc. of Arvada, Colorado, tried to dump American nuclear wastes in the disused iron ore mines at Marampa in the Northern Province for the sum of $25 million. Then a greedy President Siaka Stevens unashamedly entered negotiations with the company but, thanks to the Washington Post which blew the whistle on the deal and the timely intervention of the US State Department which sent two cablegrams to Stevens warning of the dangers attendant upon the reception of such hazardous materials, the idea was quietly dropped.
The NPRC must be stopped from carrying out this stupid action. FOCUS readers are advised to bombard State House with letters of protest which must be addressed to: The Chairman, NPRC, Captain Valentine Strasser, State House, Freetown, Sierra Leone.
By their greed, ye shall know them ...
TOP NPRC MEN TRADE IN PASSPORTS
Some of Sierra Leone's most senior state officials, including ministers, are doing a thriving business selling the country's passports to wealthy Hong Kong businessmen. The amount raked in by these traitors runs into hundreds of thousands of US dollars. Most of the passports have been issued and a Chinese traveller was recently seen sporting a brand new Sierra Leonean passport.
The criminal practice of selling Sierra Leonean passports to non nationals has gone on for years, notably under the APC regime. The culprits included senior police officers, diplomatic functionaries and unscrupulous officials at the ministry of External Affairs. The authorities turned a blind eye to it all. Undesirable Ghanaian and Nigerian citizens, some believed to be in the drug trade, were known to have been caught with Sierra Leonean passports on them. In the present case, one deal alone fetched about USA $350,000 for two highly placed functionary. In all, over 168 passports may have been issued.
Some NPRC members in particular are reported to have gained inordinately in what is turning out to be a monumental betrayal of the trust of the nation. Passports which are the personal identity of citizens, the issuance of which is the sole prerogative of the government of our country and in most cases the only proof of our citizenship and statehood, are being offered for sale to all manner of persons. It is the ultimate betrayal of the country for which those responsible must be brought to give account.
Many Hong Kong businessmen who will not be entitled to British citizenship and do not relish the prospect of living under the flag of mainland China following the end of British rule over the colony in 1997, are desperate for passports from any country that will offer them at, it would seem, any price. At least three prominent members of the regime are benefiting directly in this "Passports For Cash" trade.
Last year, in a somewhat related case, a large Hong Kong-based mining company paid front money to one NPRC official to the tune of $180,000 to secure for them the sole rights to prospect and mine gold and diamonds in Baama Konta chiefdom in the Eastern Province. The money was transferred but the recipient has yet to deliver his side of the bargain. The company is still waiting to hear from him.
BETTER LATE THAN NEVER
IT IS difficult - almost impossible - for Focus to take on board every major event that occurs in Sierra Leone. While developments at the war front are of primary concern to everyone, at the same time the governance of the country has to be watched and monitored daily. Hence our lead stories in this edition and why we must also comment on Captain Strasser's recent Cabinet reshuffle.
If it was an implicit admission of failure by the NPRC then it ranks as a rare gracious act, and long may they continue to show this degree of humility; if it is a prelude to accepting the need for a broadly-based National Interim Government, it must be applauded; if merely a face-saving formula for the NPRC after many months of intransigence, it was a good try.
But this is not the answer to the immediate problems of Sierra Leone.
Firstly, it has only reinforced the entrenched positions held by the various parties in the conflict. Neither the RUF nor the vast majority of Sierra Leoneans can see any movement towards a genuine representative unity government.
Secondly, there are serious question marks against some of the personalities who have been appointed; their inclusion or retention has probably diminished the impact of these changes.
Thirdly, as now constituted, the Cabinet still lacks the depth of commitment and the breadth of expertise and credibility that would help it to negotiate an end to the war, or plan and implement policies for the immediate future. In other words there is still too much of the old baggage which must be discarded.
Finally, it does not settle the issue of military rule which by now is a conspicuous failure, despite the ostensible return to barracks of the leading role players. The exercise has therefore been simply cosmetic.
If the NPRC were sensible they would aim to please those over whom they exercise power - their citizens. If they secure the backing of the masses, they would be in a stronger position in any negotiations that they may have with the RUF. Unfortunately their advisers continue to delude them that they are still popular and wanted. They are not!
We again propose the following immediate course of action:
RUF LEADER STATES HIS CASE FOR PEACE
A statement issued by RUF leader Foday Sankoh says that the RUF is "willing and stands by to surrender to the informed advice and counsel of a People's Representative Assembly freely created as a result of the democratic deliberations of a Sovereign National Conference called to decide on the future direction of the country. In other words, the RUF affirms its conviction that its political ambition is limited to the fulfilment of the above".
This is probably the most positive statement that has come from the RUF and confirms Sankoh's "determination to talk peace if his conditions are met" as his supporters have claimed.
The two-page statement contains one contradiction. It says in the opening paragraph that "the RUF is the people in arms. To pursue a policy of exterminating the RUF is to pursue a policy of genocide against the people of Sierra Leone". Equating the RUF army with the "people" of Sierra Leone raises an important question: If the so-called "people in arms" are the "people of Sierra Leone", why do "we" go around killing each other? Unless the RUF categorically denies that it has ever attacked towns and villages or killed any of our people, it must be engaging in meaningless double talk. In this war thousands of innocent Sierra Leoneans have been killed and brutalised by the so-called people's armies of the RUF, NPRC and disloyal members of our armed forces, the armed supporters of the overthrown APC government, etc. They are all committing genocide.
But in a further statement "RUF Peace Plan" released to sources in London it condemns the Nigerians, Guineans, Ghanaians and Iranian fundamentalists for taking the war into Sierra Leone and for spreading genocide throughout Sierra Leone. "What have the military in Nigeria, Guinea, and Ghana to teach the NPRC? The lesson to us all is in the realities in Nigeria, Guinea and Ghana" it says.
The statement ends with a 5-point Peace Plan reiterating (1) the RUF's willingness to surrender to a People's Assembly created by a Sovereign National Conference to which the NPRC should surrender power; (2) that the solution of the internal conflict lies in the hands of the people of Sierra Leone themselves, not by armed foreign intervention; (3) the path to genuine and lasting peace in Sierra Leone lies in national reconciliation; (4) National reconciliation cannot take place if non-Sierra Leonean troops remain on the soil of Sierra Leone; (5) All foreign troops and mercenaries from Britain, Nepal, Ukraine and Liberia must leave the country.
MORE MERCENARIES RECRUITED FOR SIERRA LEONE
HOSTAGES FREED, AT LAST
UK TV Watch ... Sierra Leone's pulp future
SENSATIONAL, DEPRESSIVE IMAGERY
BBC TV's prestigious Panorama has now covered the civil war in a programme entitled `Pulp Future' shown on Monday 20th March. It was deeply depressing. Scenes of grim, sickening horror, including the burnt and decapitated body of a `rebel', and Sierra Leone Armed Forces (SLAF) soldiers with body parts as talismans, were intermingled with weak performances by the prominent Sierra Leoneans interviewed. Those interviewed included James Jonah, the former UN Assistant Secretary-General, who spoke, somewhat oddly, of the decline of `Victorian values' as an explanation of the war, and spoke of 30 years of bad government. Keilli Conteh, Army Chief of Staff, in fetching designer glasses, denied that the war was tribally or religiously based.
The programme's argument was that events in Sierra Leone confirm the predictions of alarmist journalists and academics such Robert Kaplan and Martin Van Creveld. They suggest a future for the globe rather like the Mad Max movies, with the collapse of states, rising crime and random violence. Wars will become more frequent - but they will occur inside states and will be a by-product of environmental crises and increasing social inequality.
Sierra Leone was described as being "the ultimate vision of future chaos" for the globe as a whole, with scenes of the abandoned Parliament, the decrepit law courts, and food aid shipments. Will Lynch of the Catholic Relief Services said that the war was a result of an ineffective and irrelevant state, whilst Father Michael Hickey, the organiser of a `child soldiers' rehabilitation scheme, spoke of how children were sucked into the conflict. Children had killed, raped and drunk blood. The heads and other body parts of `enemies' were used as decorations or as talismans by SLAF soldiers and vigilantes in Bo. These atrocities were justified by both the army and by vigilante groups involved.
The RUF handiwork was shown in shots of the destruction of Mile 91. It was suggested the RUF's destruction wasn't really banditry; it was revenge against people with money and jobs. But the RUF had also attacked civilians; they had chopped off the fingers of several farmers shown in Bo hospital. Scenes of ministry offices in Bo, now over-crowded with refugees, were used to illustrate the argument that the dream of development had ended in a grotesque parody.
It was a horrific portrayal of Sierra Leone - tied to a contentious argument about global futures. Where Steven Bradshaw's film failed was in its lack of historical perspective and its inability to explain the nature of the RUF. The poor, almost non-existent, condition of social services outside Freetown is not new. Rural resentment against Freetown's elite political and commercial class has been a common feature of post-independence politics. Oddly, very little was said in the Panorama film about Foday Sankoh, the RUF leader and the shadowy rebel groups involved. Nor was anything said about the commercial basis of the rebel war and its original base in the rich diamond-mining and agricultural areas of the country.
AMNESTY SPEAKS OUT
The Human Rights organisation, Amnesty International, in a statement exhorting its members world-wide to publicise the deteriorating situation in Sierra Leone, has made a scathing attack on the international community. It says: "This is not a war of front line lines and battle fields, but a slaughter of civilians by armed killers out of control ... A particularly disturbing aspect of this human rights crisis is that the devastation of the lives of Sierra Leoneans has continued without any condemnation or outrage by the rest of the world".
But it reserved its strongest criticism for the UN and the OAU for their failure to specifically mention "that they will try to monitor, protect or promote the human rights of the people of Sierra Leone... Both international bodies should condemn the deliberate slaughter of civilians in Sierra Leone and make human rights a priority for their efforts to bring peace to that country".
As to the character and nature of the combatants, Amnesty says that "it is often impossible to tell whether it's RUF rebels, deserters from the army or government troops who are devastating towns and villages throughout the country, killing, raping and mutilating defenceless people".
A triumph for good sense
'MARCH FOR PEACE' HELD IN LONDON
On Saturday 8 April about 700 Sierra Leoneans and their well wishers, with colourful banners calling for peace in Sierra Leone, took to the streets of London to demonstrate for an end to the violence in their country - in open defiance of agents of the NPRC government who tried to prevent it. Days before the march mischievous propaganda was put out saying that the marchers were pro rebel, pro APC and anti NPRC!
In the event the march, organised by the Sierra Leone Peace Forum (SLPF), was a resounding success. With despatch riders and police escort provided by Scotland Yard the marchers plied the city's main thoroughfare by then teeming with sightseers and Saturday shoppers. As prearranged, the mustering point was in front of the Sierra Leone High Commission at 33 Portland Place. Christian and Muslim prayers were said, followed by a rendition of the National Anthem. Then, as the marchers set out, their intermittent cries of "We want Peace! We want Peace!" reverberated off the weather-bitten facades of ornate terraced houses along their route.
The march wended along Regent Street, through Oxford Circus and into Piccadilly Circus where the crowds watched in appreciation. It progressed into the Haymarket, winding its way through Pall Mall into Trafalgar Square and finally Whitehall - the seat of the British government. Under special agreement with the police, the marchers were not allowed to stop when they got to 10 Downing Street, the residence and office of Prime Minister John Major. They were allowed to march at snails pace while a delegation of six went into the courtyard of No 10 to deliver a letter on behalf of the marchers. They were met at the door by a kindly courtier who accepted the letter and promised to convey it to the PM. After a brief photo call, the delegation rejoined their comrades at the entrance to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office for the closing rally.
Earlier a copy of the Prime Minister's letter was presented to the acting High Commissioner and Counsellor, Mr Rupert Davies, who had come specially to receive the marchers. Sister Mary Agatha KaiKai, who travelled from Glasgow to attend the march, presented a wreath to Mr Davies "in order to honour our dead whom we have been unable to mourn". She also presented him with a rosary bead because "we believe in the power of prayer". Presenting the copy of the letter to the PM to Mr Davies, Mr Ambrose Ganda explained that the marchers were very concerned at the unnecessary carnage and suffering that was taking place in the country and that the march was a chance for them to show solidarity with their compatriots back home and reinforce the call on the warring factions to bury their differences in the interest of peace. "There is no other agenda. Please convey our expressed desire for peace to your government." he said.
At the closing rally Mr Ganda thanked all who had taken the trouble to attend especially the delegations from Reading, Milton Keynes, Glasgow and Birmingham. He applauded the courage of the marchers who had not been scared by threats and scurrilous propaganda. Those who did not attend, he said, missed out on a rare opportunity to share with others the national grief at a time when people back home needed, if nothing else, the moral support of their brothers and sisters abroad. He congratulated the organisers who had been motivated solely by their quest for peace in the country and expressed the hope that everyone present would turn out to support other activities that were being planned.
In her oration Miss Beatrice Wusie thanked the marchers and spoke of the need to cooperate with each other to make things happen. "Up to two weeks ago I considered myself a sympathiser (of the suffering masses) in this war; but now I, too, am a victim", she said, referring to her 80-year-old mother whose whereabouts were not known after the attack on her village in Moyamba District.
The March ended peacefully after a minute's silence for the dead of the civil war and a second rendition of the National Anthem. It had been a very successful gesture by the true sons of the soil of Sierra Leone and they made their point to the eternal shame of their doubting brothers and sisters.
The marchers letter to the PM:
Dear Prime Minister
As you are no doubt aware, the situation in Sierra Leone is getting
worse by the day. The warring factions in the conflict are no closer to
a negotiated settlement despite diplomatic efforts to bring them to the
conference table. News of fresh attacks on towns and villages throughout
the country is a poignant reminder that if the situation is not controlled
now, our beloved country will disintegrate.
[Original signed by Ambrose Ganda]
(For and on behalf of the Organising Committee)
WHICH PERSON WOULD YOU LIKE TO NOMINATE AS HEAD OF AN INTERIM GOVERNMENT OF NATIONAL UNITY IN SIERRA LEONE? Send your suggestion (only one name may be put forward) to the Editor.
No impact yet by mercenaries
J S Nabbay
Officers surround two vehicles (foreground) stolen from the Mines in the
Southwest as bemused civilians look on.
You let us down, NPRC!
It is a unique war
A disillusioned citizen
YET ANOTHER RESOLUTION FOR PEACE ...
The following is the text of a resolution passed by the recently-formed
Movement For Responsible Democracy In Sierra Leone (NMRDSL), in Washington
1. The NPRC must surrender the reins of power to a government of national unity that will be charged with formulating and executing speedy negotiations that will bring about an end to the carnage and chaos that have almost destroyed the country, and restore a democratic government. 2. The military option must be abandoned by the NPRC or any succeeding government so as to put a stop to the killing of innocent civilians and the destruction of property throughout Sierra Leone. 3. Mr Foday Sankoh and his Revolutionary United Front (RUF) and any other faction that may be involved in the fighting in Sierra Leone, must now put the interest of the country above their personal ambitions and work for a negotiated settlement to bring normalcy to the despondent people of Sierra Leone. 4. All Sierra Leoneans in the USA, especially those residing in the Washington DC metropolis, are urged to co-operate, put their tribal or ethnic background aside, and work assiduously, but honestly, to bring about peace and normalcy in Sierra Leone. 5. The NMRDSL and other interested Sierra Leoneans will organise to publicise the plight of our suffering masses and bring this to the consciousness of the American and European leaders and their citizens, as well as to all other relevant international agencies, including the world Press.
It is the view of the NMRDSL, that the NPRC government may have done its best under the prevailing circumstances, but unfortunately, its action has proven to be divisive, destructive and yet compromising with rebel activities within their ranks. When a ruling government cannot defend, protect or provide law and order for its citizenry, then its very raison d'être ceases.
(Published per courtesy of: Mr M Mackie Wurie, Secretary-General, NMRDSL)
CHALKER UNDER FIRE
Baroness Lynda Chalker, the British minister for overseas development, has denied any involvement by her government in the recent (and continuing) recruitment of mercenaries by the NPRC for the war in Sierra Leone. Asked by a BBC reporter, Lady Chalker retorted angrily: "Look! If there are people who had links in Britain who are in Sierra Leone and they are assisting the Sierra Leone government without our support, without our approval, and without any detailed knowledge ... we have nothing to do with it. We have nothing to do with the deployment of individual British or Ghurkan people who may be there. I don't even know who they are or what they are doing. It's nothing to do with the British government!" Asked what pressure her government can bring to bear on the British security firms involved, to get out of Sierra Leone, Baroness Chalker said that she did "not think that one can, and it has nothing to do with the British government. Whatever arrangement a British company makes with any group of people be it the government or any other group in Sierra Leone is a matter for them".
THE RUF AND THE MISSING 100+ SCHOOL KIDS
It has emerged that following their attack on Kambia in the Northern Province last February, in addition to abducting 7 catholic nuns whom they have since released, the RUF "force marched" over 100 children, aged between 9 and 15, from a local school, to one of their secret camps where, it is understood, they are still being held.
The organisation's PR man Ibrahim Jalloh was recently grilled by Focus on Africa interviewer, Elizabeth Ohene, who asked him how the RUF could justify removing young kids like that from their parents and "put them through the ordeal of a long march". Sounding nervous and irritated, Jalloh denied that they had forced the kids to go with them. "It was out of their own volition. They volunteered ... we are not forcing them to stay with us. If they want to go we will let them go." He claimed that the kids were between 15 and 21 years old and not 9 and 12. "But they can't go to school over there ... you want to turn them into soldiers!" said Miss Ohene. Jalloh replied: "It is a people's uprising and therefore everybody who is interested can join."
(Editor: According to UNICEF there were reckoned to be about 200 under-age fighters in the Sierra Leone Army even though under its own regulations there is an 18-year minimum legal age. This figure is believed to be an underestimate but there is even less certainty about their numbers in the RUF. This incident is quite serious and the RUF should realise by now its impact on the parents of the children and also on the kids themselves. For that reason Focus urges them to seriously consider releasing them back into the hands of their parents for whom their absence must be a living hell.)
TRAGIC WASTE OF A MUCH VALUED LIFE
The Roman Catholic Church in Sierra Leone has suffered yet another tragic loss in this senseless war with the death of Irish Brother Senan Kerrigan, of the Christian Brothers of West Africa, in a shooting incident at Mile 103 on the Freetown-Bo highway. A communique issued by his Order gave the details of his death as follows:
"On Monday morning, April 10, Senan was driving his minibus to Freetown accompanied by Brother Ben Kamara, to join the brothers for the Regional Chapter. There was a second car travelling just behind them with three brothers inside. As they reached a point on the road with banking on each side, automatic fire was directed at them from both sides of the road. Senan was wounded in the stomach and right elbow and the minibus came to a halt. The second car, seeing what was happening, accelerated through past the minibus and despite being fired on, escaped. The rebels ceased fire and approached the minibus and removed the brothers from the vehicle. With Senan lying on the ground, they were preparing to take Ben with them to their camp when they found out that they were from the Catholic Mission in Bo.
At this they decided to release the brothers and asked Ben if he could drive. He said yes but as the vehicle had been disabled by the gunfire, they had to walk. The rebels left. Senan was too weak to walk far and after a short distance told Ben to go ahead and get help while he rested at the road side. Ben proceeded to the next army point where he reported the incident. On reaching the spot, the army found that Senan had died and brought his body back to the check-point from where it was taken by taxi to Freetown."
Brother Serran Kerrigan was buried in Freetown on Wednesday, 19 April.
March to Mid-April
A CHRONICLE OF VIOLENCE
..... AND SUFFERING(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)
As we go to press, news is coming in of a particularly horrendous attack on the Koribondo-Pujehun stretch of the Bo-Pujehun highway on the night of Friday, 21 April. Nine civilians were killed on the spot when a commercial vehicle plying the highway with over thirty passengers was ambushed. The seriously injured have been ferried to the government hospital in Bo where several are in critical condition.
And so the unrelenting wave of hit and run attacks continued to paralyse life in various parts of the country. But compared with the whirlwind attacks of December, January and early February, the recent weeks have been relatively calm although what is probably the second biggest battle of the current hostilities took place in April in the Moyamba District. Its ripples have extended into neighbouring towns and villages and almost into the front gates of the capital Freetown.
Renewed attacks were launched on the Bo-Kenema highway which had not seen much rebel activity for the intervening month or so. On Friday, March 24, government military escort and supply convoys were ambushed in a spate of attacks by the RUF lasting 3 hours. The attacks which took place at Tongiema village, 15 miles from Kenema, at first overwhelmed government troops but after reinforcements were brought in during a second battle, they regained control. Both sides sustained serious casualties, one of whom was a commanding officer at the NPRC's HQ in Kenema Lt James Panda. Wounded soldiers were taken to Kenema government hospital.
Again, about a week later, Tikonko which was burnt down at Xmas and is 7 miles from Bo - the southern capital where vigilante youths successfully confronted and warded off rebel advances at Christmas and the new year - was revisited by rebels. This time more houses were destroyed and the inhabitants of villages in and around the area were forced to flee. A Government statement claimed that the presence of a band of 140 rebels had been detected and 30 suspects had been captured.
But one of the biggest battles of the war took place on 15 March when rebels attacked Moyamba Town - 60 miles from Freetown - and Moyamba Junction off the main Freetown-Bo highway, not far from Mokanji where they seized the mines. Heavy artillery and bombardment could be heard for miles around. Unofficial reports said that a contingent of Guinean troops were stationed in the town before the attack but even they must have needed reinforcement, judging by the ferocity of the onslaught which went on for the next three days. Helicopter gun ships piloted by Ukrainian mercenaries were thrown into the fray. Eyewitnesses said that most of the inhabitants had taken refuge in the bush and, but for the old and frail, the town was completely empty, split between government troops and rebels. Informed speculation is that Moyamba was pulverised by the pounding and strafing from the air.
Astonishingly, while this battle raged on, rebels were simultaneously attacking three villages in Kono District in the North East. The following Friday and Saturday evening (17 and 18 March) a group of armed men attacked Mile 91 but were repelled into the Mallal plains.
As the battle of Moyamba died down, the attackers moved westwards skirting round the main highway, trundling along what used to be the old railway line and traversing famous train station towns like Yawuyema, Bradford, Mabang, and Rotifunk. Official government denials that the Mabang Bridge was not in rebel hands proved hollow when, a week later, towns beyond it such as Mile 38, Rolal, Songo, Newton and, recently Waterloo - all within 35 miles of Freetown - were attacked.
The battle of Moyamba was followed by an-other major engagement at Mile 47 and Mile 38 on the main highway out of Freetown. At mile 47, also known as MaSiaka, the highway bifurcates north into the Northern Province and east towards Bo and Kenema in the Southern and Eastern Provinces. Here rebels staged a dawn raid and destroyed most of the town. At Mile 38, nearer the capital, a fierce battle took place in which many civilians including old people were killed. Nigerian troops are believed to have thrown a steel cordon around the area which prevented it from being completely overrun. Government claims that strewn corpses belonged to rebels were contradicted by eye witnesses escaping from the scene who testified to seeing civilians especially, old people, lying dead in the doorways of their homesteads.
At Rolal and later Songo at 4 a.m., the attackers resorted to sneaking behind government lines, moving in by night in order not to attract their attention, and bayoneting rather than shooting their victims to death. An 80 year-old woman and her grandchild were among those slaughtered.
By the Easter weekend there was a lull in activity although skirmishes were reported in Leicester and in the vicinity of Fourah Bay College, as well as Joe Water, Hastings, Waterloo and Newton. Refugees, including Liberians, at a camp near Waterloo deserted and headed for Freetown but they were stopped en route by government troops who feared their arrival in the tensed capital might cause pandemonium among its frightened citizens. Many are reported to have encamped along the main highway.
STOP PRESS (22/4/95) ... Further fresh reports speak of a massive build of troops - Nigerian, Guinean, Sierra Leonean and mercenary troops in Waterloo and Jui in readiness for a big push against RUF. But the same reports have confirmed that villages and towns off the main highway are no longer considered to be safe for civilians. Most of their inhabitants have fled to the relative safety of larger conurbation along the highway leading into the capital ... There is, after all, safety in numbers. Meanwhile an RUF claim that it has seized a radio transmitter in Waterloo has not been confirmed.
WILL HE ... WON'T HE?
STATE OF DESPAIR
This is the final part of the article State of Despair, parts 1 and
2 of which appeared in FSL Nos 2 and 3. The whole article was originally
published in West Africa magazine in April 1994.
Coupled with the reported appointment of James Jonah, the former Assistant Secretary General of the UN who has suddenly rediscovered his love for his native Sierra Leone after so many years of blind indifference to its problems, to head an as yet ill-defined Electoral Commission, any lingering doubt in the reader's mind about the intellectual inadequacy of our current rulers should be dispelled. Fancy this! For his great sacrifice for retiring from his job at the very tender age of 60 plus; for having earned thousands of dollars in salary, allowances and fringe benefits during those years as befits a senior official of the world's foremost institution; and for having now left with a fat dollar pension for life, it is proposed that this prodigal son of the soil should be rewarded with a fat allowance, a free car and driver, three servants, 3500 external telephone calls per year, an unlimited number of internal calls and, to crown it all, a free house - the official residence of former President Joseph Momoh on Spur Road, Wilberforce.
Then there is the continuing house arrest of politicians of the ousted APC regime. While it is undeniable that government and its policies brought the country down on its knees, it does not excuse the protracted breach of their basic human rights. Either they are charged or punished as recommended or they should be allowed to get on with their lives. The various Commissions of Inquiry set up by the NPRC submitted their reports and recommendations long ago. It is ridiculous that the regime has taken this length of time to release their reports or decide their fate.
But there is strong evidence that NPRC has been selective and duplicitous both in carrying out the recommendations and deciding on the punishment for the individuals concerned. Those whom they like, they have allowed to escape with little or no sanction even though the commissions have ordered otherwise. And by rewriting the reports for presentation in a "White Paper" they have contrived to find those they do not like "guilty" and punished them severely even though the Commissions recommended differently. It is believed that the original copies of the reports have found their way into the hands of some of the parties concerned and that several are now going through the process of applying for a judicial review. Recently the former deputy Foreign Minister Dr Bu-Buakei Jabbie wrote to Strasser appealing to his sense of natural justice and pleaded with him to review the sentence on him but stated clearly that he reserved the right as a citizen to challenge the ruling of the NPRC in the matters specific to him under his constitutional rights. He firmly believes that the original commission report did not find any serious case of wrong doing against him. Rumour has it that he has either seen the original report or probably possesses a copy!
Who then, the question goes, are Strasser's advisers? They are not obvious and it would be a waste of time to speculate on their identity. Whoever they are they are not working for Sierra Leone but for themselves. Proof of the pudding, the saying goes, is in the eating. The policies - if they can be termed as such, that have been put in place point to a kitchen cabinet that is totally out of step with reality and the mood of the country.
The reason the war has gone on this long and worsened in the recent months is because of the lack of political will and resolve to bring it to a speedy end. The army is totally out of its depths how to pursue this war. It is increasingly looking bedraggled, without a central command and lacking inspirational leadership. Disparate groups of soldiers set out on their own independent frolics (including gold and diamond mining operations), harassing innocent civilians at check points in towns and villages, looting and then burning houses only then to blame it on rebels. A cynical population now refers to these bullying thugs as so-bels, i.e. soldier-rebels.
It is also clear that the NPRC and the Sierra Leone Armed Forces are two different creatures. The NPRC is the beginning and the end of all matters. Last week it was announced that the five-yearly contracts of Brigadier Jusu Gortor and 13 senior officers would not be renewed and they were dismissed with immediate effect. For a long time it was rumoured that senior and experienced members of the army were being ignored and not consulted by Strasser and his youthful NPRC comrades. The experienced fighting men having been continuously snubbed by the young upstarts in the NPRC allegedly refused "to fight the NPRC's war" and stalled their participation in the war effort. Now with an undisciplined and ever dwindling fighting force (witness the reported defections to the rebels) and the summary dismissal of the core of its experienced officers, it is inconceivable that Strasser and his men have the requisite experience and manpower to fight the war to a victorious end. The signs do look rather ominous for the war front.
Nobody should be surprised at these developments. The previous APC regime had systematically destroyed all the institutions necessary for the proper functioning of the country. The army was one such victim. Recruitment into the army was not on merit but through the political and family connections of prospective recruits. Invariably many of them were dropouts from school. Most members of the NPRC are products of that system and, for my money, Sierra Leone is reaping what it sowed. These boys are the product of a generation - 25 years - of misrule, corrupt government and an absence of exemplary political leadership; an era when success was envied and mediocrity was rewarded. NPRC members to a man, except for a handful, have gone through this process and their experience of a government in power is limited solely to the APC government which they overthrew. It was by universal acclaim a bad and morally bankrupt government.
To be fair to Chairman Strasser he was only two years old when Pa Shaki became Prime Minister and embarked upon the systematic and systemic ruination of Sierra Leone. Therefore all that he and his friends have ever known and experienced is APC thuggery, violence and corruption and the deprivation and misery that these cumulatively brought upon Sierra Leoneans. Being a by-product of that system, conditioned by it as he was, he cannot hope to change it.
The NPRC stands or falls depending on what happens on the battle field. It was the reason why they took over promising to bring the war to a speedy end. At this very moment it is spreading to the North, with attacks on the towns of Masingbi and Makali leaving death, horrible mutilation, injury and homelessness in their wake. It would be both tragic and myopic for anyone, especially those from the Southern and Eastern provinces, to gloat over this new development simply because it is their own areas that have borne the brunt of all the fighting to date. It is also shortsighted for those in Freetown to think that this is a provincial or countryman problem which need not concern them. ?
PUBLISH AND BE DAMNED ...
[Ambrose Ganda]The APC gave birth to the NPRC
The All Peoples Congress (APC) and its supporters should not take comfort from what is happening in Sierra Leone because they pre-pared the ground for it. For nearly 25 years they enjoyed continuous power - first under the wily President Siaka Stevens and, later, the pleasant but bungling ex-President Joseph Momoh. They encouraged all that was bad in our society and stifled the good things that bound us together. They preached greed, selfishness and violence to the youth and devalued education and the work ethic. They turned corruption into a God and worshipped it with their heart and soul. It became their way to prosperity.
The present NPRC - Natin Pass Repeated Corruption - rulers are children of that period of APC rule (see State Of Disrepair [Part 3] in this edition). The tricks they are playing were learnt from their masters in the APC. Even their recruitment to the army was not by merit but through family and party sponsorship. At the time of the NPRC coup in 1992 people had become fed up with the wretched system under the APC which had, by then institutionalised graft, patronage and clientilism to a fine art. APC ministers just became too big for their boots and looked with disdain upon the condition of their fellow Sierra Leoneans. Their attitude was take it or leave it.
Recently there has been a kind of bullish confidence from APC stalwarts in the belief that when the NPRC fails - and they will if they do not mend their ways - they will ride back to power intact, without any show of remorse for their past mistakes. WE MUST NOT LET THEM. If the APC does not purge its conscience, its return will usher another phase of settling scores for which the war weary population of Sierra Leone will not have the stomach. While we must advocate reconciliation and bury the hatchet to secure a better future for everyone, it must not be at the expense of the wholesale espousal of the debauched values that became the way of life under the APC. Sierra Leoneans must never again settle for the second best - but then, the APC was the worst ever in their memory.
If APC top brass like ex-President Momoh in Guinea, former vice President Dr Abdulai Conteh, and others inside and out of the country mean well, they must publicly admit their shortcomings in office. They must commit themselves to work with progressive Sierra Leoneans in order to redress the years of neglect, the consequences of which can be seen in the continuing carnage and destruction. Regrouping under a hidden political agenda, as I suspect they are doing, will ferment a worse scenario for the future than has yet unfolded.
As for the genial Major General Sheku Tarawallie it is important that a National Interim Government invites him unconditionally to return and take over his professional role to superintend the process of decommissioning, restructuring and rehabilitating our Armed Forces. We must start mending fences ... now is the time.
The Lodge must not decide for the rest of us
In the last six months or so, Captain Strasser and his cohorts have come up with silly ideas to frustrate the wishes of the majority in the country for a broad-based interim government of National Unity. The recent sham of a Cabinet reshuffle and the staged return to barracks by his comrades have found little favour where it should matter most - among the population at large who have poured scorn on this cosmetic action by the captain aboard his sinking ship. To keep this farcical show on the road, our prodigal soldiers have promoted themselves to the ranks of Brigadiers, Lieutenant Colonels and what-have-you, making us into the laughing stock of the world.
Now I hear of a suggestion to appoint one Alfred Tuboku Metzger, a Freetown lawyer, to head an interim government once a safe passage has been arranged for Strasser and some of his colleagues. Another name I have heard mentioned is James Jonah, who wishes to take Sierra Leone back into the Victorian age. The country will have neither of them. The idea is coming from the Freemasons of Freetown. If they want peace in Sierra Leone, they would be advised to discard this ridiculous idea. Should the lodge men attempt to foist any one on the country, I have no doubt that the Poro, Wunde, Bundo, Soko Bana, Gbangbani, Orjeh and kindred traditional secret societies of Sierra Leone will demand to have their say and no power on earth will stop them. It is not fair play that our delicate situation is being treated in this cavalier way, with factionalists deciding for the rest of us.
It is not just Strasser's colleagues that we must blame for this. His other mentors include the EC representative who, it is said, regularly plays pool with him at Kabassa Lodge; the British High Commissioner who is behaving like a local politician and whose prurient intrusiveness into Sierra Leone's affairs makes him more into an apology for the NPRC than a diplomat; and the soon-to-depart US Ambassador who, some say, believes that Sierra Leone is only replicating a norm in third world countries and that aberrations like the execution of 26 Sierra Leoneans in 1992 by the NPRC should therefore not be of paramount consideration in deciding recognition for that government. She has seen it all in the Far East and the events in Sierra Leone are not unique. I say poppycock to that! They are dangerous people but since they continue to enjoy the confidence of their governments, we must be wary of them. Captain Strasser, too, is not our champion. The country is desperate for an interim leader and government. So here is a challenge to all readers of FOCUS:
I will not flinch before pusillanimous no-hopers
Tragically, these twilight men and women no-gooders include young people who should be making sure that they understand the issues they are facing so that, in future, they can better manage them long after some of us are dead and gone. No! They waste time inventing stories, back-stabbing and gossip mongering about others while their country smoulders.
For these people the concept of loving and serving ones nation selflessly - patriotism - is baffling. Despite their exposure daily to events in other parts of the world and the history of popular struggles especially in Africa, they are blinkered to the reality around them.
Those of us who are committed to Sierra Leone will not flinch one bit and, in my case, not even when some members in the NPRC threaten to "ensure that ours is the last government he will ever oppose". What they cannot appreciate is that patriotism is a natural pursuit for some of us, almost an obsession. It is about consistency in standing up for what you believe to be right and in the interest of your country and people. It is not so much the complexion or the personalities of the government that matter to me; rather, it is what they stand for and the consequences of their actions which must be examined critically, assessed and recorded. It is part of the process of accountability to which we have had so much lip service paid. As this is not forthcoming from our rulers - they have been lying through their teeth about the rebel situation from day one - it is left to those with the conscience, ability and resourcefulness to assume that responsibility. This is what Focus is about.
For nearly twenty-five years - half of my life - I and a some of my colleagues have stood against duplicity and deception in Sierra Leone politics under successive bad governments. We will not stop now, just because some pusillanimous no-hopers would like us to follow their own agenda! Happily there are millions who care deeply about Sierra Leone. I am proud and glad to be part of them. Together we shall march on without these pathetic, wavering malcontents.
JOURNALISTS FALL FOUL OF NPRC
The NPRC has lost its cool with journalists. First, Mr Siaka Massaquoi, editor of New Vision and President of the Sierra Leone Association of Journalists (SLAJ), was arrested and detained for a week together with one of his correspondents, Max Konneh. Both were reported to have offended the NPRC by reports which suggested cowardice on the part of some SSD soldiers who reportedly fled their posts in the face of advancing rebels. Massaquoi was in trouble recently when he published the anthem of the RUF in his paper. In his defence, one of his colleagues Mr Frank Kposowa, editor of Unity Now, said it was ridiculous to think of Massaqoui as a rebel sympathiser because "the man has suffered most. He has no home".
A third journalist Mr Roland Martin, editor of Week-End Spark was arrested soon afterwards because of the publication of a picture which was recognised by the authorities as that of a former soldier who defected to rebel forces in 1991 - a fact that was known to the Martin who had published the picture in good faith as a morale booster for our gallant troops.
SHORTAGES IN FREETOWN