Sierra Leone

Volume 1 No 6          SPECIAL SUPPLEMENTARY EDITION            27 April 1995

STRASSER LIFTS BAN ON POLITICAL PARTIES ... A NEW PRESIDENT TO BE SWORN-IN BY JANUARY 1996

This morning, Thursday 27 April 1995, Captain Valentine Strasser, Chairman of the NPRC, in an address delivered on the occasion of the 34th anniversary of Sierra Leone's independence, announced to a perplexed nation that the ban on political parties was being lifted and that a new President will be sworn-in by January 1996. He endorsed the convening of a National Consultative Conference by the Interim National Electoral Commission (INEC) on the electoral process, which will serve as a forum for all parties. Criteria for the "declared electoral process" will be discussed there and "organisations and groups wishing to participate in the political process of the country may now apply ... for fresh registration as a political party".

But rather significantly, he added: "For democracy to flourish, an atmosphere of peace and security and stability should be guaranteed. I again call on the RUF to join in the declared electoral process. Government is ready and willing to cease fire now in order to negotiate peace without any preconditions."

Captain Strasser blamed the RUF for its failure to respond to "our olive branch" and called "upon the international community to impress upon the RUF to stop their senseless killings and take immediate measures to match the demonstrated commitment of (my) Government to a negotiated settlement".

Referring to the expeditions of the RUF, he admitted that it was with the help of Guinean and Nigerian troops that "our troops succeeded in loosening their grip in all the strategic towns in the Eastern and Southern regions".

Since the "RUF refuses to change its present conduct in warfare", Captain Strasser said that his government will now initiate the "systematic and meticulous collection and compilation of evidence of atrocities perpetrated against defenceless civilians ...to enable the government to determine whether such evidence should be submitted before a War Crimes Tribunals as a means of seeking redress for this genocide". In the meantime his government, he said , will continue to pursue the military option as a means of "guaranteeing our territorial inviolability".



Editorial Comment

A RECIPE FOR CHAOS OR PEACE?

The current edition of FOCUS was held back in order to allow us to bring to you our report and comment on the momentous statements of Captain Strasser and his NPRC government, in this very special supplementary edition. Specifically because it was made on this day, which happens to be the 34th anniversary of our attainment of independent nationhood. We believe it is too important to go by without our comment until a month hence, when the next edition will be due.

Firstly, we congratulate the Chairman for enunciating these bold statements. 

Secondly, we commend him and his colleagues for the concessions which will certainly bring joy to those - but only those - people who are disposed to take advantage of them. In substance, we believe that there are positive strands in it and we would therefore encourage our compatriots, including the RUF, to give them careful, objective consideration. Equally, lamentably, the plans put forward are at best open-ended; at worst, they show gaping holes which just make one wonder whether in fact they are not panic steps that are being taken literally in the heat of the battle. Let us look at the reality of our country's situation on this great day in our annals:

(1) There is a vicious war going on, just outside Freetown, our Capital city; even as we go to press there are reports of further rebel advances towards it with its rural villages emptying of their residents.

(2) Throughout the months and years of this war, hundreds of thousands of civilians have been displaced and uprooted from their homes; many sleep rough as they have become waifs and ramblers, without a home; they worry about where to get their next days' meal; most live on the fruits in the wild which they may only reach when it is safe to enter the bushes; they will not see the bright city lights because their exit or entry, depending on which way you look at it, has been cut off. They have become unhappy wanderers in a soulless countryside.

(3) The NPRC itself came to power specifically because they claimed that they were not given the logistical support by the APC regime to finish the war; they have not only failed to end the war but have seen their government lose control over most of our national territory to the RUF and their allies.

(4) They have not provided protection and security for the citizens of the country with the result that many have been killed and thousands more continue to live in fear.

(5) While the Sierra Leone Armed Forces should be congratulated for their resolve in confronting the RUF - they have, otherwise the RUF would have overrun the country 4 years ago! - large numbers of its soldiers have been involved in the most dastardly attacks on innocent civilians up and down the country; Army Command accepted that at least 20% of its men were out of control.

(6) For the last six months there were persistent calls for an Interim Government of National Unity to which the NPRC could peacefully hand power; it was ignored without official comment.

(7) Still the war rages on and the entire Nation - the citizens of the country, the families of the country, the women of the country, the children of the country, the old, the weak and poor of the country - are all in a state of disarray and uncertainty.

(8) The country is in turmoil and, in the absence of decisive leadership, it has had nowhere to turn for inspirational guidance.

It is in this turmoil and the foregoing litany of charges of frustrated and dashed hopes that these plans were presented to the nation this morning.


A. Lifting the political ban

The lifting of the political ban is welcome but untimely and ill-advised. At a time when the country needs cohesion most, this will become another licence for argument, discord and opportunism. Of course, we must hasten to add that FOCUS will always be in the vanguard in demanding the resumption of political activity. But it must be not at a time of national crises, when nearly three-quarters of the population are either on the move, homeless or cannot be reached or located. For example, where are the elections to be held? Waterloo? Bo? Kenema? Makeni? Kono? Mile 91? Moyamba? Sumbuya? Mokanji? Kailahun? Mattru? Kabala? Kambia? Pujehun? How, and how quickly, do they hope to compile a realistic electoral register when, 25 miles out of the capital, one cannot travel up-country without a military convoy? Do they expect our people to come out of their hiding places to vote, considering that when they have been assured of protection in the past, they only came out to meet their death? For whom and for what will they be voting? What are the choices being offered to them? Whom or what will the parties and their candidates represent? Or, are the elections meant for the few urbanites who have not yet been visited by the ravages of the civil war? What about the logistics of the exercise? Who is going to fund it? How can it be done by January? And what's this to do with ending the war?

No! We believe that this is an attempt by the NPRC to avoid surrendering to an impartial and independent popular sovereign body - an idea which has been suggested in this paper (See Focus Vol 1 No 5) as a way out of the impasse. Nothing said in the Chairman's address subsumes the need for our plan.
 

B. Unreasonable expectations

To continue to pretend that the RUF is a bunch of raving lunatics is a sad mistake. The very act of lifting the political ban and inviting men, women and children who have spent years in the bush learning - then going out - to kill, to come out just like that and become civilians overnight is an infantile and uninformed expectation. Does Strasser really expect the RUF to throw away its weapons tomorrow and form a political party to contest elections here and now? Elections will and must come, but later. For the moment peace is the issue. Peace will not come about without a profound appreciation of the realities of a civil war. The crucial question for now - and nothing else counts as much - is this: How do you have a peace settlement out of a civil (guerilla) war, with the government holed-in, while the "enemy" is within an arm's length and striking distance of its main prize - the capital city? Surely we need a cease fire first. Securing it is a specialised matter, requiring delicate negotiations, with give and take on both sides. The problem with the NPRC is that they have been talking, and continue to talk, to the wrong people, ignoring wise counsel when it does not serve their own personal ego.

The RUF too is being unnecessarily difficult and needs now to put its own act together because the nation and the international community are getting tired of their antics. Like the NPRC, their intransigence is prolonging the misery of our people. The RUF must come out with more precise terms which, put against the NPRC plans, can form the basis of negotiation. Until they do that they will continue to afford excuses for the NPRC who will sit on their high horse to condemn, and demand compliance with their own wishes and rules. The RUF has started making its own demands and, as these are sifted and presented in cogent form, there might eventually be a basis for negotiation. But it would be plainly arrogant to maintain that only the NPRC way is the right way. That way we ensure that peace continues to elude us.
 

C. Mr President, 1996!

As for the swearing in of the President in 1996, there are many imponderables. The powers of the President under the 1991 Constitution - which Strasser says will apply - are still contentious and unsettled; the future of Strasser himself who, contrary to the wide-spread speculation that he was going to step down, remains the Chairman and Head of State, until whomsoever is chosen; he did not rule himself out, thus he may attempt a Rawlings of Ghana on us! What are the criteria for registration of parties? How many will be allowed? Will the APC, which they overthrew, be allowed to function? Or the SLPP where some will no doubt defect? Or the NDP whose civilian members have effectively been running the present rotten NPRC government anyway? And will they now lift the ban on those people whom they had banned from political life? If not, why not? They cannot stop a future government rehabilitating them. So what's the use? There was also no statement on the army and its future role; especially lacking was a clear undertaking that they will return to barracks and would never again interfere with the due process of government, by force.

The proposed National Consultative Conference, must be a sovereign body. That means that all power to rule over Sierra Leone must be surrendered to it. Otherwise it frustrates the whole exercise of decision making. Worse still, if headed by Strasser it will make a mockery of the whole plan.

The anniversary speech said a lot but not enough. It has opened a pandora's box with many questions and few answers. Sierra Leoneans want peace but the shallowness of the options unfolded in the speech pushes that prospect farther from their grasp. We detect nuances of chaos only because many details have not been thought through. It looks like a stampede towards another panic measure to forestall Armageddon. ?
 




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