RUF MUST DECLARE A CEASE FIRE NOW IF IT MEANS WELL FOR SIERRA LEONE
In the last edition of Focus (Vol 1 No 7) we published a letter from Mr Ibrahim Jalloh, the Public Relations Officer of the Revolutionary United Front (RUF). We reserved comment then in order to allow readers to come to an independent assessment of his claims as well as the allegations and rebuttals he made in it. In publishing that letter, contrary to mischievous claims by our distracters that Focus is a mouthpiece for the RUF, we hoped that some light would be thrown on the nature and character of this elusive and unquantifiable organisation. We also hoped for a much clearer perception of the RUF other than that of a disparate organisation without direction or coherent objectives. From the reactions we have received so far, the RUF must do more to convince the average man and woman in Sierra Leone that it is the benign people's organisation that Jalloh tried to make us believe. Even more so any claim that they are an alternative government waiting in the wings to take over from Captain Strasser and the NPRC will remain a haunting thought.
In similar vein, we published alongside Jalloh's letter the latest picture of Corporal Foday Sankoh, the RUF's leader which showed that he is very much alive. It is natural for some of us when confronted with the unpalatable truth to try and avoid facing it. People had been led to believe, no less by NPRC propaganda, that Sankoh was dead and that his name was being used by impostors to further a myth. Now that his existence - at least for this paper - is no longer in doubt, we hope that all factors will be taken into account, including the fact that the RUF is a major (though not the sole) consideration to be reckoned.
Back in December 1994, Focus advised in its very first editorial thus: "The name of Foday Sankoh today haunts the thoughts of every Sierra Leonean. If the NPRC want to disinvent him, we wish them luck. But for them to pretend that he and his band of guerillas do not exist just so as to marginalise him is extremely stupid and foolish. This man and his guerillas 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 NPRC was never elected to power by the people of this country. They have no right to make that wish for them. Let us therefore seek a peaceful settlement."
We maintain this belief nearly eight months later because as far as we can tell things have not changed much. It is in this context therefore that the RUF's letter should be read. If they have come to their senses and wish to join the rest of us in engaging in civilised and rational debates about our country and its future then they should be given the facility to air their own views. Focus and other like-minded newspapers will then be able to scrutinize and appraise RUF's pronouncements and stated positions to see whether they stand the tests of realism and relevance to our increasingly confusing and hopeless situation. How else can we ever hope to influence their thinking?
It is in this spirit that Focus calls on the
RUF to offer an immediate cease-fire in tune with its now publicly
known position which was proclaimed thus in Jalloh's letter: "Let
it also be known that the RUF is not against a negotiated settlement".
If that is really true, then a cease fire is the logical step it can take.
The NPRC must not shut the door in their face but must reciprocate in like
manner. We need a cease fire first so that the displaced, deprived and
wandering masses can catch their breath while the parties go on to negotiate
a settlement of this long standing family strife. If all those involved
in this war are true Sierra Leoneans then there is no real reason why they
cannot start talking to each other right away. Let us chart our own destiny
ourselves this time and let outsiders take the back seat. So once again
it's over to you Captain Strasser and Corporal Sankoh! Sierra
Leoneans want peace. Do you, gentlemen?
2. FOCUS on PEACE
There is a constant need for us to revisit and re-state our respective commitments to peace. In the case of Focus we are firmly of the opinion that peace will come only if and when the parties want it. We know that some people do not want peace simply because it will change their pre-sent advantageous positions adversely. Real peace will only come if we bury our differences; we are magnanimous to the other side; we realise that our side does not have a monopoly of righteousness or patriotism; we are prepared to make concessions to the other side and, if need be, compromise on points of difference without necessarily expecting parties to give up objective principles which form the basis of their very being.
All of this will not happen overnight. We can make a start by agreeing on what our differences are; secondly what our fears are; thirdly, identifying the things that we agree on because they can be the basis on which we can start to negotiate on all the others. We may not have peace at one sitting but sitting down to talk will do for now. Incremental steps towards negotiation will be better than nothing. The aim should be to secure a durable and lasting peace based upon a clear-cut settlement with agreed guidelines for political authority. This will require us to take into consideration some element of power-sharing otherwise if the other parties are left out they will use every means to get in or make life just as uncomfortable for the winner as the NPRC has found to its utter chagrin.
This is one reason why we are opposed to the idea of holding elections now while the fighting goes on. It beggars belief if policy advisers, at the behest of their British Foreign Office and US State Department mentors, assume that the Sierra Leonean psyche, after all the setbacks suffered on all sides of this conflict, is sufficiently politically mature that any one or more sides to this four-year conflict can go away meekly with nothing to compensate its own followers. It does not make the task of factional representatives any easier either in bringing their men to heel or convincing their leadership that it is in their interest to come to the negotiating table. The question every Sierra Leonean, especially those who have refused point blank to countenance the RUF factor, must answer is the rhetorical one which an as-yet-unvanquished RUF is bound to ask as consideration for a comprehensive agreement: What's in it for me and my men? This may sound as blackmail or even as rewarding people who have hurt us as a nation and brought our country to its knees. But it is just one of many bitter pills we must all start getting used to swallowing. For even when the war ends and we start getting back to normality, some of us will have to get used to living side by side with people in our villages who took sides against us and destroyed our homes and families.
Another reason for our opposition to the elections is a more pragmatic one. At the time when the whole nation was focusing on issues of peace, the NPRC instantly distracted it with the sham offer of electoral competition. Many who were heavily engaged in the activities of the 60 or so local peace movements have diluted their commitment in anticipation of the big political prizes waiting to be had. Peace has now taken second place, having been effectively put on the back burner. It is tragic.
Thirdly, the parallel that is being drawn with Mozambique, Angola and even South Africa is very wrong. In the first place all of the warring factions in these countries had distinctly defined ideologies and clearly enunciated political objectives that could be put to an electorate. The same cannot be said in all honesty about the RUF, the NPRC or the myriad of political parties clambering the greasy pole to power; Secondly, there was a negotiated cessation of hostilities in Mozambique before elections were held; Elections went ahead in Angola but because the winner was poised to take all, fighting resumed immediately afterwards; In South Africa where the civil war had essentially degenerated into urban warfare (from which, mercifully, Sierra Leone has been spared so far), constitutional arrangements were negotiated, involving all the parties, to bring about the elections that eventually brought President Nelson Mandela to power.
In the case of Sierra Leone, the population in the countryside is indeterminate and in flight. Access to many areas is uncertain because it is not clear who is in control; transport outside the capital is now a major risk to life and limb. As we stated in our editorial of 27 April (Focus Vol 1 No 6) soon after the announcement of the lifting of the ban on political activities, this option should not have been imposed at a time when "nearly three-quarters of the population are either on the move, homeless or cannot be reached or located".
The pursuit of peace must be put back at the top of the agenda. We must not get carried away by the recent spate of government successes on the battle field which is actually creating a false sense of security. The super powers, too, through their man James Jonah - Chairman, Interim National Electoral Commission (INEC) - must not impose a quick-fix election solution on us. It is a short-term expedient which, when the bubble bursts, will lead to a worse scenario than we have hitherto experienced. When push comes to shove, it will be Sierra Leoneans once again killing Sierra Leoneans - Somalia and Liberia being two cases to the point. US, UK and other foreign residents will be advised by their embassies to leave the country, leaving us to our own devices.
An election in Freetown, Bo, Kenema,
or in refugee camps inside and outside the country - in so-called safe
havens - will not end this war completely. Talking about safe havens, we
must not forget the recent events in Bosnia. What a cock up the West have
made of it! Should they now set Sierra Leone's agenda?
(From Rod Mac-Johnson, Director of Information, Department of Information and Broadcasting, Freetown)
Your article in the Focus Magazine of 5 June 1995 makes interesting reading. It is surprising that you have chosen to write such an article without cross-checking whatever "facts" you have. Is it possible to spend all that money on a PR exercise when the country is going through a war situation, forcing the government to divert essential foreign exchange from other development sectors to the war? Besides, what does the NPRC government need a PR for three years when the modalities for a return to civilian rule is under way?
The article has done great disservice to your readers
by peddling false and alarmist news which do not meet the barest tenets
of good journalism. The article has therefore put other news carried in
your paper into disrepute as to their accuracies. It is the hope that you
will publish this reaction within the right of reply which is a tenet of
Dear Mr Mac-Johnson
I believe you are complaining about my story in the last edition which revealed that the NPRC had signed a $900,000 pact with the US firm PSC International "to do public affairs work in Sierra Leone". The source of the story, which was inadvertently omitted when it appeared in Focus, was O'Dwyer's Washington Report which is a newsletter "Covering Public Relations and Public Affairs in the Nation's Capital". It reported the "registration" by PSC of a $900,000 three-year contract with the SL government. If you really wish to challenge the veracity of their account you should take it up with them. Their details, for your easy reference, are as follows:-
Address: National Press Building, #2096, Washington, DC 20045; Telephone: (202) 393-4260.
Since Focus was launched last year, copies have regularly been sent to the Chairman, deputy Chairman, the SOS for Foreign Affairs, the SOS for Information (your boss), the High Commissioner and PressAattaché in London, and other leading members of the NPRC. I have reported on several contentious issues which concern Sierra Leoneans for which even a begrudging clarification would have sufficed; for example
Please be assured that if the NPRC has valuable and genuine information that it wishes to share with readers of Focus, they are welcome to have it reproduced in this paper. This invitation was extended in the very first edition when we said "We also invite the NPRC to respond to the issues raised which we know would not be raised elsewhere". Until your letter arrived, not one acknowledgement had been received from any of them.
The military must go!
I am disappointed that Mr James Jonah, our Electoral Commission's chairman, with such a distinguished record of service to the UN, could be so unrealistic as to champion Captain Strasser's election programme. We all want the military to go because Captain Strasser and others have completed their task to remove the All People's Congress (APC) sole-party rule. But the problem with the NPRC is that its Chairman has not fulfilled his promise to end the war swiftly. The soldiers are overstaying their welcome and need to hand over the management of Sierra Leone to people who have the ability to do so - civilians I mean.
How can he achieve positive results with nearly one million displaced people in Guinea and Liberia? Hasn't Jonah learned his lesson from Somalia - that peace is vital for any election to be meaningful?
In Mozambique and Angola, elections have been possible because the warring parties agreed to lay down their arms, and it is working. But in the case of Sierra Leone, the spate of atrocities against innocent people committed by both government soldiers and rebels has exposed the NPRC for what it is. From my privileged knowledge of what is happening with peace efforts, the government still needs to make serious moves to discuss peace with the RUF and other interested parties.
Its time to go, NPRC! I heard a hint from a senior Strasser minister that Strasser wants to contest the proposed presidential election. He really needs to sit and think hard about his future. Has he forgotten what happened to President Samuel K. Doe of Liberia? I do not wish such a thing to happen to him, but he may be miscalculating or underestimating the hole he is digging for himself. Let Captain Strasser and his men do the honourable thing now and go down in our history books as heroes, and not as villains.
Nobody should fool the NPRC that Sierra Leone lacks patriotic men and women to handle the ship of state. Genuine and serious people cannot put themselves forward because of the uncertainty that characterises a military regime. The only solution is a national government of unity comprising civilians. It is working in South Africa, Mozambique and Angola. So why can't it work in Sierra Leone?
I expect you to be bias free
I am however troubled by your stories about the NPRC government. Your paper has decided to give out more stories on the failures of the government and none on the successes. With regard to this your paper has failed to educate me on how to evaluate the government. I expect you to be bias free. There is so much suffering in Sierra Leone that we do not need to play politics now. We need a sincere reporting of events in the country (especially for us outside) to be able to make some sound judgment.
Your stories have even made sympathisers of the APC rejoice. They are telling Sierra Leoneans that they are the only alternative. I am sure you will not want to see APC or its protegés rule once more in Sierra Leone.
Your paper has echoed the call of many Sierra Leoneans for a return to civilian government. What troubles me most is the selection of the new leadership. I have learned that the rebel movement (RUF) has equated peace to its ascension to power. Can we alow the RUF to ascend to power in return for peace? Is the RUF a civilian or military group? We must be realistic as we think about the failures of the NPRC and the problems the country is facing. Our haste to usher in a civilian government may not be an answer especially when we are not sure of the identity of the RUF.
Your paper, in opposition to the NPRC government has taken us thirty years back when our fathers voted in Siaka Stevens and his APC. I came to this conclusion because your opposition to the nominations of the individuals to head the transition government was based on ethnicity. Let us reflect on the mistake made in 1967 when people voted on tribal lines or when people voted by their ethnicity. This mistake paved the way for the suffering in our country today. We should stand firm to see that this is never repeated. We should judge people on the content of their character - what they have offered to our community and what they can offer. The new leadership should be selected with no tribal bias to avoid letting another Siaka Stevens take the reins of government to rob us of all rights and privileges as citizens of Sierra Leone.
I conclude by calling on all peace loving Sierra Leoneans to be cautious in rendering judgment on the NPRC government. It is a fact that this government did not make 100% on its promises but let us examine the reasons more correctly. The leadership of the NPRC did not point their guns at us to get power and I am sure they will not use their guns to remain in power.
(San Bernardino, California)
Thank you for your very kind words. Playing politics is not my way of doing things but in my persistent search for the truth, I may sometimes appear to be one-sided. Those who bear the brunt of my criticism should have confidence to put their case before the public as you have done.
You also imply that I am biased. But then you say that you do not know what is happening in the country and that Focus is your only source of information. I can only publish the information I have got. I am not the PRO for the NPRC, the APC or any other group. If you have information that supports the NPRC's position (please refer to my reply to Mr Mac-Johnson's letter above) I promise it will be given the fullest airing.
As for the charge of tribal bias, I think you misunderstood the point I was making in my article "The lodge must not decide for the rest of us". I have predicated my contribution to Sierra Leone politics firmly on the recognition of the indivisibility of country and its people. My point was that a secret society like the Freemasons should not chose a leader for us. The two people mentioned as being allegedly favoured by it happened to be Creoles but they could just as well have been Mendes, Sherbros or Temnes - many of whom are fairly well-placed in the hierarchy of the Lodge in Freetown. (If they are not, then it is the Lodge that should be accused of tribal bias, not me!)
At no time did I allude to their ethnicity. If the gentlemen concerned had been nominated by say the Motor Drivers Union, or the Sierra Leone Teachers Union, the NCCP or the crop of political parties now emerging, I would have no quarrel with that because their affairs are conducted in public and you and I have a chance to examine and challenge their decisions. Democracy is about openness and popular engagement.
An open letter to citizens and friends of Sierra
Leone in Canada
Let us also remember that there are always some of our compatriots who are willing to benefit materially in order to keep the situation as it is at the expense of the lives of innocent citizens. We don't manufacture arms in Sierra Leone. Those who sell arms to the warring factions will hope that the war goes on. At the same time most of the productive mining areas are depopulated or are occupied by fighting groups who are illicitly mining the resources of the country - resources that could be used for development.
Some of us in Toronto are still only sympathisers, but others have been victims of this war. Recently someone in Toronto lost his brother who was killed on a highway, together with several other passengers on public transport. The daughter of another has been missing for a while and there is still no word of her being found. One of my elder sisters and her four children in Serabu have been missing for three months now. These are just a few examples of the problems many families are faced with as a result of this war. I feel hopeless and troubled at heart that there is very little I can do to help find my sister and her children.
So far, FOCUS is the only newsletter I have seen that concentrates on the issues at home. It gives its readers current information every month or so. News is never old until you've got it! I hope readers will contribute their ideas to Focus.
I think Sierra Leone has lost a good portion of its "brains" to the outside world. With our comments and contributions on national issues we can all help solicit for a peaceful Sierra Leone and a government that protects its citizens.
We must not let them fool us
The NPRC and these power hungry people have treated Sierra Leone with contempt. They have fooled us for some time. We must not allow them to fool us all of the time. Let us expose their greed, selfish and unpatriotic move by denouncing their cosmetic and divisive politics. Let us tell them in no uncertain terms that our priority is to bring peace to Sierra Leone.
ANATOMY OF A REBEL ARMY
(A different and disturbing perspective)
This account of the nature of rebel soldiers was given to FOCUS in a recent interview with a senior citizen who has spoken to some of the captured rebels:
"The rebel army, which is not necessarily the RUF, is
in the main just a rag-tag army of disgruntled men and women, boys and
girls. If you remember, under the APC, there was a lot of juvenile delinquency.
Unemployment was rife among graduates of our two University colleges. You
know how the APC and its agents humiliated certain respectable people in
this country. They were family men with hundreds of dependants. Add to
that the number of people who were executed throughout the APC rule and
recently by the NPRC. Their sons and daughters, relatives, friends and
admirers are still grieving for them today. You couldn't have a better
pool for recruiting a rebel army hellbent on revenge. They have a lot of
graduates among them. Because of the strong alienation felt by certain
elements in our army, many trained soldiers have opted for the rebel side.
Behind enemy lines, young girls and boys who have joined them can, for
the first time in their lives, have all the comforts in life - best clothes
and shoes; television sets, radios and hifis, and abundant supplies of
food - all looted properties. The men have everything and they will die
protecting it. Their pride is to own a gun - and this macho image coupled
with their "heroic" deeds - including the most horrendous murders and mutilations
- is a magnet for the girls in the countryside. With unlimited numbers
of free women at their disposal, free booze, drugs and the promise of power
in Freetown - their crowning glory - the RUF and other rebel groups will
continue to attract recruits across all age groups for a while to come
especially if, now that the economy has been devastated, the standard of
living continues downwards. That's one reason why they attacked the bauxite
and rutile mines in the South, the diamond and gold fields in the East
and the North, and the bread baskets in the South and East. Many of those
who have been seen or caught on raids are locals from the areas that they
have attacked. Those caught have shown no remorse and do not disown their
comrades. Joining a rebel army is seen as the quickest way to get rich
and powerful. To the potential recruit the choice is stark: To remain deprived,
unemployed and hungry under the safe protection of (NPRC) government; or,
To live (even if) hazardously but be fed, kept busy and to accumulate those
material possessions that you would never have a chance of owning in your
life. They have taken a gamble and as far as they are concerned it is paying
NORWAY-SIERRA LEONE COOPERATION HOSTS PEACE CONFERENCE
A new friendship organisation recently formed by Sierra Leoneans in Norway has taken the bold step to hold an major peace conference. The Sierra Leone - Norway Cooperation will be hosting a 3-day conference in Oslo from 27-29 July. Delegates from the USA, Europe and Sierra Leone have been invited and many have expressed a wish to attend. Considering the role that the State of Norway continues to play in inter-national affairs, especially in peace (as the home of the Nobel Peace Prize award) and disarmament issues throughout the world - their last major coup being the Arab-Israeli peace deal - the venue is significant.
The Norwegian Foreign Ministry which has a more pragmatic view of these matters than most of its European counterparts, has given its blessing to the conference and contributed the equivalent of ?9,000 towards the cots involved. The organisation says it wants "to encourage cooperation and coordination in our peace-making efforts" and quotes in its support "Unity is strength". In particular it wishes to encourage discussions; address the refugee question; adopt a "root cause" approach by examining the origins of the present problem in the country in order to arrive at a formula for its peaceful resolution; formulate strategies for a peace plan or proposal by conference; appeal for international support; and the possible formation of an international peace-making secretariat.
The organisation is led by student Francis Banda-Kulu Davies, ably supported by Messrs Alex Swarray and Unis Kamara. (For more information please write to SLNC, Postboks 3415, Bjolsen, 0406 Oslo, Norway.)
PECOSAL IS LAUNCHED IN USA
PECOSAL - Peace Coalition For Sierra Leone - a coalition of individuals and organisations has been formed in the US. Its purpose is the search for and obtention of peace for Sierra Leone.
The organisation is open to (1) individuals and organisations of Sierra Leonean origin and; (2) individuals and organisations not of Sierra Leonean origin or identity but with a keen interest in working towards peace in Sierra Leone; (3) well-wishers, either individual or corporate, interested in making cash or in kind contribution that would help further the well being of Sierra Leone and of Sierra Leoneans.
In its declaration, PECOSAL declares that peace embraces more than the absence of hostilities and expresses its commitment to: (1) actively find the means to mediate an end to the rebel war; (2) support appropriate steps for a civilian government to succeed the current military government; (3) assist in efforts at resettlement and rehabilitation of displaced nationals; (4) any other activities that have a direct bearing on the furtherance of peace in Sierra Leone that the coalition is invited to undertake by responsible entities.
At least 12 organisations across the USA have agreed in principle to join in the formation of PECOSAL. It will be formally launched upon approval of the statement of its aims by the founding organisations.
(For further information, write to: PECOSAL, 2117 L
Street, N.W., Suite 275, Washington DC 20037)
NATIONAL CONSULTATIVE CONFERENCE
15 - 17 AUGUST 1995
The following letter from the Interim National Electoral Commission (INEC)'s Secretariat, addressed to the UK High Commissioner, has been forwarded to Focus for the information.
As a result of inquiries which the Interim National Electoral Commission has been receiving from various Sierra Leonean groups aboard, the Commission recently took the decision that such interested groups may attend the proposed National Consultative Conference as observers, provided they undertake to meet the cost of the attendance of their representatives.
The Commission has therefore instructed me to request your good self to kindly circulate this information to Sierra Leonean groups living in your country/ countries accreditation.
Signed: D A B Minah
NEW ARMY CHIEF PLEADS WITH SOLDIERS
New Chief of the Army, Brigadier J O Y Turay
has called on his men to change their mental attitude so as to bring the
war to a speedy end. He called on them to make sacrifice and adhere to
the letter of their oath to defend Sierra Leone at all costs.
The National PSYCHE
These days in Sierra Leone, people talk openly about the lack of leadership. Focus has often referred to the lack of inspirational leadership and direction in our national affairs and the absence of durable symbolisms that excite the imagination of the present generation. But this was the country that produced notable icons - warriors - like Kai Londo, N'Dawa and Bai Bureh and strong personalities such as Sengbeh Pieh, Manga Sewa, Madam Nyagua and Madam Yoko; and in more recent times leaders like the late Sir Milton Margai, his brother SirAlbert Margai, Wallace Johnson, Lamina Sankoh, and a host of others still alive who played their part in making Sierra Leone great and respected throughout the world to an extent that was totally out of proportion to its size and population.The late Siaka Stevens had it in him to make Sierra Leone even greater but, ironically, under his rule respect for authority was replaced by fear; political power was devalued and trivialised in such a way that nearly every citizen developed a carefree and indifferent attitude to national affairs. Corruption and fraud became the way of life for those in power, sanctioned by the "father of the nation" himself. Only the mediocrities in our communities prospered. The rest of the population suffered regular undignified treatment at the behest of the ruling clique. Morally, Stevens failed to set an example for the nation. Sierra Leone lacked an honest and patriotic leader at the helm. Yet this was the one man who possessed the greatest asset that has eluded many leaders before and after him - he knew the mind of the people of Sierra Leone and was able to relate to almost anyone at all levels of society. It was his failure to harness and channel this rapport with his subjects towards positive goals that has proved to be the great undoing for the country. Instead he preyed on their fears and weaknesses; put family against family; friend against friend; husband against wife; children against parents; the old against the young. Sierra Leone is today reaping the seeds of his misrule which must include the current civil war.
Under Stevens everything became either a joke or the subject of a joke. An unsuspecting population laughed along with him but by the time they realised it, national self-esteem had reached its nadir. Great civic leaders and responsible civilians were humiliated at the slightest attempt to prove their own potential. This is why it has proved difficult for a leader of national - as opposed to parochial - stature to emerge in the country. Many political aspirants were dragged into the net of nefarious lifestyles and tarred with the same brush of corruption and graft.
Contrary to a mistaken belief, there was no shortage of good and capable men and women in Sierra Leone with leadership potential during Stevens's rule. But those who dared to hold themselves out were treated as outcasts, chastised and humiliated sometimes in the presence of their subordinates. This iconoclastic tendency did not spare the traditional rulers either. Many Paramount Chiefs were chastened by Stevens in front of their subjects. Ultimately the respect and authority for this institution and others was gradually eroded. A regime of political apathy and sycophancy was set in place.
With the defenestration of Stevens' presidency and the clinical ousting of his successor and protege, Momoh, by the NPRC, the leadership vacuum was plain for all to see. This dearth of leadership material and the unwillingness of genuine potential leaders to hold themselves out was briefly addressed in a letter published in Focus Vol 1 No 4. We quote: "Most people here, who are respected but have no previous involvement in government are unwilling to put themselves on the line ..... Given this country's history, anyone who puts himself forward in politics is always viewed as a thief, so its hardly surprising these people don't want to ruin their good reputations for nothing. This shows just how much the idea of government has disintegrated in Sierra Leone".
The rash of politicians now fighting each other for leadership, following the untimely lifting of the ban on political parties, has been unedifying. It shows the level of the bankruptcy in leadership material that is on offer to the electorate. The calibre of some of the aspirants is nothing short of lacklustre and pedestrian. Many are the same tried, tainted and failed politicians. You would not believe that the country has been through three years of a so-called young people's "revolution". But then, that is another sad story!
One final thought; Sierra Leoneans have at various times tried to contribute, out of the goodness of their hearts, to the good of the country. But a large number of them have been discouraged by the negative attitude of some of the most vociferous and malicious of our citizens. People have this unhealthy urge to impute the wrong motives into even the simplest gesture by their compatriots. As individuals we have failed to accept our own personal limitations and responsibilities as citizens; and as a nation we have failed to recognise that there are people in our midst who are better than us at doing certain things. Instead of giving them credit and encouragement, we go all out to discredit them and devalue their efforts simply because it earns them - not us - some recognition or they are not members of our family or tribe. We are envious of the successes of each other. We enjoy bringing each other down and would rather encourage, or extol the virtues of, strangers than our own people. This attitude, which is rampant especially among the educated class, has paralysed the good and honest potential leaders in their tracks. It is almost as if Sierra Leoneans do not want any one to lead them. Yet every society needs a leader. Someday, alas, someday we will have to make that choice and woe betide our country if that person proves to be another let down.
DECREE No 7 - THE "JONAH" CLAUSE
Decree No 7 - the Political Parties Decree, 1995 was promulgated on 19 June. It paved the way for the resumption of political activity in Sierra with the lifting of the ban on political parties. The penultimate section (s.11) of the decree - the Jonah Clause, as we have daubed it - has provoked the most enquiry. It says simply that "Section 34 of the Constitution is suspended." What, say our enquirers, is S.34 of the (1991) Constitution? The crucial subsection of section 34 reads as follows:
"Section 34 (1) There shall be a Political Parties Registration Commission which shall consist of four members appointed by the President, namely -
(b) the Chief Electoral Commissioner;
(c) a legal practitioner nominated by the Sierra Leone Bar Association; and
(d) a member nominated by the Sierra Leone Labour Congress."
Question: Are we being told that throughout the
Judiciary and legal profession of Sierra Leone not one person qualifies
to hold this office except Mr Jonah? If so, who will be conducting the
war crimes trials that Captain Strasser threatened in his Independence,
and the NPRC's, anniversary statement on 27 April this year? Mr Justice
Jonah, perhaps? Just some food for serious thought!
AIDS, CHOLERA TAKING THEIR TOLL
Two lethal killer diseases - AIDS and Cholera - are reported to be on the increase in the country although in the case of aids there appears to be, as in other countries of Africa - semi-official attempts to hush news its occurrence. People still deny that there is AIDS in Sierra Leone. According to unofficial medical sources who have spoken to Focus, hundreds of deaths are believed to have occurred directly as a result of the virus and doctors in the capital particularly are believed to be overwhelmed by the share numbers they have been dealing with recently.
According to WHO, 1,709 cases of cholera with 57 deaths
have been registered in Freetown alone. Over 10,000 people were affected
last year. The report goes on to say that there are now 2 million displaced
persons scattered across the country of whom, 750,000 are settled in Freetown.
This has effectively doubled the population of the capital. Just outside
Freetown, the disused Clay Factory site is occupied by 7,000 refugees.
277 cases and two deaths have already occurred.
THAT RUF LETTER....
Mr Ibrahim Jalloh's letter to Focus (see Vol 1 No 7) was most welcome. We need dialogue even with our adversaries. The RUF as one of the organisations that has made our country unstable and ungovernable bears a heavy responsibility for the consequences. We who have borne the brunt of their actions must continue to question and probe their motives from time to time so as to understand where they are coming from and where they are going. On face value, the letter was quite rational. But it left many questions unanswered and even where we were given explanations for certain events it only led to many more questions. The following eight points come to mind:
New High Commissioner Takes Office
The new High Commissioner to the United Kingdom, His Excellency Alhaji Haroun Buhari, has arrived in London to take up his appointment. He recently presented his Letters of Credence to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II at Buckingham Palace. A reception was held afterwards at the Sierra Leone High Commission which was attended by a cross section of the community in London.
PDDA - A successful day out
The Pujehun Descendants Development Association (PDDA) recently hosted a very successful outing to the seaside resort of Margate in South East England on Saturday 8 July. There was continuous merriment and dancing on the beach while residents stood by the waterfront to enjoy the merrymakers. A cultural exhibition was mounted. Speakers reminded the 500 revellers about the plight of millions of their compatriots. Sierra Leonean artists appearing live included King Masco and Collins Pratt. The MC was Mr Mohamed Kella.
FOCUS on INTERNET
Focus Vol 1 no 5 has been the subject of electronic discussion by Sierra Leoneans in the US, Germany and the UK on LEONENET. Topics discussed included the alleged agreement to dump nuclear wastes on Banana Island, the Lodge, tribalism, and the alleged trade in passports. (ED. It would be nice to hear from these discussants through letters to FOCUS; then, the wider Sierra Leone public can have a chance to comment on their views.)
FOCUS on FOCUS
The BBC's Focus On Africa radio programme recently reviewed Focus on Sierra Leone. The story about the trade in passports and the full editorial on the lifting of the political ban and the promised elections were reviewed in depth.
MEDICAL ADVISER TO SL GOVT. IN UK DIES
Dr Neville Halper, a medical practitioner in the UK who was continuously retained as a medical adviser to the Sierra Leone government in England, has died aged 81 years. A press release by the Sierra Leone High Commission described him as "a vital link for numberless Sierra Leoneans seeking medical treatment in England over the years". The late Dr Halper was decorated with the Order of the Rokel by the SL government in 1989 "in recognition of his dedication and tireless service to Sierra Leone". His funeral, which took place on Sunday 11 June, was attended by the new High Commissioner accompanied by Counsellor Rupert Davies and a host of other Sierra Leoneans. Dr Halper is survived by his wife, daughter and two grandchildren.
A real cause for worry
Unscrupulous army and police officers - a tiny
minority we are assured - have been taking young boys and girls into custody
where they drug them and take them to off-shore trawlers with waiting foreign
fishermen for indecent activities. The uniformed pimps are believed to
be making a fortune at the expense of unsuspecting innocent youngsters.If
the authorities in the present government are aware of these people and
their identity, why don't they get in and stop them now?
Mid-April to May
A CHRONICLE OF VIOLENCE
..... AND SUFFERING
NPRC EUPHORIC OVER RECENT "SUCCESSES"
This was a time of reckoning for both sides to the conflict. The country witnessed a full scale deployment of counter insurgency measures by the NPRC. With the expert help of South African mercenaries, they were able to loosen the rebel stranglehold on some vital areas of the country. The rebels in similar fashion skirted round this sophisticated apparatus to penetrate targets with comparable ease and daring, relying mainly on random surprise hit and run raids. Government forces appear to have gained at the expense of the RUF, if one believes their claims and especially if one takes inot account the crucial role being played by the South African Executive Outcomes mercenaries. Successive communiques have claimed the destruction of at least 5 rebel bases in the last month alone. The NPRC have been at pains to impress a sceptical audience that the real fighting is being done by "our soldiers" rather than Executive Outcomes mercenaries who, they say, are only there to train and advise the army. The mercenaries, who are sponsored and paid for by South African De Beers Corporation, are widely believed to have masterminded and spearheaded the counter attacks and are credited with whatever success the army is claiming now.
In a major incident in the second week of June, a convoy of 20 vehicles was attacked a few miles from the notorious Mile 91. The army said 8 rebel soldiers were killed when the convoy was attacked near Maseteleh at about 3.30 PM. 11 vehicles were destroyed and 3 soldiers were also killed. Rocket-propelled grenades were used in the assault. Another raid at Sembehun 17 in the South claimed 15 rebels, according to military sources. They said that a company of about 130 rebels wearing civilian clothes attacked the area and were confronted by members of the 5th battalion. On the 22 of June the army, aided by the South African mercenaries and Guinean forces, launched an all-out offensive on a suspected rebel base, 38 miles from Freetown, which they claimed to have captured. The fleeing rebels reportedly abducted an unknown number of civilians.
On Monday June 26 there were euphoric claims by Army HQ that they had blasted a major rebel camp in the South, thought to be where rebel leader Foday Sankoh was based. But other sources have claimed it was not a major base and that Sankoh in any case does not stay at that camp. Government forces, aided by South African and Nigerian troops also attacked 4 other camps, including one near Peyima in Kono District which they say is a big set back for the rebels. Here, the 6th and 3rd battalions were in action aided by the ubiquitous Ukrainian-piloted helicopter gun ships and Nigerian Alpha jets. 10 rebels were reported killed. In common with all these claims, government casualties are always light or not given at all.
When we reported on the violence in our last edition the situation in the diamond district of Kono had just erupted with the complete takeover of its principal towns by rebels, most of them dissident regular soldiers. On the 28 June, Koidu town was retaken by government troops after a stiff resistance by rebels. 25 were said to have been killed. Motema and other towns "were also freed" and soldiers spent most of their time "mopping up" with helicopter gun ships giving them cover. Official confidence was such that an officer was heard saying that if they had been armed like they are now the war would have been over by now.
Frequent attacks on lorry drivers on the main highways prompted their union to ask for more protection especially in the wake of previous attacks. Three tanker drivers had already been killed. More than 100 heavy duty lorries packed with relief supplies including rice were held up in Freetown while a response was awaited from the authorities. Drivers insisted that they wished to be accompanied only by foreign troops and that there should be fewer stops and checkpoints during the journeys.
On the last day of June there was a major ambush at Sembehun Kokofele, the scene of a previous attack at Xmas, near Bo in the South. A 40-seater bus was ambushed and tyres got stuck in the mud. Several passengers were seriously wounded. Abdul Konneh the driver of the bus was shot in belly and pretended to be dead. His assailants took his watch and chain and fled. Ten or so hours later a second attack was launched at a newly established checkpoint on the Bo-Tikonko road. Bo was in a state of intense alert as they saw gun smoke rising in the distance.
At the start of July, a convoy of 72 lorries was attacked on the Freetown-Bo highway between the towns of Magbosi, Mamiri and Masere. In fact it emerged later that scores of people were slaughtered. Back in the South the chiefdom town of Bumpeh was overrun by rebels. Captain Morlai who was shot managed to swim across the Tabe river but many of the townspeople who tried to escape drowned. Nearly a third of the houses were rased. The rebels had been flushed out of their camp in Salina about 4 miles away. They arrived in Bumpeh and called for reinforcements from their base at Mattru Jong. Government forces were preparing for a showdown as we went to press.
The onslaught on Port Loko in the Northern Province took place at about the same time. Soldiers turned RUF rebels - known as Sobels - attacked and killed over 40 people including children, old men and women. Three Lebanese businessmen were also murdered. In addition over 50 people may have drowned in the Port Loko Wharf river trying to escape from the town. Twenty bodies were recovered from it later. 60 houses were burnt down. There were 12 rebel and 4 army casualties. GCE students were abducted while they were studying for their exams. Batmoi on the outskirts of Lunsar was not spared. The government claimed to have killed 18 rebels there. It now appears that the rebels were carrying out the first stage of their plan to take over the international airport at Lungi only 40 miles away.
Again in the South, not for the first time, Tikonko and Gerihun were raided by RUF rebels. The latter had become a refugee town by the time of this attack. Many camp dwellers were slaughtered. About 38 rebels were caught and taken to Bo where they were put on display. They wore Sierra Leone army uniforms and most people were convinced that they were not RUF rebels but dissident Sierra Leone army soldiers. Some were recognised by members of the public. According to government claims, Tikonko has now been recaptured after fierce fighting with the RUF. But rebels still control many small villages in the Bo and Bonthe districts whose civilian populations have been evacuated to the larger towns. Sumbuya has also been hit and many youngsters have been abducted from there. Heavy fighting also took place in the villages of Jomborhun and Mendewa about 15 miles off the Kenema-Bo highway.
The situation in Kono remains as unclear as before. The government claimed that rebels have been cleared out of the area. Eye witnesses say the destruction was total. Every house in Motema was set alight. The roads were littered with slit suit cases. In Koidu Town, a reporter for the BBC's Focus On Africa quoted witnesses who claimed that 10 or so skulls had been left out to dry and that close by there was a pile of over 50 rotting corpses. Over 80 rebels were reported to have died in the encounter. Current estimates are that well over 500 people were killed in the battle for Kono. 10 citizens of the Republic of Niger were killed.
Those returning since the government claimed it had cleared the area of rebels are encountering many problems. The government has not made life easy for the displaced returnees. It is requiring everyone to be screened and that the numbers are controlled because of limited resources - food and shelter - in the towns and the need to avert a cholera outbreak. Civilians are sceptical about these rea-sons, believing it to be just another ploy by soldiers to engage in illicit mining now that the inhabitants are out of the area. "They are mopping up" said a disgusted would-be returnee, which is a euphemism for looting after rebels have gone.
Colonel Rudolf of South African Executive Outcomes
who had spearheaded the attacks said that they were not mercenaries but
that they intended to put an end to the Sierra Leone situation. As we go
to press government forces are claiming yet another major victory this
time beating off a rebel attack near Zimmi where they claim 12 rebels
have been captured. They government believe that in their desperation,
the rebels are trying to regroup and train. A rebel leader called Yellowman
was also said to have been captured.
EXPLOITING THE HOMELESS
Wicked landlords are charging exorbitant rents
for accommodation in Freetown. Taking advantage of the rebel war and the
influx of refugees who are desperate for a place to live, many landlords
wishing to make a fast buck have been serving eviction orders on their
long-standing tenants, many of whom are low paid civil servants and refugees.
PUBLISH AND BE DAMNED ...
Ambrose GandaI am not a journalist
I am not a journalist and have never claimed to be one. I trained as a lawyer but then I decided to try other things such as earning a real living instead of waiting for months in Chambers for my week's rent or pocket money. I am currently just a civil servant who is coping with carrying out the dictates of others sometimes much against my own way of doing things (Oh, yes! I do a regular day's work, you know!). But I must conform and play by the rules because I do not like breaking laws even though I may sometimes feign ignorance of them.
"You should have gone back home to Sierra Leone" I hear someone say! What? Back to Siaka Stevens' Sierra Leone? To Momoh's feckless Dan Dogo State? Look what they did for my contemporaries and friends Abdulai Conteh, Abass Bundu, Joe Jackson, and a host of others now festering on the scrap heap of rejection and failure.
No my friends, I knew that I should not get involved with that lot and I do not regret it. So I stayed put here in the UK and have been doing my very little bit for my dear Sierra Leone. It is a great feeling, I tell you. I know that what I do does not please some people but I really do not give a toss. It is a job that must be done and I am enjoying every minute of it. Incidentally I don't have to be in Sierra Leone to talk about Sierra Leone. I am, have been, and always will be, a Sierra Leonean (I do not have a British Passport - do you hear me?). So do not attempt to stop me saying what I feel about my country.
I have not been to a school of journalism so I have not learned the trade and therefore I do not know its rules. I do not need to, because as I said I am not, and have never wanted to be, a journalist. All I am doing is, using my modest powers of improvisation and some basic skills acquired in my training as a lawyer - (I even do my own proof reading for libel, you know! So sue me if you wish!) - to report on events in my country. I do so, I hope, objectively, arguing the pros and cons of an issue and deciding on my preference. Naturally, I am full of admiration for prolific Sierra Leonean journalists like Desmond Davies, Lans Joe Sesay, Mike Butscher, Foday Kandeh (Well done, Progress!) and others who are doing their best, against the odds, to bring the news of events back home to their readers.
Unfortunately I do not have a newspaper to work for - because (for the umpteenth time) I am not a journalist (Got the point?) So I had to invent one, you see? Yes, this one. I mean Focus.
So now you know, eh? Some times - most times - I get it
right. Sometimes I get it wrong, who does not? But the point is that in
this way I am keeping the debate about our common home, Sierra Leone, alive.
So do not try to stop.
NPRC and RUF
More rumours are circulating about collusion between
certain factions in the NPRC and the RUF. In our last edition, attention
was drawn to comments by many refugees that their attackers were army men
deployed ostensibly to protect them. We said then that "the NPRC knows
who these people are but is unwilling to bring them to book. They are believed
to have their godfathers right there in Freetown." I find that hard to
believe but then most things happening in Sierra Leone are just unbelievable.
One day we will find out, and I really hope I'll be around to see these
NPRC and the ARMY
It is alleged that the real power house of the NPRC is comprised mainly of about 12 "powerful" men who each have a coterie of about 20 to 25 men around them. They are showered with favours and the spoils of office.
Contrast this with the lot of the ordinary man and woman in our armed forces. They do not get paid, if at all, on time and many are just as deprived as the ordinary man and woman in the street. According to informed sources, the anger and disenchantment felt by the lower ranks is simmering and could boil over any time. The recent self-promotion exercise has soured the atmosphere. It also explains why many soldiers are reluctant to go to the war front. Why, they ask, should they be fighting the NPRC's war?
A strange paradox indeed when you consider that vast sums
of money are being paid right now to South African mercenaries to do the
fighting that our soldiers should be doing. Making allowances for the fact
that the SA troops have more skills in fighting a guerilla war, can you
imagine what difference it would have made to the morale of our soldiers
if they were made to feel more comfortable while they were at the war front?
Just a passing thought, you know!
THE NCCP CROSSES SWORDS WITH NPRC
The Coordinator General of the National Coalition Council for Peace (NCCP) Mr Mban Kabu, who is also the President of the Sierra Leone Teachers Union, was arrested and detained on Monday 17 July following a report in a newspaper in which he was alleged to have described the South African mercenaries fighting in the country as "die-hard apartheid attack dogs" who had come to compound the war situation. The editor of the weekly Standard Times newspaper which carried the report, Mr Ibrahim Karim Sei, was arrested twice on the same day but was released each time. It was believed that another prominent member of the NCCP Mr Sembu Forna was also detained for questioning. Mr Kabu has emphatically denied the allegations. He was still in detention as we went to press. The editor of Focus despatched the following plea to Captain Strasser as soon as news of the arrest reached London:
Dear Captain StrasserThe NCCP is a coalition of about 60 or so local indigenous peace organisations which are united in seeking a peaceful solution of the conflict in Sierra Leone. They include several women's organisations, church societies and District development associations. The NCCP has been a thorn in the side of the NPRC as some of its members are believed to be irritated with the lack of response to initiatives from their members. The organisation appears to be in favour of a National Peace Conference to which they insist all factions including the RUF should be invited. One prominent affiliate member of the group is the radical Pan African Union (PANAFU) a "mass-based pan-Africanist organisation committed to the total liberation, unity and development of Africa under a just and egalitarian system". At a mass rally to commemorate Africa Liberation Day on 25 May, it urged the NPRC to call a conference of all political shades and opinions to discuss the democratic political future of the country and the resolution of the present war.
Another member is the National League for Human Rights and Democracy (NLHRD). It's UK parent body has sent a memorandum to Captain Strasser offering suggestions for the way forward. It said: "The National League is against undemocratic rule and also detests the use of force to acquire political power. Lots of people have been asking what is it that the RUF want? But we do not believe this in a necessary question because the same thing that the military junta wants is the same thing that the rebel groups want and it is the same thing that people who have formed political parties also want. What they all want is political power. The only difference is the method they use to acquire this power".
There are rumblings in the coalition with some groups
questioning the legitimacy of the NCCP to speak on their behalf or commit
them to action "without their consent". NCCP officers counter that the
NPRC is leaning heavily on some of its members and that it is these people
who are creating problems for the coalition.