FOR SIERRA LEONE
Round two of general elections to elect a new president of Sierra Leone took place on Friday, 15 March with very little disruption to the sheer delight and undisguised relief of those who had pinned their hopes and reputation on its success. The run-off was necessary because none of the presidential candidates received the 55% of the vote that was needed to win outright. The emergent two leading candidates - Alhaji Ahmed Tejan Kabbah of the Sierra Leone Peoples Party (SLPP) and Dr John Karefa-Smart of the United National Peoples Party (UNPP) - had therefore to fight it out all over again when negotiations initiated by Kabbah, the majority party leader, to form a coalition government with Karefa-Smart and others broke down.
Voting was brisk and orderly. There was slight hesitation in the morning by voters still reeling from their experience of machete-armed gangs that went on the rampage during the first round, wreaking havoc on those who defied their orders to boycott the elections. But thousands again, as before, threw caution to the wind to vote with their hands and feet.
Officials at the Interim National Electoral Commission (INEC) were justifiably pleased with themselves. Their Chairman James Jonah was already being decked with the laurels. The much heralded violence and disruption by the RUF did not materialise and the mischief making of renegade armed forces personnel which was in evidence during the first round seemed to have been contained. Even the army congratulated itself at the way its personnel had operated on the day. Politicians rather stoically commended the soldiers for the way they had eventually conducted themselves.
The hustings were an eye opener. As the analysis of the voting figures during the first round showed (see FSL Vol 2 No 2), regional and tribal considerations played a significant role in the preferences of electors. The question was whether this would be replicated in the run-off. It was, and it led to the horse-trading which is so evident in the character and substance of the newly appointed Cabinet.
The SLPP man Kabbah was already teaming up with the third best performer from the first round, Thaimu Bangura of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). During one whistle stop campaign in Bo in the Southern Province where violence had preponderated the first bout of voting, Bangura pledged his party’s support for Kabbah and described their campaign as "Operation Desert Storm" reminiscent of the allied operations against Iraq in the 1986 war. Together, he claimed, they were going to pulverise the real enemy - tribalism. In return for his support a deal was allegedly struck whereby Bangura and his party would be offered a share of Cabinet posts. With hindsight it was not necessary because no significant extra Northern votes were gained by Kabbah. Thus the tribal and regional polarisation which characterised the parliamentary and first round presidential elections was maintained.
Voting results for the Capital Freetown and the rest of the Western Area were very close, with Kabbah winning 84,635 against 72,397 for Karefa-Smart. A total of 159,678 voted, including rejects and spoils, which was extremely low compared with 210,000 in the first round. An NPRC decree on the day disqualified 90,000 potential voters who had registered on 19 and 23 February following the extension of the original registration period. Even though they had been allowed to vote during the first round they were now effectively disenfranchised. INEC Chairman Jonah claimed he had to obey the law and so he could not let these people vote in the second rounds. He said he could do nothing about it. "Government is in charge! INEC is not independent. What can I do?" he lamented.
Dr Karefa-Smart of UNPP, the other presidential candidate, retained the Northern block vote almost intact. While this old work horse may have been considered a nuisance and, at best, an irritation he certainly gave Kabbah a run for his money. No doubt he will live up to his promise to keep a watchful eye on the new government. As the leader of the opposition in the new Parliament, he will be a force of sorts to contend with. He will also be a much needed example for emulation by future parliamentarians.
KABBAH WINS OUTRIGHT
The Sierra Leone Peoples Party (SLPP) which last governed the country 30 years ago when it was written off in haste after the late wily Siaka Stevens and the All Peoples Congress (APC) took over following an inconclusive election, overcame all the odds and is back, today, in the driving seat of government. Having earlier won, by no means an overall, majority of seats in parliament it has now produced the Executive Pres-ident of the 3rd Republic. The party whose symbol is the palm tree - a durable plant that survives the harshest of weather conditions in tropical West Africa - has suddenly sprouted in defiance of 30 years of relentless scorching from the rays of the APC’s red burning sun.
The votes cast in favour of both candidates were as follows :
Total Votes % National
Ahmed Tejan Kabbah 608,419 59.49
John Karefa Smart 414,33540.51
Total 1,022,754 100.00
In the days that followed the announcement there was merriment and jubilation throughout the capital and in the major cities and towns. Even those who did not belong to the party of the winning candidate felt the urge to celebrate. Everyone was pleased that the elections were conclusive. They achieved their greatest wish - to give the soldiers their marching orders. That gave them the most pleasure.
INAUGURATION AND SWEARING-IN
Excerpts from the President’s speech
... our country stands virtually in ruins with thousands slaughtered, soldiers and civilians alike, tens of thousands maimed and mutilated, and hundreds of thousands displaced, traumatised, living in poverty, diminished in spirit and in body, and the country’s moral, physical and social infrastructure destroyed.
... during the last civilian administration the gates of indifference, insensitivity, inefficiency and callousness were opened and those traits resulted in the untold tragedies of a senseless war... we have witnessed an epoch of indifference to the legitimate concerns of citizens before the seat of justice ...dishonesty in the state-owned organisation and ...apathy on the part of functionaries... It is my desire that today should mark the end of that epoch and the start of a new era..."
Excerpts from Chairman Bio’s speech
While it is a fact that today, military governments the world over are unpopular and even frowned upon by the International Community, Sierra Leoneans will agree that our move to restore democracy and peace to our beloved country, was not due to any pressure whatsoever from anywhere, other than in the fulfilment of that same commitment to the values of democracy and the attainment of peace.
Today, as we honourably bow out of the political scene, I wish to note with greatest satisfaction, that despite the odds, our administration has been able to overcome some of the most daunting challenges that ever confronted any government."
KABBAH PICKS HIS CABINET
Mixed reactions greeted his Cabinet appointments (see below) which emerged after days of haggling and horse-trading. Feelings have been hurt; expectations dashed and, above all, the appointment of several personalities has left a bitter taste in some mouths. But on the whole most people have welcomed the appointments although it remains to be seen whether Parliament will endorse them. The new Speaker will be the former Chief Justice, 64-year old Mr Sheku Mohammed Kutubu.
To be fair to the President Kabbah, the years of suspicion and mistrust in Sierra Leone mean that almost any appointment will attract some disapproval from one interest group or other. Only time and their performance will tell whether the members of this or the approved Cabinet are the men and women who can take Sierra Leone proudly into the 20th Century. If Focus has any criticism it is that the cabinet is too big. Amalgamation of the various ministries could easily leave us with say 12 or 15 ministries which would have than adequate for now.
A major casualty of the speculation was Dr Sama S Banya who dutifully represented the president-elect at the recent Yamoussoukro peace talks and had been billed as the new Foreign Minister. In the event, alleged widespread protests against his appointment led to the even bizarre choice of Mr Maigore Kallon who, 30 years ago, was the last SLPP Foreign Minister in the government of the late Prime Minister Sir Albert Margai. Banya, also known as Poawui, was publicly berated by RUF leader Foday Sankoh in front of the world press and TV.
Speculation has now switched to identifying the king makers - those in the SLPP who seem to have the ear of the President. Names already being mentioned include Mr Salia Jusu Sheriff a former leader of the Party and a vice President in the last APC government who, had he not be banned from public life under an NPRC decree, would probably have contested leadership of the party; Mr Justice M S Turay; veteran politician Mr Mana Kpaka; and party Treasurer Mr R E S Lagawo who has been appointed special presidential adviser.
MINISTERIAL NOMINEES AWAIT CONFIRMATION
KAREFA-SMART WILL SUE
SWEET REVENGE AS THE NPRC GETS ITS MARCHING
Apart from the overwhelming sense of relief that Sierra Leoneans felt when NPRC staged their April 1992 coup and broke the stranglehold of APC misrule, not much the NPRC did ranks as a long term dividend for the country. By accident or design, they did not deliver their promises. They raised false hopes which they dashed within a few months of their accession. (See ‘State of Despair’ serialised in FSL Vol 1 Nos 2, 3 & 5.)
Considering they took over during a war when people were worried about their personal security, the humiliations and assaults that were visited upon ordinary people by soldiers at checkpoints and in the cities in the name of national security were totally unjustified. It lost them the goodwill that greeted them into power. People felt they were captives because on the one hand they were under assault from undisciplined soldiers who could do whatever they pleased without censure; on the other they were under attack from the RUF. They had no one to turn to for protection.
They misused public funds, engaged in smuggling, involved their relatives in business activities, and practised nepotism. They travelled worldwide as guests of dubious businessmen, trailed the begging bowl in our names only to divert the proceeds into their own use; they continued the APC’s practice of selling our passports to non-nationals for private personal gain and some absconded with amounts siphoned from the national purse while ostensibly on missions abroad and remained at large; they murdered without due process of law, and threatened and abused those who would not do their bidding. They showed little or no respect for civilians.
They were a law unto themselves using innumerable decrees as their weapon of rule. In the end they made a mockery of our military institution to which they belonged, promoting themselves to Captains, Lt Colonels, Generals and Brigadiers, etc., without winning a single campaign of note! If they can now talk and embrace the RUF why did they have to wait for five years and 10,000 deaths later to do so? If Strasser was the problem then, why didn’t they push him off earlier?
The NPRC government was a futile and expensive experiment in government for which Sierra Leone has paid very dearly. It was a government of vindictiveness, envy and greed. A government of which a large number of key players were drop outs and non achievers with nothing to lose but everything to gain as they suddenly found themselves controlling the lives of millions of people. Some of them had a chip on the shoulder and a grudge to avenge.
But despite their shortcomings, they should be forgiven for what happened. As always there were those who encouraged them and should also carry the blame. When these chaps seized power in 1992 the majority of them did not have the experience or ability to engage in the complex nefarious activities that became a hallmark of their tenure of office. Corrupt officials showed them the ropes. These very same people are in situ, waiting to advise the new intake of ministers. But judging by the antecedents of some these new ministers, one doubts whether they will be needing any advice from civil servants at all!
They should not nurture hopes of coming back into government as soldiers. Let us hope they have learnt from their mistakes because, without appearing to be patronising, some of them showed great potential. The comportment of Brigadier Julius Maada Bio, the outgoing Head of State, for example, in the two months when he took over was quite impressive. He might have made a difference if he had been at the helm from the beginning. We must also give credit and recognition to those others who, despite the treachery of their comrades, continued to uphold the true traditions of the military and defended the integrity and sovereignty of the country, especially during the war. We are going to need them even more now and the whole nation should encourage them to stand up and defend their institution and us because Sa Lone Nar We All Yone.
This caveat is necessary because soldiers have quietly expressed their disappointment that the civilian population has proved "ungrateful to them despite our sacrifices for the country". Others have also been quoted saying that they will "not be prepared to die for any civilians again" and that they "will they not fight any civilian government’s war." Military spokesman Kes Boya’s less than candid response on BBC Focus on Africa to the Robin White’s question "Is Kabbah a man that the military can live with?" was as defiant as it was instructive. "I don’t think I am in a position to say that now, Robin. We are members of an armed force and by regulation we should be able to get on with our Commander-in-chief at any one time" he said. All of this may be rhetoric by demoralised soldiers who feel that their efforts were not duly recognised. We must reassure them that as long as they stick to their role of defending the nation, the people will in turn continue to support them.
The lesson of the last four years is that politics and government are not the true soldiers’ forte. Their fugitive masters - some of whom have taken refuge abroad following the handover - proved it beyond any shadow of doubt.
2-MONTH CEASE FIRE IS HOLDING
PEACE MEETING IN IVORY COAST
The meeting was held under the auspices of the Ivory Coast government. It was facilitated through the good offices of the ICRC and Internal Alert who collaborated in the ferrying of the RUF leader and his delegation from their safe haven in south eastern Sierra Leone into the neighbouring Republic of Guinea. From there they were airlifted to Yamoussoukro in the company of the Ivorian Foreign Minister, Mr Amara Essy.
Welcoming the two leaders to his country, President Henri Konan Bedie told his two guests: "I am very happy to welcome you to Yamoussoukro, which is a town of symbols for the Ivorian people. I cordially welcome you to Cote d’Ivoire. My country has made dialogue and the peaceful settlement of conflicts the basis for its policy. My country is very happy to host today’s historic meeting, which is aimed at finding a political solution to the fratricidal conflict that has been tearing Sierra Leone apart for more than five years now ... We must therefore not fail in our mission, which is to put an end to five years of sufferings for the Sierra Leone people. I hope I can count on your understanding as to the spirit of concessions that must guide our deliberations. I wish total success to our negotiations".
After a series of private meetings between
both leaders and joint discussions between their group delegations over
two days, a joint communique was issued on the final day.
Main Points Of The Joint Communique Following The Yamoussoukro Peace Meeting
On the maintenance of the cease fire:
(1) Negotiations commenced under the NPRC should continue after they hand over to the new civilian government. The RUF would respond to peace overtures by well-meaning Sierra Leoneans and their positive reaction would depend on the approaches made by the new government.
(2) A re-affirmation of the two month cease fire, announced by the RUF and reciprocated by the NPRC three weeks ago, to facilitate the continuation of the peace process.
On measures to alleviate the suffering of the people
(1) Both sides to use all measures necessary to ensure that within the two month cease fire, relief aid reaches both sides of conflict affected areas;
(2) During the cease fire there would be no military operations in and around displaced camps nor ambushing of vehicles plying routes on all sides of conflict affected areas;
(3) Relief convoys taking food and other supplies to areas controlled by both parties will not be attacked provided they are organised by recognised relief agencies in consultation with the two parties and under co-ordination by ICRC.
(4) An appeal to the international
humanitarian agencies concerned to intensify their support to the displaced
areas by increasing the level and quality of supplies, including rice -
the staple food.
On future talks
(1) That vital issues regarding peace and stability are not delayed. The government of the Ivory Coast, whose President is given due recognition for his commitment and support, is encouraged to continue to support the peace process.
(2). All partners and friends of goodwill are encouraged to lend support to the Ivory Coast on the one side and the negotiating parties.
(3) Both sides will meet at summit level as early as possible.
(4) Both heads of delegation thanked ICRC and International Alert for their facilitators’ role. The role played by international organisations, UN, OAU, the Commonwealth, and NGOs was given due recognition.
The communique was signed by both leaders
and by Mr Essy, on behalf of the Ivory Coast government; Mr Melvin H
Challobah, the (outgoing) Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs and
International Cooperation for Sierra Leone; and Dr Mohamed Barrie
of the RUF/Sierra Leone.
Quotable Quotes From Abidjan
Mr Amara Essy, Ivory Coast Foreign Minister speaking on Radio Cote D’Ivoire, Abidjan:
"I think President Bedie himself said that it would be an illusion to want to have a peace agreement after three or four meetings. These people have been fighting for five years and the RUF has not come out of the forest for five years. Foday Sankoh was telling me in the helicopter that he has not set his foot in a car for seven years, this being impossible in the forest. So they need some time first to update themselves about what is going on in the world."
Corporal Foday Sankoh, talking about himself on Radio France Internationale:
"They said I was dead and even that I did not exist. As you can see
I do exist... Yamoussoukro was boring and I am getting bored here (in Abidjan)
as well. I like the bush, my friend. They ask me to extend my stay here,
because we have supporters here, but I don’t like this place. Food is good
over there and there are also young people. I like young people. Who can
I talk to here? In the bush the scenery is beautiful, there is forest and
COLLABORATORS IN SIERRA LEONE’S WAR
(Florence Stratton)"There are many forces poised to profit through this war - outside forces particularly - trading weapons and the country’s resources."
"This war" could mean any one of the three dozen or so conflicts occurring world wide: those who profit from war are everywhere, though we hear very little about them. Kumar Rupesinghe, the author of the statement and head of International Alert, an organisation dedicated to the resolution and prevention of conflict, is, however, referring specifically to the war in Sierra Leone. This is also something about which we hear very little, though the suffering of the people of Sierra Leone has been enormous. The war, which began in 1991, is being waged by the army of the Sierra Leone government and a rebel movement, the Revolutionary United Front, with civilians caught between the two forces. Estimates of the number of Sierra Leoneans killed thus far range from 10,000 to 20,000. Further, out of a population of four million, about one million people, a quarter of the total, have been displaced and many of the refugees are starving.
We are repeatedly told that we live in a "global village". How is it then that we do not hear about this human tragedy? Perhaps it is because Sierra Leone has little strategic or economic value for "the international community"—that is those countries which have economic and military power.
When I went to school (admittedly it was a long time ago), all wars had causes and we spent an inordinate amount of time and energy committing them to memory. It was, however, only western wars we studied. Wars in Africa are normally depicted as aimless and capricious. When it is reported at all, these are the terms used to describe the war in Sierra Leone: "Sierra Leone dissolves into chaos." As a consequence, wars in Africa are made to appear as senseless savagery. This is, we might say, a very apt description of all wars. Yet "our" wars, that is western wars are, by contrast, because of the way they are depicted, seen as having just cause. This is just one more instance of colonialist thinking: Viewing ourselves, in opposition to "them", as civilised, as superior.
But the rich world also has a vested interest in seeing African wars as motiveless chaos. For it allows us to conceal, even from ourselves, our role in bringing about these wars.
As I’ve been reminded many times by Sierra Leonean friends, the war in their country is a complex one - a complication of social, political, historical and economic causes. I will start with the economic and perhaps manage to hint at the other factors. A few years ago, the United Nations declared Sierra Leone to be the poorest country in the world. As many Sierra Leoneans have also observed, the situation is not without irony. For Sierra Leone is, in fact, richly endowed with natural resources - diamonds, bauxite, rutile, timber and coffee being among its export products. It has however been impoverished by internal corruption and external exploitation.
Governments and corruption seem to go together. It is not, as is so often suggested, that poor countries like Sierra Leone are more corrupt than rich countries. It is just that there is so much less to go round in the first place that the effects of corruption are more noticeable and more keenly felt. And because there is so little to go around, politics sometimes becomes a life and death struggle for scarce resources.
So, given that Sierra Leone is rich in natural resources, how did this situation of scarcity arise in the first place? This is the real question, the answer to which lies in the nature of the economic relationship between African and western countries. In fact, conditions of trade between Africa and the west have remained unchanged since the inauguration of the slave trade in the 1400s: inequality defines the relationship. For one of the parties to the exchange is more powerful than the other and hence gets to set the price not only of the commodities it is selling, but also of those it is buying. It even gets to decide what constitutes a commodity, prescribing, at least in recent times, raw materials for poor countries and discouraging as far as possible their industrialisation. The Guyanese historian, Walter Rodney explains it this way, speaking of market relations during the colonial era: "The differences between the prices of African exports of raw materials and their importation of manufactured goods constituted a form of unequal exchange. Throughout the colonial period, this inequality in exchange got worse...In 1939, with the same quantity of primary goods colonies could buy only 60% of manufactured goods which they bought in the decade 1870-80 before colonial rule. By 1960, the amount of European manufactured goods purchasable by the same quantity of African raw materials has fallen still farther."
And the terms of trade have continued to deteriorate since the 1960s, the time when most African nations regained their independence. The process has been greatly facilitated by the IMF and World Bank which, as a condition for loans to poor countries, insist on currency devaluations. When I first arrived in Sierra Leone in 1968, one Leone was worth one dollar. Thanks largely to the IMF and World Bank, it is now over 1000 leones to the dollar. This means, of course, that today Sierra Leone can buy less than 0.1% of the manufactured goods it bought in the 1960s. It also means that Sierra Leone exports are going at bargain basement prices: one thousandth of the original price!
Now that there is war, the exploitation and profiteering continue at an even more accelerated rate. A friend writes from Freetown, the capital of Sierra Leone and the only part of the country that is not yet engulfed in war, that she "doubts that there will be anything left in the country once the war is over". The nation’s forest reserves are rapidly disappearing - "timber for better climes" - and mining concessions are also being sold off, all to finance the war. According to the former Chairman and Head of State of Sierra Leone, Valentine Strasser, 75% of the nation’s resources are being spent on the war. This does not leave much to take care of the health and welfare of the people of Sierra Leone, large numbers of whom have fallen into desperate poverty.
This, then, is the situation Kumar Rupesinghe is alluding to in the statement with which I began this discussion. But who are these "outside forces" he refers to who are "trading weapon’s and [Sierra Leone’s] resources"? Arms merchants take great care to cover their tracks and I have not been able to discover who is supplying the weapons with which this devastating war is being fought. It could be the United States, which accounts for about 50% of all arms exports to the "Third World". It could also be Canada, which in the last five years had quadrupled its arms sales to "Third World" countries. Or it might be Russia, France, Britain, Germany or China, all of whom are major suppliers of weapons to poor countries. Quite probably arms are making their way to Sierra Leone either directly or indirectly from all of these sources.
All wars are devastating. But from the outside, the war that involves people you know seems much more so. I have lived in Sierra Leone and have friends whose lives are at risk. Several people I know have already been killed. But, as I have come to realise, because of where I live now, I am however indirectly, a beneficiary of such a war. As I said earlier, those who profit from war are everywhere. For countries like Sierra Leone, through their purchase of arms (as well as other commodities, to say nothing of the interest they pay on loans to western institutions), subsidise services in countries like Canada and the United States. Thus, for example, we are able to take a reasonably inexpensive and reliable supply of electricity and running water for granted - which is certainly not the case in poor countries. In Freetown there can be blackout for days at a time.
What, then, are we to do? There are a number of Sierra Leone organisations, both inside and outside the country, which are committed to the attainment of peace in their country. Anyone wishing to offer support could contact the following: In New York - The Sierra Leone Peace Committee, 212-328-8178 or 212-940-6625; In Washington DC - Peace Coalition for Sierra Leone, 2117 L St. NW, Suite 275, Washington DC 20037; In the UK - Sierra Leone Network for Peace and Development, 134 Empire Road, Perivale, Middlesex, UB6 7EG.
We might also make it our business to let others know about the unfair conditions of trade which do so much to ignite wars such as the one in Sierra Leone. And we might cry out against the deadly trade in arms.
(This article was first published by Catholic Worker, New York Jan/Feb 1996. It is reproduced here with permission of the author.)
THE WAY FORWARD FOR PEACE
As President Kabbah prepares to travel to meet Corporal Sankoh, it is time to reflect on the peace process so far.
Firstly, the government and people of Ivory Coast have proved beyond all doubt that they are true friends of Sierra Leone. They have been that bulwark of independent support which every peace process needs. Sierra Leone has been lucky in this respect. One cannot therefore thank President Henri Konan Bedié enough. He chaired the first meeting between both men. Special mention must also be made of his indefatigable Foreign Minister Dr Amara Essy who has been literally ministering to the needs of the Sierra Leonean and RUF delegations in Yamoussoukro and Abidjan where the RUF is still being hosted and feted. His facilitation of the current peace talks has been wholesome. For the last two years or so, the Ivorians have turned a blind eye to the operations of RUF functionaries in the northern town of Danane in the belief that they must be encouraged in the direction of negotiations.
Secondly, that Corporal Foday Sankoh finally came out for talks was no mean feat. The credit for that goes to two organisations - the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), and International Alert (IA) which continues to ride obstacles of suspicion about its role from many quarters. IA has always maintained that it is only helping to facilitate the peace process (See Focus Vol 1 No 10).
Thirdly, two weeks after coming out of RUF territory, Foday Sankoh is still away from his home base, no doubt taking advantage of the attention of the world media whose representatives have been falling over each other to have interviews with him. This is good even though when we at Focus attempted to do the same, some destructive forces tried to interpret this uncharitably. But at last Foday Sankoh has proved that he exist, is alive and well. In fact he appeared "too well fed" according to comments by the public in Sierra Leone when live pictures of Sankoh at Yamoussoukro were beamed across their TV screens last week.
Fourthly, Sankoh’s meeting with General Maada Bio went very well. Although it has not led to the peace which we all so desperately want in Sierra Leone it seems to have opened fresh avenues of hope for a just and honourable peace provided that there is sincerity and a real desire for it on all sides. But peace will not come at set-piece summits like the one that just went by. It is those behind the scenes activities - the shuffling of feet at night, unscheduled encounters in the corridors and quiet places, or simply the odd chat at breakfast - that work wonders. It was therefore very disappointing that the entire Sierra Leone official delegation - civil servants and soldiers - returned en masse to attend the inauguration ceremony in Freetown leaving no one behind to carry on that vital process of informal contact with the RUF entourage which had in the meantime moved to the Ivorian capital Abidjan.
So where do we go from here? We have identified four major constituencies below whom we now invite to reflect on the various points addressed respectively to each of them:
To the Revolutionary United Front:
To the (new) Sierra Leone Government:
To the People of Sierra Leone (including victims of the war):
Our society, without the war, was already bitterly divided because some people wished to keep that which belonged to all of us to themselves. They pushed the rest of the people down while they advanced the interests of themselves, their families, friends and clients. Sierra Leoneans talked about it and expressed their disgust at every opportunity. The men and women of the RUF - the same Sierra Leoneans as ourselves - chose a different way to redress those grievances. They took up arms, many of them still in their teens. After 5 years in combat they have become hardened men and women, and seasoned fighters. That is how we have arrived at our present condition. We are by no means unique to have a guerilla war in our country; there is one boiling over just across our border while elsewhere others are simmering. Sankoh’s dilemma, as we see it, is that he has to disengage this army of fit and committed young men and women who have become adults, believing that the armed struggle is the only way to redress the injustices which we all used to complain about. For five years this is what they have believed and fought for. The casualties on both sides are Sierra Leoneans. That is the sad reality of this conflict.
So the challenge to all of us which we cannot run away from is this: How do we as a people react to this tragic circumstance. Do we solve it by pretending that the problem does not exist or that if it exists it is only on the other side? Or do we try to meet it head on and find some common ground for a negotiated settlement? And how might we do that? Not by living it just to the government! And most certainly, not by name calling anyone who attempts to address these issues. We must all get involved - it is our peace - and keep the government and others involved on their toes. We will have to find a way of dealing with the delicate matter of armed combatants. Concessions will have to be made on both sides. In some cases it will be painful for us to do this but we must do it now not later.
Alternatively, we can go on listening and succumbing to the hotheads in our midst who cannot see beyond the tip of their nose. We can then enforce their prescription to continue with the military option and, in their words, "blast the RUF out of sight". Apart from that being an unrealistic objective - in 5 years of fighting we have not done so - it certainly does not afford us a chance of securing a lasting solution.
To the International Community:
THEY SHOULD DECLARE THEIR ASSETS BEFORE THEY
TAKE UP THEIR POSTS
How can we monitor accountability and transparency if we do not know what people have now against what they will have by the time they leave office? What is the yardstick against which they will eventually give account?
One problem which Sierra Leone has suffered from all these years is that successive governments have ended up being accused of corruption and misappropriation of funds. After a change of government people have invariably been dragged before so-called commissions of inquiry to explain the circumstances and the manner in which previously impecunious individuals have suddenly attained an affluence and a standard of living, soon after becoming state functionaries, that far exceeded their actual earning potential - the fleet of taxis; a crop of houses; or a large farms serviced with (state-owned) tractors, etc., etc.
It will therefore be profoundly disappointing if in this new dispensation, it is not found necessary to insist upon a thorough declaration of assets by the members of the new Cabinet and other public appointees. If we do not know what they come into government with now, how are we going to know what they are taking away with them when their respective tenures of service come to an end?
That we raise this issue is not to question the integrity of the new ministers and other appointees. It is actually seeking to protect them against spurious accusations before future commissions of enquiry. They can play safe now by telling the nation their worth. If they have come by whatever they own through their hard work, benevolence, or through some fortuitous accident of nature, then they need not fear disclosure now. By the same token, if they have nothing to declare, let them say so - publicly. At least we then know from where they are setting off. That is what accountability and transparency should mean.
The coverage of elections and a new government has taken up most of the available space in this edition. We are therefore unable to carry A Chronicle of Violence and the final part of Mission for peace. Both will appear in our next edition. Ed.
HOPE AFTER THE ELECTIONS?
As regular readers of Focus know, this paper did not support the idea that elections should be held when they were. We were equally mindful that the nation was presented with a fait accompli which, with powerful vested interests supporting it, they could not resist.
By its very motto - peace and good government - Focus must accept the verdict of the electorate of Sierra Leone which though we still believe was partial spoke decisively nonetheless as the authentic voice of Sierra Leone on February 26 and March 15. We therefore take this opportunity to congratulate the courage and determination of the electorate which risked all the violence of that period - one of many reservations we had - to exercise their electoral franchise.
Our reasons for not holding the elections then were well canvassed and although they did not carry the day were nonetheless in order. Indeed that we now have in effect a National coalition government goes a large extent to vindicate our alternative suggestion then that instead of elections a government of national unity could serve us in the interim while we tried to mend fences. Considering the dangers that the electorate had to face - there were several fatalities during the election - that would have made life much less precarious.
It is to be hoped that as a reward for the courage and determination of Sierra Leoneans who risked life and limb to vote, the government that we now have in Sierra Leone is exactly that. There has obviously been a lot of horse trading and haggling for ministerial posts - another of our reservations. That sort of thing tends to militate against effective and resolute government. We hope however no one will be so selfish as to hold the country to ransom. We expect Mr Kabbah to act decisively where it matters.
In our present situation in Sierra Leone, the President should be congratulated for the breadth of vision he has displayed both in the diversity and the representative nature of his choice of ministers. The SLPP - the winning party - has shown a sense of maturity by not arrogating to itself and it alone the sole right to govern the country. It has been gracious enough to bring its opponents into government. Alhaji Kabbah had a delicate balancing act to play and he has, on the whole, acquitted himself fairly well. There are clearly some people who have been appointed who, Focus believes, are unsuited and undeserving, particularly if one considers the direction the country should be taking for the future, the history of previous governments, and the roles that some of them have played, or did not play when they should have, either centre stage or on the periphery. That applies equally to certain civil service appointments that have been announced so far.
But there are equally others who are able and competent with proven testimonials that entitle them to be given a chance. Instead of begrudging them, we must encourage them by accepting the President’s choice judgement, subject to ratification by parliament. Thereafter, we must wait and see how they perform in their respective jobs, and judge them by that.
With Yamoussoukro, peace has come very close to within our grasp. But a lot more work needs to be done.
The outgone Head of State and Chairman
of the NPRC Brigadier General Maada Bio deserves praise for the way he
handled the peace issue till his last days in office. He personally set
the stage for future negotiations with the RUF. It is to be hoped that
the incoming civilian government will do better and push the peace process
through with greater alacrity. He must involve the indigenous peace groups
and constituencies if he is to achieve the noble goal of peace with justice
for all, including the victims. If the elections lead to a peaceful resolution
of the conflict - all the signs are that this may well be an attainable
result - then they would have been worth the sacrifices of the electorate.
If on the other hand they do not, then it has been a complete and utter
waste of time and precious resources. We must not let that happen.
THANK YOU VERY MUCH CHAPS
BUT YOU BLEW IT FOR US
The NPRC blew it! They blew it for themselves and, for that, they have only themselves to blame!
They blew it for the rank and file members of the armed forces of Sierra Leone - dedicated professional soldiers who gave their best in the service of the nation at a very trying moment. The disgraceful conduct of some of their leaders caused tons of insults to be heaped on their valiant efforts to protect the nation.
They blew it for the ordinary citizens of Sierra Leone - those who on the morning of April 1992 poured into the streets to welcome them as heroes for sweeping out a (APC) government that people did not want and could not get rid of.
Above all, they blew it for the youth of Sierra Leone. Yes, the youth who initially saw in the NPRC - their own peers and contemporaries - the embodiment of their hopes of a better future and an end to their alienation from national life.
The NPRC came and deflated all expectations, creating conditions that were, in some cases, worse for every-body, but especially the youth, than at any time before they came to power. It is not too early to expect that NPRC members have seen the error of their ways - many already have.
One benefit of their rule is the fact that Sierra Leoneans have woken up to the fact that soldiers are just like them, only they have guns - guns bought at taxpayers’ expense; that, faced with might (or wrath) of the masses, not even RPG guns fired on the night of February 26 can intimidate them. Sierra Leoneans will never again allow soldiers of any hue to take control over their lives and treat them like dirt. That is how ordinary people believe, rightly or wrongly, they were treated by the NPRC. So none will be shedding any tears for them.
VIDEO INTERVIEW WITH FODAY SANKOH
The Association Of Sierra Leoneans Abroad
(ASLA) announces that there will be a video showing of an interview with
Sankoh by the editor of Focus recorded during the recent peace
conference in Ivory
PUBLISH .....AND BE DAMNED
Ambrose GandaI was there, in Yamoussoukro.
I arrived in Abidjan Sunday morning, 24 March, determined to witness the historic meeting between Maada Bio and Foday Sankoh but not knowing what the program of events was. I checked into my hotel room and was just about to steal a wink - having travelled on a night flight from London - when the telephone rang only for me to be told that both men were due to arrive in Yamoussoukro that very evening. I hurriedly surrendered my keys at the reception and checked out. I was in the company of three compatriots - Mr Omrie Golley, Chairman of the National Convention for Reconstruction and Development which also paid for my trip as with an earlier visit, Mr Osman Yansaneh, a personal assistant of ex-President Momoh who travelled from Conakry (Guinea) to witness the occasion, and Mr Lans Gberrie, editor of Expo Times who had travelled from Freetown as an independent observer. We boarded a hired jeep and headed for a rendez-vous with history, nearly 450 kilometres away in the North of Ivory Coast.
Arriving late that evening I took a chance, as a matter of courtesy, to inform Bio and Sankoh that I was around and available if my services were at all needed, and also that if possible I would be happy to have a brief word with them. My colleagues did too. I did not get an acknowledgement from Bio - I was not surprised. In contrast, when Foday Sankoh received our message that evening he immediately expressed his wish to meet us and invited us to his suite.
With trepidation, my colleagues and I went to see the RUF leader. On arrival we were met by a curious assortment of casually dressed men and women - a mixture of combatants, personal guards and RUF civilian functionaries. It seemed at first that they had not been warned about our approach because even as we tried to get by our progress was impeded by over-zealous guards. But when they were told that the "Pa" was expecting us, we were allowed a courteous passage through labyrinthine corridors into one of the Presidential suites which was assigned to their leader.
Sankoh got up and embraced every one of us and with a rather disarming exuberance sank into his bed and immediately set about to thank us for coming. He had heard about Focus, he said, which he read avidly. He complained about some comments about the RUF which I had made and which he said were rather unfair but he commended the paper on its objectivity. The encounter was so informal that within a few minutes of meeting him one felt you knew him before. He had detailed knowledge about various incidents during the war and he sought to explain the reasons behind their "decision to embark upon the armed struggle". He cited incidents which he denied were the work of the RUF but for which, he protested, they were blamed. He gave us a brief lecture on the RUF’s ideology - Pan Africanism, a peoples movement and the need for grass roots involvement in governmental action. His hope was for Sierra Leoneans to embrace the organisation as their own. At that point I said rather courteously that we were there as independent peace observers who felt that we had a role to play in the peace process; that I particularly was keen to see that the war and the atrocities came to an end and that guns should no longer be pointed at ordinary Sierra Leoneans who had nothing to do with politics of power. That if the RUF had a message it should really wrap it up in a political program which can put to the people of Sierra Leone by argument and persuasion but not the gun.
Sankoh listened attentively and then said "My brothers, we are here to talk peace; it takes more than one side to make peace. Our brothers and sisters on the other side have also been committing atrocities". He said he had come for peace and was inviting "all my brothers and sisters to come to us and discuss peace". My colleague Golley told him that as we were not part of any official delegation we would probably be waiting outside until their talks ended but that we were there to give moral and, if need be, practical support to both sides. Sankoh bellowed back agitatedly "We are all Sierra Leoneans, aren’t we? We are here to talk about peace for our country. Every Sierra Leonean must be welcome. You do not need an invitation for that, do you.? You should come to the hall tomorrow and make your presence felt."
After nearly two hours or so of talking during which we were given some of the history of the "RUF’s armed struggle", we left and returned to our hotel. It was a most exhilarating encounter.
The next morning I rang Lt Col Tom Nyuma, whom I have never met, to tell him that I was around and, if he did not mind, we could get together for a chat. He said he was too busy but that maybe we could meet that afternoon. He took down my number and said he would get back to me. He did not but I was not surprised.
Lasting impressions from Yamoussoukro
The second was the scenes at the conference itself. It was the subtle statement that Foday Sankoh and the RUF were making to us onlookers which, I suspect, was probably not taken on board by the Sierra Leone delegation - especially the NPRC soldiers. During the conference, when both leaders were isolated in the privacy of their meeting room, the sentries at their door could not have made a more interesting contrast. On the left of the door (see picture), stood Foday Sankoh’s commando guard - a young women of about 17 or 18 dressed in typical Sierra Leonean fashion; on the right was Maada Bio’s guard aged about 25 and a very muscular man in military fatigues!
Thirdly, I was quite amazed by the yapping and the howling that went on between the NPRC soldiers and Foday Sankoh. Charles Baio, Tom Nyuma and Karefa-Kargbo and a host of others could barely contain their excitement when they met with the RUF leader. At one point they were playfully fighting among themselves to be next to Foday Sankoh for a photograph. Sankoh responded in typical style at one time in my full hearing saying: Wey Charlie Baio? Mek im cam nar ya mek ahr deal wit am. It was just to nauseating for my liking.
He can’t be envied
We in Sierra Leone have become very selfish. We back bite each other; we tell deliberate untruths about each other; we set out purposively to spoil the chances of others because we ourselves do not stand to benefit or gain; we are not gracious towards each nor do we as a nation take pride in the achievements and accomplishments of one another; instead we seem to have been possessed by a virulent form of schadenfreude - a malicious delight in the misfortune of others. Sycophancy has become an art and we are not honest enough to tell the truth to one another; we will sing each other’s praise in their presence but the moment they turn their backs we embark on the most malicious untruths and gossips. It is most common among the so-called educated class. But we must change this attitude or we are doomed as a nation. I really do fear for my country. May the good Lord and Allah guide the president in all he does.
Better luck next time