Sierra Leone

Volume 2 No 6                                                             July 1996

There is a sinister attempt to discredit my modest efforts for peace in Sierra Leone


I have been accused, by a malicious group of people in my country, of being a rebel sympathiser. Why? Because I have succeeded in winning the inconstant trust and limited confidence of one of the main parties in the Sierra Leone civil war - the Revolutionary United Front (RUF).
  This fragile and innocuous relationship took a long time to build and has involved tremendous risk and sacrifice in time, resources and effort. I worked hard to gain it from the moment I realised that peace and harmony could only return to Sierra Leone by engaging in meaningful dialogue with the "other side".
  When thousands of demonstrators were brought out into the streets of Freetown, Bo, Kenema, and Makeni to chant the slogan "We want Peace", they must have meant "peace with the enemy" not with their friends and neighbours, unless they were being deceived by their leaders. I drew inspiration for my peace efforts from that.
  The purpose of the dialogue that I sought was to secure a means of encouraging the RUF in the direction of peaceful negotiations leading eventually to settlement of the civil war, with honour and reconciliation on all sides. 
  I have thus played my part honourably by doing no more than to respond to the call of duty to render public service to my country and people. I must also, from the outset, pay a glowing tribute to scores of equally, and even more, patriotic Sierra Leoneans whom I have been especially privileged to work with, and who have committed themselves wholly to procuring peace for all of us. A lot of them got involved a long time before me and are still persevering. I commend them for their spirit. 

As regular readers know only too well, I started this newsletter nearly two years ago at the height of the civil war in Sierra Leone. At that time I knew that enough was not being done to get to the root causes of the war and to present a reasoned and unemotional analysis of some of the events that were taking place behind the incidents of violence and destruction.
  Although attempts were being made by ordinary civilians in the country to contribute to the peace process, their efforts appeared uncoordinated partly because they did not get the support of the soldiers who were then in power and partly because of the lack of resources. It was also the first time that a catastrophe on this scale had faced the country and there were no precedents for dealing with it, other than external ones, to guide the country and its citizens.
  The only people who seemed to be making any headway, probably because they had the clout and resources to go with it, were foreigners and their NGOs. Indigenous Sierra Leoneans themselves did not appear to be making any worthwhile impact.
  I was also acutely aware of the dearth of information particularly among those who would be in a position to help towards finding a resolution to the war as it took its toll of indiscriminate death and destruction. The local press was habitually hamstrung by the delirious antipathy of the NPRC towards it. Journalists were being dragged to CID for daring to bring the real, as opposed to the censored, truth to the attention of the Sierra Leone public.
  The international community did not care what happened to the country. It was of no strategic importance to them. It was just another Kaplanesque manifestation of anarchy in some corner of dark Africa! (See FSL Vol. 1 No 1 &  Vol. 2 No 2)

False and malicious rumours
I cannot comprehend that because I took an independent personal initiative to contribute to the peaceful resolution of the conflict in my own country, compatriots in official circles, who have contributed absolutely nothing towards the process, are going around spreading false and malicious rumours about my role. It has been variously alleged that I, Ambrose Ganda - that's me in the picture - was "the mouth piece of the RUF", "the adviser of the RUF", "a sympathiser of the rebels", "the scribe for the RUF" etc. How anyone who has been reading Focus on Sierra Leone can come to that conclusion beggars belief.
  Loathe as I am to personalise issues in this newsletter - God knows how many times I have resisted the temptation! - I owe it to my subscribers and supporters to clear any lingering doubts about my self-assumed role as opinion leader and peace activist. This edition is, therefore, my fight back against malevolent official machinations within the Sierra Leonean body politic which started under the defunct NPRC regime and have continued to thrive insidiously under the so-called new order.

A vicious propaganda
The NPRC military government under which this deliberate deception commenced, had taken a dislike to my critical assessments of their misrule. (See State of Despair serialised in FSL Vol. 1 Nos 2, 3 & 5.) They also felt upstaged by civilians who appeared to be making headway on the peace front believing their successes were casting doubt on their commitment to resolve the crisis in Sierra Leone. One soldier reportedly commented that they could not allow civilians this accolade. Their coup de grace was literally handed to them when a letter was  allegedly intercepted, in which my name was mentioned in connection with a series of meetings that I held with representatives of the RUF in Abidjan (Ivory Coast) in November 1995. These meetings were reported fully and placed within the public domain. (See FSL Vol. 1 No 10 & Vol. 2 No 1.) The letter clearly said that I was not privy to any subsequent discussions which took place between the writer and the RUF.
  Nevertheless the NPRC Secretariat flashed news of my alleged collusion with the RUF on the Internet, and gave briefings to the Sierra Leone Press. Gullible netters and a less than candid section of the local press regurgitated the NPRC line. It led to serious misunderstanding and confusion about my role.
  I immediately posted a rebuttal on Internet and sent copies to editors of fourteen local newspapers. Three were courteous enough to reproduce my response. Two continued to repeat the innuendoes. The rest simply did not bother to publish my denial.
  This state of affairs has continued under the present civilian government. Ministers and civil servants visiting the UK have been telling their selected audiences that I am perceived by their government as an RUF supporter and that they do not wish to have any dealings with me. Contemptible though this is, I suspect that these political nobodies feel insecure in their new found positions of power and see anyone who is determined to render public service to the country as a threat to their political ambitions.
  I have yet to identify more than two people in the present Cabinet who contributed significantly in bringing us to the present position where they can now so complacently proclaim imminent peace for Sierra Leone. 
  Let me therefore, with modesty, recount my role in the peace effort. I am, naturally, bound to omit those issues whose confidentiality is a condition of my continuing to play the independent role that I have played till now.

The birth of Focus on Sierra Leone
In November 1994 following the intensification of the war, there were undisguised feelings of helplessness, abandonment and fatalism among ordinary Sierra Leoneans at home and abroad. I therefore decided to start a newsletter that focused exclusively on the search for peace, using my very moderate personal resources. I was convinced that by analysis and objective reporting of various issues about the conflict, I could contribute in small measure to the elimination of rumour and deliberate misinformation which were cumulatively fanning the flames of intransigence, hatred and mutual suspicion.
  I was also struck by the lack of realism in the country, spurred by the military authorities, that the RUF were not really to be taken seriously and that their leader Corporal Foday Sankoh did not exist. The extent and scale of the destruction convinced me that a sinister power, albeit disorganised, was behind the mayhem. 
  The complacency of the inhabitants of Freetown which had escaped the rigors of the war was another factor. I heard about people, including friends and relatives, from the towns and villages up country, being slaughtered and uprooted from their homes daily, as the war progressed from the South East, to the South West and later into the North. But life went on as normal in our Capital city. I myself, more than once, heard Freetonians on holiday in London comment that the incidence of the war was being exaggerated and that, in any case, it was just country people fighting among themselves. For a long time, the war was not even officially acknowledged as a civil war. People were led to believe that Sierra Leoneans were not involved.

Disagreement with the NPRC
  Focus on Sierra Leone was my way of making amends for supporting the coup of 29 April 1992 when a bunch of - I was to discover later -  illiterate, incompetent and deceitful soldiers took power just when every Sierra Leonean wanted desperately to get rid of the APC government.
  I endorsed the NPRC's coup on BBC African Service radio in the expectation that they would tackle the war more resolutely but, in any case, hand over to an interim civilian administration in eighteen months. I personally financed and, with some of my compatriots, organised two demonstrations in their support in front of the Sierra Leone High Commission in London. Mea Culpa!
  In less than a year after coming to power the NPRC's behaviour was almost indistinguishable from, if not worse than, the APC which they had overthrown. The war got worse; breaches of citizens' human rights were rampant. The regime became characterised by corruption, incompetence, arrogance and deceit.
  I was in the country when they executed 29 Sierra Leoneans, including a friend - the actor and dramatist Salami Coker - on a trumped up charge of attempting a coup. I resolved then that the NPRC could no longer continue to enjoy my support. Instead of working towards a peaceful or successful conclusion of the war, they had become one of the reasons for the war continuing.
  This was the genesis of the article State of Despair referred to above. When it first appeared in West Africa magazine (23 April-1 May 1994), most of the consignment for Sierra Leone was seized and burnt on arrival. I badly needed an independent vehicle to air my own opinion and that of anyone else who cared. Thus Focus on Sierra Leone was born.

First contact with International Alert
I had just published the first edition of Focus in November 1994 when I received a phone call from International Alert (IA) - the London-based conflict resolution NGO. They thought there was an urgent need for ordinary Sierra Leoneans to get involved in seeking a peaceful resolution of the civil war. They explained their role as facilitators who were trying to get the warring parties to talk to each other. They invited me to a series of briefings about the war (as they saw it) and to a showing of a video recording of the release of captured, or according to the RUF "rescued", Western and Sierra Leonean hostages. I had hours of discussion with Dr Adai Sebo, their special agent, after which I became enamoured by the desire to do all I could towards helping the peace process.
  I also knew that many NPRC ministers and officials at the London High Commission were regularly visiting IA's offices to be informed about developments on the peace front. I have continued to contact IA on vital issues to do with the peace process and they have always been helpful.

First contact with RUF
In April 1995, I got a call, out of the blue, at my office in London, from Alimamy Bakaar Sankoh who was then the chief spokesman and the Public Relations Officer of the RUF. I do not know how he obtained my office number because it did not appear in Focus.
  Sankoh (hereafter referred to as Bakaar to avoid being confused with the RUF leader) said that Focus was too hard on, and unfair to, the RUF. He said Corporal Foday Sankoh had instructed him to protest about the erroneous views I held about them. He claimed to knew about me and the role I had played for so many years during the APC regime, including my writings and many critical comments he heard me make on BBC radio. He thought I and others in the diaspora should get involved to facilitate a settlement.
  I rejected his charge of unfairness to the RUF but offered to present their views, for the sake of dialogue, if they would seriously consider a peaceful settlement of the war and, in the meantime, stop the slaughter of innocent defenceless citizens. He denied that they were responsible and assured me that "peace with honour" was their goal. Then he embarked on a heated denouncement of the presence of foreign troops and the deceitfulness of the NPRC soldiers.
  After our conversation, my office colleagues could hear me muttering to myself repeatedly "My God! I think we have got a breakthrough!"

RUF seeks help from credible Sierra Leonean elders
One Saturday afternoon in July 1995 Bakaar - the sole RUF person I knew but only by telephone - again contacted me, this time at my home. He desperately pleaded with me to go easy on them but expressed his appreciation for the publication of a letter written by Foreign Affairs spokesman Ibrahim Deen Jalloh, which gave the RUF's position on certain issues. (See FSL Vol. 1 No 7 and my analysis of that letter in FSL Vol. 1 No 8.)
  He said he rang specifically to enlist my help in contacting senior Sierra Leonean citizens whom I thought could be useful to play a mediatory role. I suggested Sir Banja Tejan-Sie - the former Head of State and Governor General who resides in London and the distinguished Dr John Karefa Smart in Washington DC. "But we do not have contact numbers for these people. Could you please give us their addresses?" he pleaded. I gave him their telephone numbers only, with a warning that he should not disclose how he got them. He rang and spoke to both men. I later admitted the fact about the telephone numbers to both Sir Banja and Dr Karefa Smart; in the case of the latter, in the presence of delegates at the Oslo Peace Conference in July 1995.
  Bakaar and I talked on two further occasions after which I learnt that he had broken away from the RUF to form his own political movement - the Peoples Democratic League (See FSL Vol. 2 Nos 2 & 5.)

Association with Omrie Golley
In August 1995, as a result of the modest credibility I had established in my contact with the RUF mainly through this newsletter, I was approached by a Sierra Leonean Mr Omrie Golley (Jr.), Director of the National Convention For Reconstruction and Development. He informed me that the RUF were in Abidjan (Ivory Coast). "You are doing a wonderful job for our country" he said "and I believe you can help to push this peace process through. These people seem to have a lot of confidence in you. Why don't you go, meet and talk with them and see how we Sierra Leoneans - as opposed to foreigners - can get involved in bringing peace to our country? If anyone can, you could be the one!"
  I told Omrie that after the expense of producing Focus, which is borne solely by me, I could not afford the resources to undertake the further role of an itinerant peace facilitator. And even if I wanted to, I had no annual leave left at work and would therefore require to take special leave, without pay. He offered to defray the entire cost of the trip.
  That was how I was able to meet and interview, in person for the first time, two of the RUF's top men - Mr Fayia Musa and Mr Philip Palmer. The actual encounter was facilitated by International Alert whose agents were also in Abidjan.
  That meeting was the prelude to a relationship of trust and mutual respect between myself and the RUF. Why anyone should wish to misconstrue this link baffles me. My account of that trip and the record of that interview were placed in the public domain in the series of articles entitled A Mission For Peace. (See FSL Vol. 1 No 10 & Vol. 2 No 1.)
  As a matter of courtesy, when I returned to London I contacted and visited the Commonwealth Secretariat where I briefed officials about my reading of the situation and how I felt progress could be made. I do not believe that they were impressed by my suggestions as they were already biased in favour of elections, come what may. But I did at least apprise them of my own candid assessment.

Who's to blame if I appear one-sided?
At my own expense I have maintained regular contact, by telephone, with the RUF wherever they have been, and whenever necessary. At the same time I tried often to reach the NPRC. I gratuitously sent each edition of Focus to senior NPRC officials, including the two former Chairmen, eight ministers and the NPRC Secretariat. I never received a single acknowledgement. In addition, 20 copies specifically requested by Military Headquarters at Cockerill were despatched. They promised to pay a subscription but never did. I have continued the practice of sending each edition to key members of the present [Kabbah] government.
  I occasionally contacted persons associated with NPRC officials and shared ideas about the best way for the warring parties to engage in quiet dialogue. None of my overtures were reciprocated. It became clear to me that I was becoming more one-sided. It worried me enough to often raise it with trusted compatriots, including my friends John Joseph Adewole, Fred Kamara, Emmanuel Moijueh Kaikai, members of the Sierra Leone Network for Peace and Development (see below) and the recently formed Association For Sierra Leoneans Abroad (ASLA).
  If I appeared one-sided in my peace initiatives it was not by design. But I could not therefore stop talking to and encouraging the RUF about the peace option simply because the other side - my governments of the day - pretend that I and others who are active on the peace front do not exist. I have kept my links with the RUF in the firm conviction that a peaceful resolution with honour on all sides is worth striving for. The RUF understand that and have more often, than not, kept their word and treated me with respect.

London Peace March; 
Sierra Leone Network For Peace and Development; 
Oslo Peace Conference
On Saturday 8 April 1995, members of the Sierra Leone Peace Forum, of which I was a founding member, committed to peaceful settlement, organised a march in the heart of London. It was the most successful co-operative effort ever by expatriate Sierra Leoneans. About 750 people attended. (See FSL Vol. 1 No 5.) The NPRC spared no effort in trying to sabotage that march but, happily, people did not yield to their intimidatory tactics.  I was the chief spokesperson at that march and no one who was present or heard what I said could conclude that I was a rebel sympathiser.
  Not long afterwards I was approached by an NGO - Conciliation Resources (CR) - with a view to identifying a group of committed Sierra Leoneans in the UK who might be interested in forming a supportive group to complement peace efforts inside Sierra Leone. After months of preparatory work members resolved to form themselves into The Sierra Leone Network For Peace and Development. The Network has jointly, with CR, run two peace workshops in Sierra Leone and recently submitted proposals for a Peace Commission. (See FSL Vol. 1 No 10; Vol. 2 No 4.)
  From 27 - 29 July 1995 I was a delegate at the Oslo Peace Conference, held in Norway, which was organised by the Sierra Leone-Norway Cooperation. We discussed the problems of peace and the options that were available to the government and the RUF. A resolution was adopted which prescribed the ways forward. (See FSL Vol. 1 No 9.)
  At that meeting three other delegates and myself were selected to represent conference at the forthcoming INEC Consultative Conference on the Electoral Process that was due to be held in Freetown from 15 - 17 August. In the end I did not go - a decision that I now bitterly regret - because my own sources warned me that my personal safety was at risk from certain military members of the NPRC who were not pleased at my opposition to their government. I opted on the side of caution - the idea of a dead hero has never fascinated me! - and stayed away. My other co-delegates Dr Christian Webber (Germany) Dr Columba Blango (London) and Mrs Renee Spring (nee Horton-Coker) attended the conference.

Contact with the Freetown-based UN Special Envoy 
When they returned to London, Columba and Renee told me that the UN Secretary-General's special envoy in Sierra Leone, Dr Berhanu Dinka wanted me to get in touch with him. I did so immediately and for nearly three months I talked on the phone with him about the possibilities of his meeting and talking with the RUF. He had spent over a year in Freetown and been rebuffed by them. They accused him, rather unfairly I thought, of being partisan and of having a cosy relationship with the authorities in Freetown. I remember explaining to Bakaar Sankoh that Dinka was an independent envoy, his territory was inviolate, and his independence and impartiality were not compromised simply because he was based in Freetown.
  I found Dinka an easy communicator. He told me rather excitedly that I could reverse all future calls to him and that my input was absolutely critical in his plans. I told him that I'd rather make the calls directly and eventually present him with an itemised bill. He agreed. I must have made at least 7 calls over the three months or so with an average duration of 20 minutes.
  During one of our conversations, in addition to telling me about his frustration at not being able to make physical contact with the RUF, he told me that he had received an anonymous letter at his office in which "Ambrose Ganda" had been suggested as a possible facilitator. It was not clear for whom. I believe he thought it might have come from the RUF but he was not sure. I was rather amused but he appeared to think that it pointed to a possible breakthrough.
  I promised to verify during my next contact with the RUF whether they were the authors and, if so, why they could not tell me in person during my previous conversations with them! My evaluation of it, then as now, was that it was a prank, just like many spurious anonymous scripts that were circulating in the country at that time, including one sent to the British High Commissioner and another to my brother, Archbishop Joseph Ganda, and many others. The RUF denied authorship of the note. Significantly, I did not know at this time that a rift had developed between Bakaar Sankoh and the rest of the RUF. (See FSL Vol. 2 No 2.)
  Dr Dinka had also told me a few confidential facts which would prove helpful in my next contact with the RUF. I pleaded with Bakaar, who was now residing in Accra (Ghana), that it was in the RUF's interest to meet, or at least talk, with Dinka. He said they would not talk to him but would be prepared to meet the UN Ambassador in Ivory Coast instead, if travel documents were provided for them. I relayed this to Dinka who was adamant that the RUF must talk to him first, as the UN Secretary General's envoy specifically assigned to the resolution of the crisis in the country, or else he foresaw that they would "continue to have serious difficulties". I promised to work towards a rapprochement.

Fiasco in Abidjan
In December 1995, news came that an RUF Foreign Affairs delegation was in Abidjan to meet the OAU. I contacted Mr Golley and told him of the possibility for us Sierra Leoneans to make our mark on the peace process and that we should be in a state of readiness to proceed and meet the delegation. I shared with him some of the information from Dinka. But without letting me know, he contacted Dinka and they both arranged to proceed to Abidjan in the hope of meeting the RUF. It backfired because as word got around that Dinka was in the Ivorian capital, the RUF were spirited away by International Alert - their minders - to a secret location on the outskirts of the city.

"Talk to Dinka for me" said IA's Secretary-General.
That evening, by a strange coincidence, I was preparing to travel to Dakar (Senegal) for a capacity-building peace workshop, organised and run by International Alert (IA).
  I received a phone call from Dr Kumar Rupesinghe, the Secretary-General of IA. He told me that Dinka had arrived in Abidjan, ostensibly, to see the RUF but was refusing to talk to IA. Kumar said he was equally resolute that the UN envoy would be denied access. He contacted me because he had heard that I was in regular touch with Dinka and thought that I might be able to influence him. He gave me Dinka's contact number at an Abidjan hotel and kindly asked me to ring, at IA's expense, and persuade him to first meet and talk with IA. "We have struggled to bring these people out here to meet the OAU and he must talk to us if he wishes to see them" he concluded.
  I spoke to Dr Dinka for almost forty minutes and expressed my dismay at his decision, without a cursory reference to me, to travel to meet the RUF which we had agreed I was to try and facilitate. I believe I succeeded in persuading him to accept the need to talk to IA's Secretary General.
  Early the next morning, just before I left home for the airport, Kumar, who had now arrived at his own hotel in Abidjan, rang to check whether I had contacted Dinka. I assured him that I had and that Dinka would after all be prepared, though begrudgingly, to talk to him. I believe they met and talked in the end. Dinka also had  his meeting with the RUF delegation but only after it had met with OAU officials.
  Dr Dinka and I finally met, for the first and only time in person, at the Yamoussoukro peace talks in March this year. I found him a pleasant and genuine emissary for peace in Sierra Leone. He had been rather impulsive in acting the way he did. We have not been in touch since that time. I have never claimed the cost of my telephone calls.
  The peace workshop in Dakar was attended by a delegation from Sierra Leone comprising members of the National Coalition Committee for Peace (NCCP) and included Messrs Victor Reider (General Secretary), Foday Fornah, Davidson Kuyateh and Ms Daisy Bona JP., who heads the Commission of Women and Youth which looks after displaced women and children. Our meeting was fortuitous because it gave me a golden opportunity to acquaint my compatriots of my activities and, at the same time, learn from them the correct account of the situation and mood of the country. In particular, their own thinking on how we could cooperate to forge peace initiatives based on the recognition that it was vital for ordinary civilian men and women to assume ownership and control of the peace process.

My opposition to the last elections
In opposition to elections before peace, I supported peace before elections and argued this point, as most readers will appreciate, forcefully before, during and after the elections. (See FSL Vol. 1 Nos 6, 7 & 10; Vol. 2 No 2.)
  My stand tragically coincided with that of the RUF and the NPRC both of whom had their own selfish reasons for not wanting the elections. The position of those like me who wanted peace before elections was hijacked and deliberately neutered by NPRC soldiers who wanted to use it as an opportunity for staying in power. Thus our further demand that the soldiers should hand over to an interim government of national unity, in order to save us from bitter internecine political rivalry that could deflect the national focus away from the peace objective, was blatantly ignored. The politicians, too, did not like it as prospects of the sweets of political office beckoned at them.
  Just before those elections a coup took place on Tuesday 16 January and a new Chairman and Head of State, Brigadier Julius Maada Bio took over. (See FSL Vol. 2 No 1.) His sister, Agnes, is a senior member of the RUF delegation which had, in the meantime, left Abidjan and returned to their base in Danane. I kept in regular touch, talking alternatively to Mr Fayia Musa and Dr Mohammed Barrie.

A message for Chairman Bio 
On Monday 29 February 1996, not having talked to the RUF for about two weeks and worried about the increase in the level of violence in various parts of the country as elections day approached, I rang Danane to talk to Fayia Musa.
  I was not prepared for what was to hit me. "Ambrose" he said "I am glad you have called. We were trying to reach you with a very important piece of information". I fished around for a pen but could not, in my excitement, see the one lying right ahead of me.
  I never wrote down what he said but, luckily, I was able to remember every word of what he said to me. "The RUF War Council" he continued "met yesterday and decided that they are prepared unconditionally for peace talks to bring the war to an end. We insist only that the forthcoming elections be postponed. We have tried to reach Chairman Maada Bio without luck. Could you please convey this fact to him. Could you also kindly ring Robin White at the BBC and ask him to ring us for an interview. We would also want you to inform the Commonwealth Secretariat." Then he passed the phone to Agnes Deen Jalloh (nee Bio) who gave me a personal message for her brother. 
  I was confused and did not know where to start. I needed Chairman Bio's number urgently. So I rang a contact at the Sierra Leone High Commission who said he did not know but he gave me four numbers including ousted Captain Strasser's old number which was dead when I dialled it. Then I tried Mr John Benjamin (Secretary General of the NPRC). To my sheer relief he was there. I told him that I had received a personal message for the new Head of State from the RUF offering to talk peace if the elections could be postponed but that I wished to personally convey this message to Maada myself. Benjamin was disarmingly luke-warm about it but I was so emotionally charged that the pain of his snobbery did not make a significant impression with me. He said the Chairman was not there but that he will tell him when he came back. It was not clear from what he said whether Bio was out of his office or the country.

Captain Abdul Kamara to the rescue
In my desperation, I rang the numbers of the other NPRC members - Lt Colonels Nyuma and Baio. The phones rang but no one was responding. Suddenly, I remembered that only two weeks before, I had spoken to (retired) Captain Abdul Kamara, the PRO of the NPRC until his resignation just before the elections. The occasion then was when the NPRC secretariat put out on Internet and the local Press the lie that I was an RUF supporter. He had reassured me of his, and most people's, appreciation of what I was trying to do and exhorted me to carry on regardless.
  So, with confidence, I rang him and told him what it was all about. With military precision he set about to link me up with Bio. Captain Kamara's response is probably the single most important gesture that has helped to restore my faith in the Sierra Leonean.
  He told me that the Chairman had gone to Nigeria that morning but he thought he was already back that afternoon. He asked for my number, then told me to hang up, and promised to let the Chairman know immediately that I had an important message for him. Less than five minutes later, he rang back to say that Chairman Bio was "there now waiting". I dialled the special number he gave me and Bio personally took the call.
  We spoke for about fifteen, maybe twenty minutes during which I relayed the RUF's message. We discussed briefly the difficulties with the new offer. He was frank with his comments and his points were valid and reasonable. Without breaching the confidentiality of the conversation, I can report that he did say he did not want to appear stupid in front of the whole world having just assured the diplomatic community at a Press conference, following his take over, that his government would adhere to the time table for the democratisation process. He felt constrained therefore to renege on that. He said the RUF had to do more than just ask for a postponement of the elections but the ball was in their court. The RUF had been overtaken by events. He asked me to relay these and other points back to them.
  Before hanging up, I reminded the Chairman that it was important that we all did whatever was humanly possible to end the war. I reminded him that we were both victims of the war - his family home and home town, just like mine later, had been destroyed and our families and friends had been displaced. I then gave him his sister's message. He asked for my number and said he would keep in touch. He never did after that!

Further tasks accomplished
Now that I had conveyed the RUF's message to the Chairman, I immediately contacted the Focus on Africa desk at Bush House in order to talk to Robin White whom Fayia Musa had specifically asked me to contact. By a stroke of luck, it was Josephine Hazely - a Sierra Leonean broadcaster and presenter - who took my call. Josephine told me that Robin was away from the office. I told her what it was about. She said it was "sometimes difficult to get that RUF number". Could I, she suggested, give the interview on the air myself? I gave an emphatic NO! I explained that I was not a member of the RUF or their representative. I was merely a conduit. The RUF had their own spokesperson and they, rather than I, should be the harbinger of this potentially good news for Sierra Leone. We agreed in the end that should they not be able to contact the RUF I would be on stand-by to be interviewed on what I had been told.
  In the event my intervention was not necessary because they were able to reach the RUF and the broadcast went out that afternoon to my quiet relief and delight. What if, I mused to myself, the RUF changed their mind after all my efforts? I would certainly be left looking like a fool.
  As requested I also contacted the Commonwealth Secretariat to relay the news to Dr Moses Anafu, Assistant Director (Political Affairs Division), who interrupted a meeting he was attending that morning to take my call. He expressed the hope that it might just be the breakthrough that everyone was hoping for, although he was quite irreverent, almost to the point of being dismissive, about the RUF's insistence on postponing the elections. The Secretariat had put a lot of its time and resources into the exercise and were not keen to see it being deferred yet again.

The RUF declares a cease fire
The next day, Tuesday, I wanted to know the reaction, on the ground in Sierra Leone, to the announcement of the RUF's statement the day before. My aim was to see whether there was any added information that I could convey to Fayia Musa, by way of feedback, which he could usefully put to the RUF leader and their War Council. I telephoned two popular and established Trade Union leaders and a leading figure in the peace movement - all in Freetown - for their assessment. I was told by each of them, independently, that it had been the best piece of news that Sierra Leoneans had heard for a long while but that the issue of the elections was rather going to be extremely difficult. It was too late in the day, they said. Two of them reminded me that the RUF had dashed people's hopes and expectations on many occasions before and everybody was naturally sceptical about their change of heart. The RUF needed to demonstrate a more positive and realistic show of its intentions. I asked if they had any idea what that might entail. One of my conversants then mentioned a cease fire. "Let them demonstrate they really want peace. Let them declare a cease fire, be it for one day, one week, one month - just something to give our people hope".
  That day, I rang Fayia Musa and conveyed these reactions to him. He promised to "raise it with the Pa and the War Council". But he did not ring me back to tell me what, if anything, they decided. All I know is that when I tuned my radio to listen to Focus on Africa that afternoon, news of an RUF unilateral declaration of a two-week cease fire was headline news. I felt quietly satisfied.
  As far as I know, it is the same cease fire that was later extended to two months and which implicitly continues to be in operation despite reports of its frequent breach.
  I had spent the good part of 48 hours on the phone, at home, away from work, trying to get an aspect of the peace process on the move. It cost me a bomb on the telephone but I shall not be asking Sierra Leone government ministers for reimbursement!

Yamoussoukro 1, 2 and Summit meeting
One Friday afternoon an NGO representative I met in London who had just travelled to Freetown called me from there to enquire rather pointedly whether I was going to Abidjan. "For what?" I asked. "I thought you knew all about this peace business. Don't you know there is a peace meeting taking place between the RUF and the NPRC in Ivory Coast?" came the repartee. "No" said I, with a rather deflated ego.
  I did not know about this first meeting between the RUF and the NPRC and I felt rather let down by the RUF - a point I made to Fayia Musa which, he later explained, was due to a misunderstanding. They were the first exploratory talks between both sides which, as we know, were adjourned for the elections. When they resumed the decision was taken for both Bio and Sankoh to meet. 
  The incident proved conclusively the vulnerability of "self-appointed" independent peace brokers like me to being marginalised on the grand occasions. People are quite mercenary and exploitative even in the delicate and humane process of peace making. The saying "monkey work, baboon eat" affords a fitting description. As a result, I vowed to keep a discreet ear on the ground to pick up the slightest indication as to when the two leaders would meet. I did not have to wait long for it.
  On a Thursday afternoon Omrie Golley rang to tell me, agitatedly, "I think we should be getting ready to go to Abidjan. Foday Sankoh is arriving from the bush on Friday and we must be there, come what may". I protested - prophetically as it was to turn out - that because we had not been invited by any of the parties we might be seen as intruders. But Omrie insisted that we had played a critical role up to that point and should not therefore leave it to others to determine our own agenda. He undertook, as before, to foot the entire cost of travel.
  We arrived in Abidjan without any knowledge of the programme of events relating to the summit meeting. Not even my friends at International Alert gave me a hint!
  The details of that event, including my arrival, and our hasty departure for Yamoussoukro were reported in FSL Vol. 2 No 3. One reason I was keen to be there was to investigate, at first hand, information that I had received from a usually reliable source that there was a kind of truce between the RUF and the NPRC to frustrate the forthcoming elections. Although I did not support elections before peace, I was not prepared to countenance any attempt to frustrate the popular will once the decision to go ahead had been taken. If the information was true then I would try to dissuade the leadership of the RUF - the only people whom I had access to - from the idea. In fact I was told that it was not true although there were suggestions that elements on both sides might have entertained it.

Humiliation at Yamoussoukro
I and my colleagues Omrie Golley, Osman Yansanneh - a personal assistant to ex-President Momoh from Conakry, Lans Gberrie an independent local journalist of Expo Times, were humiliated at those talks. During what was supposed to be a meeting to get to know each other, we were asked by Lt Col Charles Baio to leave the room because we were not members of any of the official delegations.
  As far as we knew, this session was neither plenary, official or private. It was billed as a get-together while Bio and Sankoh were locked away in private discussions. We had been led to believe that we were welcome. Baio was only trying to be a shenanigan.
  Golley refused to leave the room and protested that no one had a right - certainly not petty despotic soldiers - to deprive Sierra Leoneans of participating in the peace process. He pointed at the OAU's representative, also in the room, and asked what better right she had more than us Sierra Leoneans who had sacrificed our time and money to be there to lend our support to the process.
  I intervened to persuade my colleagues to leave the room if in fact our presence was perceived as an impediment to peace; that we should not be seen as a stumbling block to these people arriving at an agreement. I reminded everyone in the room that peace was the business of every Sierra Leonean including those of us who could afford to be present. To exclude us, regardless of our travails, just because we were not part of an official calvacade was not the way towards lasting peace. With that, we left the room.
  Then the unthinkable happened. To our pleasant surprise - which did a lot to reflate our by now deflated ego - the entire RUF delegation left the room and followed right behind us. But my pleasure was short lived because it suddenly dawned on me that this might be Charles Baio's way of trying to establish that we were there as RUF sympathisers, considering he had earlier specifically asked Fayia Musa to identify the members of the RUF delegation, after which he had asked "the rest" to leave the room.
  I therefore quickly admonished the RUF delegation to return to the room and continue their "meeting together" while we waited outside, lest their gesture of disapproval of our treatment be misconstrued by these mischief makers as confirmation of our alleged "link" with the RUF.
  None of the civilian members of the Sierra Leone delegation offered a word in our support. We were not surprised. Their soldier fellow delegates - an ill mannered and loutish bunch - had no respect for any of them. They knew it.
  Forty minutes later Foday Sankoh and Maada Bio emerged from the room where they had been holding their private discussions and we all joined in the razzle-dazzle.

Challobah to the rescue
The next morning we discovered that the infantile antics of Charles Baio and his friends had clearly embarrassed at least one civilian member of the delegation - the Foreign Minister at the time, Mr Melvin Challobah. He invited the four of us to meet four of the NPRC soldiers - Baio, Nyuma, Karefa-Kargbo, and Taqui - in his hotel room. After nearly two hours of heated exchanges we managed to bury our differences, shook hands and dispersed. We had threatened to depart Yamoussoukro that day but Challobah persuaded us to stay for the remainder of the summit.
  When Foday Sankoh was told about the incident he called us to his lobby and personally apologised for the behaviour of the NPRC brats. He protested that had he been made aware of the incident while he was having his private talks with Maada Bio, he would have walked away because he sincerely believed that peace had to be inclusive and must involve citizens of the country, especially those who could afford to be there, whether invited or not.

My interview with Foday Sankoh
When Maada Bio left, Foday Sankoh stayed behind and moved to the capital, Abidjan. As I had an extra four days before my return to London, I visited him and his delegation twice and managed on the third day to record a video interview with him on how he saw the peace process and the future evolution of Sierra Leone. I was the last of three others, including Reuters and France Inter, waiting to interview him. I was also able to have a tête à tête with other members of the RUF delegation. I left fully convinced that the RUF was sincere about peace but like all fighting armies they were extremely keen about issues like, what was in it for them? Where would a settlement leave them after 5 years of fighting? What would be their role, if any, in governance? How could they guarantee their own personal security among a hostile civilian population? How would they assuage their combatants? Above all, I detected a patent lack of trust and respect for the evolving new order under President-elect Tejan Kabbah. I knew that these and many other issues would have to be addressed before lasting peace could be maintained in Sierra Leone. There are no short cuts.
  Upon my return to London, in line with my avowed policy of keeping the public informed, I publicly advertised (FSL Vol. 2 No 3) and showed the video interview with Sankoh to a cross-sectional audience. (See FSL Vol. 2 No 5.)

Me and the new civilian order
When I heard that President Kabbah was due to visit Yamoussoukro for his first meeting with Corporal Sankoh, I was initially tempted to travel there as I did for the Bio summit. I tried to contact the President but when I could not reach him I left a specific message of assurance that, if he travelled to Abidjan and wished to avail of my services in connection with the peace process, I would try to be there and be willing to play any role that he and the others thought that I might usefully play.
  The summit meeting was postponed for another two weeks. When it took place eventually, I did not bother to attend even though Golley put the usual facilities at my disposal. As no approaches had been made to me by the new civilian administration, I was not going to risk another humiliation at the hands of more or less the same bureaucrats who, last time, sat behind the soldiers when I was publicly snubbed. Bureaucrats who, I have begun ominously to detect, are becoming officious, more concerned with their own self-importance and indispensability, and believe they know everything.
  Luckily, while the summit meeting was taking place I accepted an invitation to attend the Africa Peace Observatory seminar in Dakar (Senegal). I kept in touch with developments in Abidjan and spoke to Foday Sankoh on two occasions to enquire about the state of progress in the talks. He bellowed back at me down the line - at my own expense! - "Look man, you should be here to help this process along". I pleaded impecuniousness. "Brah" he said "I understand".

More recently, when I learned about the breakdown in the current round of peace talks (see FSL Vol. 2 No 5) I was tempted to go to Abidjan to find out what, if anything, one could do to help resolve the impasse. But I was advised rather strongly this time by those near and dear to me that I should let things settle down as I was in a no-win situation while these rumours about my role were flying all over the place.
  The argument which sounded compelling at the time went like this: If I went to Abidjan and (say) in concert with others a kind of accommodation came about to break the impasse, my distracters would say that they were right about my links with the RUF; similarly if, as some passionately believe, "the RUF remained adamant" they would still blame people like me for "encouraging these people".
   Although I agreed with it at the time, with hindsight, maybe I should not have allowed myself to be paralysed into inaction and lose sight of my main objective.
  Now that the true facts of my involvement have been put to the Sierra Leone public I will continue - official delegate or not - to deploy whatever energy and resources I can garner in the cause of that objective - the peaceful resolution of the conflict in Sierra Leone.

I will not be intimidated
That these doubts persist about my role is hurtful and I partly blame the new civilian government for it. With all that they know, their silence is less than helpful. As I said earlier, the allegations have been repeated by their visiting ministers and, I am also told, by the some officials of their Party - the SLPP.
  I am no stranger to President Kabbah and his team of peace negotiators. More than most people, they know every bit about my consistent role not just over this war but in over twenty five years of consummate campaigning for probity, accountability and good governance in Sierra Leone. Yes, I have been a rebel against successive corrupt and repressive APC governments. I opposed them with relish. But in opposing them I used the pen in preference to the sword and it worked. There is no reason for me to want to change that strategy now and support the violence of warfare!
  The present government should therefore entertain no doubts whatsoever that, should they deviate by deed or omission from the legitimate expectations of the electorate of Sierra Leone, they will get the same denouncement that greeted the aberrant ways of their APC and NPRC predecessors. By the same token they are assured of my commendation as long as they stick to the correct national agenda. But I will not be intimidated.
  When last August I asked Philip Palmer and Fayia Musa of the RUF why they chose to take up arms to fight their cause, Palmer reminded me rather pointedly: "You used to send your newsletters to our campuses in the 70s and 80s when we were students. I remember SLAM (Sierra Leone Alliance Movement) and I still have some old copies! We students agreed with what you wrote about corruption and repression under the APC administration. But you see, whereas you were content with just writing and exposing these people we decided to do something about it. We took up arms to reclaim our rights which were being trampled on by Siaka Stevens and the APC. That's the difference between you and us". We agreed to disagree over our respective methods of redress.

Its back to work ...again
  At the end of January this year, the encroachment on my time and the pressure on my job resulting from my forays and excursions on the peace front had reached the point where I had to make a difficult choice: to commit myself, full time, to the peace process or concentrate on my job in which my performance was being adversely affected.
  On 1 February this year, I took six months's special leave, without pay, from my office so that I could devote my time and energy exclusively to the peace process, not forgetting the monthly production of this newsletter - itself a major full time project. I made my availability known to as many people involved in the process, some in (NPRC) government and others including key persons in at least two of the major political parties. If they did not take my offer at that time I can not see any sense in them making slanderous allegations against me.
  I however must singularly mention the implicit recognition given to me by the leader of the National Unity Party, Dr John Karimu who, about a month prior to the last elections, telephoned me from Freetown one morning to inform me, on behalf of his Party, that he was nominating me for membership of a National Peace Commission which they were contemplating setting up, if they won the elections. I remember telling John that I could not make an undertaking to a political party, for fear of compromising my independence, but that if they won the elections and became the government and still felt that I was a worthy acolyte for peace, then I would be more than happy to accept the role.

It was Alexander Pope who said "Blessed is the man who never expects, for he shall not be disappointed". I am not disappointed for my own sake. The experiences I have recounted here have been absorbing, at times gruelling but rewarding and self-fulfilling. But I am angry for the sake of my country and it grieves me.
  I return to work in October having recently asked for an extension so that I can tail off some outstanding assignments. One's resources are never finite and I am currently struggling to meet my own private commitments and responsibilities like any one else.
  It would have been nice to see real peace break out during this period. But there has been no diminution in my personal commitment to the peace process. My modest contribution to the search for a durable and just settlement, with honour on all sides, will continue with even greater intensity. How much more intense might that be if only more men and women of honour in our country stood up to be counted! 
  As long as we allow the spoilers in our midst - the real rebels against peace in Sierra Leone - to hold sway, our country will forever remain in the back woods of retardation to which both the disfiguration of our towns and villages and the uglification of our once beautiful landscape so eloquently testify.

Ambrose Ganda

***** There is no significant development on the peace front to report. The impasse reported in the last edition still remains *****

June - July


While there has a been a dramatic drop in the level of violence, especially in the number of deaths and mutilations, many towns and villages up and down the country are still being attacked during the current cease fire. Complacency in government circles is leading to a false sense of security.

***** Over 300 rebels were reported to have attacked a quartet of villages in the North - Royanka, Mathoir, Mafonkay and Rokimbi. They abducted a number of women and children  and took away food supplies. No deaths were reported.
***** Moyamba District is reported to be a hotbed of increased rebel activity. Attacks recently took place in Yoyema and Kwelu.

***** More attacks took place in the Bo District. At Yamandu on the Bo-Kenema highway 5 villagers were killed in one raid. In the same area last year, a group of women peace makers walked into a trap and 17 of them were killed.


A totally misleading propaganda plug for Executive Outcomes (EO) was recently screened on BBC television during prime time viewing on the 9 o'clock evening news. The mercenaries were presented as a humane, good samaritan force which was there to help their "brother Africans" settle their quarrel. The dogs of war were credited for "bringing the war to an end in Sierra Leone and for bringing peace back to this west African country that has been plagued by five years of civil strife". A clip was shown of so-called "refugees streaming back" across some border into Sierra Leone, now that peace had come. President Tejan Kabbah (we believe) unsuspectingly added credence to this deliberate fabrication with an endorsement of the assumed role that EO had played. That very week armed men were attacking villages in the Bo, Moyamba and Tonkolili Districts (see Chronicle above). Most people who watched the program were left in the sure belief that the war was now over. [Tell that to the one and a quarter or so million citizens, holed up in choking towns and villages, who dare not take to the highways and return to rebuild their lives!] The programme also claimed that a final peace agreement was expected to be signed by that week. [If anyone has heard of any signed peace agreement, please let this paper know!]

The local press has been incensed by the fact that with all the summits taking place in West Africa, not one has the war in Sierra Leone been featured at. The Eastern Post plaintively wrote in its editorial: "African leaders [including our own] have been discussing conflict in Rwanda, Burundi, Somalia, Liberia, etc. Who chose the scale of preference? Why is Sierra Leone left out (of the agenda)? Our war is like any other war and if the international community particularly Africa do not treat it seriously, we shall end up in unwanted floating canoes on the west coast".

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has been accused by the civilian government of favouring the RUF in its distribution of humanitarian aid. Further allegations claimed that ICRC was gun running for the RUF. A flabbergasted ICRC spokesman described allegations as ridiculous and untrue. Government recently asked ICRC to suspend the delivery of humanitarian aid to rebel territory but operations were resumed after protestations. The further ban on cross-border operations has not been lifted.

NEWS **** NEWS **** NEWS **** NEWS ****  NEWS **** NEWS

The NPRC's ban on all public officials who appeared before the Laura Marcus-Jones Commission in 1992 has been revoked by government on the recommendation of West Indian Mr Justice L U Cross. The government has also promised to return nearly 140 million leones and 60 properties to about 30 civil servants from whom they were seized by the former NPRC government. [Do they mean there was never any corruption in Sierra Leone?]

Syl Cheney-Coker, the Sierra Leonean poet and novelist, was declared joint winner in the 1996 Commonwealth Short Story Competition for his entry The Concert.

The government is reported to have unearthed a racket that has cost the Treasury almost half billion Leones, siphoned out of pension and other treasury funds over the last 15 months. Four thousand cheques belonging to fictitious pensioners were cashed in the process. 

..... A blessing
The curse of the diamonds continues tease Sierra Leone. First a 243 carat extremely valuable diamond was discovered in Kono; the following week a 500 carat diamond of less lustre was unearthed. The new government congratulated itself for being open to the public about the finds but reserved the best praise for the owner who decided to use legal channels to declare and sell his diamonds rather than go through illicit channels.

...... A curse, as illicit mining sinks KONO
Kono is sinking - very fast - beneath its own weight! Reports say the discovery of the latest crop of diamonds is attracting a flood of fortune hunters to the district. Denied access to the rich mining plots, illicit miners are digging and tunnelling under houses in towns and villages. Koidu Town is said to be the worst affected - mining was taking place right in front of the police station. In nearby Yengema Town, where expatriate staff used to lived in opulent surroundings, the subsoil has been turned inside out beneath disused swimming pools and derelict staff quarters.

The Attorney General and Minister of Justice, Mr Solomon E Berewa, has decreed that Sierra Leoneans at home and abroad should file any complaints they have against the NPRC [but why not APC?] with the Commission for National Unity & Reconciliation - [wait for it] - in 10 days. The operative dates were July 1 - 10. [Don't complain - at least you know now!]

The incidence of armed robberies in the cities, and on highways, especially Freetown, is reported to have reached crisis proportion. It is one of the legacies bequeathed to the 100 day-old civilian government. Three new operational police zones have been created for the city. [But who patrols the highways if, as it is being claimed, peace has now come?]

At least 7 people have been killed and 30 seriously injured following one of the most violent storms to hit the capital. Flooding occurred after 2 days of torrential downpour. Nearly 20,000 displaced people were, again, displaced.

Edison Yongai, editor of Point, one of at least 5 new local newspapers launched since the return of civilian rule, has been taken into custody at CID for publishing allegations of corruption against 5 Ministers. [Question: If the story is not true why won't the "aggrieved" ministers take action in court to clear their names? Surely there are libel laws at their disposal! What has it got to do with the police or the government?] (More on this and other stories here in the next issue of FOCUS.)

For the fifth year running, Sierra Leone is still firmly embedded at the bottom of the league in the UNDP's Human Development Index. The 1996 report says out of 174 countries Sierra Leone was placed 173, coming just above Niger.



The editor and proprietor of this newsletter is the victim of a blatant lie. It is important that he and many others who are working for peace in Sierra Leone should do so in the fullest assurance that the public continues to trust and support them, and they also enjoy its confidence. To have a hanging cloud of doubt over their motives cannot be right in any circumstance. That is why this edition of Focus has been dedicated to this long discourse about one person's activities. Many more peace activists have been vilified without a chance to reply. They should take solace and comfort from this narration.
  Sierra Leoneans must learn to accept that in war, any one of the warring factions is bound to regard the other as the enemy. Whether we like it or not the RUF regards the government of whichever hue as the enemy, and the government likewise. That the government is elected does not make one iota of a difference on the battle field. Therefore, from the moment when the parties opted for peace, the process for achieving that objective no longer remained the sole prerogative of both or any one party - Government or RUF.
  It is wrong, even deceitful, to pretend that government alone has all the solutions that we need for securing peace. By the very fact that it is party to the conflict, even though we all agree it did not start the war, the government is seriously handicapped right from the beginning. It cannot therefore be judge and jury in its own case. That is the raison d'etre of mediators, negotiators, conciliators, facilitators, etc.
  Encouragement must therefore be given to initiatives emanating from outside government, its nominees or agents. Capable and respectable individuals who are willing to offer their services, should be encouraged to do their bit to push the process along. Being independent they can exercise a freedom of action without being partisan; because their services are gratuitous, they do not have to be a burden on the State or the taxpayer; and being true patriots, they have a vested interest in securing peace for their own people without the desire for gain. We must not vilify such men and women. They make the difference between peace and continuing warfare.

Flashback ....

The National Psyche (Focus Vol. 1 No 8)

..... 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 so-called 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."