Sierra Leone

Volume 2 No 7                                                            August 1996

Editorial

EXTERNAL PRESSURE AND CONSTITUTIONAL NICETIES MUST NOT FRUSTRATE A POLITICAL SETTLEMENT

There has been no progress on the peace front since talks broke down last May. Apart from informal and unmomentous contacts between the Ministry of External Affairs in Freetown and the RUF in Abidjan (Ivory Coast) nothing substantial has happened in the interim to give rise to optimism. It will be recalled that impasse was reached over two issues: (a) the removal of foreign troops, especially the mercenary Executive Outcomes, which was demanded by the RUF as a condition for their own disarmament and rejected by the government; and (b) the RUF's demand that they should be involved in mechanisms for control and monitoring of the national budget and the debt structure, which the government could not concede because it claimed that there were already scrupulous monitoring procedures in place. 
  We argued in Focus Vol 2 No 5 that there were no compelling reasons why these differences could not be bridged considering what was at stake. It is therefore very disappointing that a settlement has not been possible. We are back almost where we were two months ago as the violence has erupted once again, leading to the deaths of over hundred innocent civilians in the last week of August alone. It follows months of complacency during which, without a formal agreement to end the war and with violence still continuing, though on a lesser scale than before, the deliberate impression was being created in official and semi-official circles, at home and abroad, that things were returning to normality in the country. For example, displaced people were being allowed to return to their homes ahead of a peace deal; at various international conferences on conflicts in African countries, Sierra Leone's civil war did not feature on the agenda presumably because it was represented as having solved its own war or that it no longer posed a serious threat to the country.
  It appears also that, in collusion with certain NGOs, representation was being made abroad for the release of `promised' funds through premature claims that the war was almost over. But even though we are all eager to see an end to this war, the worst thing that any one can do is to engage in futile propaganda to hide the danger that continues to face Sierra Leone. There has been no agreement; the war has not ended; peace talks have not resumed since they broke down two months ago. Those are the bare facts.
  Corporal Foday Sankoh and his RUF delegation have spent nearly six months in Ivory Coast. What could they have been doing all this time if not trying to find a way out of the deadlock? Are they there on holiday? We do not think so but it would have been extremely helpful if, periodically, they gave some indication of alternative solutions they may be contemplating. The government, too, should have matched the RUF's presence with a dedicated negotiating team, permanently sited in Abidjan until a breakthrough is achieved. The prolonged silence of both sides over progress is frustrating Sierra Leoneans at home and abroad.
  Following the most recent skirmishes President Kabbah's government expressed its grave concern at the increasing number of cease fire violations. Foday Sankoh expressed his irritation on BBC Focus on Africa over the lack of progress and denied that his forces had anything to do with the recent violence. To this editor he further complained about "the deliberate time wasting by your government". This is the inevitable consequence of adopting a cease fire without putting a monitoring and enforcement mechanism into place. Under the terms of the draft Peace Accord (See FSL Vol 2 No 5), a Joint Monitoring Group was to be set up for this purpose. Why can't it be implemented now? Is it too late to demand that this be done now? Leaving it to chance, as in our case, gives cause for accusation and counter accusation by one side against the other. 
  This still does not answer why a settlement has been so difficult to come by. On the basis of our own research, we offer the following two caveats mainly to the government:

  • Sierra Leone should be careful not get enmeshed in the ideological politics of the super powers. We are worried by information, from an independent source, that outside pressure is preventing a political settlement. It has been claimed that pressure is being put on the Kabbah government - which is currently held in international circles as a rare example, hence a precedent, for `civilised' democratic elections for other troubled areas in Africa to emulate - not to allow a group of armed bandits to negotiate themselves into positions of power. As an avowed champion of democratic governance, Focus agrees with this rather emotive proposition, in principle. But how many times has the West, for example, not found it expedient to jettison cherished `principles' for pragmatic solutions to some of its most notorious and seemingly intractable political problems? Sierra Leoneans want a definite end to all the fighting, killing and destruction. They are not hankering after a water-tight legal settlement as much as a political expedient. It may be that a political `arrangement' with power sharing at the top of the agenda - a suggestion we put forward last year in FSL Vol 1 No 8 - is the only way out, considering we have not been able `to whip the RUF into surrender' despite the government's frequent promise of "decisive action against them". If today a British Prime Minister is prepared to concede, in principle, participation by the IRA - if it handed in its weapons - in discussions that could lead eventually to a political settlement that does not rule out power sharing in the Province of Northern Ireland, why should it be wrong for Sierra Leoneans to seek a settlement of their local problem in a similar fashion? We therefore strongly urge the government's negotiators to resist these extraneous hypocritical pressures and negotiate an honourable and sensible political settlement. If people want to apply this principle by all means, let them try it somewhere else.
  • We also understand that another stumbling block to an agreement has been the frequent invocation of provisions of the national Constitution by government negotiators. Constitutional rule is great when things are normal. Right now things are not normal in Sierra Leone. The average displaced Sierra Leonean is not looking for legal niceties but wants to know when it will be safe for him or her to return and put together the pieces of their shattered lives. The Constitution is a living, not a dead and immutable, instrument reflecting the hopes and aspirations of citizens and the standards necessary for the proper functioning of society. If its provisions retard progress, they should be amended. For example, if on this vital issue of peace the government feels constrained to `do a deal' with the RUF, it should not hesitate to introduce the appropriate draft amendment to Parliament for deliberation with a view to amendment. Let the Constitution be a facilitator and the guarantor of post-war expectations and not an impediment to clinching a deal to stop the war. The 1961 Constitution did not prevent late President Stevens from imposing a Republican and One-party Constitution on Sierra Leone in 1971; it failed to curb the rapaciousness of successive APC governments. The current 1991 Constitution did not did stop the NPRC's usurpation of power or their suspension of it to rule by decree; and it has not prevented the present government granting them blanket amnesty for the dastardly acts they committed during their term in office.
  We hope that these caveats will be taken into account in working out an interim solution when peace talks eventually resume. For the purposes of a long term solution Focus, in keeping with its practice of suggesting possibilities for moving the peace process forward, offers the following simple plan in the hope that it will be given serious consideration by all concerned.

 OUR PROPOSED PEACE PLAN

Introduction
  Sierra Leoneans recently proved their belief in democracy when elections were held early this year, at the height of the war, against all odds and under abnormal conditions. The principal rebel group - the RUF - refused to take part and threatened to disrupt it. The then military government was equally unenthusiastic about it. Though the conditions were not ideal, a gamble was taken and the elections went ahead, on the whole, successfully to the relief of all concerned. The elections had the backing of the International Community which funded it.
  It is not correct to claim that the elections were nationwide or inclusive of all who were eligible or wanted to vote. During the parliamentary elections of 26 - 27 February, 747,000 (under half) of 1.6 million registered voters took part leaving over 800,000 who did not. The violence that preponderated before and during those elections meant that tens of thousands of eligible voters could not be reached in time, or at all, to be registered; large numbers of those registered on the voters list could not vote because of the violence and the obstructions placed in their way. Hundreds of thousands of refugees living outside the country notably in Guinea and Liberia could not be registered or allowed to vote. Thousands refused to register or take part at all because they felt the climate was not right for elections. Thousands more living under RUF control did not take part for obvious reasons. The ensuing Presidential run-off ballot fared a lot better, with a turnout of 80% of registered voters.

The Proposal
  A fresh election in future with the full participation of all eligible voters is the key to sustained, peaceful and democratic, representative government in Sierra Leone. In the interest of peace and harmony, we propose that:

(1) The present government should offer not to serve its full five-year term in office.

(2) A date for new general elections should be agreed to be held at such a time as the parties may agree.

(3) The RUF must agree to cease all hostilities, effectively abandoning the "armed struggle".

(4) The RUF should be invited to resolve itself into a political organisation. There would have to be some flexibility in the arrangements because, presumably, they would have to be given time to present their political programme to the electorate, and be accorded the same advantages, including access to media and other facilities, as with any other political party in being.

(5) A Joint Military Group and the processes for demobilisation, disarmament and resettlement, envisaged in Article 26 of the unsigned peace accord, on which there was, more or less, common ground should be activated to enable, among other things, monitoring of the current cease fire. Both parties should cooperate to secure the creation of a neutral (international) force to supervise the process.

(6) The parties shall nominate a group of eminent persons of recognised probity and reputable international stature to be guarantors of any arrangements made under (5) above. Taken together, these arrangements should effectively overcome the RUF's objection to the presence of foreign troops including Executive Outcomes and the government's reluctance to dispense with their services - the main reason for the deadlock in May.

(7) The will of the last electorate should be respected. Consequently the present elected incumbent should retain the Presidency until the proposed elections are held.

(8) A political arrangement for power sharing, leading to the creation of an Interim Cabinet, should be negotiated, to include the RUF and representatives of the other political parties. This will address the other cause of the impasse - the RUF's expressed wish for some control over the budget.

(9) An independent Electoral Commission agreed upon by both parties can do the necessary preparation to upgrade the existing voters list, including returnees, displaced persons, and external refugees. The setting up of such a body has implicitly been agreed in principle under the terms of the draft accord.

(10) Any other political parties that may wish to constitute themselves during this period will be free to do so.

(11) It is strongly recommend that this plan be executed in tandem with the 26 other clauses that were agreed under the provisions of the Draft Peace Accord.

Commentary
This above plan is put forward to stimulate public debate and to help generate ways for breaking out of the continuing deadlock. The crucial need if for a plan to allay the fears and suspicions of both parties. The alternative to a peaceful settlement is most likely to be a resumption of fighting. That much is certain.
  Some of the points in the proposed plan might have been raised and discussed by the negotiators but since we are not privy to their deliberations, we cannot be sure about that. Some people might object to the expense of mounting another election so soon after the last one. But if the International Community which financed the last elections in the hope that it will lead to peace still wishes Sierra Leoneans to enjoy peace in their homeland, they should be able to support these proposals.
  It would be interesting to know exactly how much it is costing the government to pursue the war, including retaining the services of Executive Outcomes and other foreign troops that have helped the country to cope with the war so far. If the amount is as huge as we suspect, imagine the savings for the country if we could dispense with these services once a political settlement has been reached. We could save much needed resources for our post war transition and future reconstruction and development, not to mention the many lives that will be saved. Let us cut our losses now, bring everyone into the fold, and end this war once and for all.

Crisis management will not see us through this time .....

TIME FOR RADICAL CHANGE NOT FOR TINKERING WITH DEEP ROOTED NATIONAL PROBLEMS

 Ambrose Ganda


Reading through President Ahmed Tejan Kabbah's speech to Parliament at its state opening on Friday, 7 June 1996, one was genuinely impressed by its sheer bulk and detail. Experience and hard thinking must have gone into its production because there was plenty to keep an expectant nation reasonably assured that this President, at least, would do for them what twenty-five years of APC government and four years of NPRC military rule had failed to achieve. Everyone who contributed to it should be congratulated. But while many of his attractive ideas must be given encouragement by all means, they should not be pursued at all cost to the nation. What was markedly absent was any indication of our national priorities which therefore gave the misleading impression that everything was, at once, desirable, attainable and necessary.

 Sierra Leone can do none of these wonderful things, even with the best, well-intentioned government in power, without an end to the civil war and its attendant uncertainties, the needless loss of life and the wanton destruction of our tenuous economic and social infrastructure. All credit therefore to President Kabbah that he has, at least in his public pronouncements, made peace his priority. Whether in fact the correct approach has been taken, to date, to bring a sustainable peace settlement into fruition is debatable. I believe that the matter is being, as it was right from the start, handled unsatisfactorily. No doubt the inquests will come later. But as I have said more than once before, any peace process that minimises the fullest, active participation and cooperation of the ordinary citizens of the country and substitutes the imperious role of the government or its agents as the beginning and the end of popular involvement, is bound to fail. It might succeed in holding the peace for a while but until the rank and file, through their own peace organisations, actively as opposed to notionally engage in the processes of mediation, negotiation and, later, implementation, then the so-called peace that results will be fragile and transient in nature, with most of its substance achievable only on paper.

Invest in local skills and craft
  The character of some of the proposed projects outlined in the president's admittedly visionary speech need further scrutiny. For example, one is irresistibly concerned about the wisdom of saddling the country with expensive, high tech projects during the prevailing period of absolute want, deprivation and homelessness. Large scale industrial projects are not the need of the hour. What we need to do now, for people's present immediate needs, is to identify and concentrate on the basic requirements for sustaining life and wellbeing at a level which will allow them to live an existence that guarantees continuous industry, i.e the means to sustain themselves. We must therefore invest in the people and their native local skills and craft, using local technology. We can, if we wish, speed up this process, if absolutely necessary, by introducing schemes for high velocity, appropriate technology and skill transfers. Such a policy will help promote self-reliance, high but inexpensive employment at minimal expense to our exchequer, and the added bonus of cutting down our import of raw materials. 

Resisting the lure of debts
  The government must resist the temptation to copy the West which, even now, is coaxing Sierra Leone into a culture of dependency on loans, multi-national projects, and large scale government-sponsored projects, in a vain attempt to help us keep up with them.
  No one should doubt that our continued indebtedness is rarely in aid of our development. Instead it goes back to repay existing debts to already rich governments, their rich citizens and banks. It is money that circulates in an uncanny exploitative cycle. Donors (not benefactors!) give us, ie poor countries, so-called `aid' to help us pay rich donors - i.e themselves - directly or through the World Bank and IMF. For a country like ours which is producing absolutely nothing for export - apart from a trickle of diamonds - we are not even earning the hard currency that must be generated for us to pay international debts, let alone meet our import needs. So we are lured into the tangled web of borrowing to pay for previous debts. It is a vicious, money-grubbing merry-go-round and a fad that Sierra Leone can ill afford.

Negative social engineering at its worst
  Any government would be gravely misguided in pursuing IMF and World Bank policies lock, stock and barrel. I am not an economist so I do not pretend to be an authority on such matters. But the evidence of conditions, in Sierra Leone over two decades of fastidious adherence, and other countries where such policies have been followed to the letter, tells me that structural adjustment policies (SAP), in particular, often work to the disadvantage of the poor because invariably they require them to economise. If they do not, these undemocratic financial institutions will force their elected government to remove subsidies from essential/basic amenities and utilities, such as food, medical fees and drugs charges, school fees and uniforms, public transport, etc used largely by the poor. Witness the recent 50 per cent petroleum price increases in Sierra Leone - when the price of kerosene, used by the poorest in our society to light their hurricane lanterns and lamps improvised from emptied aluminium milk cans, rose from Le 1,100 to Le 1,750. At the same time, SAP demands the sacking of thousands of public workers. In a country like ours where the breadwinner is not just head of his or her immediate family but of an extended family, that can have a most earth-shattering effect on thousands of lives.
  In this way, SAP policies take away state responsibility and replace it with private responsibility. I am not against the assumption of private responsibility when there is a level playing ground for all; nor am I against private investment or capital per see provided it is encouraged under properly controlled procedures rather than as a free-for-all. A carte blanche, laissez-faire policy of this kind, in an underdeveloped country like Sierra Leone, inevitably means that the big sharks, alone, are able to take advantage of economic concessions and undertake economic activity. They of course usually concentrate mainly on large scale enterprises.
  The effects of this reversal, ie the substitution of state for private responsibility is more markedly felt among the poor - the majority - and can have devastating impact on government policy and effectiveness. Let me give just one example - the ordinary but all important local farmer. We know by now that food security and self-sustainability are absolutely necessary to help us underpin economic development and the individual's personal health and strength. When the flood gates are opened, ordinary farmers cannot compete because they are overwhelmed by a sequence of events:

  • They can not afford the cost of fertilizers, pesticides, or tractors, etc, which attain prohibitive costs for purchase or importation.
  • Because they do not use fertilisers and pesticides to improve the quality of their crops, the yield from their small farms is poor.
  • Because the yield is so poor, they cannot feed themselves sufficiently (let alone leave a surplus that they can sell or export); they become weak and are not strong enough to do the hard work of tilling more farm areas to supplement their loss in yield. 
  • Since they cannot feed themselves, a regime of food insecurity develops, parochial at first but later developing into a national trend.
  • This insecurity translates into a national dependency on food aid.
  • The dependency on food aid forces government to purchase food from the developed countries, using even the meagre foreign exchange in the reserve, if there is any left.
  •  The net result is inevitably more poverty and indebtedness. At no time is the playing field even. Ordinary local people just can not compete.
This rush to take money that we do not have, own or earn - loans, however disguised - should be checked. We would otherwise be depriving future generations of their freedom of action to plan their own lives, by selfishly tying them to our own immoderation. What we should be doing is laying down foundations that are buttressed in the under-utilised energies of our people, not in white elephants and ephemeral phenomena.

Crisis management or radical change?
This brings me to address what I believe is the nub of the problem for Sierra Leone:  How do we want to run our affairs as a Nation? Through crisis management or by the introduction of radical changes in our society?
  This question is pertinent and must be addressed now, not later. Sierra Leone is going through the trauma of a civil strife that has torn into the heart of its being. Everyone hopes that the hostilities will come to an end quickly so that the process of rebuilding lives and the environment can take place in orderly fashion. Reconstruction affords us a chance to develop strategies that will help us avoid a repetition of the errors of the past. It will help us to lay new foundations for the visions of the future. Above all it will help us strengthen those positive elements in our nature, culture, traditions and environment that enabled our citizens to survive the rigours of the last thirty, but especially five civil war, years.
  None of these potential benefits will be ours unless we address the simple question of what we are striving for as a nation. What is our goal? Right now as I see it, the country has two straight choices to make: Accept the status quo of terminal decline and learn, as we are currently doing, to manage our crises, grateful for spasmodic improvements here and there - in other words continue to tinker with our problems; Or, take a decisive stand now, accept that we have been wrong all along and get back to the drawing board to chart a radical transformation of our society by introducing planned changes in national life, our body politic, our concepts of administration and government, with a renewed commitment to fairness and justice for all, without exception. I am confident that ordinary Sierra Leoneans, who have nothing to lose but everything to gain, will opt for this radical option if it is presented and explained with openness and candour.

A lack of vision
  The country presently lacks vision and nobody has been minded enough it to provide it with one, although Kabbah came close to doing so. The chance was lost during the last election which had nothing to do with policies to advance the future of the country. Few of the Parties devoted any appreciable space in their manifestos to saying what their government would do over the next five years, for example. Some manifestos were mostly two- or three-liners replete with glib and manifestly undeliverable promises. The fact that the war was going on made policies secondary and, for most of the political parties, irrelevant. So the question what we really want for the nation, as opposed to what politicians wanted for themselves, has yet to get a definitive answer from any of the political parties in Sierra Leone. That it was not an issue is clearly evinced by the following collection of considerations that weighed on people's minds at the time of the elections:

  •  "It will bring the war to an end" - a statement that is as bland as night follows day. It failed to spell out how we would end the war - hence the current impasse in the peace negotiations; 
  • "We are fed up with the boys in khaki" or "It will get the soldiers out" - desirable though this was at the time, it did not say what would replace the policy of the soldiers or how they would rectify the areas where the soldiers had proved deficient;
  •  "It is time for [our own party] to have a chance at running the country" - again it was not clear what was going to be so unique about this change of the baton because the arguments were lost both in nostalgic reminiscences of the 60s in the case of the Sierra Leone Peoples Party (SLPP), and euphoric expectations of victory by all other Parties;
  •  "It's time for [this or that region, tribe or religion] to produce the next President" - which was typical of key supporters of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), the United National Peoples Party (UNPP) and to some extent SLPP supporters - forgetting that the problems of Sierra Leone have never been intrinsically religious or tribal although politicians frequently, selfishly resort to these considerations every time their popularity is on the wane and they see power slipping away from them.
Others, through sheer ignorance, claimed that the war was an "country-man's affair" or "a Mende people's war". The purveyors of these myopic comments suggested that since the war did not affect some (i.e their own) areas, the elections should go ahead there. They put forward no policies for either the so-called `safe' zones or the affected areas. Politicians and their supporters, mainly urban dwellers particularly in Freetown, who unwittingly continue to peddle this dangerous idea of a two-nation Sierra Leone, often forget that most of the wealth of the country comes from the devastated areas, and that stability in these areas is a key to our economic emancipation. The indifference to what goes on there is literally killing the goose that lays the golden egg!

Need for a set of national priorities and a national audit
This universal absence of coherent, prioritised and ideologically-based policies inevitably means that we must just be content with crisis-managing our affairs rather than attempting to rebuild the country. Even if we were to opt for radical solutions, I am not sure that we have yet begun to think about the basic prerequisites. One is not privy to government thinking but I dare say those who constitute the SLPP government's "Think Tank" - assuming there is one - should have come up with a list of short-, medium-, and long-term objectives, clearly arranged in an order of national priorities. Remembering that these are not normal times in Sierra Leone, the robustness of each set of objectives will be tested by alternate "what if" analyses. "What if there is a settlement?" and "What if there is not a settlement and the war escalates?" I am confining myself to the best case scenario - that we do eventually have a peaceful settlement.
  Short term policies for governing the country, while negotiations for peace were going on, should have been in place at the last State Opening of Parliament and could have engaged parliamentarians in something worthwhile to do and think about. Implementation would have taken us through the period up to Christmas this year. Then we would have taken stock of progress made, including the implementation of various contingency measures - so far not yet clearly spelt out - in anticipation of a peace settlement, which could have become the basis of national revival in the Medium term. The priorities then, which would have anticipated a comprehensive peace accord, could have taken us to the end of 1997 and would be based partly on the actual experience of government during its first eighteen months in power. Long term objectives could, presumably, have taken us through the notional (see editorial) life of the present Parliament - 2001 - and beyond. Government would have had the necessary data, at least some resources and the right climate to implement some of the more adventurous projects that were announced in the presidential speech, especially if peaceful conditions have been established by then.
  We should therefore have had a plan to take us into the next millennium but it seems to me that, in its absence, we are trundling along like rolling stones. The reason for this lapse, which cannot be entirely blamed on the Kabbah government, is simple. What has yet to take place is a comprehensive audit of the state of the nation which, itself, cannot be complete without an end to the war. But we must make a start. I know that various studies have been carried out by the UNDP and other agencies and NGOs but the government also needs to do its own independent audit and assessments, borrowing ideas from these sources if necessary.

  •   Firstly, we need to study more closely, with less emotiveness, exactly what has been lost in the war: lives and property - both private and public; the extent of damage to the infrastructure - such as roads, schools, colleges, hospitals, churches and mosques; businesses - private and state; the damage to national assets such as farming land where there is inaccessibility due to pollution by war, eg land mines, etc; the social effects, including the displacement of citizens and the break up of families, and the plight of refugees including the logistics for their return and resettlement. Only after calculating the cost all of these realistically, including any claims for compensation, over a period of time - in this case over the short, medium and long terms - can we then justifiably claim to know what we need to do, and how. With due respect to the present government, without pouring scorn on their commitment and the effort they are making, I feel that we are currently engaged in a futile exercise in fire fighting.
  • Secondly, we should be absolutely certain that the reasons that led to the war have been established and that the prescriptions to avoid getting into the same conditions have been worked out, agreed and made known to, and accepted by, not just negotiators, the government and the RUF but every Sierra Leonean man and woman - in a kind of Social Contract. If not, then we might as well say goodbye to all the grand projects for reconstruction, rehabilitation and reconciliation. For, no sooner would we have put down the first foundations of the new school or health clinic here, or there, than another group of self-styled liberators, redeemers, malcontents or `rebels' - wrenched from our society by (wrongly or rightly) perceived policies of exclusion, rejection and marginalisation - resort to a fresh wave of destruction to redress their own feelings of grievous injustice.
A statement of national goals
If I were one of the people advising President Kabbah, there are basic questions that I and others charged with that task should urgently pose and answer in order for us to put correct choices before the people.

(1)   The country should now articulate a national ideology that can inspire its citizens, realising that the best ideology will be the one distilled out of the experiences of our people. In its absence, the government at least should have its own mission statement which is a formal enunciation of why, and the purpose for which, it exists. As my contribution to this debate I wish to put forward the following as a start:

"Our mission [as the government or as a Nation] is to make Sierra Leone a peaceful and harmonious country in which the basic means of human survival and humane existence are readily accessible to every citizen - man, woman and child, and which in time will become a shining example of industry, cooperation and humanity for the countries of Africa and the world, to emulate.

  We will achieve this by 

(a) identifying and discarding all values that have had a negative effect on our people; 
(b) drawing upon the positive ones that bind us together and are rooted in our own local customs and traditions; 
(c) applying the same positive values to reform the current negative attitudes of some of our compatriots so that henceforth we all think and act first as one nation rather than self-seeking individuals; and
(d) directing all our energies, human and natural resources towards achieving these and only these objectives.
  We shall be guided by
(i) the principles of equal opportunity for all; 
(ii) respect for each other's basic human rights and fundamental freedoms". 
(2)   To add weight to this mission we must ask and answer the following questions: 
(a) What resources do we have, can we control and, hence, exploit to our own exclusive advantage for our own development? 
(b) What skills, abilities and capacities do we currently possess as a nation? Did we use them correctly in the past? If not, where did we go wrong? 
(c) Do we have the human skills and resources necessary for our development needs? What practical steps can we take to re-attract our citizens who have acquired the skills and technology that we so badly need for our own development back to the shores of Sierra Leone? In other words, how do we reverse the brain drain? 
(d) Having established that overall we have not made much progress since independence, are our impediments to self-advancement due to lack of knowledge, current practices, national traits or attitudes? 
(e) Do we as a nation put a premium and emphasis on public service, responsibility and accountability as fundamental prerequisites for management appointments? Or have we, in fact, always used public service purely as means to power and privilege, and reward for personal loyalties? 
(f) To what, if any, extent have we in the past encouraged individual performance, excellence, competence and achievement in preference to nepotism, favouritism, bias, tribal, personal and other allegiance as the only bases for awarding or holding public office? 
(g) Does anything we do in government have any ethical value or consideration? If so, do we have the individuals who could be trusted with the national conscience to carry out those activities which the state itself, as the embodiment of all the cherished hopes and aspirations of Sierra Leoneans, is directly involved in, or responsible for? 
It is only by answering these strategic questions that we can begin to see pointers to development.

Reversing the brain drain
  As a policy issue this is one of the most critical in any long term future development programme for Sierra Leone. As a victim of the brain drain myself, I have a vested interest in the development of a strategy to counter its consequences. To develop with the resources that we have got, we must learn to be tolerant of each other's views. In the past this has not been the case with the result that the country was left with a pliant population that did not complain. Those who could not cope quit the country.
  There is no doubt that our problems have been compounded by the wastefulness of the brain drain syndrome. It's consequences are there for all to see. While a large number of professional men and women stayed back in the country and rendered dedicated service in their various areas of professional competence, they themselves will be the first to admit that the country has been the poorer over many years from the effects of the brain drain. The net result is that a significant area of government, civil service and industry are run by corrupt and less competent officers.
  Unless Sierra Leone attracts its own citizens back from the diaspora, it will continue to depend largely on very few able people to run its affairs. Over the last 30 years, thousands of Sierra Leoneans have acquired some of the best skills and proficiency that would be the envy of most countries anywhere else in the world but especially among our peers in the league of underdeveloped countries. Most of these skilled personnel are wasting away in distant lands when they should be encouraged to return and contribute to developing their own country. Jealousy, envy and greed by incumbent corrupt officers and political half wits is stopping such bold imaginative initiatives from being taken. We still prefer to employ `experts' from overseas to teach us how to run our affairs. Yet many of these experts have been class mates of Sierra Leoneans who graduated with them with similar, if not better, qualifications!
  A deliberate policy to recruit and appoint from abroad must become part of government policy. It must not be based on the size of contributions to party coffers and such other unprogressive criteria. President Kabbah and his former UN colleague James Jonah, to name a few, understand what I mean because they, too, are former residents abroad who relatively recently returned to Sierra Leone after retirement. But there are thousands more of high skilled Sierra Leoneans in UK, USA, Germany, many Republics of the former Soviet Union, various parts of the European continent, and all over Africa who are no nearer to retirement and are prepared even now to return and help to rebuild the country if they were given a chance and the recognition they deserve.
  This may sound elitist but that is the reality of our situation. Government should urgently take on board the hard fact that its best qualified citizens are doing high tech, specialised and skilled jobs in countries that probably have no need for them but that an even larger number are, paradoxically, doing menial jobs that bear no relevance to the fields of competence they have so studiously acquired. To ignore this fact is to bury its head in the sand. I do not expect expatriate Sierra Leoneans to give up their well paid jobs to return on the basis of some mere promise of a job - always very badly paid - in Sierra Leone. That will be foolhardy especially because, firstly, it is  remittances of hard foreign currency earned by Sierra Leoneans abroad which often makes the difference between life and death for their dependants inside the country; secondly, the same remittances go a long way to providing a much needed boost to the country's always depleted foreign currency reserves under successive governments, the current one being no exception. For this and other reasons, I will be arguing in a future edition that the electoral franchise - the vote - should be extended to Sierra Leoneans in the diaspora. They are stakeholders just like their compatriots who reside inside the country.
  The government can, by putting forward an attractive package, entice its exiled technocrats and technicians back home. It needs them, very badly and quickly. Speeches of exhortation, though a welcome acknowledgement of the problem, will not be enough to attract the best of our brains back. If Sierra Leoneans have not responded en masse to the call to return home, it must not be generally assumed that they all lack a sense of patriotism. In the majority of cases, it is simply a matter of pure economics. We can bring them back if there is the political will.

Capacity for self-development
  I have alluded to the need to identify the pointers to progress. In the best democratic framework possible, the pointer that I would personally like to see emerge is some visual evidence that ordinary people are gradually, albeit slowly but steadfastly, meeting their own basic needs. They will not be able to do this except through decentralisation of administration in the country right down to even below local government level, so they can self-develop. I believe that they can do so without too much central government interference because in the past they have survived even when successive governments never much cared for them any way! People generally can self develop if they are encouraged to: 
(a) identify their own problems themselves; 
(b) identify, organise and - only in this instance, with some help from government and the NGOs - raise the resources they think they need; and
(c) continuously monitor their own leaders, chosen by themselves and not imposed by central government, in the carrying out of the programmes that they themselves have worked out for their own benefit.

When I grew up as a child, cooperative societies were thriving throughout Sierra Leone with remarkable successes. Through them people learnt to live and work together, and support one another. They acted as supports and safety nets for communities, especially during hard times. It may sound nostalgic but it is the most immediate and practical way for people to pick themselves up after the battering of the last five years. We must quickly return to these basics. To delay is to hope for pie in the sky. But we won't find it there because the only real pies will come from the farms of Sierra Leone. That is where we must direct our gaze. The majority of our citizens - the rural poor - and our own long term future national interests belong there.

Conclusion
  There is currently a feeling of drift and a lack of direction even under the government of a well-meaning man like President Tejan Kabbah. Too many loose cannons sprawl the national terrain and beyond: Rebels [RUF and others?] ; `Sobels' [soldier rebels]; `Kamajohs' [local hunters-turned-vigilantes]; Regular soldiers [not trusted by government and people!]; Party stalwarts [who have long since passed their sell-by dates!] dictating choices for government and the nation; Political opportunists filibustering, and sabotaging government business for their own personal ends; Benefactors given jobs because of their financial generosity to Party coffers [patronage and clientilism?] in preference to citizens desirous and deserving of public service; Mercenaries controlling our natural resources [Pay-yourself-as-you-mine?]; Ministers criss-crossing the globe in search of money [other countries' tax-payers' money] with no spending plans; etc, etc. The list just goes on and on.
  Most people want firm and decisive leadership to take actions that are necessary, unpleasant though some will be, for the country to progress. There is also undoubted need for fundamental changes in our society. But societies, everywhere, are only transformed by radicals. If Sierra Leoneans want fundamental changes to advance their progress then the radicals among them must be given a hearing or else be encouraged to seize their initiative now.


PUBLISH ..... AND BE DAMNED

 [Ambrose Ganda]
The Press must afflict the comfortable
  The news that local journalist Edison Yongai, editor of The Point, was recently arrested and kept in custody by CID is extremely worrying. That these things used to happen under a military dictatorship, though unjustified, was perhaps understandable. But there is absolutely no excuse when it takes place and is defended under a civilian government.
  The practice of hauling journalists before (political) authorities instead of the courts should have been discontinued immediately after we ushered in democratic government. The named government ministers who were accused of alleged corruption had every opportunity to challenge the story in court but they did not. Why? Was it because the reports were accurate and embarrassing? In any case, what did it have to do with the government and the Police? If the police really wanted to do something worthwhile they should have visited and interviewed the ministers, on the basis of the free information that was supplied publicly, instead of whisking the editor away.
  I was recently asked in an interview for the local newspaper - Eastern Post - why I started Focus. I replied that it was to complement the efforts of local journalists in the country because I empathised with them during their travails with the NPRC military rulers and the previous APC government. There were items of news which the public needed to know but which, because of the sheer intimidatory tactics of the soldiers, some local journalists felt constrained to comment on. But now that we a have a `popular' government elected by the people, I had started thinking that Focus' complementary role should no longer be necessary in that regard. My judgement may have been premature!
  The civilian authorities in Sierra Leone should take on board the wise comments of Lord McGregor, Chairman of the United Kingdom's Press Commission, who said "a free society which expects responsible conduct from a free press must go on tolerating some - often shocking - irresponsibility as the price of liberty because a press which is free to be responsible must be free to be irresponsible". 
  If therefore our government and the police do not want an (occasionally) irresponsible free press, then any restriction they contemplate must be of debated public knowledge and subject to independent interpretation by a judiciary of highest integrity. But since our judiciary (see later) cannot lay claim to such standards of integrity, my humble advice is, leave the free press alone.
  The studied conclusions of Transparency International in their Source Book have addressed the issue thus: "The tradition [of press freedom] must provide for the press to be tough in its scrutiny of the work of those who enjoy the public trust. The press culture, as evident in many developed democracies today, must involve a sense that it is the duty of the press to afflict the comfortable in order to comfort the afflicted." The comfortable being those holding public office; and the afflicted, the public at large. In other words, uneasy lies the head that wears the crown!

Mr President, it's time for change!
  After 100 days and more in office, the Cabinet needs over-hauling. I do not know about you, but I find the number of Cabinet and Deputy Ministers and the calibre of a large number of them absolutely embarrassing. There are too many who cannot even manage a family firm and should never have been involved in the complex business of running a State. The antecedents of some Cabinet Ministers, as the local Press is never tired of bringing to the attention of the public, could make one squirm. 
  President Kabbah, who continues to carry the widespread respect but, I fear, an increasingly conditional support of citizens, needs to get back to the drawing board. He should do so this time without obstruction from the political godfathers and godmothers of the SLPP or the blackmailing tactics of Parties that failed at the last elections. He must put up something more dignified, demonstrably energetic and inspiring, and commensurate with what I know to be his natural flair for public administration. He can get by with 12 Cabinet Ministers at most and maybe 5 junior Ministers. Deputy Ministers are superfluous because a crop of good Permanent and Under-Secretaries could take on their briefs and perform their roles effectively. This measure alone will significantly reduce our overheads. Political patronage, too, should be relegated to the backwaters and be replaced by criteria such as administrative functionality and effectiveness.
  The honeymoon is drawing to a close. Let the proper business of government commence. There is no time for experiment or sentimentality. Quality not quantity should be our byword. 

The same failed policy advisers are in control
  I have said before that President Kabbah has an unenviable job heading a civilian government of Sierra Leone. Let me say a bit more about this. We all agree that the APC and the NPRC failed the nation. But what we do not always realise is that each of these governments has been served by more or less the same civil servants who implemented and even formulated their failed policies. Tragically the same people are serving Kabbah's government in more or less the same positions from where they oversaw the steady decline of the country. Some have even been rewarded by promotion to more responsible high profile posts.
  Knowing this about the public service, the first thing that should have been done was to send the worst of these people - who are well known to their colleagues - on immediate leave prior to retirement. The civil and public service has experienced diminishing returns as the same people are recycled year in year out, one government after another, in and out of ministries and parastatals. The failure to weed out the dead wood means one of two things: that they are indispensable or that no one else can do their job. Neither is true of them.
  There are committed, equally, if not more, qualified and conscientious men and women already in service whose progress, especially in the case of younger officers, is being deliberately blocked by the continuous employment of these people. Many have passed retirement age but as there has been no rigorous scrutiny of officers' dates of birth in the past, the practice of deliberately lowering their official age has gone on unbridled. Thus many years have been conveniently hived off the real age of many civil servants, enabling them to defer their `retirement day' indefinitely.
  The government should be championing equal opportunities for all. It must address this issue urgently and more vigorously.

It's a hard deal for the Judiciary
  I wonder whether members of the Sierra Leone Judiciary and, to a large extent, the Bar fully appreciate how public esteem for them has reached its nadir with the importation of a judge, from outside their own circle, to deliberate and adjudicate on fundamental issues aimed at bringing peace and harmony into our society. How come none of them could fit the bill? The absence of a single voice in public protest (I hear there have been private muttering) amounts to tacit admission that they had neither the credibility nor the credentials. But why?
  That the SLPP government went outside the country in search of a candidate was primarily due to the unfortunate tarring of all judges with the same brush of corruption. I mean there are habitual `case benders' among our judges and magistrates whose reputation for taking bribes is well established among their peers. They are consistently partial and prejudiced in their judgements and their elevation to the bench was unmerited, irregular, political and hence unsatisfactory.
  As a key organ of State for protecting the citizen against the excesses of the Executive, the Judiciary frequently, in the past, proved to be spineless and condescending in the face of the most flagrant breaches of the human rights and fundamental freedoms of ordinary Sierra Leoneans by successive governments.
  But they cannot be pleased that West Indian Mr Justice L U Cross comes along and overturns the judicious and painstaking findings of one of their number - Mrs Laura Marcus-Jones. Did her report contain no shred of truth against the civil servants that appeared before her Commission? Was the government right to annul these findings, whether or not it was based on the recommendation of the learned judge? Come on, give us a break!
  I may be wrong but surely what was in contention was the alleged injustice of the NPRC in re-interpreting those findings, and their selectivity and arbitrariness in imposing sanctions on witnesses without a legal basis! I can't imagine that her Commission did not discover wrong doing by any one or a number of these civil servants.
  It might not yet have dawned on members of Judiciary that they have fallen below the parapets and cannot now, therefore, see the humiliation meted out to their own institution. How is the State of Sierra Leone going to buttress its new found democracy if, in one of its great institutions, our government can find no one within to trust? Simply by importing more foreign judges is like building nonsense on stilts. Kick the stilts away and you have nothing but rubble left on the ground. We should build our new democracy on our own people.
  Let the good judges - there are a few - speak out. Let them `out' the colleagues who are shaming their profession. We can then run our own affairs in the full knowledge that those in charge know our people and their sensibilities better. Above all, we shall not be having our dirty linen washed by others. That's what I mean by having a sense of national pride.
  They say if you pay peanuts, you get monkeys. We must give encouragement to our judges and magistrates who are honourable and upright. The government can start by reviewing their level of pay which is currently at a scandalously low level. A low salary is an incentive to take bribes. I am sure that for the price of Judge Cross - I have no grudge against the man, mind you! - at least five of our judges could enjoy a comfortable lifestyle and the peace of mind that will allow them to engage dutifully in their work as prime independent arbiters of the realm.

Let's be pragmatic
  Let us forget about bringing back the railway for now. The late ex-President Siaka Stevens and his able lieutenant Solomon 'Jolly Boy' Pratt vandalised it over twenty five years ago but we have survived without it since then. We can wait till much later. For the time being let's plan to rehabilitate the feeder roads up country, like it used to be under the District Councils. By the same token, let's forget about a bridge to span Lungi Airport and Freetown. It is not necessary now because less than 1% of the population will be visiting Lungi in their entire life, and even less will ever board a plane to travel abroad. We must not pander to the wishes of the privileged few. Sierra Leone is not a big trading or tourist nation with passenger and cargo jets arriving every minute of the day. Let us for now invest in just two brand new passenger and car-carrying ferries, like the fast and efficient Channel crossing ones they have on the European continent. We can make them luxurious, if we must, so that the crossing is a voyage of exhilaration not exasperation.
  The millions of dollars reportedly ear-marked for feasibility studies and consultants' fees is a needless waste of resources that should, instead, be ploughed into the feasibilities for proper town and village planning, the re-housing of displaced people in more comfortable and durable buildings than they were used to, and the repair and rehabilitation of basic infrastructures like roads, health centres, hospitals and schools.
  Let's come down to earth and deal with the real emergencies on the ground. People do not forever want to live in displaced camps near urban centres. They have never been ghetto or township dwellers and many resent it. The meagre resources which we have should be targeting them and not be frittered away on making the better off more comfortable. Let's feed the people, clothe them, house them because if they are strong and happy they will produce more than we need and we can export the surplus and other produce to buy those things that we cannot produce at home. Let's get down to basics.

I'm only doing what the Constitution requires of me!
  It seems to me, from reactions to the account of my role in the peace process which dominated the last edition of Focus, I did not make it crystal clear that I intended to continue regardless. Well I will be. There is no other choice for me!
  I thought I should complete the picture by referring to the  occasion when Lord Avebury, Chairman of the United Kingdom Parliamentary Human Rights Group, asked me to represent him on 17 January at a meeting of the European Forum For the Prevention of Conflict Situations (FEPAC) at the European Parliament in Strasbourg. My mission was to brief members about the situation in Sierra Leone - the civil war, my (then) recent contact with the RUF, the pending elections of 26 February and, by coincidence, the coup on the day before, January 16 and its likely consequence for the country.
  I was received by the Chairman, Mons Bernard Kouchner and I addressed the Forum for over one and a quarter hours, including answering members' questions. It was a daunting experience but I weathered it. The result was that at the ensuing plenary session of the European Parliament a week later a Resolution on Sierra Leone, sponsored by FEPAC, was unanimously passed which eventually paved the way for Sierra Leone to receive the financial help and endorsement of the democratisation process that made it possible for the last elections to go ahead. The cost and expense of my trip was met by the Parliament.
  Finally, I wish to draw the attention of all my compatriots to Section 13 of the Constitution of Sierra Leone, 1991 which deals with the duties of the citizen and states that: "Every citizen shall ...(b) cultivate a sense of nationalism and patriotism" and "....(f) make positive and useful contributions to the advancement, progress, and wellbeing of the community, wherever he resides."

I and many others are only responding to this call enshrined in our national Constitution. 


LETTERS

 CNN must apologise
(A keen reader of Focus also an avid viewer of CNN International News has sent to us for publication the copy of a faxed letter to CNN Viewers' Comment editor, Sarah Maude.)

`On the 4 May 1996 between 9.00 hrs and 9.10 hrs Batina Luscher reported on Roosevelt Johnson's departure from Monrovia to Freetown. Among what she said was quote "Charles Taylor and his NPFL fighters were trained in Sierra Leone". I was amazed at such terrible fabrication. For the information of world viewers Charles Taylor and his fighters were trained in Libya and Burkina Faso and not in Sierra Leone. In fact the war in Sierra Leone today is a direct consequence of the war in Liberia, in other words it's a spill over. I hope that such erroneous assertions would never resurface. We Sierra Leoneans deserve an apology from CNN.'

 Mohamed Conteh
 Amsterdam Noord, Netherlands


 Africans in the diaspora must not forget their continent
I hope we have all been weaving our strands of peace so our Continent does not permanently remain an eyesore in the world landscape. You must be a bit consoled with the calm existing in your country. I tell you, I have been keen on events in Sierra Leone. I was happy to see Maada Bio give up power freely, engage into dialogue with Foday Sankoh and pass the mantle of leadership to the new President. 
  I was enchanted to watch your new legitimate President on TV during the just ended OAU summit in my country. His wife was more appealing, eloquent and fluent in both English and French. Of course I was disappointed with the whole OAU summit because of its penchant for folklore, fanfare and feasting instead of business, essence and commitment to the real issues confronting our Africa. Yes, they talked of economic integration without talking of how to fully implement the Abuja Treaty; they pontificated on conflicts without addressing the issues that provoke conflicts. It was circumvention all the way. My fear is that if OAU does not succumb to radical reforms, it will be either marginalised by regional groups or swept aside by revolutionary NGOs. We can't wait till Year 2000.
  Please encourage Africans in the diaspora to be thinking of this continent like Nkrumah, Padmore, Dubois thought more than 40 years ago. Our generation must do it now. It must transcend national boundaries.

 George Ngwane
 Buea, Cameroon
 

BOOKS
(1)  The author of the last letter, George Ngwane, is a Cameroonian writer. His latest book is entitled: Settling Disputes in Africa - Traditional Bases for Conflict Resolution. 236 pages; published June 1996. Copies may be ordered from Buma Kor Publishers Ltd., Box 727, Yaounde, Cameroon. Tel/fax: 237 23 07 68)

(2)  Handbook of the Population of Sierra Leone - edited by Toma J. Makannah. Available from Mr. B.J. Allie, Toma Enterprises Ltd., 1 Macdonald Street, PMB 57, Freetown, Sierra Leone. Cost: Sierra Leone -Le 15,000 (individuals); Le 20,000 (institutions); Le 5,000 (students). Overseas - $40 (individuals); $30 (institutions) + $8 airmail postage.  This book is an invaluable resource for political decision-makers; health, family planning and other policy planners in the important task of integrating population factors into Sierra Leone's national development plans, programmes and policies. It describes demographic levels and trends for the 30 years up to the war; presents case studies that could be useful guidelines for future work on integrating population factors into sustainable development policies and programmes. It includes a comprehensive bibliography and other resource materials that will assist the reader and professionals.
  The book is timely, given the current need to plan for rehabilitation of the nation; the profiles identified will be particularly relevant when displaced communities return to their homes and the economy starts functioning.


 Poems by Heidrun Khanu

Children Of Dust

Children of dust
walking in the streets,
heavy baskets on their heads,
no smile in their faces,
carrying heavy loads in their hearts.
Hunger.
No view for flowers,
no view for the delicious beauty of the colors.
Only we, the well fed, can see.

Warrior

How, warrior, to fight for your folks
when your folks is weak and helpless?
How many days, how many years more
you will sacrifice your power, your happiness
only to see by the end of your days
that all this was like lost blossoms in the wind.
Helpless, powerless
taken away by the wind
like a lost blossom is a warrior
without a folks of warriors


August

CHRONICLE OF VIOLENCE

..... AND SUFFERING


A continuing low level of violence and an even fewer number of reported attacks raised expectations of a permanent respite. The reduced violence may be due to the rainy season when mobility can be difficult. As the rains die out, there is mounting fear that hostilities might assume their usual ferocity. The lack of news on the peace front was causing anxiety. However in contrast to the previous two weeks, the last two weeks of August saw violence escalate as government troops and armed insurgents clashed during attacks on villages in the Eastern Province. The RUF denied that their forces were to blame for cease fire violations claiming their fighters were not operating in the areas where breaches had occurred. The government threatened to take drastic action to redress the frequent breaches. 

***** One of the villages attacked was Waiima, 4 miles from Kenema on the highway to Bo. Reports said at least 5 civilians died. 

***** The biggest attack was at Foindu a mining town near Tongo Field where 54 civilians and 7 soldiers were reported killed. Rebel losses were not known.

***** Road Transport Corporation grounded all buses following a series of attacks on the Freetown - Bo highway when a government bus and several passenger lorries were ambushed. Over 100 passengers were abducted. Later, it was claimed that an all-night joint Executive Outcomes and Army operation succeeded in freeing all abductees. 

***** A report that Masiaka - 47 miles from Freetown on the highway - was attacked could not be confirmed.

***** The latest attacks followed an upbeat assessment by vice-President Dr Albert Demby who, on a visit to a displaced persons camp at Gerihun, Bo District, confirmed that following pressure from hundreds of locals, the government had agreed to experiment with allowing some people to return to Pujehun, Bandajuma and Potoru, in the Southern Province. Asked about the risks, he explained that the people were determined to return despite government's caution. He said he heard at first hand the evidence of former captives of the RUF who said they trusted assurances given by the RUF that no harm would come to them if they returned. Government was providing transport and fuel for their journeys.

***** During the month about 2,500 captives were said to have been released by the RUF.



Quote on Quote
"All commandments have appointed times in Judaism except one: To  achieve peace you should anticipate, run after it, and never cease  to do all in your power to bring it about." By Hugo Gryn, Senior  Rabbi of The West London Synagogue, who died recently in UK.



©