|September to (first week of)
A CHRONICLE OF VIOLENCE
..... AND SUFFERING
Serious clashes between soldiers of the Sierra Leone Armed Forces and the local hunters' militia - the Kamajohs - took place this month. During the latest, Force Commander Hassan Conteh travelled to Kenema in the Eastern Province, with a delegation, to settle the dispute between the sides. The word is that soldiers have become resentful at the ascending role of Kamajohs, with some even claiming that the SLPP government is using them as a third force to undermine the army whose soldiers they do not trust. What they could also say is that as far as local people are concerned, they had long ago lost confidence in soldiers because the evidence of their own eyes tells them that many attacks on their small towns and villages have been carried out by renegade and disloyal soldiers whom they feel bound to resist.
But an even more sinister reason seems to have been in play in at least two of the recent clashes. Those near Mattru Jong, in the South West, during last May were put down to rivalry between individuals to control the precious Gambia Oil Plantation where unconfirmed reports claimed soldiers had earlier raided and buried hundreds of drums of palm oil in nearby farms. In the recent attacks in the East some reports claimed that news of hidden or buried stolen personal properties in nearby forests had sparked a rush by Kamajohs and soldier groups alike to gain control. The local hunters have proved an effective deterrent to some of the worst raids in the past and are reported to be abounding with confidence.
***** For a brief moment marooned Road Transport buses risked the journey back to Freetown from the provincial cities of Bo and Kenema following their grounding last month by a spate of attacks on the highways. Passengers reported seeing the bloated bodies and distended bellies of dead civilians and Kamajohs along various stretches of the highway near Bo.
***** 200 armed men alleged to be "RUF rebels" attacked Telu Bongor and villages near Bo and killed at least 8 people. 15 were said to have been captured by Kamjohs. The Telu Bongor Chiefdom has suffered many attacks before. Amnesty International (AI) reported that on 30 June 1994, 60 people were slaughtered at Telu Jaiama and over 100 were massacred in Telu Bongor a month later (see AI report - Human Rights Abuses in a War against Civilians, Sept 13, 1995 at p.19). Telu's former Regent Paramount Chief is the current Deputy Minister of Defence, (retired) Captain Hinga Norman. A strong SLPP man, he is credited with raising and training the dreaded Kamajoh fighting machine.
***** On 11 September, over 15,000 people from all over the Southern and Eastern Provinces demonstrated, in Bo Town, for peace and demanded the withdrawal of all soldiers to barracks, claiming the people can protect themselves.
***** A bus was attacked on the Bo-Kenema highway and four passengers were killed. Towns and villages along the highway were attacked continuously for two days and army soldiers were blamed. The army denied the accusations.
***** Serious fighting erupted between Kamajohs and soldiers in Kenema and the surrounding towns. One senior army officer and 5 Kamajohs were reported killed in a battle inside Kenema town itself. Eight other deaths could not be confirmed. The clashes later extended to Dama as Kamajohs demanded the removal from the area of all soldiers because they believe the attacks were not by the RUF. They resolved "to defend our people". In all 25 men were killed, almost an equal number on both sides. Later, in another village, 29 fatalities were reportedly found lying on the ground and no one, according to the same reports, attempted to bury them.
***** Relief convoys had to be stopped again because of frequent attacks on the highways linking the capital to the rest of the country. Raids had been on the increase since August and the UN's World Food Programme office in Rome said "Officials were reluctant to begin distributing food unless they have enough for everyone" because they feared riots by those who do not receive supplies.
***** Towns and villages were again attacked along the highway. A bus and several passenger lorries were attacked on the Freetown-Bo highway. Over 100 passengers were taken away by the assailants. But later, according to a military spokesman, a special armed services operation involving joint manoeuvres with Executive Outcomes led to the liberation of the hostages. The operations went on for most of the night.
***** There were more raids in the first three days of the month on the Kenema-Bo highway.
***** Twelve civilians were killed in attacks on villages in the Eastern Province, in some cases barely twelve miles from Kenema. First reports said they were by "RUF rebels". According to an AFPI report, twenty people, including six children aged between ten and twelve years were seriously wounded. Villages attacked included the mining town of Largo-Njassawebu and Ngelehun. Houses were looted and set alight. Kamjohs engaged the attackers who then took to flight. Money and property were reported to have been recovered and returned to their owners.
***** There was another ambush on a government Road Transport bus about twenty-five miles from Bo on the Bo-Kenema highway. Two people were killed and several were seriously wounded. The rest of the passengers and the driver fled into the bush, abandoning the vehicle with all their possessions on board to be looted by "rebels in military uniform". A Guinean soldier and a civilian were recently killed at the same spot.
***** Troops evacuated 180 leprosy, tuberculosis and polio patients from a hospital at Massanga in the Northern Province for fear of an imminent rebel attack. Military spokesman Melvin Keita - said their aim was to protect the hospital from being looted while stopping rebels from setting the town ablaze. Massanga is now a ghost town after its more than 6,000 inhabitants fled into nearby bushes. Argentinean surgeon Ruben Rostan said he realised the security measures but "I cannot keep patients here under such heavy military presence". On 4 September, Five-Mile - a town only nine miles away was attacked and three civilians and a soldier were killed. Nearby is Bumbuna the site of a hydro-electric scheme construction for the last thirty years.
***** A late report on BBC Focus On Africa monitored
in London claimed that a major rebel base in the East at Bandawo near Blama
had been overrun by the local hunters' brigade - the Kamajohs - during
a highway clearing exercise. Other rebel held villages were reported to
have been liberated. The report further said that hundreds of civilians,
mainly women and children, many badly malnourished, were also rescued from
the villages nearby and brought to the town. Kamajohs claimed that they
saw hundreds of rebels fleeing, leaving behind loads of looted property
"locked up in brand new houses built by the rebels".
1. NO MORE COUPS, PLEASE
When will some of our soldiers in the Sierra Leone Armed Forces realise that coups d'etat are not the fashionable way of conducting our national affairs in this day and age? If true, the alleged aborted coup plot against the government and person of President Tejan Kabbah barely a few months into civilian rule, is disgusting and worrying, and must be condemned.
It ranks as further testimony to the stony indifference of soldiers to ordinary civilians' feelings about how they want their country to be run. Only a moron can underestimate the contempt and revulsion of Sierra Leoneans for military rule, especially after the last dose of soja power. Which soldier could have failed to observe the determination of the electorate, during the last elections, to be rid of military rule?
Our army is a major institution with a very important role to play in national life. It is, according to the 1991 Constitution, "to guard and secure the Republic of Sierra Leone and preserve the safety and territorial integrity of the State, to participate in its development, to safeguard the people's achievements and to protect [the] Constitution".
These days the threat to the safety and territorial integrity of the State is not so much from without as from within because political forces frequently fail the masses. But it is the proper province of the electorate to change such a government through the tried and tested method of the ballot box.
The soldiers should realise that the problems that currently face President Kabbah's government - indeed the whole country - are not of his own making but of their own comrades in the NPRC and the civilian APC government before them. Were this government to fail to deliver the desired results, it should be left to the electorate that voted it into office to remove it by the same method - the ballot box.
This leads us to pose the question - again - whether we really need a standing army? If all that they can accomplish is to stage coups against legitimate democratically elected governments, their raison d'etre within a democratic society disappears.
So for Heaven's sake, let our civilian governments, of whichever political hue, continue to make such asses of themselves as they wish. But let us allow ourselves - the gullible electorate who put them there - the luxury of getting them out. Never again should we expect soldiers to come to our rescue.
We have, more than once, danced for them in the streets but see what harm they did to us and our country! They must never again be encouraged to darken the corridors of power.
Let us resolve to make a concerted effort to thwart the adventurism of soldiers. We call on all the patriotic professional soldiers to do what the nation requires of them. Let them jealously guard the integrity of the State, its government of the day, and our newly found democracy. It is every soldier's duty as much as every citizen's to inform on those who would do otherwise. If they fail, then they too will become the enemy of the people.
Focus condemns this latest alleged coup attempt
and expresses its sympathy and relief to President Kabbah and the people
of our free and new democratic Sierra Leone.
2. BUT WHY NIGERIA?
Disgusting though the news was about the alleged attempted coup, it came equally as a shock to many people to learn that, as a counterblast to it, the government felt it necessary to enlist the services of the Nigerian Police in its investigation. It is a curious paradox that the government of the new democratic Sierra Leone feels confident to call upon police functionaries of a notoriously heartless, hard-nosed military dictator like General Sani Abacha who came to power via the very method, ie a coup d'etat, which, had it succeeded, would have defenestrated Kabbah's presidency.
Military rule in Nigeria stinks and has led to the spilling of the blood of many innocents. We all know what a pariah that country's government has become not just in international circles but even among its own civilian population.
No doubt there is a perfectly plausible reason why
our government had to turn to the services of a misfit govern-ment's police
outfit. We suspect it is because popular esteem for our major public institutions
is at such an all-time low that we can not trust even our own police investigators.
What a very sorry state we are in!
3. LET'S HAVE ANOTHER GO AT A PEACE ACCORD
Once again we appeal to both the Revolutionary United Front (RUF/SL) and the Government of Sierra Leone to get together now and sign the Draft Peace Accord. The more one looks at the draft accord the more one is convinced that a deal ought really to have been signed last May. If both sides really want to ensure a peaceful resolution then the right time is now. If it means locking them up in one room until they come up with an agreement, then so be it. We have been lucky so far in that the RUF and the government have been willing to sit and discuss peace, ie peace that will lead to a cessation of the fighting, hence the killing and the destruction. That was a much needed window of opportunity which should not be frittered away without some concrete result.
It was always assumed that Corporal Foday Sankoh had full control over his combatants and could therefore deliver them at will. The fear now is that the longer he stays away from his men - this being his sixth consecutive month in Ivory Coast - the less convincing will be that claim. If, God forbid, he loses that leverage and someone else - perhaps a hot head - emerges, who does not subscribe to the notion of a peaceful settlement, or there happens in fact to be a splinter group in that movement, we would be walking straight into the kind of senseless mayhem that overtook our brothers and sisters in Liberia when competing warlords sprouted over various areas of their country.
In this regard we must refer to the reported clashes between the Kamajohs (the local hunters' militia) and the Sierra Leone army. This is such a dangerous development that could degenerate into open warfare between rival armies if it is not handled with extra caution. The Kamajohs were meant, firstly, to supplement the efforts of the Sierra Leone army which, due to limited resources and being overstretched in various parts of the country, had been faring rather badly against the RUF. Secondly, they were formed to protect their local towns and villages when evidence began to emerge that many attacks were not the work of the RUF but of elements in the armed forces who, under the guise of rebels, went out of control and engaged in their own independent adventures in banditry, looting and murder. Our understanding of their purpose which we supported as far back as November 1995 (see FSL Vol 1 No 2) was that they would complement and not be a rival army to the national constitutionally established armed forces of Sierra Leone. Section 166 of the 1991 Constitution clearly states that "No person shall raise any armed force except by or under the authority of an Act of Parliament".
In effect, on a straight forward count, there may already be at least four, possibly five, competing armies out there in the field of conflict, namely, the Sierra Leone Armed Forces; the Kamajohs' brigade which is notionally helping them; an amorphous band of renegade armed forces soldiers under no identifiable command; the RUF itself; and, if current rumoured reports are to be believed, a splinter group of the RUF that has allegedly broken away from its main stream following (some say) Sankoh's long and unrewarded absence away from the frontline. It is a rather frightening scenario.
For this reason Focus has persistently argued the urgency and the absolute necessity for a peace accord to be agreed between the government and the RUF - the principal identifiable combatant. Thereafter, it would be a lot easier to identify and isolate the remaining anonymous groups who would still be engaged in fighting. There is always a temptation to refer to any hostile activity as the work of the RUF. But now, it is very evident to people up-country that a great deal of the violence in recent months has been the work of soldier-rebels (sobels) acting on their own or in collusion with other elements, possibly including loose cannons from the RUF; marauding bands of armed men, including criminals on the loose on both sides of the divide; or the straightforward clashes between regular soldiers and Kamajohs, fighting for supremacy, in a spirit of mutual suspicion.
We must therefore quicken the pace towards a peace accord. If the violence continues thereafter we know then that there are, or have always been, others apart from the RUF, involved in this war. With the RUF on board, we might just be able to rake the rest in, either through military action in concert with the RUF or another bout of negotiations.
We however believe that whatever deal comes about should
take place within the framework of a peace accord. Nothing should take
place outside it; for example, an informal offer of posts in government,
parliament, parastatals, etc., because any party can conceivably withdraw
from such a deal with impunity, thus leaving the other party without any
recourse. We must seek a settlement to which we can hold and tie both parties
The quest for peace
JUST FOR THE RECORD .....
Focus now has possession of key documents dealing with events leading up to the last peace meeting which only just failed to agree on a peace accord. We hope to start serialising sections of the Draft Peace Accord in future editions. Below, we publish the statements of the two parties - Government of Sierra Leone and the RUF/SL - following the breakdown of the talks. The contrast between the two reactions could not be more striking - a bullish and confident government reaction tinged with mild frustration against a measured and stoical response by the RUF playing down their differences.
A speech by Mr Maigore Kallon, Foreign Mister of Sierra Leone, 28 May 1996
"On behalf of the Government and people of Sierra Leone, may I express my sincere thanks to the Government and people of La Cote d'Ivoire, for the role played by them in hosting these peace talks, and providing the necessary logistics for the same. The Ivorian Foreign Minister, Mr Amara Essy, in particular, has spared no effort in order to bring these talks to a successful conclusion. The talks sometimes went into late nights. He was always present personally urging both parties to strive hard to achieve peace in Sierra Leone through these talks. If we are not able to record total success today, this is not for lack of encouragement, moral and material support on the part of the government of La Cote d'Ivoire or the skilful use by Mr Essy of his diplomatic prowess.
The Sierra Leone delegation came to these talks with an open mind and with determination to arrive at a successful conclusion. This was so because the Government of Sierra Leone believed that with goodwill and sincere commitment to peace by both sides the conflict which has caused so much destruction to life and property in Sierra Leone and impeded its development will be over and with this behind us the people of Sierra Leone would then be able to reap the fruits of the new democracy which they have fought so hard to achieve.
The RUF has now demonstrated that it is not really in for peaceful resolution of the conflict in Sierra Leone, but that by the use of armed force and terror it would impose its will on the people of Sierra Leone and forcibly replace that country's democratic constitutional institution by a parallel government of its own creation. It demanded a caretaker government in place of the elected government of Sierra Leone. This was not up for negotiation by the Sierra Leone delegation. When this attempt failed, the RUF again attempted at these talks to impose on the people of Sierra Leone institutions which would in effect result in the existence of a parallel government in Sierra Leone. This was totally unacceptable.
In the spirit of accommodation and for the purpose of bringing lasting peace to our country, the government of Sierra Leone delegation made to the RUF a number of concessions which were aimed at ending the conflict, making adequate provisions for the RUF combatants and resettling and reintegrating them into society. The more the concessions the Government of Sierra Leone made the greater were the demands of the RUF.
These rounds of talks have therefore been inconclusive because the government of Sierra Leone insists on behaving as a responsible government with a duty to act constitutionally and to protect and defend the people of that country.
I believe that all is not yet lost. It is my earnest wish and, I am sure, the earnest wish of the people of Sierra Leone that the RUF shall demonstrate their declared commitment to peace by permanently laying down their arms and approach subsequent peace talks with sincere determination to succeed. These elements have been lacking on the part of the RUF in the talks just concluded."
Statement by the RUF/SL, 28 May 1996
"We have taken risks to go beyond our mandate to negotiate. We have reached a stage where we have to return to consult with our combatants and civil population. We are assured by the progress so far made by both parties that we have more that unite us than divide us. We have to use the common ground reached in our negotiations as a firm foundation for peace and progress.
The RUF/SL shall ever be grateful to His Excellency President Konan Bedie, the government and people of Cote d'Ivoire for their abundant patience, hospitality and especially for bringing us this far. Their guidance and counselling have made us to progress in these talks.
The RUF/SL is also grateful to the encouragement given by the Heads of State of Burkina Faso, Nigeria, Ghana and Guinea. We thank their Excellencies President Blaise Campaore, President Sani Abacha, President Jerry Rawlings and President Lansana Conte for their pieces of advice.
The RUF/SL will like to take this opportunity to thank the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) for its contribution to the peace talks and also for bringing much needed relief supplies to our people. We are grateful to the facilitating role of the international community as represented by the United Nations, OAU, Commonwealth and International Alert. We count on their encouragement and moral and material support. We appeal to members of the international community to continue their support for the Government of Cote d'Ivoire.
In order to keep the momentum of the talks alive an RUF/SL external delegation will remain in Abidjan to maintain close contacts with the Government of Cote d'Ivoire and members of the international community. In this respect we kindly request that the RUF/SL is provided access to:
NEWS DIGEST...NEWS DIGEST...NEWS......
"COUP PLOT" IS FOILED
A shocked nation learned on September 9 that an attempt to overthrow the government and assassinate President Kabba had been uncovered. Two officers were initially arrested and were linked to at least two senior members of the previous military regime. A further four soldiers were later arrested. Nigerian police were drafted in to help investigate the coup. In a broadcast on BBC Focus on Africa, the President claimed that he had not taken it seriously initially but that following investigations it seemed as if an irresponsible group of soldiers were looking for opportunities to continue to loot and kill innocent civilians. He said he was not surprised because the NPRC had left office reluctantly after being hounded by the people. "My sixth sense told me that they must have left behind some traps somewhere or banana peels for me to slip and then use that as an opportunity to regain power". The President then alluded to three attempted coups during the era of ex President Siaka Stevens which he said drove the latter to adopt dictatorial rule but that no amount of intimidation was going to change his own commitment to democratic governance.
SANKOH TO VISIT HIS BASES?
Corporal Foday Sankoh, the RUF leader, recently asked the Ivory Coast government to be allowed to visit his bases in Sierra Leone. He said that he wished to brief his supporters on the draft peace accord of last May, promising that he would be in a better position then to decide whether or not to sign a peace deal. Focus has learnt that President Kabbah expressed no objection and gave his okay for such a visit. The ICRC (Red Cross) was expected to put into motion the necessary arrangements for the RUF leader's trip.
GOVERNMENT VETOES SANKOH'S EUROPEAN TOUR
A proposed visit by RUF leader Foday Sankoh to the Belgian capital, Brussels, was recently aborted following strong protests from the Sierra Leone government. Sankoh who is believed to be getting increasingly isolated by his long absence from his frontline in Sierra Leone has more than once expressed his desire to return to his bases. It is not clear whether he has continued to stay in Abidjan on his own volition or whether in fact he is, as is widely believed, being held hostage there. The vetoing of the visit came barely hours before Sankoh was due to depart for his European debut. The visit was allegedly at the invitation of Mr Ludo Martens, the leader of the Belgian Labour Party. Sankoh was also due to meet and "put his case" to EU officials.
BELGIAN MERCENARIES FOR RUF?
An unconfirmed report from Freetown says that the Sierra Leone government claimed that it had intercepted a radio transmission reporting the arrival of Belgian Special Agents hired by the RUF. The emergence of the claim coincided with the government's protest at the RUF leader's proposed visit to Belgium.
ANOTHER TRAGEDY AT SEA
A passenger boat Monira has capsized off the coast of Freetown with loss of life. Initial government reports put the death toll at 15 but other reports say up to fifty people may have drowned. It is the third tragedy at sea in three months, bringing the number of deaths to over 200. On 3 September, the Pampam alias MV Manawa sank with the loss of over 30 lives and in May, 150 people perished when their overloaded boat sank.
RETIREMENT FOR TOP NPRC MEN
Two former Chairmen of the NPRC - General Bio and Captain Strasser - along with 25 senior officers, including 19 key players in the last military regime, have been retired from the army with full benefits. Seven others detained by the NPRC for an alleged attempted coup were also retired. Surprisingly, two leading members - Lt Col Tom Nyuma and Lt Col Komba Mondeh, both currently studying in Zimbabwe and Ghana, respectively, were spared. It is believed that Mondeh will eventually return to head a restructured and streamlined army. Also, 155 non-commissioned officers were retired after completing normal service in the army. In a later development, the government ordered all retired officers to hand in their weapons at the nearest police stations.
IMF QUERIES SIZE OF MERCENARY ARMY'S PAY
A leaked memo from the IMF appeared to query the huge expense of retaining the services of Executive Outcomes (EO) in Sierra Leone. The Minister of Finance Thaimu Bangura defended the government's action claiming that it would do anything to preserve the security of the country. He revealed that the government owed EO $18.5 million. Since the present government took over they have accumulated another $4 million. He said a peace accord was due to be signed within weeks. Later the Minister of Information and Broadcasting Mr George Banda-Thomas confirmed the receipt of the letter, saying they had renegotiated the agreement with EO. Whereas they used to pay EO $1.2 million per month, this had now been reduced to under $1 million.
NEW COINS INTRODUCED
The Bank of Sierra has introduced high denomination coins - Le 50 and Le 100 - made of nickel and expected to last about 30 years. The effigies of historical figures like Madam Yoko and Chief Naimbana were preferred to the usual contemporary political figures.
About 50 members belonging to the Sierra Leone Community Berlin/Brandenburg (SLCB/B) - a union of Sierra Leonean residents in Berlin - attended a forum discussion on Sierra Leone on Saturday, 15 August 1996. Among the speakers was the editor of Focus, Mr Ambrose Ganda who spoke about the civil war and the history of the peace process, including the current prospects for peace. Dr Joseph D Mondeh, a Clinical Psychologist, discussed the traumatic effects of war on victims while Dr Balimo S Jalloh, an economist and former researcher at the Bank of Sierra Leone, spoke about simple ways in which the country's economy could be directed to make it viable and self-sustaining. The meeting was chaired by Dr Bai Kamara, Chairman of SLCB/B, with General Secretary, Mr Sharka Cole, as moderator. A late night reception followed afterwards.
The civil war is evidently no impediment to fortune seekers. 67 `foreigners' have been arrested and charged with illegal entry and mining in Koidu, Kono District in the Eastern province. They included Gambians, Lebanese, Guineans, Malians, Nigerians, a Senegalese and one Russian.
PRESIDENT KABBA VISITS UN
It was home from home for President Tejan Kabbah who arrived in the US, where he had lived and worked for many years prior to his return to Sierra Leone following his retirement. The President has just visited the United Nations - whose corridors he had traversed during his many years with UNDP - where he addressed the General Assembly. He spoke of the frustration of Sierra Leoneans over "Foday Sankoh's intransigence" on signing a peace accord and asked the Security Council to impose sanctions on the RUF if they do not sign a peace deal. He urged the Council to do what was necessary to avoid a Rwandan or Yugoslavian situation in the country. "In these circumstances, I believe the time has come for the Security Council to act in a manner that would forestall this potential catastrophe. To this end I suggest that the Security Council demand that the RUF leadership sign the peace agreement negotiated in May 1996, as Corporal Foday Sankoh has already undertaken to do, without further delay, in any case not later than the first week of December 1996" he said.
US WILL HELP
The US government has promised to help in the demobilisation
of combatants and in the resettlement of refugees when the war ends. The
assurances were given by Douglas Stafford of the USAID during the visit
of President Kabbah to the US.
From: The President, Association of Sierra Leonean Refugees in Cote d'Ivoire (ASLOR-CI)
We chose the frying pan, not the fire
Recently, we came across your paper which focuses on Sierra Leone - this land, once the bread basket of the sub region and glorious in so many respects but now war-torn; a land where nothing else flows but bitterness. We salute your courage and determination to inform the world about a people in troubled waters, seeking a new identity after five terrible years of self-destruction. We remain hopeless in the face of a no-peace, no-war situation.
This war has sent some 15,000 of us across two borders. We first came to seek refuge in Liberia where another war, a senseless war, welcomed us. It's just difficult to describe a situation where the frying pan is preferable to the fire, so we are finally in La Cote d'Ivoire - a land of peace and brotherhood. We are a bunch of destitute men and women over here. We are cold, hungry and sick. Our children are dying every day of malnutrition. Please help us get in touch with all Sierra Leonean Associations in Great Britain and in the Americas. We would also like to contact other NGOs the world over. Our people need help desperately. Please send us all important addresses for immediate contact.
While we await hearing from you, please accept our gratitude.
Mohamed SheriffLet the present government govern
I was quite keen on your peace plan in the editorial of FSL Vol 2 No 7. I agree that the RUF should be encouraged to become a political entity and that they should give up their so-called armed struggle for which we have never been really told the purpose. I also agree that fresh elections should be held in the near future. But I do not agree with your further suggestion that they should be involved in government because we already have one which, though by no means perfect, is carrying on the business of governing. I am one of those who believed in a government of national unity before the elections. Now that those elections are behind us, even though they were not nationwide as you correctly stated, we nonetheless have got a government in place. Let it rule while the RUF organises itself as a political party and when they are ready, let them say so. Then elections can be held, this time, throughout the whole country with every eligible voter taking part.
Sidique MansoAmnesty for all? Surely Not!
A blanket amnesty for wrong doing that has not been established, but is based on a mere presumption of possible guilt, is wrong. Why is the Kabbah-SLPP government giving blanket amnesty to all and sundry? What are the wrongs they are pardoning, and why? We should know the truth about the most serious abuses of human rights during the war; and the financial corruption and abuse of power in government and public life. In both cases we must know the key people behind them. How else would we set the standards by which our ministers and civil servants will be assessed if those who have held and abused those positions before them are allowed to get off without some account or expression of remorse? A blanket amnesty also does not discriminate between those officials who strive to maintain a decent standard in their work and play by the rules and those who do not, but rather insinuates that everyone did wrong. All soldiers did not misbehave, or to the same degree, during the NPRC's rule. There is a military chain of command which can be tracked to the very top. Surely the guys at the top should be brought to book. I fear we are condoning serious wrong doing under the cloak of magnanimity. It is wrong and I feel utterly disgusted.
Morie GbaniNo apologies, please!
You owe us no apology for Focus' and your own personal contribution to the peace process. Remember that the accusation of siding with the RUF levelled against you is not unique and has been directed at past peace facilitators and negotiators all over the world including our own Dr David Owen, in the UK, who eventually gave up his peace envoy role in Bosnia. I also understand that even JamesJonah, your new ambassador to the UN, was vilified in his Somali and Angolan adventures. It is a thankless job. My fear is that by being so frank and detailed in your account, you might have inadvertently compromised your future effectiveness as some people might not be as open when dealing with you for fear that you may reveal details of mutual transactions.
Audrey Sanderson(Thank you for the reassurance. As regards your concern, I specifically wrote that I was "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". I only mentioned the occasions when my intervention was critical to the peace process, and only because the people who reaped the benefit of my facilitation have kept quiet knowing very well that the allegations against me are untrue. I have a very large and respected family in Sierra Leone whose honour and personal security are of prime and equal concern to me as is my quest for peace in the country. Editor
Bellingham, Surrey, UK
The government is right but ...
In the absence of a peace deal with the RUF, I strongly support the government in its determination to use any appropriate means to preserve the peace and unity of our country. My only problem is with their dependence on Executive Outcomes. Why do we need to use a mercenary group to defend our country. If the international community wants to help Sierra Leone why will they not give us a respectable and legal force to help us maintain the peace? I cannot endorse the government's use of Executive Outcomes because of the secrecy behind their hire, the nature of their operations and the heavy cost borne by our poor country. Could the government please answer the following questions: Is EO in Sierra Leone as a substitute army, because the government does not trust our own army? Or, is it to supplement and/or strengthen the Sierra Leone army, ie a military force, against the rebels? Or, is it to protect specific economic resources, eg the Kono diamond mines, part of which appears to have been traded off to them in part payment? We need to know precisely why these particular people have been hired and on what terms. Let us have the facts, please.
This month's gem of a publication is the maiden edition of ACCORD -an international review of Peace Initiatives. It is published by Conciliation Resources (CR) - the London-based conflict prevention and resolution NGO - in association with the International Peace Research Institute, Oslo and the International Peace Bureau, Geneva. It was edited in-house by Jeremy Armon and Andy Carl, both of CR. This first edition of Accord deals with the Liberian Peace Process 1990-1996 and includes the texts of nearly all the major agreements. There is also a detailed background analysis by three top experts: Max Ahmadu Sesay a Sierra Leonean research fellow and lecturer at Staffordshire University, on Bringing Peace to Liberia; Samuel Kofi Woods, II, National Director of the Justice and Peace Commission in Liberia, writing about Civic Initiatives in the Peace Process; and Charles Abiodun Alao, lecturer at the Department of War Studies at King's College, University of London, with a Commentary on the Accords.
The book is an invaluable contribution to literature on conflicts and the ramifications of engineering a peaceful settlement. Though specifically dealing with Liberia, its analyses and conclusions are equally applicable to similar situations in other countries. As well as recounting the successes, it highlights mistakes and how shortcomings might well have delayed a settlement in some cases. It should serve as a ready reference and constant companion for all those engaged in peace building and the management of conflict situations. Students, academics and diplomats will find it particularly useful. (For further details contact: Conciliation Resources, Lancaster House, 33 Islington High Street, London N1 9LH, UK; Tel: +44 171 278 2588; Fax: +44 171 837 0337; email: firstname.lastname@example.org.)
2. Amnesty International's Report - 1996
`Towards a future founded on Human Rights'
The Human Rights organisation Amnesty International has just released its 1996 report on Sierra Leone. Towards a future founded on human rights is a detailed account of some of the most serious, indeed vicious, violations of human rights during the country's fifth year of civil war. A delegation of AI visited the country early this year and interviewed at first hand some of the victims of torture and mutilation, as well as displaced citizens. Their report lays the blame for the violence squarely on both "government soldiers and the armed opposition RUF".
In a press release announcing the publication of the report AI commented that "Human rights in Sierra Leone are at a decisive point, following the return of a civilian government and progress towards a negotiated settlement to five years of internal armed conflict". It called on the government, the RUF and the international community to "take concrete steps to halt the killings and torture of civilians, which are continuing despite the peace negotiations, and to lay solid foundations for respect of human rights in the future".
The immediate establishment of a human rights verification commission;
The establishment of effective control over both government and RUF forces, with specific prohibition of tortures and killings of non-combatants;
The expansion of the mandate of the National Unity and Reconciliation Commission to clarify the truth about human rights abuses during the conflict; ["True reconciliation" says Amnesty "cannot be achieved if the right of victims and their families to truth and justice are ignored"].
A guarantee of the independence and impartiality of the National Reconciliation on Human Rights envisaged in the Draft Peace Accord (of May 1996).
3. Case Study - The Sierra Leone Situation (1996)
This case study was carried out by Mr Rupert Davies, a career diplomat currently working at the Sierra Leone High Commission in London. Mr Davies' work is a copious documentation and commentary on the civil wars in Sierra Leone and Liberia and includes a brief political history of the two countries, the genesis of both wars and the various, including abortive, attempts at negotiating a peaceful end. It reproduces key documents including communiques of meetings and summits between various Sierra Leone government and RUF delegations, and covers the period up to the first and only summit meeting between President Ahmed Tejan Kabbah and Corporal Foday Sankoh of the RUF/SL on 23 April 1996.
The impact of the Liberian civil war on that in Sierra Leone, including the spill over and the influx of Liberian refugees, is discussed. There is also a consideration of the role of international organisations and the NPRC's implementation of the democratisation process.
Mr Davies concludes that the "de facto situation on the ground is that neither the government nor the RUF can attain total military victory in this senseless war against the civilian population. The war can go on forever and like a swing of the pendulum, each party taking its turn to gain the upper hand." Later he states pointedly that "it is absolutely unrealistic and over simplistic to imagine that it is possible to achieve sustainable peace without making concessions to the RUF". Among what he describes as his own humble suggestions, Davies advocates a broad-based government of national unity and a show of "magnanimity to offer some positions in government to the RUF for at least an initial period of one year" in the spirit of power sharing.
The study was undertaken under the Extended Programme
in Peace-Making and Preventive Diplomacy organised by UNITAR and the
International Peace Academy. Mr Davies formally presented his case study
to the meeting of the International Peace Academy in New York in May and
received the highest commendation from its members. FSL
1. Cheltenham-Kambia Hospitals Link
This is one of many growing links between concerned communities in the UK and key social institutions in Sierra Leone. The Cheltenham-Kambia Hospital Link was established in 1992 after a visit to the Kambia Hospital in northern Sierra Leone, by Richard Kerr-Wilson (FRCS., FRCOG.) and Godfrey and Pauline Taylor, from Cheltenham in Gloucester. The Link is registered as a Charity under the name - The Kambia Hospital Appeal. Funds raised in Cheltenham, have been used to send medical and other equipment, and a regular and copious supply of drugs to the Kambia hospital. They also frequently fund exchange visits between staff of various Cheltenham hospitals and nurses and others from Kambia Hospital.
There are plans currently for Richard, a gynaecologist, to go to Kambia in November with an anaesthetist and a theatre nurse in November to do a series of operations. The Kambia Hospital Appeal has also arranged for further training of traditional Birth Attendants in midwifery and family planning, using funds from "Comic Relief". The Cheltenham Rotary Club is currently arranging to donate a four-wheel drive Land-Rover ambulance to Kambia hospital using funds raised voluntarily in Cheltenham and with the aid of Rotary International Foundation.
If you are interested and wish to obtain further information or receive a newsletter, write to either: Mr Peter Boreham, OBE, 100 Evesham Road, Cheltenham, Glos. GL52 2AL; or Mr Richard Kerr-Wilson, 26 Moorend Road, Cheltenham, Glos. GL53 0HD.
2. Vision Aid Overseas (VAO)
VAO was started in 1985. It is a registered charity in England. Second hand glasses donated by the public are collected in the UK, then cleaned, graded and labelled by the team members. One of the organisation's major aims is to help each country, in which it operates, to eventually become self-sufficient in eye care.
Vision aid volunteers recycle the cast-off spectacles to improve the eye sight - hence the quality of life - of thousands of people every year. Currently a four-person team led by David Parkins a 41 year-old optometrist from Cambridgeshire in England is running a mobile eye clinic in various towns in Sierra Leone. Their latest visit was to Kenema.
If you would like to donate your old, discarded
glasses, then please send them, enclosed in a jiffy bag to Vision Aid Overseas,
56-66 Highlands Road, Leatherhead, Surrey KT22 8NR.
PUBLISH AND BE DAMNED .........
[Ambrose Ganda]The draft peace accord which emerged from the aborted peace conference in Ivory Coast must be given wider publicity so that everybody can read, digest and associate with it. It is a good document which, even unsigned, can serve as a blue print for how we want to order our communities in the future. It should not be allowed to gather dust. This was envisaged in the Annex which specifically requires both parties, ie the RUF and the Government, to pursue "a nationwide sensitisation programme for the peace process, using all available means of communication to impress upon their combatants and the nation at large:
the reasons for demobilisation;
the opportunities for reintegration of combatants; and,
the need for reconciliation and lasting peace.
Wider publicity inside the country will enable peace groups, community organisations, NGOs and individuals to familiarise themselves with its provisions and, where possible, commence the implementation of areas that can be executed in the absence of a formal peace deal. They do not have to wait for hostilities to end.
Poverty can lead to a political backlash
From where I stand I can see conflict arising within the politics of Sierra Leone. As popular expectation for government to produce results soars, conflict will emerge between the desire for democratisation of the country and the need to establish social and personal security and national stability. President Kabbah will have to tread cautiously in the middle because to fall unguardedly on the one side could lead to extremes of authoritarianism which I know he abhors and anarchy that he will not control. He has to also accomplish two almost herculean social engineering feats: one is to provide personal security for all without offending personal liberty; the other, to produce prosperity for the country without creating more poverty on the current seemingly irreversible scale.
In the latter case, he can succeed as long as he and his advisers constantly remind themselves that no amount of political and social reasons can justify any further impositions on the poor people of Sierra Leone. As the pressure for results mounts, there will be a temptation to offer the evasive answer of "Oonah wait". But when you are on the edge of subsistence, how long can you wait? Therein lies the inherent danger facing a budding democracy like ours. Sierra Leone's friends, especially in the West, who recently helped to restore democracy to us should appreciate this fact and be more generous with their help. Increased hardship leads to discontent which, in turn, leads to a political backlash.
The government can prevent this happening by being open and truthful with information it gives, from time to time, to the general public, ensuring that in both its quality and substance there is nothing left wanting. To hide behind deliberate half truths or to fail to explain governmental action adequately can lead to misunderstanding and misrepresentation, hence internal disharmony. We must strive to avoid that kind of situation at all cost.
The principle was right ... the choice rather dodgy
President Kabbah was right to make his State visit to Iran. In fact he is right to go wherever he can be received as long as he pursues the legitimate interests of the people of Sierra Leone. No one should attempt to dictate to him his itinerary. As our country desperately looks for precious lifelines, there will be the odd temptation to bite even some of the hands that have been, or will be, feeding us! So with apologies to the US Ambassador and I suspect his British counterpart, I think Mr Kabbah was within his prerogative to make his visit to Iran. Like a lot of people, I was just a bit uncertain why Iran this time. With its rather turbulent history of exporting a virulent strand of Islamic fundamentalism that some countries claim has destabilised their governments, I thought the choice at this time was rather inappropriate. But if in fact, as has been claimed, a ship is on its way with goodies for the poor of Sierra Leone then it was frankly worthwhile. The question on my and everyone's lips is, what is in it for the Iranians? One hopes there is no fishy business involved! Watch this space.
Why a blanket amnesty?
I am afraid but I have to agree with the sentiments expressed in the letter published in this edition (see p.5 col.2), about the issue of amnesty. In many ways I am in sympathy with the sentiments that have weighed on President Kabbah and his government on this delicate issue. I may be wrong, but my point is that you cannot give blanket amnesty to anyone who has done wrong if that person has not accepted that he has done wrong in the first place. We should be told, for example, who has been involved in the passport scam; how much they benefitted from it; how much they have paid back, if at all; and why they will not be prosecuted. As regards the horrible crimes against innocent civilians committed in this war it is only the people of Sierra Leone that can forgive the perpetrators. That is why, in endorsing President Kabbah's three Rs - Reconciliation, Rehabilitation and Reconstruction, we must try to establish two further Rs, namely, the Reasons and the Responsibility for, at least, the most serious breaches of human rights during the war in order (a) to learn from them and prevent their recurrence in future; and (b) to recognise and assuage the feelings of the victims.
But I am a little confused by these goings-on. First, two former Chairmen of the NPRC are retired on full benefits and guaranteed an implicit assurance of amnesty for their actions when they were in office. Secondly, some weeks later, the Attorney General says he has more than enough evidence to convict Strasser and Bio for alleged larceny relating to the deal in passports which allegedly earned them just under one million dollars. Both men are now safely without his reach, outside his jurisdiction. But sitting right under his nose are the scores of men and women who allegedly made this scam possible - including three former Foreign Ministers, and an assortment of Police, Immigration, Foreign Ministry and State House officials. I say Mr A-G, book them!
IMF's crocodile tears for Sierra Leone
I was amused by recent fulminations from the IMF about the Sierra Leone government's continuing reliance and alarmingly high expenditure on retaining the services of Executive Outcomes. I am told they expressed unhappiness at the level of expenditure and the absence of a peace deal. I expressed a similar view before from the very first moment of EO's arrival in Sierra Leone. Surely the IMF knew when Captain Strasser and the NPRC hired EO. Why didn't they try to stop them? Or was it really such a secret deal that it escaped the usually hawk-eyed scrutiny of the IMF? It was they who let the deal slip through and they should not be the ones to blame a successor government that inherited it.
Let's hope they live up to their promises .....quickly
I know that Sierra Leoneans will be extremely delighted at the news of the pledging of the sum of US $212 million by donors at their recent conference in Geneva. I sincerely hope that this will bear fruit and that the promised funds will materialise. But before my compatriots go cock-a-hoop prematurely they should pause for reflection. I cannot help being sceptical because the record of such pledges in the past has not been inspiring. Of $700 million pledged by donors for Rwanda in 1994, only $120 million had been paid up by April this year. I am however reminded that there is the exceptional case of Angola where donors actually oversubscribed their pledged amount. If only Sierra Leone could be so lucky!
But seriously speaking, though $212 million is a lot of money, particular within the context of a poor country like Sierra Leone, the cost of remedial projects alone, not counting preventive and other crucial social and economic programmes, is so colossal that this amount is only a drop in the ocean. After paying consultancies, salaries and operational charges, very little will be left over for the most basic things that need to be done for the people. But an even more monumental problem is the physical translation of pledges of this kind, made at such donor conferences, into tangible goods and services. It brings into focus the full interplay of the various UN and other international agency operations, not to mention the costs and complexity of their coordination. So don't just let us get carried away.
Ministers' overseas visits must be cost-benefit analysed
One way in which President Kabbah can put himself at ease is to insist that all ministers and senior public officials, without exception, visiting abroad on any mission, present to him a written memorandum of their intended visit, its purpose, the costs involved, why it should be taken up, how it will benefit the country and the ministry, and its impact on other ministries and government policy overall. If the trip is given the go-ahead, the minister or official should, upon his or her return, submit within a few days - not more than a week - a comprehensive written account of all activities undertaken, the actual cost incurred, the immediate and long term benefits flowing from the visit, and the prospects for the future. It may be that such a rule exists and that ministers are in fact already scrupulously abiding by it, but it needs to be restated so that the public is aware. I am quite convinced that if such a rigorous process of accountability were in place, very few ministers will find these just-get-up-and-go trips a joy, and the spate of globe trotting ministers, interested only in manufacturing their own self importance, would be plugged at a stroke. It will become one of the best performance indicators for the government and an effective weapon in its armoury of transparency checks.