Peace Process In Chaos As …..
RUF PEACE COMMISSIONERS CLAIM "SANKOH
Implementation of the Abidjan Peace Accord was thrown into confusion and uncertainty with the news that Corporal Foday Saybana Sankoh, leader of the Revolutionary United Front (RUF), had been ousted by some of his closest aides. The RUF currently appears to be in disarray while its leader is holed-up in the Nigerian administrative capital, Abuja, where earlier reports said he was being held under house arrest.
Within hours of the announcement of Sankoh's overthrow speculation was rife over who would replace him as the new RUF leader. Then came the announcement that the mantle of leadership would be assumed by Captain Philip Palmer, a former combatant and founding member of the RUF.
Two days later a spokesman for the RUF, Captain Gibril Massaquoi, contradicted his colleagues and claimed that the 'coupists' were traitors. He threw down the gauntlet and challenged his former comrades to return to RUF held territory to carry out their so-called decision to oust Sankoh whom he claimed to be still at the helm. "I have no other leader" he said . He intimated that he had already "confirmed with RUF Battlefield Commander Major Sam Bockarie" that his allegiance was still with Sankoh.
President Tejan Kabbah was quick off the mark in welcoming the change and promised "to work with the new leadership" to speed up implementation of the Peace Accord.
Sankoh emerged a week later to defy, contemptuously on radio, the "traitors" and more or less issued a 72 hour notice to them to report to RUF War Council headquarters and threatened to withdraw the accreditation of the RUF members on the Commission for the Consolidation of Peace (CCP) in Freetown.
Not surprisingly, the ousting of Sankoh has led to serious convulsions within the rebel movement. Up to the time of writing this story, a string of bizarre incidents has culminated in the capture of key RUF personnel belonging to the rebellious faction of the movement including the putative leader Captain Palmer, Mr Fayiah Musa and Mr Ibrahim Deen-Jalloh (both Peace Commissioners), Dr Mohamed Barrie, a woman member of the RUF whose name could not be confirmed and, rather curiously, the Sierra Leone Ambassa-dor to the Republic of Guinea, Lt Col Diaby. Two Guinean security personnel were also believe to have been seized along with them.
It appears that their aim for travelling into the rebel held territory was to gain recognition and support for the new leadership and to get the rest of the movement to endorse the move against Sankoh. It now looks as if the plan has backfired with dire and ominous consequences for both the peace process and the captured emissaries.
As we went to Press there were unconfirmed reports that one of the captives, Captain Palmer, had been tried and executed by his captors. Focus is in no position to confirm the truth of this report. Grave concern has been expressed over the safety of the other captives.
SANKOH "UNDER HOUSE ARREST" IN NIGERIA
The string of bizarre happenings points to a grand plan that has gone seriously awry. Where it emanated from is still a mystery but it is becoming increasingly apparent that the RUF rebellion against its leader was not just a knee-jerk reaction to Sankoh's alleged recalcitrance over the Peace accord.
Sankoh's ousting took place while he was on a private visit to Nigeria where on arrival at Lagos International Airport on Sunday 2nd March he was questioned about weapons and ammunition - a pistol with four bullets - on his person. It was alleged that four aides accompanying him were also armed. He was later escorted under armed guard to Abuja where we understand he is being held, technically, under temporary house arrest.
What seems to be the case is that two key Nigerian departments of state - the Foreign and Defence Ministries respectively - were operating at variance with each other. The Foreign Ministry said that Sankoh was under house arrest, a claim that was confirmed by the Nigerian High Commissioner to Sierra Leone Alhaji Mohamed Abu Bakar who said that Sankoh had undergone "15 hours of questioning" and had been taken to Lagos where he was without any privileges and no right to talk to any one. He retracted this statement some days later.
Earlier, the Acting Director of Defence Information Colonel Godwin Ugbo said that Sankoh passed through the airport without incident. He went on: "The Presidency when informed of Sankoh's presence in the country directed that the RUF leader, as an international figure, be handed over to the Foreign Ministry. Since Sankoh had recognised the Government of Sierra Leone he can no longer be regarded as a rebel leader. He is not in detention and he is not a threat to our security".
Sankoh was more or less being implicitly recognised as the guest of the Nigerian Head of State, Sani Abacha. He has been able to communicate freely with whomsoever including, some say, his combatants.
At the time of the arrest an official Sierra Leonean delegation including Captain Hinga Norman, the Deputy Minister of Defence, was in Lagos to negotiate the extension of a military training agreement and to upgrade the link between the two countries.
Focus believes it has an explanation for this duplicity by the
Nigerians. (See below .. But Plot Thickens ")
The coup makers justified their action by alleging that Sankoh had been a stumbling block to the implementation of the peace accord and that his removal was imperative to ensure the smooth running of the terms of the Accord. Mr Fayiah Musa went even further to accuse his former leader of tribalism and authoritarianism.
He was particularly irritated at the treatment accorded to him and his colleagues of the Commission for the Consolidation of Peace (CCP) who had arrived in Abidjan for consultations with Sankoh who refused to see them. Instead he had travelled to Nigeria. Musa said that they were not really interested in the fate of Sankoh because he was on a private adventure which had nothing to do with the RUF and, in any case, they no longer recognised him as their leader.
Meanwhile the man earmarked to take over from Sankoh, Captain Palmer,
issued a statement afterwards to explain that the sacking of Sankoh "was
aimed at promoting the spirit of healing and reconciliation and a rapid
return to normalcy". Confirming an earlier statement by the Nigerian
High Commissioner to Sierra Leone that Sankoh was under house arrest in
Nigeria, Palmer's statement deplored Sankoh's "determination to thwart
the peace process and prolong the suffering of the people of Sierra Leone".
It charged that Sankoh was refusing to meet UN officials and his own duly
accredited members on the CCP who had travelled to discuss the implementation
process with him and that he had even refused to nominate members to the
various committees as provided under the terms of the Accord.
SANKOH DENOUNCES 'THOSE TRAITORS'
A defiant Foday Sankoh emerged from his luxurious Sheraton Hotel suite in Abuja to announce to the world that he was still leader of the RUF and that the coup plotters would not succeed. Sounding confident and claiming to be in touch with his Field Commanders, Sankoh ridiculed the idea that any of his adversaries could run the RUF. "They will not succeed " he boomed "they will not succeed". Asked on BBC Focus on Africa if this rebellion against him meant that his organisation was in disarray, he said that it was impossible for that to happen because his men on the ground were in touch with him. "Don't mind those criminals" he said.
He then mentioned an order "from the RUF High Command and War Council instructing all members of the RUF external delegation to report to HQ within 72 hours" failing which, without reason or explanation, they should consider themselves dismissed from their posts.
Referring to his former aides as a "handful of bandits who have been given dollars" in a "fix to delay the implementation of the Accord", Sankoh said they had "turned traitors because of money" suggesting that the RUF's peace commissioners had been bribed to overthrow him.
When asked what he was doing in Nigeria and why, if he insisted he was
free, he was he still in Abuja presumably under house arrest, he retorted
stoutly "I am on a mission".
KABBAH WELCOMES THE CHANGE
President Kabbah welcomed the ousting of Sankoh and promised to co-operate and work closely with the emerging new leadership. The speed of the recognition surprised some people as it was not at all clear, even then, whether the new leaders were in touch with, or had had the blessing of, their fighting men and women in RUF-controlled areas in the country.
The President who had been frustrated by Sankoh's "lack of co-operation"
said in a statement, read on national radio, that
"the reasons given
for Foday Sankoh's removal show that the [new] RUF leadership is interested
in lasting peace in Sierra Leone … the Government is prepared to co-operate
with the new leadership for sustainable peace while awaiting further details
on the affair."
…. BUT THE PLOT THICKENS
Focus has learnt through discreet sources that the confusion in Nigeria over the status of Corporal Foday Sankoh stems from the lack of a clear channel for decision-making. According to this version of events, the plan to remove Sankoh from the scene was discussed and agreed (with Ghana strongly dissenting) during a recent OAU Foreign Ministers' meeting (probably) in Tripoli, Libya.
Sierra Leone's Foreign Minister, Mrs Shirley Gbujama, is said to have made a powerful plea, behind closed doors, to a select group of ministers, including the Nigerian Foreign Minister, the maverick Chief Tom Ikimi. Ikimi, a very powerful man, runs the Foreign Ministry almost autonomously and would take decisions on issues like that involving Sankoh without reference to the Head of State. Hence, say these sources, the order to hold Sankoh came allegedly from the Foreign Ministry once Sankoh's identity was known.
The Nigerian Ministry of Defence, on the other hand, had prior notification
of, and therefore knew about, Sankoh's visit. It probably sanctioned
Sankoh's visit but the decision for him to be arrested or placed under
house arrest was not theirs. Sankoh was their visitor and arrangements
were being made for him to meet the Nigerian leader, General Sani Abacha.
Mr Ibrahim Seaga Shaw, the editor of the Freetown newspaper Expo
Times which appeared to question the wisdom of the
of the RUF's leadership change, was subsequently arrested and detained
together with two of his aides. The offending article also described the
Nigerian President Abacha’s detention of Sankoh as akin to "Wild West
gangsterism". They were still being held, nearly two weeks later, at
the Central Prisons in Pademba Road, Freetown. A charge of treason is rumoured
to be in preparation against them.
KABBAH PROTESTS TO SANKOH'S IVORIAN HOSTS
President Tejan Kabbah's frustrations with Foday Sankoh and the RUF had reached boiling point nearly two weeks before the RUF leader was ‘ousted’ by’ his aides. On 17 February he wrote a four-page letter to Ivory Coast President Konan Bedie in which he recanted "a number of disturbing developments in the peace process since the signing of the peace accord". Bedie is one of the signatories and (hence) guarantors of the Peace Accord which his country hosted and his government helped broker last November.
Throughout the letter, Kabbah was at pains to demonstrate his generosity to the RUF including ordering "the release of all RUF members detained or imprisoned throughout the country" in compliance with Article 19, providing the RUF with simplified procedures to facilitate their registration as a political party, and personally signing an order "pardoning all RUF members for any crimes or offences they may have committed during the war" in compliance with Article 14 of the agreement which requires both parties to grant a general amnesty.
The RUF had neither reciprocated nor taken advantage of the overtures the government had made. Instead, he charged, they had "refused to release persons including women and school children abducted over the past five years in spite of appeals by family members and parents".
The letter continued: "In conformity with Article 3 of the peace agreement, my Government has allocated a furnished office building to the Commission for the Consolidation of peace (CCP) and has appointed persons to serve on the Commission as well as on the Joint monitoring Group (JMG) and the [Disarmament and Rehabilitation Commission] DRC. However the RUF has only appointed four persons that are serving on the CCP. It has withheld appointments to the JMG and the DRC…and in another demonstration of bad faith, refused to accept a United Nations proposal to deploy an estimated 700 peace-keepers."
President Kabbah claimed he had given the okay for Sankoh to travel to parts of Sierra Leone, under ICRC supervision, to select his officials but that the RUF leader had postponed making the trip to Sierra Leone three times over the last two months.
He went on: "What is worrying is the growing perception that Corporal Foday Sankoh lacks political will to bring this conflict to a peaceful conclusion. This is demonstrated by the continuing ambush by his combatants of civilian vehicles on the highways, attacks on villages, and the illegal harvesting of cash crops and mining of precious minerals particularly in the Kailahun District."
Kabbah concluded that his government was unwilling to allow the prolongation of the stalemate in the peace process or the establishment of a permanent base in Kailahun by the RUF leader. He appealed to President Bedie "to prevail on the RUF leader to co-operate with all parties concerned in the efforts to agree on the UN's proposal for the deployment of peace-keeping mission not later than end of February 1997". A copy of the letter was sent to the UN Secretary General, the OAU and the Commonwealth Secretariat.
(1) Peace was like watering the desert for the first time
A structure will break if it cannot bend. If the peace framework that emerged from the Abidjan negotiations is too rigid, then peace itself may shatter. The fundamental notion behind the pact was, we presume, that there is a link between bad government and war. It is a predictable and precise link and any pretence to invent other reasons for our war is merely illusory.
When the peace accord was signed some months ago, it felt like watering the desert for the first time. It was a much needed fillip for the morale of a nation that was demoralised and deflated after years of civil strife. On many occasions this paper took the unprecedented step to warn against complacency, including giving pointers which should be taken in the interest of the peace of ALL of Sierra Leone. Such thinking was not just confined to those on the fringes of Sierra Leonean politics but to all across the length and breadth of the Nation. Months after the Accord all we have heard is a lot of bull about vast amounts of money waiting to be poured into the country. This is all some people are interested in. They are saying "Let's get Sankoh to sign the Accord and the international community will start putting money into Sierra Leone". It is a short sighted view of our problems.
Nepotism and corruption have already started in earnest. The award of contracts has become a political gift for which there is no shortage of opportunists ready for the taking. In the meantime we continue to live purely and simply on aid charity in the absence of any worthwhile economic activity. This surely is not the way forward for Sierra Leone. The peddlers of these cock and bull stories are government officials masquerading as peace makers. If Focus knows these people, then surely the President knows them too. He must bring them to heel. The truth is that any peace based on such a false and deceptive basis cannot last because it fails to deal with the fundamental issues that are wrong with Sierra Leone.
The starting point for their rectification is with ourselves and our attitude and outlook on national affairs. What we should all be preoccupying ourselves with are the optimum conditions for lasting peace and reconciliation, the level of preparedness of grass-root rank and file Sierra Leoneans, their current and post war security and freedom, and the extent of their direct involvement in the peace making process, including the taking and implementation of decisions that are going to make all these things possible. At present they are merely spectators watching from the sidelines.
Because the entire peace process has been institutionalised, we are
already seeing the rigours of bureaucratic control, including news management
and secrecy taking over. It is the result of putting at the helm of our
national peace efforts an elite group that are out of synch with the perspectives
of ordinary Sierra Leoneans. The real reasons why the war erupted - sometimes
down played as just an adventure by "mad Foday Sankoh" - have anything
but been addressed. The country has fast resettled into its old corrupt
and complacent ways despite having at its helm a President whom most people,
including this paper, still believes to be decent and is, probably, the
last and only chance that we have to start treating our affairs with all
the resolution and steadfastness that is necessary. Alas, the hopes of
many are fading pretty fast.
(2) Awkward questions that we must ask
If the war in Sierra Leone ever flares up again to the extent that it did before the Kabbah Government came to power then, metaphorically speaking, many heads will have to roll as a result. The present government will have only itself to blame and no one else. The extent to which both sides - RUF and the Government - are going all out to outwit each other instead of tackling the real issues of peace, i.e. the conditions that gave rise to this most unsettling and destructive of internal rebellions, is becoming more and more a matter of grave concern. We are allowing things to drift with freewheelers negotiating on our behalf while the real issues are being swept under the carpet. Certain international civil servants have a lot to answer for as well, and others in the diplomatic community too. More will be said of this in due course.
Take for example the composition of the country's representatives on the Commission for the Consolidation of Peace who speak for us and are supposed to pilot us in the direction of peace and reconciliation. There are four of them and they are all men - no women. Three are politicians who once fell from grace as Cabinet Ministers under President Siaka Stevens. Two of them wreaked political havoc among their constituents and were despised. The fourth is a civil servant and the government's own peace guru who is being associated, in some quarters, with the cock-ups in the peace process during the past months. They all belong to the elite class. There is no women's representative which is very strange, considering the key role women played in campaigns for both peace and elections; and no religious leader, trade union or workers representative, local elder or traditional community leader. It is evident that no consideration was given to the notions of trans-sectional representation, proximity to the effects of the war and neutrality. No recognition is given to those who, locally, worked hardest for peace when it looked then like a distant proposition.
The Government has sorely missed the point. The peace process is like
many issues within the public domain. When you want to stir the public's
imagination, symbolism matters an awful lot. The paradox is that the very
people who once played a prominent part in the wretched policies that made
life impossible for Sierra Leoneans in the past, and led or supported the
assault on our civil liberties, are now the key role players for peace.
Is it right that the concept of reconciliation is being turned on its head
and victims now have to look up to their one-time persecutors to create
conditions for reconciliation? Surely that cannot be right!
(3) They must be made to feel they belong
The recent riots following the discovery of floating sacks of completed US Visa application forms ranks, after the tragedies of our civil war, as one of the saddest stories to come out of the country in recent months. Why would 35,000 citizens - mainly youths - be queuing up in droves to desert the country of their birth? The reason is simply that they can see no future for themselves and their families in present day Sierra Leone and want to try their luck somewhere else. This said, there are among them deserving student applicants who are without the means to further their education and would like the opportunity to advance their education and, hopefully after completion, return to make life better for their country. That should be applauded. But even if the 500 or so were to be granted their alien ‘green card’ visas, it leaves a disappointed 34,500 who must stay and continue to face the harsh realities inside the country. So going to America is not, and can never be, a viable solution. The solution lies in our own hands, in the efficient planning and prudent use of our resources which must include measures to channel these idle energies and the talent that abounds among such a vast army of youths into gainful and productive economic and social activities. We must initiate policies, however basic, to encourage them and give them hope so that they can begin to feel that they, too, are stakeholders in the society that we are trying to forge. It is also important that this guarantee is given with sincerity and truthfulness by those in command of government and industry. If not, then the riots we have just seen will become a daily diet for the rest of our citizens who want to get on with their life. What the incident proves is that Sierra Leone like many other countries in the world has not been spared the mesmerising appeal of the 'Great American Dream'. The Americans are not issuing these visas simply for philanthropic motives. It is a way of creaming off the best of our talents. Their input along with others goes into making the United States the great country it is. That's how America was built and countries like Sierra Leone are only helping to keep that process alive. Let us encourage our youth that there is something worth staying for, and doing in Sierra Leone. This assurance should come now not later and, certainly, not through rubber bullets and tear gas canisters.
During my brief encounter with both men in 1995, I felt that they and the rest of their team were extremely loyal to Sankoh. The most striking thing about them was their impulsive urge to defend their leader; for example, when I once dared to challenge them over the aberrations and inconsistencies of Sankoh. Musa particularly would come out very strongly and tell me that the "Pa" is kind, simple and approachable; that he was not a tribalist and did not discriminate between all of them and that he was tolerant of everybody’s views in their Movement. They even spoke about his insistence on the right to worship. "He preaches all these things to us" they said to me.
I went on subsequently to serialise my interviews with Palmer and Musa. (Focus Vol. 1 No. 10 & Vol.2 No. 1) I did not support their ideology or their reasons for the war especially its brutality. But I found them quite sincere in the beliefs they held. So what has happened to change them? What Fayiah Musa said about Sankoh on Focus on Africa and the statement allegedly put out by Palmer were totally at odds with the loyalty they had previously shown. I concluded that it had to be one, all or a combination of the following reasons:
Firstly, that they had been put up to it or actively encouraged and aided by others, considering the pressures that were being put on both the government and the RUF by the international community and the electorate at home for some visible, quantifiable gains deriving from implementation of the Accord.
Secondly, and crucially, that all throughout this time the RUF ‘coupists’ and their other comrades probably, privately, disagreed with Sankoh’s stranglehold on the RUF but perhaps through fear or their public loyalty to him deriving from the strong element of group discipline (about which they boasted often), they did not challenge him and so they went along with his alleged "anti-democratic", "tribalist" and "obstructionist" tendencies their recent statements have ascribed to him. Both reasons are plausible but that is where the rot starts to set in.
Thirdly, maybe shades of political opportunism may have crept into the ideological purity of the coupists. They may have begun to like the trappings of power. Also, several of them had become bored by the war and homesick.
Fourthly, they may have become too distanced from the original RUF, especially after their long stay in Ivory Coast, away from their comrades in the bush. Their judgement became clouded as to what the RUF would accept and, possibly, felt that the only way open to them was to remove the "stumbling" block - Sankoh .
I heard what Musa said about Sankoh on Focus on Africa. I have since spoken to Sankoh during his "house arrest" at the hotel in Abuja. He told me different. I listened to the interview he also gave on BBC radio. It leaves me wondering whom to believe.
But what has led to this schism in the RUF? I suspect it is the culmination of many pressures not least that from the authorities in Sierra Leone and possibly the UN through its special envoy Dr Berhanu Dinka and Dr Moses Anafo at the Commonwealth Secretariat both representing the international/ diplomatic community, Sierra Leone’s Ambassador to the UN Mr James Jonah and many others - all stakeholders in the Peace Accord - for a showdown with Sankoh who has been, at best, lukewarm and at worst not co-operative in the implementation process. Let us look at the background to some of these strange happenings:
First, let me for the sake of a healthy debate categorically state from the onset that I hold no brief whatsoever for Foday Sankoh. I am only concerned, as always and ever, that if peace is to be delivered in whole and with the finality that will return Sierra Leone to a state of normality, then the person or persons who may be perceived to hold the real, as opposed to any illusory, reins of power in the rebel group should be encouraged to press along the hazardous route to peace however many disappointments may come our way. It is in that spirit that even after one of my telephone bust ups with Sankoh, I continued to encourage him to move away from violence and give peace a chance by taking up the opportunities in the Accord.
I also suspect that the Kabbah government is desperate for a tangible streak of success so that it can bolster what is so far, even taking account of the serious problems it inherited, a very pedestrian performance since its election victory one year ago. A perfectly working peace accord would be such a streak. But now that the plan to oust Sankoh has backfired the prospect of this happening is looking more and more remote. Let us hope that, for the sakes of the RUF members who have since been seized by their own comrades, the necessary contingency plan to secure their release is being pursued with all vigour and speed by those who thought up this crazy idea.
What this debacle shows is that people - I mean those involved in the peace process - having lost their patience with Sankoh are resorting, instead, to expediencies. As we all know, expediencies are fine if they succeed. If they do not, they create an awful lot of mess, worse than the situation they are meant to remedy. I believe that we are right now in that kind of awkward situation.
I do not assume for one moment that the government was privy to this latest botched attempt and for putting Fayia Musa and others up to the haphazard attempt to get rid of Sankoh, for the simple reason that I do not know. But I do say that individuals in that government in cahoots with, probably, certain external agencies that ought to know better, were privy to a half-baked idea that has clearly boomeranged in their faces and pushed, thereby, the prospects of peace farther away. At least one week before the RUF dissidents announced the "removal of Sankoh" as their leader, the fact that it was going to happen that week was already known to many people in Freetown. That, if nothing else, was a complete lack of care and breathtaking insensitivity with shades of political naiveté. I was also aware of alleged indiscreet uttering by certain visiting officials to the UK boasting that "Oonah nor worry, all tin dey dohn jis now!".
I always had my suspicion, which I shared with some of my peers, that Foday Sankoh was probably not all that committed to the letter of the Accord. Circumstances, including pressure from many quarters and from some of us on the sidelines, finally persuaded him to adopt and sign it. For that reason, I once wrote and suggested that some tangible political inducements or encouragement should be offered in addition to the Accord because realistically - and I know that a lot of my compatriots snarl at such suggestions whenever they are put forward - it is unreasonable for Sierra Leoneans to want peace with an enemy they have failed to defeat in war and then expect that enemy to give up its self-styled "war of liberation", however misguided we may think it is, in return for absolutely nothing in the immediate aftermath of ceasing hostilities. Some realistic concessions in government, were necessary to help create a climate of confidence among the more cynical and less amenable faction of the RUF. It also means cutting down your losses both in terms of human life and national economic deprivation. That was why this paper, as far back as November last year, argued that maybe a coalition government with Kabbah, the winner of the last partial general elections, as head but bringing on board all parties including the RUF, was a safer bet for at least 18 months or so, after which fresh elections would be held. By that time the RUF would have no choice but organise itself as a political party to contest in it along with the other Parties. The reasons were clearly argued then. (See Focus Vol. 2 No 7.)
If now the authorities find the RUF of Sankoh uncooperative while the faction of Palmer, Musa, the Deen-Jallohs, Barrie and other peace commissioners is genuinely wanting to make the accord work, they will only make the situation worse by engaging in clandestine and uncoordinated strategies like holding Sankoh incommunicado. One thing is certain - the man has been talking to every Tom, Dick and Harry world-wide since his "house arrest" in Nigeria! I should be extremely surprised if he has not also been in touch with his field commanders.
My interview with Palmer, Musa and others made me aware that Sankoh's appeal goes deeper than any of us on this side of the war divide can ever appreciate. According to them he is very much in charge with the combatants - not my word but theirs. So in many respects it was foolhardy and a deceit on us Sierra Leoneans that Musa, Palmer and others took us, encouraged no doubt by others, along a route that they ought to have known could not deliver the RUF combatants - unless they were fed with the wrong intelligence reports. Our trouble seems to lie in the weakness of our intelligence gathering. It was the problem with APC's conduct of the war, when the army did not even have physical or geological maps of the country. It was the same with the NPRC and, as this incident has shown, we are no where near solving that lack.
The question is this: Did intelligence reports indicate somehow that RUF combatants were displeased with Sankoh and would therefore be ready for a change of leadership? If so, then as the events show, they were very wrong. If in fact there were no intelligence reports to the effect, then those who pushed Palmer (who might have lost his life), Musa and the other captives to take this precipitate action have a lot to answer for. Not least because they have put both the lives of the emissaries and the Accord in jeopardy. Intelligence or not, those of us who have taken the time and trouble to find out about the RUF and its operations could tell, from the bits we picked up, that apart from Palmer, none of the others living outside could deliver the combatants in the event of a leadership putsch. Some of us realised this a long time ago and we continued to put pressure on Sankoh, on and off, during the many months of peace talks.
Naturally I would have liked to be able to talk freely to the man in these critical circumstances, with so many lives now in peril. None of us can prevail on the combatants. We are not there, we do not know them and above all they do not owe their existence or well-being to any of us. So why should they pay heed to us?
The imponderable questions still remain: Why, with this background of inherent contradictions, did the Government feel so confident to welcome the overthrow of Sankoh and offer its readiness to co-operate with the new leadership? Did they go by the same phantom intelligence reports? If, as the government's press statement declares, this was entirely the RUF's internal matter and they had nothing to do with it, what in Heaven's name was the Sierra Leone Ambassador to Guinea doing among the RUF delegation that travelled into RUF held territory to explain the ousting of Sankoh to their combatants? Did it strike any of the strategic thinkers of this plan that the fragmentation of the RUF is, infinitely, a worse alternative than even the delaying tactics of Sankoh which have been admittedly frustrating for all of us? Why is it that, when a local newspaper tries to warn about the folly of such a premature and hasty recognition, the editor and two of his staff are summarily thrown into jail and threatened with a charge of treason? Was freedom of speech (and of the press) not some of the reasons why Sierra Leoneans put all caution to the wind and went to the polls to elect this government? Have we already forgotten that "rebels" drilled holes through peoples' lips and put padlocks on them just to silence their freedom of speech and to scare them away from the ballot boxes? Can we, in that light, really claim as a democratically elected government, that we are behaving any better? For God's sake let's have some answers…quickly. In the meantime President Kabbah should give the imprisoned journalists their freedom. Let them resume their duty to inform us. Let it be left to us the public to decide whether what they say or write is true. Let’s not resort to APC and NPRC tactics. It can lead to needless warfare.
Finally, I appeal urgently to the RUF High Command, and especially to Corporal Foday Sankoh if, as he has reaffirmed, he is still its leader to use his personal influence, for the greater good of Sierra Leone, to ensure the safety and speedy release of the RUF delegates and the other captives. I hope that notwithstanding this major upheaval in the peace process, the Peace Accord will continue to serve as the one symbol embodying the cherished hopes of millions of Sierra Leoneans for peace and reconciliation.
National Post Office Building Damaged As …..
US VISA LOTTERY PROTEST ENDS IN RIOT …AND TWO DEATHS
There was rioting in Freetown on 12 February when young men and women took to the streets in anger at the alleged dumping at sea of their completed US Diversity Visa - DV 49 - application forms. The forms are part of a quasi-lottery run by the US Government which confers residential alien status on successful candidates.
The story goes that a crew of fishermen found sacks containing completed visa forms flowing in one river inlet into the sea, at King Jimmy wharf, in Freetown. Word of this discovery quickly spread around the city and thousands of eager youths who had already filled in their forms and paid their fees, and were by then expecting their forms to be at the point of being processed in the United States, headed straight for the Post Office building in central Freetown to demand an explanation.
Feelings frayed and there was a violent confrontation with the police who used live shots and tear gas to disperse the protesters. Live shots were also fired in the air. But the protesters remained defiant and stood their ground, hurling sticks and stones at the police and at the facade of the Post Office building, shattering most of its glass panes. The windscreens of plying vehicles were smashed and Post Office and Government vehicles were targeted. Two people died, one as he emerged from Ash Wednesday Mass at the Sacred Heart Cathedral close to the scene of the riots; the other died some days later in hospital. About 20 persons were injured, some seriously, and 20 more were arrested.
Five hundred visas were up for grabs and it is believed that nearly 35,000 applications were made during the current round.
President Kabbah stepped in to call a truce with the enraged protesters and promised on national radio that his government would launch a full investigation into the affair and try to contact the US embassy in order to work out some form of convenient redress. He criticised the police for opening fire on the demonstrators.
The city centre remained tense for the next two days during which shops and offices remained closed. A government statement later announced the setting up of an enquiry under the Deputy Inspector-General of Police.
The US Embassy lamented the incident but in typical diplomatic fashion distanced itself from the reasons for the riot, namely, its buoyant visa application forms floating in a troubled sea of sinking youthful expectations. In a statement to calm nerves it announced that "if an applicant is satisfied that his or her entry did not make it to the United States, he or she may consider submitting another entry." The only concession was the extension of the closing date to 5 March. (See Editorial.)
Students Protest At Momoh's 'Privileged Treatment'
EX-PRESIDENT'S RETURN SPARKS CONTROVERSY
Ex-President Joseph Saidu Momoh whose All Peoples Congress (APC) government was ousted in a coup d'etat that ushered in the military government of the National Provisional Ruling Council (NPRC) in April 1992 has returned home for good. He had lived in the Republic of Guinea where he fled and has been living in exile ever since. Momoh received a grand and tumultuous welcome from party supporters, friends and sympathisers. He had briefly returned last May for the funeral of his late wife, the former First Lady, Hannah Momoh, who died in Guinea after a short illness. Then also, tens of thousands, including ecstatic fans, turned out in sympathy with the ex-President.
This time however, his return sparked controversy when it was announced that he would be given certain privileges and benefits by virtue of his having served as Head of State. These include the payment of a monthly sum of Le900,000. Opponents of the APC who argue that its government brought about the mayhem in Sierra Leone resent the fact that most of the principal actors of that regime have been rehabilitated without giving account and are now in a position to make another bid for power.
….. AND CREATES HEADACHE FOR KABBAH
Nearly two and a half thousand students took to the streets to demonstrate against this latest show of magnanimity by President Tejan Kabbah to members of the APC regime. They were protesting against ex President Momoh’s recently announced entitlements. They also wished to discuss the lack of information about progress on the peace process and the civil war generally.
A confrontation ensued which, in the wake of the recent visa riots, was the last thing the government wanted. So it decided to get tough with the students and attempted to stop them holding a planned rally. The students way was blocked but they were determined to go ahead and there was a stand-off, with police and students confronting each other.
The student's patience ran out and they made another attempt to enter the Victoria Grounds where they originally planned to hold their rally. The police then waded into the crowd firing tear gas canisters and rubber bullets. Many students were wounded, some seriously. The demonstration ended, leaving a nasty taste in the mouths of everyone concerned.
But the issue of the ex-President's emoluments has hardly gone away. The government has now issued a statement explaining both the rational and the basis for the award, citing an Act of Parliament - the Pensions and Retiring Benefits of Presidents and Vice Presidents Act No 2, 1986 which is a long list of entitlements.
The Kabbah government argues that it has been less generous than the provisions of the Act. Commenting on the Act, it declared itself "astounded by the level of the burden the State is required by law to carry in maintaining a retired President". What it was granting to Momoh was really a trimmed down variety to form a composite entitlement. This includes Le900,000 to be paid monthly (which includes utility, entertainment and the upkeep of his residence); a house; two security personnel; and a car. As a condition for enjoying these benefits the ex-President must retire from active politics permanently because all payments made to him under the law are made "in his capacity as retired President". The statement concludes: "As a citizen, the former President is entitled to participate in the national politics freely at all levels, but cannot do so while the nation pays him the benefits of a retired President."
The Government was at pains to point out that the decision had not been taken unilaterally but in consultation and agreement with the leaders of all the political parties represented in Parliament.
A LETTER TO THE PRESIDENT
Dear Mr President
I hope your trip to Kuwait was successful ….em … well, I hope it yields a lot more than the one to Iran.
May I, Sir, inform you, and through you, the nation about a very sad story. Here on your right is the picture of a young man, aged 26, who is no longer with us. Usman Kamara, fondly known to his friends as Tolo, was cut in his prime tragically on 24 February this year. He died earning a living on a building site when, it is alleged, a trolley load of bricks being hoisted came raining down on him and six others. The others survived but poor Tolo was crushed under the weight of the lifeless missiles. He died later in hospital.
As I share with you and the nation the pain of this tragedy, I want also to tell you about my pride in the youth of Sierra Leone - particularly Tolo's friends here in the UK who, like him, left Sierra Leone in search of a better life for themselves.
I attended Tolo's traditional 7-day ceremony and I must tell you that my faith in the youth of our country was completely restored that day. A young man aged not more than twenty, approached one of the Imams after the Koranic readings and spoke about their grief at the loss of one of their mates. Then he took out an envelope and presented to the bereaved family the sum of £2,500 as the contribution, by late Tolo's friends, to his funeral expenses. The money had been raised within a few days of Tolo's death by taxing themselves.
I tell you these things Mr President because it is these people that will be taking over Sierra Leone tomorrow and it is therefore in your and my interest that their views and their interests and future are taken on board in all decisions that your government makes. I felt as old as Methuselah because the average age of the eighty or so young men and women at the ceremony was no more than 22.
In between lamenting the death of their friend they discussed the events in Sierra Leone including the report, that day on Focus on Africa, of yet another bout of fuel price rises. I heard one say "if people are poor and do not have jobs or are not paid and there is a war how can they pay for their kerosene and the increased cost of transport?" She was no economist but she understood the impact of yet more impositions on the poor of our beleaguered country. For once I was tongue-tied and remained so till I left the funeral parlour.
The good news is I am gradually regaining the use of my tongue and not long from now I shall hopefully find answers to explain to my young friends why these price increases were necessary …if at all.
I have since heard about the confrontation between your government and the students. Please be patient with them. Do not lock them up or allow some of your over zealous officers and supporters to shoot or send tear gas canisters at them. That's how Siaka Stevens succeeded in raising the destructive army we now call the RUF. But I was happy about the public stand you took after the recent riots.
Yes these youths can be troublesome sometimes - so were we all! But as Tolo’s tragedy shows they can be extremely constructive. Remember you are the father of our nation. You, Sir, must therefore listen to them.
Your most loyal subject and unflinching party member.
A Personal Note To Subscribers From The Editor
Welcome to Volume 3 of Focus On Sierra Leone and many thanks for your continuing support.
One of the frustrations I have had to cope with in producing Focus during the last two years and a bit, in addition to severe constraints of time and resources and the difficulty of news gathering from out here, is having to report on events that happened sometime ago on which instant comment and one’s studied views would have been most appropriate. Instead stories have to wait until production time when their impact is almost a fading memory because they have been overtaken by subsequent events. More so when one hopes that one could help clarify issues and influence major political decisions that impinge on the country's present and future prospects. Nevertheless I hope that what one loses for lack of instant reporting and comment is more than compensated for by reflective analyses of the effects of some of the key events.
This issue - the first of the new volume 3 - has been a particularly challenging one in this respect. I am sure that by the time you read it some of the events would have progressed significantly. For example, even as I am writing this note I have just heard on radio that the three Expo Times journalists have been granted bail on charges of espionage …. Also, an interview by Foday Sankoh saying "there would be no peace without Sankoh" …. And the Government press announcement that it had nothing to with the attempt to remove Sankoh as leader … and so on, and so forth. Now you see what I mean!
I hope to bring you the details of these and other stories in the next issue.
Time for ECOMOG/ ECOWAS to step in?
Isn't it time ECOWAS/ECOMOG intervene in either Peacekeeping or Peace enforcement mission in Sierra Leone? The mutual aggression that exists between Kabbah and Sankoh now makes a laughing stock of the Abidjan Peace Accord. Gentlemen stop theatre acting and get into the real life problem of the crisis in your country. That Abidjan Accord "gave a real chance for Sierra Leoneans to take a fresh and objective look at their country's future and come to a consensus on minimum standards that should govern their existence from now onwards" (FSL Editorial, Vol.2 No.9). It is time to now transform the cacophony of conflicts into the symphony of co-operation. It has happened elsewhere, why should Sankoh and Kabbah make Sierra Leone the exception?
The euphoria of the past democratic elections, the first in several years, has died down. The SLPP won and they hope to be in power for the next four years, if everything goes smoothly. All the other parties have formed alliances with the ruling party in the name of political unity and development. The idea of unity should be our by-word. Lets forget about our regional and tribal tendencies and put our beloved 'country' above 'self'. There should be unity in diversity so as to regain our former glory as a nation. We can never march forward in this era of democracy if we don't change our attitude for a unified nation.
There are unpatriotic 'rubber-stamps' who are actively engaged in bringing disunity among Sierra Leoneans, casting aspersions on decent personalities in our community in order to pave way for their own selfish interests. I see their attacks on loyal and patriotic Sierra Leoneans whom our country so badly needs.
May I tell these unpatriotic individuals, that our beloved land Sierra Leone has gone through political, economic, social and cultural metamorphosis since the pre-colonial era, the rebel war being the most brisk and delicate one. All throughout these times there were certain patriotic citizens that fought for the institutions of democracy in Sierra Leone; their efforts should be encouraged and appreciated.
The future of Sierra Leone should be in the hands of each and every Sierra Leonean and we should always be careful in what we do in our various capacities at this crucial moment in our development. Let us all stop the malicious sabotaging of individuals, the hypocrisy, tribalism, nepotism and selfishness. Lets give chance to people with talent and gift, and the recognition they so deserve.
(Former Bo District Scout Leader)
Camberwell, London SE17
I was used as man-power by the rebels
We suffered a lot, travelling all around, moving up and down with the rebels. Some of my family were killed. Others could not stand it and they died of sickness, due to lack of nutrition. All the same I tell God thanks, for out of my seven children, only one, my 19 year old son is still at large. My brother, and six grandchildren also survived; one died from the effects of the war. But, and this is a big "but" the war has left us homeless. Our towns and villages were burned and looted. 95% of our Chiefdom was burnt to ashes. Most of us in this Chiefdom now have no houses, no furniture of any kind, no clothes and even no food, no medicine. It will take time before we shall all return home to rehabilitate and re-activate our hospitals and schools.
The effects of the war did not stop there. Quite a lot of us are
left with bodily harm. I for one was regularly beaten up and used as man-power,
to carry things for the rebels, or do other work for them. But sickness
was drawing nearer and nearer to me. Less than a week after my son freed
me from the rebel hands I fell very ill and was in hospital for nine months.
I am now much better and think of returning home early in March.
Name & address supplied but withheld
Bo, Sierra Leone
Late February to March
A CHRONICLE OF VIOLENCE ….. AND SUFFERING
THE ABIDJAN PEACE ACCORD (Final instalment)
Article 20 - A broad based Socio-Economic Forum, in which the RUF/SL shall participate, shall be established with a view to enriching policy formulation and execution in the socio-economic sector.
Article 21 - The Parties agree that the basic civil and political liberties which are recognised by the Sierra Leone legal system and are contained in the Declaration and Principles on Human Rights adopted by the UN and the OAU, especially the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the African Charter on Human and People's Rights, shall be fully guaranteed and promoted within Sierra Leone Society.
These include the right to life and liberty; freedom from torture; the right to a fair trial; freedom of conscience; expression and association; and the right to take part in the governance of one's country. To foster national reconciliation and ensure the full and unrestricted participation of the RUF/SL in the political process, the RUF/SL shall enjoy:
(ii) freedom of association, expression, assembly and the right to mobilise and demonstrate freely, and to communicate politically in order that they may organise effectively and set up appropriate infrastructure.
Article 22 - To promote compliance with the basic rights guaranteed in the present Peace Agreement, as well as to promote human rights education throughout the various sectors of Sierra Leonean society, including schools, the media, the police and the military, an independent National Commission on Human Rights shall be established.
In pursuance of the above, technical and material assistance may be sought from the UN Special Commission on Human Rights, UN Centre for Human Rights, the African Commission on Human and People's Rights and other relevant international organisations.
The National Commission on Human Rights shall have the power to investigate human rights violations and to institute legal proceedings where appropriate.
Further, a consortium of local human rights groups shall be encouraged to help monitor human rights observance.
Article 23 - The parties undertake to respect the principles and rules of international humanitarian law.
Article 24 - The Parties agree that the standards of accountability, integrity and probity in the public services of Sierra Leone shall be raised. To that end, immediate steps shall be taken to establish the Office of Ombudsman to promote the implementation of professional code of ethics, and the integrity and patriotism of all public servants. It shall also seek to eradicate all forms of corruption.
Article 25 - The parties agree that the independence of the Judiciary shall be strengthened in accordance with its role of ensuring the fair and impartial dispensation of justice in a democratic order. The composition of the present Judicial and Legal service Commission shall be determined so as ensure the independence of the Judiciary from the other organs of state as well as the political parties. Its membership shall include, in addition to judges and representatives of the legal profession and public services, representatives of other sections of society not directly connected with the administration of justice.
Article 26 - The Police Force shall be strengthened to ensure that the rule of law is upheld throughout Sierra Leone. To that end, the present Police Force shall be vetted.
Furthermore, the professional training of the Police force shall henceforth assure a new orientation, by emphasising professionalism, the importance of human dignity and democratic values and respect and protection of human rights. It shall, further, emphasise that the conduct of members of the Police force shall be free from all partisan considerations of politics, ideology and social position and that the Police Force shall avoid and combat corruption.
Nominations for the Police Council will come from wider sectors of society prior to their appointment so as to ensure their truly civilian and non-partisan character.
Article 28 - The government of Cote d'Ivoire, the United Nations, the OAU, and the Commonwealth shall stand as moral guarantors that this Peace Agreement is implemented with integrity and in good faith by both parties.
Annex to this Agreement
- the fact the fact that hostilities have ended;
- the reasons for demobilisation;
- the opportunities for re-integration of combatants; and
- the need for reconciliation and lasting peace.
Done in Abidjan this 30th day of the month of November 1996
Alhaji Dr Ahmed Tejan Kabbah
Corporal Foday Saybana Sankoh
Henri Konan Bedie