|Fighting Erupts In The Main Cities As …..
VIOLENCE ESCALATES IN EASTERN AND NORTHERN
Sierra Leone has been rocked by a succession of serious outbreaks of violence in its eastern and northern reaches. For several months since the signing of the Peace Accord last November, the country has been treading gingerly on the fine line between an uncertain peace and unmitigated disaster. The last three weeks have witnessed a decisive lurch towards the unknown.
The new wave of violence follows a hopeful lull that preceded the forced encampment of the rebel RUF leader Corporal Foday Sankoh in Nigeria. Since his arrest the violence has reached, and at times probably surpassed, pre-Accord levels. However, not all of the violence can be explained by Sankoh’s circumstances. Those that took place in the city of Kenema in the east and Mile 91 in the north during the weekend of 5 May, and earlier at Tongo Field, again in the east, which we reported in our last edition, were the direct result of clashes between Government soldiers and Kamajohs - the local hunters’ militia. The two forces which are meant to complement and support each other against a common ‘enemy’ have instead, occasionally, and in recent times regularly, taken to turning their deadly weapons on each other, in a bizarre internecine struggle.
In the Kenema incident news agency reports claimed that between fifty and eighty people were killed, including soldiers, kamajohs and civilians. A Government statement gave far lower casualty figures, but even that could not disguise the gravity of the carnage that took place. It gave the number of deaths as thirteen civilians, two soldiers and ten kamajohs and the wounded as including seven kamajohs, five soldiers and twenty-one civilians. But a local Red Cross official corroborated a hospital staff’s eye-witness account that bodies of thirty civilians, thirty soldiers and twenty kamajohs had been discovered in the streets around the town. Patients and staff fled the Kenema Government Hospital, and schools and shops were closed down.
From various reports we have been able to put together, the battle of Kenema seems to have started on Saturday 3 May when kamajohs drove past an army base at 11am singing provocative (according to a UN official, Poro Society) songs at soldiers who then fired on the truck, killing three of the hunters. A gun battle ensued and lasted till late that evening. Fighting resumed on Sunday morning and lasted, again, all day till night time. Thousands of residents fled the town. Most headed for the nearby city of Bo, as kamajohs and soldiers fought pitched battles, using rocket propelled grenades, machine guns and assault rifles. Several buildings were set ablaze. The battle raged till Monday afternoon when it petered out.
A six-man Presidential Commission, chaired by Bishop Michael Keili, has been appointed to investigate the incident.
During several weeks that preceded the outbreak of the battle, nearly 70,000 people had moved out of outlying villages into the environs of Kenema.
Also, during the first week of April, rebels were reported to have invaded
villages in the south-east, including Bomaru through which they
staged their original entry into Sierra Leone in 1992. This time over 15
fifteen people were killed. They were also reported to have advanced towards
Baiwaala, which is close to Mobai - the maternal home of President
KAMAKWIE FALLS TO REBELS AS THE NORTH IS SET ABLAZE
On Sunday 4th May, while the battle in Kenema was raging, more fighting broke out, this time in the North, between government soldiers and local hunters - who have since formally declared and named themselves Kapras - at Camp Charley, a government army base between Mile 91 and Matotoka. Reports told of hundreds of Kapras attacking the base, in a seven-hour battle that left fourteen people dead.
This battle signalled the opening of a floodgate of attacks that swept across the mid north of the country towards the west. The Government accused the RUF of attacking several areas, including over fifteen towns and villages, in the Port Loko and Bombali Districts. On Friday 9th May, two towns close to Makeni came under heavy rebel attack. At Kalangba at least ten people lay dead and over 90 houses were burnt down after five hours of fighting with government soldiers. A few miles away, the town of Gbendembu was attacked. Scores of residents were abducted and houses were set alight. During most raids, graffiti was scrawled defiantly proclaiming ‘No Sankoh No Peace’ and ‘SLPP Not Serious About Peace’. An eye witness was quoted as saying: "They stormed our town clad in military combat fatigues and said they were attacking on all fronts in reaction to the continued detention of RUF leader Corporal Sankoh in Nigeria." Over a hundred houses were rased to the ground, with thirteen dead and over twenty wounded. A similar pattern of attack and destruction was visited upon Buya Romende where victims were dismembered by rebels who were shouting warning taunts of "We are coming"
According to reliable sources, many civilians were mutilated in Kalangba and the surrounding villages. Ten were being treated at the Makeni hospital. The rebels that carried out these attacks were uniformly reported by witnesses to be sporting brand new military fatigues and carrying new automatic rifles and machetes. Notable casualties included the houses of two Cabinet Ministers - Finance Minister Thaimu Bangura and Sports Minister Dr Sheku Saccoh whose homes were burnt down at Madina and Kalangba, respectively. A government statement confirmed that heavily armed troops had been sent to the area to begin a three-day offensive to flush the rebels out. It said "the movement of troops in these areas should be regarded as a protective measure" and called on residents to assist the troops.
While we were compiling these news stories, fresh reports told of renewed and even more ferocious attacks in the North. One such attack has led to the loss of a main town by Government troops. A Reuters’s news service report, quoting military sources, confirmed that Kamakwie, which is about 90 miles from Freetown, fell into rebel hands on Tuesday 13th May after heavy fighting which left many corpses lying in the streets. A military spokesman was quoted as saying: "Government soldiers fought bravely to stop the rebels taking the town, but the rebels attacked in large numbers and they were also heavily armed". A band of more than four hundred rebels attacked the town as against less than fifty government soldiers who, according to an army spokesman, eventually withdrew to Makeni after running out of ammunition. In addition to the dead, scores of people were maimed, with their legs, arms and digits chopped off. One escapee, a missionary, quoted by the same news agency, said he went past eighteen corpses. "Many of them were young boys about 14 to 16 years old , carrying guns and machetes. But there were also bodies of civilians" he said.
Military authorities have since confirmed the loss of the town. In a statement issued on 13th May, Defence HQ assured the public that it has "taken adequate measures to address the recent acts of violence carried out by certain people in some parts of the country".
HIGHWAYS ATTACKED AND UNSAFE
Prior to these incidents, the main highways up country had become treacherous and unsafe for travel due to renewed ambushes by armed bands of unidentified armed assailants on a UN vehicle plying the Makeni-Lunsar highway. Its four expatriate occupants were wounded seriously, and one of them died later in a Freetown hospital.
On the Matotoka-Kono stretch of the road, five travellers were killed.
Near the village of Madena, 15 miles from Makeni, six assailants sprayed two vehicles belonging to the World Food Programme. One driver was killed and the other seriously wounded.
A private vehicle was waylaid at Mayankay and six people were shot dead.
At Gora Mende the charred remains of four people were found together in a burnt out Mercedes Benz car and a Tanker.
A diplomat in Freetown, reacting to the increased violence, was quoted as saying that Sankoh should be prevailed upon to see reason and comply with the 30 November peace agreement, adding that "there is no way Sankoh can be left out of the equation.. With no clear-cut leadership the rebels are behaving like loose cannons".
These incidents prompted a Government announcement that it had despatched troops to the areas to contain the violence. A statement on radio and TV said: "The government views these developments as unfortunate and has therefore taken appropriate measures to protect lives and property." Later, troops were seen assembling in the north for an inevitable showdown. A military spokesman added wryly: "Rebels have threatened to enter Freetown if Foday Sankoh is not released from Nigeria and they have already started their attacks. We cannot sit idly by and see these things happening."
KABBAH SLAMS INTERNATIONAL ALERT
President Tejan Kabbah has lashed out at International Alert (IA), the London-based conflict resolution NGO which is credited with bringing the RUF out to negotiate peace and acclaimed by most as having facilitated the release of captured western hostages in 1995. In effect IA has been declared public enemy No.1 by the Sierra Leone Government. In a letter dated 3rd April addressed to the UN Secretary General and, since, circulated to embassies throughout the western world, President Tejan Kabbah accused IA of "interfering in our internal affairs" and invited all governments and international organisations to refrain from interacting with IA on all matters affecting Sierra Leone, and particularly the peace process.
Kabbah’s outburst singled out two principal individuals - the Secretary General of IA Mr Kumar Rupesinghe and Dr Addai Sebo, one of IA’s experienced trouble shooters and special agent. Sebo was accused of illegally entering the country and staying with Corporal Foday Sankoh "for weeks at a time in 1995". He has been declared persona non grata. The President accused IA of being a vehicle of the RUF "to raise money for its war efforts". Among other charges levelled against the organisation was that it colluded with the NPRC government to sabotage the last elections in Sierra Leone; became the RUF’s chief advocate at the peace talks rather than a facilitator; and that since the signing of the Peace Accord, it has been "sabotaging all efforts at implementing the peace agreement in good faith". But more seriously, the President all but indicted IA of "facilitating contacts between Foday Sankoh and the Kailahun faction of the RUF which carried out on 29 March 1997 the kidnapping of persons engaged in a peace mission in Nongowa, Guinea. They have been transmitting orders from Sankoh [in Nigeria] to the faction in Kailahun to execute innocent people while at the same time telephoning the families of the intended victims with a view to intimidating and silencing them".
The President ended his letter claiming that he had "concrete evidence that IA have been engaged in these malicious practices in order to prolong the conflict in my country which they use for soliciting funds from donor agencies and governments, while benefiting personally from illicit mining and sale of precious minerals and the purchase of weapons by the RUF".
A presidential spokesman commented that IA played a "negative role
and influence", including the supply of satellite telecommunications
equipment enabling Sankoh to communicate with his supporters in the bush.
International Alert expressed sadness and disappointment at the decision by the Sierra Leone government to sever all relations with them, but especially at the accompanying allegations. In its statement, IA denied all the charges and re-asserted that its role was always "one of advocacy on behalf of the RUF and not that of a facilitator". It went on: "The process of getting people to the table to talk may lay an NGO open to charges of partiality by parties who would prefer for the conflict to be resolved through alternative means than an official peace process. An official peace process does require recognising the existence of rebel forces and thus accords a degree of credibility to them. Clearly it is a difficult issue to decide whether or not to enter discussions with rebel forces since it can play a role in giving them legitimacy; but in this instance the UN, OAU and Commonwealth were amenable to holding discussions with the RUF and so IA facilitated these meetings. It is true that in this particular process it was only with IA that the RUF would agree to co-operate. However the Ivory Coast Government convened the process, the Sierra Leone Government participated, and the UN agreed to support the implementation of the subsequent peace agreement."
The organisation robustly defended itself against the charge of sabotaging efforts at implementing the peace agreement in Kabbah’s letter, arguing that immediately after the Peace Accord was signed, its Trustees announced that the NGO would be disengaging from its programme of work in Sierra Leone and maintain only a watching brief on the implementation process. They had only made specific contact with Corporal Foday Sankoh to take up two points, the substance of which had been communicated to the UN. Firstly, say IA, they had been approached by Sir Kieran Prendergast, Under-Secretary General for Political Affairs of the UN, "to contact Sankoh to try and persuade him" to meet with members of the UN Military Mission. Secondly, "at the request of the families of those members of the RUF leadership taken hostage by the RUF’s Military High command, IA contacted Corporal Foday Sankoh to urge him to use his influence such that the hostages would be treated with respect and remain safe and unharmed". They deny emphatically that they had in any way facilitated communication between Sankoh in Nigeria and the RUF’s base in Kailahun or communicated directly or indirectly with the people in Kailahun.
The statement ended by drawing attention to the fact that a joint communiqué of 26th March 1996 had mentioned that "special recognition was also given to the role of International Alert who have played a great part in bringing about this historic meeting". It also cited the statement signed by President Kabbah and Corporal Foday Sankoh on 30th November at the signing of the Peace Accord that "…..on recognition of the roles played by the International Committee of the Red Cross and International Alert, we hereby express our sincere gratitude to both organisations for their facilitation of the meetings between the two Parties and their contribution to the entire Peace Process".
IA’s Secretary-General Rupesinghe has earlier described the allegations
as nonsense and advised that "any attempt to fragment the RUF is dangerous
and it could lead to a Liberian situation".
THE ‘PUBLIC INTEREST’ REQUIRES THAT NIGERIA’S INFLUENCE
IN SIERRA LEONE
The link between Sierra Leone and Nigeria is, to say the least, worrying especially because we are a fledgling democracy. Nigeria, on the other hand, is demonstrably not a democracy. We Sierra Leoneans should by now be learning to trust ourselves to run our country. Increasingly, however, we are becoming mistrustful and resentful of those who do not share our views. Yet, paradoxically, we seem to feel more secure by becoming bedfellows with one the most grotesque abusers of the human rights of its own citizens. It is a government that came to power, and survives, by brute force, locks up its opponents and throws the keys away, and unjustly executes those whom it considers as an inconvenience for its reign of terror. For that it continues to reap the opprobrium of the rest of the world. It is currently locked in a fratricidal war with its own people in its own backyard, the type of warfare - urban - which we in Sierra Leone have so far managed to avoid with the singular exception of the recent fighting in the heart of Kenema Town. We who credit ourselves with having kicked the soldiers out of power are quite happy to welcome Nigerian soldiers and policemen to help keep us in order and even protect our President. How ironical!
Of course my tirade is not directed against the people of Nigeria but their government. I empathise with people like Soyinka, Ransome-Kuti, the supporters of Chief Abiola and thousands of illustrious Nigerians who wish dearly to be rid of the curse of General Sani Abacha whose behaviour was recently described in Sierra Leone’s Expo Times as akin to "wild west gangsterism". The editor and his staff were dragged to CID for "being disrespectful towards a friend of Sierra Leone". What nauseating drivel!
To be fair to the Nigerian people, they have helped Sierra Leone considerably to cope with the rebel war. But for their valiant stand during some of the worst battles, most of Sierra Leone would have been overrun. I mean particularly in February 1995 when the RUF came within reach of the gates of Eastern Freetown. It was Guinean and Nigerian troops that held the line while our own soldiers at the helm remained cocooned in State House, resigned to the city’s eventual fall into rebel hands. At the height of the war, a Nigerian contingent watched over the Gondama Displaced Persons camp with its then 90,000 residents. They have continued to give buffers of protection for which Sierra Leoneans are grateful.
But these are separate matters altogether and nothing to do with the President’s protection and the Nigerian involvement in the day to day affairs of Sierra Leone. What I am saying is that I do not trust these so-called Presidential guards and Mr Kabbah would be ill-advised to put his safety in their hands. The contingent guarding his private residence-turned-State House is Nigerian, made up of a special force that was trained by another military dictator, Abacha’s predecessor, General Ibrahim Babaginda, to serve in his grand design to play the role of regional super power. Some were sent to Gambia and other countries. When Abacha took over, he kept them at bay because he did not trust them. He never wanted them back, so Kabbah is doing him a favour keeping them by his side!
I recall that elements of the same contingent were in Sierra Leone when the NPRC overthrew ex-President Momoh. The same group of soldiers were sent also to guard former Gambian President Sir Dawda Jawara. Despite their "protective shield" it did not stop Jammeh and his boys taking over when they wanted to. Is the President confident that this is the best protection he can have? And if I may ask further: Protection from what and from whom? His own people? His own soldiers? If so, then it speaks tomes about the nature of our society. It is not the most edifying sight or experience for Sierra Leoneans who go to visit their President only to find that their way is barred by people from another country. It is a wrong signal and one of the anomalies I had in mind when I wrote recently that we should try and tackle the basic issues that have gone wrong with Sierra Leone. It boils down to the simple question which Kabbah’s government should ask itself: What have we done, or not done, as a government that makes it impossible for us to trust our own soldiers to protect our leader? How does it feel to be President with a foreign army guarding your home? The impression must be that one is not free among their own people. Both the future of Sierra Leone’s leadership and the continued assertion of our national independence demand that this issue be examined more closely. If we had an effective and functional Parliament, with a viable opposition, this could be an issue on which it could lead the nation. But I suppose I am digressing into wishful thinking!
There is a further danger in any close association with Nigeria other than in the normal course of diplomatic relations and the conduct of international affairs. It is that country’s image for drug trafficking. There is a strong belief that Abacha may have succeeded in dealing a severe blow to drug dealers, including those in the military, in his country. What I fear, which is currently doing the rounds among Sierra Leoneans, is that the master operators in this field may find it easy, using even the most tenuous links with our government, to move their operations into Sierra Leone. I am therefore serving notice on my government, giving an early warning in the public interest, to beware of their close association particularly with individuals for whom their country may have become hostile territory. Our government should have no truck with such people. But here again since we do not seem to trust our own police completely, I can well foresee the dilemma of asking Nigerian police currently working for the Sierra Leone government to investigate suspected Nigerian drug traffickers. The mind boggles!
At this point, I must raise also with government, again in the public interest, a serious allegation which it can confirm or deny, but ignore at its own peril. A concerned source has expressed the fear that an attempt is being made to refurbish The Lodge at Hill Station, once used by the late Sir Milton Margai as Prime Minister but allowed to fall into disuse after his death, to be occupied by President Kabbah. The reason, according to this source, is "because his Nigerian security officers have advised that they cannot give him adequate protection at his current home". It was also alleged that "nearly $1.6million is being earmarked for the project" and that either a "Nigerian benefactor" or "the Nigerian Government" is prepared to put the amount. Can this be really true? Is this a loan or a gift, and what is the consideration?
Quite aside from that, the merest contemplation of this would rank as yet another serious crime against the masses. I believe that as long as the bulk of our citizens remain homeless up and down the country, no President, Cabinet Minister, senior civil servant or head of parastatal, ex-President or ex-Governor-General has any right to have that kind of money spent on their own comfort. What is wrong with Kabbassa Lodge, I wonder? One hopes that this is just speculative rumour but as there is no smoke without fire, I feel it should be aired now in order to forestall another unnecessary waste of precious resources. It would be insensitive and another misjudgement of the national mood.
As for the part Nigeria is playing in the Foday Sankoh fiasco, what happened to the RUF leader is not unique. The precedent in recent times is the case of Liberian warlord Roosevelt Johnson who went to Ghana in March 1996 ostensibly for a peace conference only to be held incommunicado for months until operations by ECOMOG had taken their full course in Liberia. But the Nigerians, egged on by the Kabbah government, may have misread the situation in Sierra Leone. We do not have umpteen rebel leaders (yet) in Sierra Leone. So you cannot trade the one or any number of them against the others. That’s where they have got it all wrong! It emerged that on the weekend of the 2nd May or so Chief Ikimi the Nigerian Foreign Minister was in Freetown. I understand he was there to discuss with the Kabbah government what to do with the "ousted" RUF leader. Sankoh’s continued presence under house arrest is proving quite an embarrassment to the Nigerians. Clearly they had been assured that everything would be fine if they held Sankoh incommunicado and, most probably, that once the installation of the new RUF leadership had been completed, he would then be banished somewhere but not allowed back into Sierra Leone. Now that the plan is in complete disarray, thanks in no small measure to the bungling by so-called peace advisers in Freetown, Nigeria still has Sankoh on its hands and the hostage crisis is no closer to being resolved despite the empty threats by a succession of nondescript government spokespersons. I understand that agreement was reached to continue holding Sankoh indefinitely. However as the violence increases and the war assumes a dimension worse than when the Accord was signed, only this time in the North, the pressure to do something, including releasing Sankoh, will increase.
Chief Ikimi is believed also to have discussed getting Kabbah to support a move to postpone the Liberian elections. Kabbah’s response to this would be quite interesting considering the circumstances in which his own election took place. Now I suspect that Nigeria feels that having brokered the peace in Liberia, and once the elections are held and a government is installed, it can then turn its attention to Sierra Leone and carry out a similar operation using ECOMOG forces. Meanwhile Sankoh will stay with them until the Liberia operations are completed. Keeping him away may allow a new RUF leader to emerge who could be prepared to negotiate a deal.
There is another interesting angle to all of this. When Article 13 of the Peace Agreement says "…Government shall use all its endeavours, consistent with its treaty obligation, to repatriate other foreign troops no later than three months after the deployment of the Neutral Monitoring group (NMG) or six months after the signing of the Peace Agreement, whichever is earlier", it was in effect saying Nigerian and other troops operating in the country should be removed if the Accord is to be implemented. If, as suggested, Abacha is not in a hurry to welcome his ‘crusading’ soldiers back home, this provision might create problems for the implementation process if ever, and when, it resumes.
So far, the silent party has been the Ivory Coast which engineered the now-neutered Peace Accord. I hear that their interest in Sankoh and the RUF has taken a sudden dive because they feel that, after all they did for him and his entourage, he was discourteous and ungrateful in leaving the country without informing them; secondly, for harbouring Steven Bio, the renegade former arms dealer and mentor of the NPRC who was implicated in an attempted coup against the Kabbah Government last December and fled to the Ivory Coast. Bio made too many costly phone calls, adding to soaring phone bills for the Ivorian exchequer. The Ivorians were said be livid with anger. Other factors appear to have come into play. Sources tell of a serious rivalry between the current OAU Secretary General Salim Ahmed Salim and Mr Amara Essy the Ivory Coast Foreign Minister. Both men had hopes for becoming UN Secretary General but did not even get to be short-listed and were shown a clean pair of heels by Ghanaian Kofi Annan. Both would not like therefore to rock the Nigerian boat, hence the muted response, particularly from the Ivory Coast, over Sankoh’s enforced encampment in Nigeria. In similar vein, it would appear that Salim Salim has already got the backing of Kabbah for another term. So he too will toe the line. It leaves Sankoh as the pawn, the loser, and the pig in the middle to be expended on the altar of international diplomacy. Who knows, maybe the Ivory Coast was party to the plan to get Sankoh to Nigeria and keep him there. Otherwise, say my sources, why were telephone lines and electricity supplies to the homes of those RUF members who remained sympathetic to Sankoh, cut off soon after his house arrest in Nigeria ?
A source in Abidjan has claimed that the UN has been talking to a commando called ‘Mosquito’ who is believed to be Sankoh’s number 2. One theory is that he is not holding the "rebellious" RUF delegation captive simply because they dared to oust Sankoh but that he is angry with them that they did not see fit to elect him as the replacement. A very tall story this one, but then anything is possible these days!
Meanwhile government was reported to be growing confident that it would not be long before it flushes out the rest of the RUF fighters. Many officials have said that they believe that RUF fighters do not have the will to continue fighting; that they are hungry, weak and too demoralised to continue. They said that the war is almost over and all they are now doing is just "mopping up" the rest of the pockets of resistance. Recent events have proved that these are either figments of the imagination or just deception. Even as they were making their bogus claims, towns and villages across the north and in the east were coming under various attacks from within and from without - from Kamajohs and government soldiers, and the RUF, respectively.
Sayings of the wise
"Politicians are the same all over. They promise to build a bridge
even when there is no river"
BARONESS CHALKER VERSUS LORD AVEBURY
Shock waves from Foday Sankoh’s arrest in Nigeria became a hot potato between two British politicians - Lord Avebury, Chairman of the UK Parliamentary Human Rights Group and Baroness Chalker, the former Conservative Government’s Minister for Overseas Development. Lord Avebury, who has continued to monitor events including the peace process since the elections of February/March 1996, wrote a letter to the Baroness to raise his concern over recent events in Sierra Leone involving the police, the arrest of journalists, the press in general, and the ousting and detention of Sankoh in Nigeria. Baroness Chalker was dismissive of Avebury’s concern and displayed the kind of stuffy condescension that characterised her long (some will say) overdue term at the Overseas Development Office. In her letter to Lord Avebury - yes in this country government is about openness so I have got a copy of her letter - dated 14 April, Chalker said, regarding the police, "we are still considering fundamental issues of the Sierra Leone Police Force plans which need to be dealt with and are looking at the development of future policing strategies. These will include public order measures". On the issue of the arrested journalists, she said "they have access to lawyers .. the judiciary in Sierra Leone, although procedurally slow, is independent. I think we should let the court do their work before seeking to intervene". And on Foday Sankoh: "The present leadership struggle within the RUF is of concern and if not resolved will delay the implementation of the Abidjan Accord. It is for the RUF to decide who leads them but the statements by those in the organisation who have since been detained in Kailahun made plain their view that it is Foday Sankoh who is the principle impediment to peace. It is totally unacceptable for the RUF to take hostages, including diplomats".
SANKOH’S CRY FROM THE COLD
Lord Avebury also contacted Foday Sankoh to express concern at
the state of the peace process and the fate of the captured hostages. Sankoh
sent a faxed message back thanking him for his "concern over the peace
accord and the people of Sierra Leone". He went on: "These men who
claim to oust me bribed police to detain four of my men including Major
Mike Lamin and Lt Eddy Murphy and 2 others because they refused to support
them". Sankoh claimed that his ousters had "revealed that it was
a plan made by the Government of Sierra Leone, UN special envoy to Sierra
Leone, [and] Commonwealth to get rid of me and just disarm my men to their
wish. This is why they went in to convince my men and the Sierra Leone
Ambassador to Guinea was the representative of the SLPP government with
money to bribe my men".
KIDNAPPING IS ‘CRIMINAL’
President Kabbah has again reiterated his government’s call to the RUF to release the captured peace emissaries. The call came in an interview during which he was asked about the fate of the RUF delegation and how it might impact on the implementation of the Accord. He emphasised that as far as his government was concerned, it was still committed to the peace process and that it was still on course. But there was a tinge of doubt in his answer. The peace accord was a deal between two sides, as the interviewer suggested, but now one of them is not currently participating in it. How could the process progress in the absence of the other party?
The President also revealed that the Security Council had issued a strong
warning to the RUF to release the captives, including the country’s Ambassador
to the Republic of Guinea. He condemned the kidnapping as a criminal act
which could not be tolerated either by the international community or under
the municipal laws of Sierra Leone.
WHATEVER HAPPENED TO THE UN PLAN?
UN Secretary-General, HE Mr Kofi Annan, had a life-saving plan for Sierra Leone. Yet lives are still being lost. What has happened to the implementation plan? Could it have been just another huff and puff from the UN? Or, was Secretary General Annan deliberately misled or wrongly advised?
Because on 2nd April, the very day of the arrest of Sankoh in Nigeria and his overthrow by the RUF’s external peace delegation in Abidjan, Focus monitored a live interview on VOA Radio during which Mr Annan was very upbeat about the prospects for the peace process. The interviewer, Mr Richard Kotei after referring, among other things, to the ousting of Foday Sankoh, asked "And so what next for the peace plan in Sierra Leone?" Annan replied:
"I am aware of the change in the leadership of the RUF and my Special Representative in Sierra Leone [Mr Berhanu Dinka] is in touch with the new leadership and we have indicated that when the new leadership is established and they are ready, our military experts will brief them on our operational concepts and the plans we have in mind for the implementation of the peace process ….. and we will move ahead with the deployment of the forces and work with the government and the other party in implementing the peace plan. So things have now been decided and could come back on track fairly soon."
It would appear from this answer that the Secretary General was confident about the finality of the RUF leadership change. Just like the premature recognition accorded the new leaders by President Kabbah, Mr Annan’s was an explicit endorsement of the change and the new leadership. Is there a fallback plan now, we wonder? (See FSL Vol. 2 No 10 for details of the UN’s implementation plan for the Peace Accord.)
(1) So where is the evidence?
The affairs of the governing political party cease to be internal once it starts to govern in the name of all of us. It is a national matter and the behaviour of the individuals of the government transcends political boundaries. It is the duty therefore of any citizen, or groups thereof, to comment on, approve or disapprove its actions. A President should not feel that everyone will like him or every one of his policies. He can not expect that, even in his own Party. But he must govern and continue to do so, because that is why he is at the helm. Moaning about not being liked or about rebels trying to sabotage the government is not edifying and is unavailing.
The case in point is an article in the West Africa magazine (14-20 April 1997) which carried a statement purporting to have come from President Kabbah in which, among other things, it was implied that a group of people in London, including a faction of the Sierra Leone Peoples Party (SLPP) who did not like him, were trying to sabotage his government and orchestrating a move to deselect him from leadership of the Party. No evidence was adduced to support the allegations.
Far be it from this paper to interfere in the internal affairs of the SLPP but as long as the Party’s affairs affect the overall national interest of the country, such matters cannot be allowed to go without comment. It is always easy when things are going badly for governments everywhere to look for scapegoats to blame. The truth is that there has been nothing too great to shout about since the present government came to power. Yet the mere assertion of this fact is variously interpreted by the presidential rabble as being anti-government, anti-Kabbah, and anti-SLPP. It never occurs to some of these people that there can be pro-Sierra Leone persons whose views do not necessarily have to be coincide with that of the ruling party on every issue.
Informed commentators will tell you that apart from the ministries of Education, Trade and Industry and possibly Agriculture (given the country’s current state of un-preparedness for intensive agricultural activity), most of the other ministries and departments have not been impressive in their performance. But still their slothfulness and lethargy is being tolerated. When this is pointed out, the accusation is made that some people are making a judgement of their own competence in these matters. Rubbish!
It is not every criticism that is made out of envy. Far from it! Most people do so out of a genuine concern for the country’s welfare. As far as the London crowd is concerned, nearly two-thirds of Kabbah’s Cabinet is known to them. They once lived and studied in the UK and it is a fact that some of them were known for their indolence, lack of drive and achievement.
The SLPP, the ruling party, is not functioning as a cohesive party. It is disunited and its a matter for national concern. There is hardly anyone of substance at party headquarters to discuss matters to do with the party. The Secretary General, Mr Prince Harding, who is also Minister of Mineral Resources, when he is not Euro-trotting, is busy allocating mining plots, and concessions and licences to his chosen few. The party is without a voice. Its day-to-day affairs are being neglected, its members are split right down the middle, ranging from discontent to outright rejection of the current party organisation and personalities. This is not what people expect of the ruling party. It is therefore not a matter solely for party-members but all who want the country to make progress..
Members of the Party have a legitimate right and reason to be dissatisfied. They have seen non-Party members take over the party; they have seen those who once turned their backs on the Party seize it and run away with it; they have seen some of the most undesirable elements in Sierra Leone society prospering at the expense of those who suffered for it; they see the benefits of government going to others who do not care about the country. Above all they resent the fact that the capacity for forgiveness by the victims of the war is being overshadowed by the lust for power of those who have suffered nothing in this war.
It is not an exaggeration to say that in reality, the present government is an SLPP government in name only. We take issue with those SLPP supporters here in London who refuse to see the point. Sierra Leone currently has more or less a coalition government which is not a bad thing in itself, considering our present situation. But it has come about in a roundabout way, which is quite wrong and is probably the source of the internal bickering. It was not what the SLPP electorate voted for. The nub of our argument is this: If President Kabbah and his colleagues in the present government had really wanted a coalition government in the first place, they should have supported Focus when it suggested that instead of allowing Party political elections to go ahead last February and March, we should have set up a Government of National Unity in which all sections of society would be represented. But once you have fought the election as a Party, on your own platform, and convinced the electorate that yours is the best programme on offer among your competitors, you cannot then jettison it because, for example, you want to reconcile. That is what a government of national unity would have been mandated to do and it would have been understood by all. SLPP supporters who elected their government have a legitimate right to complain if those carrying out the current policies in their name never shared the ideology of their party in the first place. Focus saw this coming and advised against competitive politics at the material time. Sadly it was not heeded.
Just think about this. When the next election comes, how would the SLPP be judged? On its own programmes and promises at the last election? Or will it be on the policies of Mr Thaimu Bangura’s PDP, Dr John Karimu’s NUP, or Mr Aiah Koroma’s DUP? Which Party’s policies will be vindicated at the next general election?
Focus which, by its motto, is Dedicated To Peace And Good
Government, will continue to make its contribution towards ensuring
that at all times Sierra Leone has the Party and the Government it deserves.
Whenever that prospect is threatened, we will not shirk from saying so
...and it will not matter if someone in the present government cries wolf.
(2) It was a blatant lie
The Sierra Leone Daily Mail - a government newspaper - is guilty of a blatant lie. In journalistic terms it has fallen below the standards of decency and fairness. The story it carried and the accompanying editorial which both accused Dr Abass Bundu, former Foreign Minister and ECOWAS Secretary-General, of being a RUF collaborator because he visited International Alert, and that he had visited Nigeria to secure the release of Foday Sankoh were blatant falsehoods aimed at misinforming the Sierra Leone public. We hold no brief whatever for Dr Bundu who, among several others, is a prime architect of the defenestration of good government in Sierra Leone, having contributed largely to its downward slide into decadence and corruption. But in whatever we say and ascribe to others we must be sure of the facts. For that, no one can fault this paper.
Dr Bundu did not visit Nigeria and has not been there for over one year - that is the fact. The Sierra Leone Government had a chance to verify this with Chief Tom Ikimi during his secret visit to the country some few weeks ago. Dr Bundu as a Sierra Leonean citizen has every right to do what he can to help alleviate the suffering of the people of Sierra Leone. Even though, when he had that chance, he flunked it by piling on the misery for our people, he still deserves to be treated with fairness. The Daily Mail owes him an apology. If in any way the government was privy to this chapter of crude mud slinging then it, too, should be gracious enough to say it is sorry. Far be it for us that we should be advocating that the editor of the Daily Mail should be hauled before CID and thrown into Pademba Road Prisons for such a criminal lapse. There are perfectly sensible and civilised ways of dealing with those who write horrible things about us, other than sending them to jail.
….. but wrong to take the money
Dr Bundu, while denying allegations that he made money through the sale of Sierra Leone passports when he was Foreign Minister, admitted, during a radio interview, that he took money from a foreign businessman to finance his political ambitions of becoming President of Sierra Leone. Yet, he never declared this fact to rank and file members of his Party or to the people of Sierra Leone, during the last elections. If he had won, we would never have known about it but the country would by now be obligated to a phantom businessman they do not know about. That was deceitful. Sierra Leoneans must be confident that the political parties, and the presidential candidates they vote for are beholden to no one else but the electorate. Dr Bundu was wrong to take the money. He must now tell us exactly how much he received in all, the consideration for this (we are supposed to assume ‘unsolicited’) benevolence by his benefactor, and other amounts that he might have received in the name of his party, its members and, by extension, the Sierra Leone electorate. Whichever way one looks at, it was money received under a cloak of public deception for which he must remain accountable.
NEWS DIGEST >>>> NEWS DIGEST >>>> NEWS DIGEST
SANKOH ON THE AIR ...AGAIN
CAPTIVES ARE "SAFE AND SOUND"
*****Amnesty International has made a strong call to the RUF for the return of the hostages.
HIGH COMMISSIONER ARRIVES …THROUGH THE BACKDOOR
SIERRA LEONE/ UK ACCORD
MORE REBELS "SURRENDER"
NOT ALL GLOOM
PERNICIOUS PRESS BILL
DRUG RUNNER FISHED OUT
EO "STILL CREATING MISCHIEF"
JOURNALISTS OUT ON BAIL
PUBLISH …..AND BE DAMNED
[Ambrose Ganda]Developing a 'Civil Society' in Sierra Leone
Sierra Leoneans need to develop a formal ethos of civil society. Since we are yet too far from distilling an ideology for ourselves as a country, we can probably start by establishing some of the basic principles that we believe must be present for us to pull together as a community. In doing so, we must also accept that individual preferences and behaviour can sometimes come into conflict with that of the established government, outside the framework of the law. There are arguments about what ‘civil society’ means. Many people say that in fact it simply does not exist. But it does, even if, in some societies, imperceptibly. For example, the spontaneous reaction of ordinary Sierra Leoneans in organising themselves for the peaceful resolution of the civil war was part of the process. It was civil society, in the absence of a Parliament, when all else including the courts failed to halt the dictatorship of the soldiers, that organised itself to demand that elections were held; or that negotiations should be held with the RUF to end the war. Civil society brought about the present democracy. One may well ask, where is it now?
The best definition of ‘civil society’ is that by Larry Diamonds in the Journal of Democracy (Vol.5 No 5 of July 1994) which describes it as "a realm of organised social life that is voluntary, self-generating, largely self-supporting, autonomous from the state, and bound by a legal order or set of shared rules". He distinguishes it from society in general by stating that it "….. involves citizens acting collectively in a public sphere to express their interests, passions, and ideas, exchange information, achieve mutual goals, make demands on the state, and hold state officials accountable"
In the supportive words of General Olusegun Obasanjo during a keynote address at a seminar on Corruption, Democracy and Human Rights in Africa held in Cotonou (Benin) in September 1994: "Civil society is basically an intermediate entity that occupies the space between the private family sphere and the state."
So where a government fails to deliver the basic demands of society and behaves totally against the perceived national interest, and its officials behave in a way that falls below the people’s expectation, there will be conflict between it and civil society. Civil society has a high moral content, eschews such negative values like corruption, greed and selfishness, and actively promotes democracy and the positive values of good governance, the pursuance of principles of the rule of law and the fundamental inalienable rights of the individual.
The promotion of the positive values of good governance must be taken to mean the promotion of principles of transparency, accountability and the supremacy of the will of the people (whether in London’s SLPP or wherever!) as expressed in their collective decisions. It has to be inclusive of all, and must take account of every level in society.
The recent complaint by President Kabbah about ‘rebels in London’ indicates that we are far from appreciating, let alone enjoying the full dividends of civil society. As Obasanjo, who once held a similar position as Kabbah, says again: "While it is true that the civil society in most states has a critical role to play, the government also has a responsibility in the development of a vibrant society. In fact, it is in the enlightened self-interest of leaders to ensure its emergence so that civil society can do best, what it does on the principle of complimentarity and subsidiarity. Thus it is not enough to denote the civil society as a bunch of meddlesome troublemakers who cry wolf when there is none. We must recognise that at the initial stage of the evolution of such fundamental aspect of good governance there are bound to be all manner of joiners and do-gooders. However, the future of Africa demands that we must realise our sacred duty as involving that of entrenching the democratic process that has just been revisited in Africa. It is the only way we can properly acquit ourselves of the collective failure."
For our country, this collective failure was evinced by those Sierra Leoneans who saw the errors of past regimes and did absolutely nothing about it because they were comfortable and enjoying a lifestyle of their own choice. Quite a number of these people are back in the seats of power. No one begrudges them for that. But others who witnessed the abdication by previous governments and fought against them relentlessly until their demise, knowing what harm it can do to one’s country, must continue their vigilance with greater zeal and determination.
No governmental action, or indiscretion, which impacts on society’s well-being as whole should go by without their objective scrutiny. If then it is seen as being anti-Government or, in this case, anti-Kabbah, then so be it.
A fresh bunch of opportunists should not be allowed to carry on as their predecessors and hold the country, and everyone else, to ransom. Above all no one in civil society should feel intimidated, because it provides a communal safety net for all.
The case for one ‘enemy’
Sayings of the wise
The only limit to our realisation of tomorrow will be our doubts of today.
Franklin D Roosevelt
(US President,1933 -1945)