A COUP D’ÉTAT THAT TELLS US SO MUCH
The coup d’état of Sunday, 25 May tells us, Sierra Leoneans, a lot about ourselves. If we want to, we can draw lessons, even some inspiration, from it.
Always at the root of our myriad problems in Sierra Leone are the vexed issues of privilege and disadvantage. They have led to friction in our society, culminating in discernible national divisions which have frequently erupted into violent breakdowns in civil law and order.
Six-and-half years of civil war have contributed to this situation in very large measure. That is why any solution of the current national state of impasse, and avoidance of the impending anarchy that it portends, must address not just the illegality of the take-over by rebellious soldiers, which we again unreservedly condemn as we did in the editorial of our last edition (see FSL Vol.3 No.3), but any and all of the underlying factors that predated it.
To this effect we cannot fail to notice that right now the country has been fortunate to have had emerging from the bush, by accident or by design, the dreaded RUF guerrillas who have made hell for people up country. Now that they are out of hiding and in the open, it is incumbent on all of us to secure a solution that will, among others, finally stop them returning to their base camps and hideouts in readiness for another bout of terror, and make it possible for real peace to endure. Any action that fails to eliminate this threat but which in fact facilitates a resurgence of the rebel fighting must be discouraged now and, if contemplated, be resisted.
The inescapable truth is that any resumption will be more bloody than has been experienced before, especially with a reinforced, copiously re-armed and numerically inflated alliance of RUF guerrillas, sobels (i.e. soldiers-turned-rebels), and armed forces soldiers. Coupled with political malcontents who are quietly supportive of the coup both in Sierra Leone and abroad, this could present a formidable danger for the country and its future. It is an illusion to say that no one supports the coup. Several people privately support it but have stopped short of publicly acclaiming it because of the overwhelming opprobrium that might be heaped upon them. In fact we make bold to say that had the coup not been accompanied by the release of criminals and the ensuing mayhem caused by looting, rapes, murders, burglaries and robberies, it would most probably have been, by now, begrudgingly accepted as a fact of life by some of those who resisted it, while some others would, at worse, have shrugged their shoulders with indifference. Why? Because even before the coup, many citizens had been disgusted at the way the country was being governed by the new political masters, and particularly the behaviour, corruption and ineffectiveness of some of President Kabbah’s ministers.
On the one hand, the people who seized control of the country have been described as hooligans, animals, criminals, beasts, thugs, and the dregs of society. We do not call them so, even if their behaviour then, since and now might be of that hue. We believe that they are misguided both in over-stating their own assessment of the justiceability of their grievances and, above all, in adopting the method they have used to address it. They are wrong in what they have done, and in continuing to hold the entire country to ransom, despite the pleas of the civil society. They must therefore bring their usurpation quickly to a tidy and satisfactory end. But we do not advocate the use of force as others have, and are still advocating, so late in the day.
On the other hand, Sierra Leone needs to search its own soul and answer the question: WHO CREATED THESE SO-CALLED "ANIMALS, HOOLIGANS AND DREGS, etc."? Looking at the hundreds of faces that have been beamed on the world press and TV, of young men and women, none of whom seem older than 17 years at most, can anybody really contemplate sending an army to destroy them in the name of democracy? They are some of the children of Sierra Leone. But they were the forgotten people, the marginalised ones. And we made them feel so.
They were told by successive government policies that they did not count at all - that they were the indecipherable ones in our society. These are people who feel they belong to nothing and therefore owe allegiance to nothing including even the best democratically elected government They do not have a stake in it, so they do not see it as inviolate. They have no money in the bank so they have no regard for the edifice that harbours it. If they had belonged to a co-operative union and they knew that the proceeds of sale of the produce from their farms would be placed in a bank, they would probably have had second thoughts before setting it alight, knowing very well that it holds something valuable to them.
They also know that some of those big houses they entered, during which many ordinary, honest, hard working people were equally subjected to the ordeals of physical violation and despoliation of their properties, were not built by the toil and sweat of the brow of their owners but by the corrupt diversion of funds that were meant to be held in communal trust for every Sierra Leonean man, woman and child. They know that it went instead into the pockets of just a very few selfish individuals. They think that they have nothing to lose and everything to gain by their illegal usurpation. They were wrong to put everyone in the same basket. Consequently, it has caused chaos and hell for everybody. What they have done is very wrong , and we are terrified of them.
But now, instead of recognising what our policies have created over these many years of simply bad government, we, including members of the ousted government and those middle class people who have fled the country, are beckoning from the safety of distant lands at the Nigerians to go into our country and do a demolition job on these ‘dregs’. "Go and blast them out of existence!" we hear some say. In fact all that we would end up doing is to create a fresh set of dregs and hooligans. Is that what Sierra Leone needs?
Illegal though their seizure of power has been, the "hooligans" they may be, and the "drug addicts and dregs of society" as some others have described them, the AFRC/RUF coalition have managed, despite the condemnation from virtually every quarter, to hold on to their usurpation. There is no indication that they will give up without a fight. They are ably reinforced in their resolve by the co-operation, indeed the collaboration, of the RUF who have now seen this putsch as their chance to achieve their real objective - to secure power over Sierra Leoneans by force of arms.
It is crucial that the AFRC’s reasons, however unreasonable, be given a proper airing and sympathetic hearing as part of a healing process and the reconciliation of our divided society. We hardly need to remind readers about the persistent calls that this paper often made for similar treatment to be accorded the RUF.
We must bring these people back into the common fold, which means sitting down with them to discuss their grievances as well as our own concerns, and address all the possible options. For once and for all time, let the grievances of ‘the dregs’ in Sierra Leone’s society be placed firmly and publicly at the top of the national agenda, and be considered sympathetically by the community.
The present coup d’état and the process of pulling the country back from the brink offers us a rare and unique chance to deal with these issues comprehensively so that we can arrive at a blue print for our country’s future. If we do not but, instead, chose to engage in silly political gimmickry, as was the case with the Abidjan Peace Accord, then the Sierra Leone that emerges hereafter will be built on a false foundation which is bound to cave in, in very quick time. These are our own problems and only we ourselves, not others, must face and solve it. Let us deal with them with maturity and a sense of purpose this time round.
Sierra Leoneans have been at each other’s throat for a long time. This incident, like a string of many before it, has thrown into greater focus the worst that has gone wrong with our country. We must use it as an opportunity to sit down together and formulate the new future for Sierra Leone. Sending Nigerian troops to do a bang-bang job, in which they might get bogged down, could exacerbate and at any rate obfuscate rather than solve the underlying problems of disadvantage, injustice, poverty, marginalisation, alienation and disaffection.
A RUDIMENTARY PLAN OF ACTION
We at Focus firmly support the current moves for a National Sovereign Conference to be held in Sierra Leone. Far from being a ploy for buying the coupists time to consolidate their hold on power, as some have alleged, it affords us a chance to set up a proper process for considering all possible options more purposefully. It can also serve as a genuine platform for addressing all the issues pertinent to the survival of the country, within a framework of objectives that must include the restoration of civilian, constitutional rule.
The four countries recently appointed to act on behalf of ECOWAS should be present for the talks. One, the Ivory Coast, a guarantor of the Peace Accord, enjoys the trust of one of the parties - the RUF.
ECOWAS FOREIGN MINISTERS MEET
Foreign Ministers of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) met in Conakry, Guinea, on June 26 and 27 and agreed to initiate dialogue, as well as impose economic sanctions, to put pressure on the AFRC to hand power back to President Kabbah. Their 14-point communiqué called on all countries to withhold recognition from the junta. They pledged themselves to work "to restore legitimate government through a combination of three measures - dialogue, sanctions, and an embargo, as well as recourse to force". Four countries - Nigeria, Ghana, Guinea, and Ivory Coast - were appointed to meet with the AFRC and report back within two weeks to the Chairman of ECOWAS, General Sani Abacha of Nigeria.
President Kabbah, speaking on radio from Conakry, expressed satisfaction with the conclusions of the meeting. He said all the ministers, who called on him at his residence, expressed their determination to secure his re-instatement.
AFRC spokesman Colonel Abdul Sesay said they were "extremely happy with their decision to come to Freetown and examine the situation first hand. We believe that after their visit here they will have a change of mind and economic sanctions or military intervention will not be necessary".
But as he embarks upon the expedition to re-instate the ousted Government of President Tejan Kabbah, an expedition whose success is by no means assured, it should not be forgotten that he, Abacha, as has been mentioned several times in this newsletter and elsewhere, continues to hold, under secure lock and key, Chief Mohshood Abiola - the elected President of his own country - as well as the keys to both the gates of Nigeria’s Federal Parliament and the cemetery containing the unmarked graves of his most famous victims, the Ogoni martyrs including Ken Saro-Wiwa. They were executed in open defiance of a strident chorus of world-wide condemnation which, in hindsight, turned out to be manifestly hypocritical, feeble and inconsequential. June this year marked the fourth anniversary of Abiola’s incarceration by the Nigerian military junta.
Some people have argued that Nigeria’s own political credential is irrelevant to the case of Sierra Leone. I beg to differ. It is relevant especially in the application of uniform international standards that must command universal respect and adherence. As someone who has joined mass demonstrations in London against the continued detention of Abiola, I can not selfishly go out now to extol the virtue of Nigerian military might simply because my country has been usurped by a group of people (emphasis people, not animals) who have a totally different concept of how a government can be changed. It is a concept which is by no means different from the logic that drove General Abacha and a host of West African leaders of the past and the present, to seize power in complete disregard for the popularly expressed will of their electorates.
Might is right!
The stronger the country militarily the less likely is the prospect that others would try to reverse a coup in it other than by diplomatic pressure and peaceful negotiations. For instance, did the international business community not start signing mining agreements with Laurens Kabila weeks ahead of his eventual arrival in Kinshasa and months before President Mobutu had been overthrown? On that occasion Nigerian diplomacy to save a fellow dictator failed, while South Africa’s fresh credentials in democratic governance qualified it in every sense to mediate. Sweet revenge for President Mandela who was snubbed and humiliated by Abacha over the execution of Saro- Wiwa and others!
The genesis of the governments of Nigeria, Ghana, Guinea, Gambia, Burkina Faso and a host of other nations on our Continent, but especially in the group of 14 states that form ECOWAS, is a history of the Military taking power by force. But for the extensive looting, murders and rapes that accompanied their unlawful act, the coupists in Freetown have done nothing different. Ghana’s uniquely sensible stand in opposition to the clamour for military intervention is probably due to an acute awareness of its own history. President Jerry Rawlings was himself once sprung out of jail to become Head of State of Ghana - a rather striking parallel with Sierra Leone’s Johnny Paul Koroma! The principle of the illegality of coups d’état is undermined, thus devalued, as much by those who propound it but are not prepared to defend it, as by the bad credentials of those who are sent into the fray to correct it.
Another point, often the case in underdeveloped countries like ours, is that as long as there is bad government in a country, there will always be those who will not be able to resist the temptation to apply unconventional methods for changing it.
Where the State is weak and not securely based in democratic practice, it occasionally caves in. And where, in effect, the processes for effecting change are themselves usurped by the government in power and made inaccessible to the electorate, a coup or some kind of violent change is almost always inevitable. That partly explained the success of the NPRC coup against the APC government, which was initially welcomed by most Sierra Leoneans.
This time, however, the AFRC coup has been totally rejected because people know and believe that they now have a means of changing the government they do not like. The coup was therefore a most unnecessary and unfortunate blow to popular morale.
The International Community
The US actually had one of its warships with 1,200 marines in the area. Instead of offering to take the swift decisive action that was necessary to reverse the coup at the material time, both the Americans and the British and other foreign governments, in the true spirit of their own national self-interest, came ashore and shamelessly removed only their own citizens including Sierra Leoneans with dual nationality, and then left the rest of our people to an uncertain fate. Even when a disoriented AFRC Junta declared its airspace inviolate, the US defiantly breached it, but only for their own selfish reasons, to get their people out. They were not prepared to go the full length to help the people of Sierra Leone restore their government. That was how much faith they had in the re-statement of the principle that coups d’état should not be used to remove legitimately elected governments.
Yet it was the International Community that forced an election, opposed by this paper, on the people of Sierra Leone last year at a time when they were least prepared for it. But when the elected government was pushed out by the recent coup, they showed their true colours by nominating the foremost offender against the principles of democratic governance - Nigeria - to restore it.
Was this some practical joke on Sierra Leone, I have wondered since? Is this what morality means in the conduct of affairs in the new world order? No one should be surprised if, as Major Koroma continues to consolidate his grip on power, the international business fraternity start signing mining agreements with his regime.
At the risk of repeating myself, let me re-iterate that the charge against the International Community - in this case the West - is one of hypocrisy. They witnessed the overthrow of a legitimate government whose election they financed and supported. Instead of responding swiftly to secure its re-instatement, they settled for pious condemnation. Even though one of them had its warships in the vicinity, they did not act to forestall the blow.
At the material time, both the elements of surprise and the use, or even the mere threat, of overwhelming firepower would have been enough to reverse the coup, or at least create doubts in the minds, and possibly dissension in the ranks, of the coupists before the arrival of RUF reinforcements in Freetown. They waited, and waited, while the AFRC consolidated its grip on power.
At one stage they trailed their lethal weapons at the coupists, but only momentarily, so that they could remove their own citizens from the fray. Once that task was completed they disappeared, leaving our poor defenceless citizens to their fate. What ambivalence! What futile words, leaders of the world! "Keep your own President under lock and key" they told Abacha, "but go now and restore the other one in Sierra Leone whom your clones have just removed from office".
So Abacha finds himself in the enviable position of being the restorer of democracy in anarchic Sierra Leone while the rest of the civilised world watches the countdown to a showdown that has all the ingredients of the wild west cowboy movie - where the expectation is that the strongman arrives in town and creates mayhem, floors all his opponents, inevitably with the lethal gun, and walks away to the silent awe and admiration of flummoxed onlookers. A triumph of the strong over the weak.
The AFRC will probably notice how unfair the world has become. They have come to power using the same process as their big brother who is clearly unhappy at the efficiency of their attempt to emulate him. What cruel irony for them!.
Major Johnny Koroma and his allies, the RUF, have by now realised the enormity of the consequences of their action and the world-wide condemnation they have reaped. They are yet to gain recognition from a single country.
But even more significantly, the junta has won neither the approval and support of the population of the country nor, possibly, the overwhelming endorsement of all in its military ranks. With jittery nerves it seems nonetheless that the battle-hardened RUF, who had been suffering serious setbacks including a dwindling supply of arms just before the coup, is prepared for a fight with the Nigerians and would dearly relish the chance to display what they did to our rural population during six warring years. The scene has been set. The world is waiting and watching for the drama to commence.
The Great Divide
I believe intervention was necessary to reinstate President Kabbah’s government right at the onset of the coup. However, as we drifted into the second, third and subsequent days and, now, weeks soon to be months, it is totally unjustified and unnecessary. Intervention now is too late and is bound to be bloody no matter how professional the Nigerians may claim to be.
Moreover it does not guarantee anything other than the possible, not even the probable, removal of the AFRC. In fact it might fail! And whether successful or not, we will still be left with the main problem concerning ‘how Sierra Leoneans can be governed so that that they can live in peace and harmony now and in the future’. That is why I oppose military intervention now. It only helps to fudge this extremely vital issue by simply papering over the deep fissures in our society. We need a long term solution which can only come now through meaningful dialogue between all the parties concerned.
No human aberration, however heinous and unsavoury, should be put beyond the pail of dialogue. That is why efforts, which need not be solely on the diplomatic front, such as those of Focus, groups of concerned (with the small ‘c’) apolitical Sierra Leoneans in the Diaspora, and conflict resolution NGOs, should be allowed to come into play so that their weight, experience and concern can bear on all the parties in working out proposals for a peaceful way out of this impasse.
Don’t they see any parallel in their demands for a military solution with those made during the war with the RUF? Did it end the war? Why do they want to start another war when we have not yet finished that other?
Do they realise that notwithstanding the exodus of the middle classes from Freetown, there is still a resident population that has become a human shield for the coupists, following the eternal dithering by the international community?
What if most parts of the city have been booby-trapped by some elements in the expectation that if they have to beat a hasty retreat they can destroy all and anything in their path of escape?
Are we sure that since the AFRC assumed power and took full control over the entire stock of the State of Sierra Leone’s arsenal of arms and ammunition, some elements have not already taken contingency measures to spirit some of it away in the event that they have to continue a guerrilla war against any authority that may be put in its place thereafter?
As regard those who advocate Nigerian military, as opposed to diplomatic, intervention, we ask them to consider the following questions:
What does it say for the authority of the United Nations? Might it not weaken, or even usurp, its authority considering that its Charter states clearly that all peaceful measures should be exhausted before the use of force is contemplated and, further, that such use of force must be sanctioned by the Security Council?
Have any of these considerations been genuinely pursued?
The meeting of ECOWAS Foreign Ministers in Conakry (Guinea) was held in conditions of emotion and unreality. While there appears to be a visible display of unanimity on the surface, is there still a risk that intervention per se could promote dissension within, and against ECOMOG itself? It is already being alleged that Ivory Coast, Ghana, and possibly Burkina Faso may be having second thoughts about the use of force. Will this not let Nigeria off the hook and strengthen its position internationally through its use of this campaign as an image laundering exercise, thus making it impossible for proposed Commonwealth action against it for sabotaging the democratic process in that country, and for its frequent and flagrant breaches of the fundamental human rights and basic freedoms of Nigerians? (It will be interesting to see how this matter will be dealt with at the forthcoming Commonwealth Ministers Action Group (CMAG) in July when Sierra Leone’s junta and the move to reverse the coup by force using Nigeria as a vehicle is placed alongside British Foreign Secretary Mr Robin Cook’s recently re-stated position, namely, the UK’s determination to impose sanctions against Nigeria. One wonders whether that will include an arms embargo!)
Assuming Nigeria overcomes the AFRC and the RUF in the Capital:
Do they then remain indefinitely in the country? To maintain law and order? To fight off the resurgence of new guerrilla activities? Could this not signal Liberia mark 2 for Sierra Leone?
Does that not make Nigeria an army of occupation? Are we suddenly wanting to be re-colonised all over again?
Who will foot the bill for this operation and for the necessary continuing presence of the intervention force in the country, especially if some of the ECOWAS States refuse to go along with the decision?
In the meantime, how do we eventually replace the Nigerian/ ECOMOG force if our army and its RUF allies do not wish to co-operate? Blow them up?
Finally, will Nigerian, or any, intervention bring about the lasting peace that all Sierra Leoneans want?
Or, would intervention itself not result in a lingering and lengthier period of political instability for Sierra Leone?
It Is Folly To Raise A New Army
But what right has any body to do this?
Would such action be any different from the mentality of those whom we have accused over the last six years of arming the RUF?
Are we also sure that we can achieve the reinstatement of Kabbah and his government with less bloodshed than the RUF campaign against our people?
Are we saying, in all seriousness, that we are even more competent in avoiding the barbarity, senselessness and brutality that accompanied the current civil war and which revolted all of us?
How many more of our citizens have to die violent deaths before we get this democracy of ours back into place?
How would they feel if a new set of rebels - for that is what they also will become in due course if they fail to remove the AFRC - resort to the very methods that we have decried whenever they have been used by the RUF?
Are the Kamajohs so professional that their own killings will be less barbarous and gory than those by their sworn enemy - the RUF, the sobels who have now formed an alliance with them, and the rest of our Armed Forces?
Would such action really afford us a platform for building unity in the future?
Would it start remotely to address and rationalise those issues, including the genuine grievances of the Army and the RUF, that have led to the current national crisis?
This being so, one must ask specifically also:
What role, if any, is Nigeria playing in the arming of the Kamajohs?
Has Nigeria got another agenda which is yet to see the light of day?
Why, and under whose aegis did Captain Hinga Norman, President Kabbah’s Deputy Minister of Defence, hold a press conference in Monrovia to re-iterate a call exhorting Kamajohs "to fight to restore their government"?
Whom does he represent? President Kabbah, the Government of Sierra Leone, the people of Sierra Leone, or himself?
I honestly feel that the idea, though attractive, is pure madness. President Kabbah, a peaceful and gentle person who has kept a level head all this time, should really not have allowed himself to be driven into toying with this option. It is a recipe for unmitigated disaster.
Keeping The State Viable
Firstly, I am more concerned here with the survival of the state of Sierra Leone intact, as a viable entity, from this major crisis. We cannot solve this crisis by creating a new one. Hence these questions are asked in advocacy of a rational approach which must mean dialogue, however protracted, with Major Koroma’s regime in Freetown.
Secondly, I believe that unsuspecting and naive Kamajohs are being misused by politicians for a purpose that they were never intended for in the first place. I can understand the eagerness of ministers who had started to believe in their own indispensability and largesse having withdrawal symptoms as they feel the earth shifting under their feet. But Sierra Leone’s future survival cannot be forfeited or tied like an umbilical chord to the personal predilections of, on the whole, failed ministers. That is why I would urge caution and not encourage any activity that we might find impossible to reverse in future.Captain Norman is a clever and courageous man. But he is like a wounded lion that should be held in check. This paper recently applauded his action in forming the Kamajohs for the protection of communities in our small towns and villages that were exposed to frequent raids by armed rebel groups. But now that he appears hell-bent on re-inventing a new role for them, he should be isolated. He is behaving no differently from Corporal Foday Sankoh in seeking to lead a new army. And if Sankoh has been removed from the scene because he is the leader of a rebel army in Sierra Leone, then so should Norman. He could be placing serious difficulties in the path of President Kabbah in his quest to reclaim his rightful entitlement as President of Sierra Leone.
Back To Base
I appeal to him to stop his war-mongering travels and get back to base and sit down with his boss and others to work out a rational strategy for recreating a new society in which we - I mean everybody - gets duly recognised as having a stake, and in which everybody is treated with respect, love and care. These considerations were being speedily eroded under his government and he and quite a few in that Cabinet are, to a very large degree, to blame. Koroma, whom I know personally, is a very intelligent and committed activist. But on this occasion, he like many others, is misguided. He should be concentrating his very fertile mind on how to rebuild Sierra Leone not to destroy it.
There are others to whom no message need be addressed. They are the
political and tribal bigots who can see nothing beyond the tips of their
protuberances, and whose intelligence is only matched by how far it extends
beyond their faces. These people are hell-bent on plunging Sierra Leone
into another war, even before the current one is finished - only because
of their selfish and political ends, including the positions they hope
to gain by pretending to be helping to restore Kabbah back to power. Such
naked ambition is destructive not just of one’s self but of all else around.
They should not be allowed to hold sway. Incidentally, I note that those
who are most vociferous in advocating Kamajoh militarism to restore President
Kabbah are doing so at a very safe distance from London, New York, Banjul
and Conakry. They should seriously consider returning to swell the ranks
of the Kamajohs if they sincerely believe in it as the way forward and
as their only redeeming factor.
London Meeting Ends In Fiasco
INTOLERANCE RULED, OKAY!
Intolerance and politics ruled the day, rather the evening, when Sierra Leoneans in London were offered the first public forum to discuss the current crisis facing their nation. Instead of a reasoned and cool-headed consideration of the plight of the country and the fate of millions of citizens fomenting in a steaming cauldron of political uncertainty, a few contributors embarked on a trail-blazing exercise in self-publicity. It was matched only by the vitriol of their attacks on one another.
Loutish behaviour by some people so disgusted the sensible members in the audience that many left the meeting in disgust and with a tinge of sadness and shame for their country.
The meeting turned into a shouting match, as it became evident that a small band of partisan political agitators had come hell-bent with an agenda of planned disruption. Sadly, they succeeded and the meeting came to a hasty and abrupt end without any results. A golden opportunity for Sierra Leoneans to reach a consensus on their future was missed but this fact never dawned on the miscreants who, even at the end of the meeting, continued their fruitless exercise in windbag politics and opportunistic sabre-rattling outside the precincts of the hall.
The Methodist missionary, Reverend Norman Briggs, whose congregation of hundreds of West Africans includes a large number from Sierra Leone, who kindly offered his premises free of charge to the organisers in the belief that some good would come out of the meeting, had to breeze in to remind the rabble that there was a hostel just upstairs and that the brouhaha was causing distress to residents who were under the impression that something horrible was taking place beneath their dormitories.
In sheer embarrassment and exasperation, the beleaguered Chairman, Mr Albert Tucker, an experienced and respected charity fund-raiser in the UK who is also a Sierra Leonean, tried in vain to bring his lawless charges under control.
Instead of focusing on the issue in hand, speakers, including key ones, veered off their briefs to extol their own personal achievements, as if that was the critical issue of the moment. In the absence of reasoned arguments for or against Nigerian military intervention and the possibility of alternative ways of settling the impasse - the subject matter at hand - the audience was treated instead to political diatribes of the rabble-rousing kind. Speaker after speaker railed against individuals whose politics they disagreed with. One delegate thought the tone had already been set by some of the key speakers.
In fact the row started when a key speaker, a baptised admirer of late President Siaka Stevens ended his contribution by paying the tribute "May he rest in peace" to his late mentor. To which there was an almighty uproar. Someone shouted back "Yes, in pieces. May he rest in pieces".
The din was such that even when the speaker realised the mayhem he had caused and tried to assuage his now agitated audience, his rather contrived but contrite repartee "Okay! May he NOT rest in peace" could not be heard above the increasing crescendo of persistent baying.
Pro-intervention supporters displayed the kind of raucous orchestration that belied the reality of the calamity facing the country. To them the reinstatement of President Kabbah, at any cost, was the single most important thing. Whether or not it would be possible, and at what expense, was never in their calculation. One threatened another "We dey watch oona oh! [We are watching you!]" When a speaker declared that Nigeria was undemocratic and had locked up its own elected President, a dyspeptic pro-interventionist shouted back "We don’t care!.
But the further question "So what would you have said if after elections of March 1996, General Maada Bio and his men had locked up President Kabbah and declared martial law and continued to rule?" was drowned in more torrents of deliberately engineered heckling. They probably would still not have cared. So much for principles!
With this display of riotous behaviour which was easily worse than in any kindergarten school, one man from the audience rose to ask how anyone could expect members of the AFRC to be responsive and reasonable when those who claim to be better informed could put up such a behaviour of mindless disruption. The point was a sober one. The behaviour and conduct was no different from that of those currently roaming the streets of Freetown.
The episode more than anything else proved that the nation state of Sierra Leone is fast descending into the abyss. The process of pulling it back is going to be a monumental task even for those who believe there is life after death.
Significantly, one of the convenors of the meeting had, right at the start of the meeting, alerted the attention of the audience to a fortuitous mural decoration on the front stage which read thus: "We must learn to live together as brothers [and sisters] or perish together as fools"
Once the meeting started, it seemed the rabble element suffered instant
amnesia and took no further notice of the message staring at them in their
faces. They were very determined that we all should perish together. It
seems they are on the verge of having their wish granted. Sic Transit
Gloria Sierra Leonensis! (Thus passes away the glory of Sierra Leone!)
Dear Major Johnny Koroma
I write as your compatriot and I hope you will find the time to read and heed what I wish to say. Unlike some others, I do not propose to insult you or to call your comrades names. I have already spoken to you on a few occasions and you are more or less aware of what my position is on the matter of the coup d’état that brought you to where you are and jettisoned President Tejan Kabbah off to where he is. It is not correct that both of you find yourselves in the positions that you are currently in. You rightly belong, as you passionately confirmed to me, as a professional soldier, to the Army, first and foremost. I have therefore no doubt about your credentials and intentions for our country. President Tejan Kabbah, by virtue of his election in March last year should rightly, still, be the occupant of State House until such time that the people who put him there are fed up with him and decide to change him. He is keen that constitutional government should be restored. I want to believe that both of you are honourable and honest men. It is to your honour and honesty that this letter is addressed in whole or in part.
I, as you may be aware, have been quite concerned that the present crisis which has brought our country down on its knees should be resolved immediately, amicably and peacefully, without further bloodshed and disruption of civil life and well-being. Let me also be bold to assure you that I am one of very few who will publicly state, in contrast to some others who would want the world to believe otherwise, that everything was not rosy in the country under the government that you have just ousted. Indeed in the very columns of this paper I have relentlessly hammered home the truth about some of the grave issues which were afflicting our nation and needed immediate attention. Sadly, no heed was paid to them. Instead the only accolade that I reaped was to be labelled a rebel. One miscreant on the Internet has even referred to me as "a professional dissident". Why? Because when asked on a BBC programme why Sierra Leone is prone to coups, I sought to explain that a coup does not just occur in a vacuum and that there are conditions that can lead to it if they are not attended to.
Be that as it may, some of us - and I would like to include you in this category - were meant to work selflessly for our country and people. That is why I feel confident that, if you share these sentiments with me for our country, you will consider very seriously what I say in this open letter to you.
The lapses in government did not start with the government that you have overthrown. The history of successive administrations in our country is replete with failures to address many of the burning issues in our society. Even the government you have just elbowed out had already become complacent, behaving as if it was in power for ever and that nothing would put them out of it. I knew that if they continued that way and did not mend their ways they would be rejected next time at the ballot box. Yes, Major Koroma, at the ballot box NOT overthrown by a coup d’état! I think we should now move away from this method of changing those who rule over us from time to time.
I am bound to say to you, therefore, that however serious your grievances were - and I would endorse nearly all of them - they did not warrant another coup for Sierra Leone. That’s why I cannot in conscience support your coup - I supported the NPRC one (to my utter regret!). I however believe that you have legitimate grievances. But these can be addressed with the requisite political will and degree of tolerance.
I know for example that soldiers of the Sierra Leone Armed forces have had a hard time over the last six years fighting a rebel war, not of their making but of politicians who failed our people time after time, election after election. I know and I fully acknowledge the sacrifice of many SLAF soldiers who have died fighting to bring peace to our country. I am also aware that less than fulsome gratitude has come from the people of Sierra Leone who, because some of your own colleagues in the Armed Forces betrayed their professionalism and colluded with the enemy, lumped every soldier including yourself into the same basket of suspicion as rebel collaborators. But if you have time to read back copies of this paper, you will note that I warned the nation that if the war had not been fought gallantly by our soldiers, the RUF would have overrun our entire country three or four years ago.
So you can count on me as one of your countrymen who is neither ashamed of our army’s commitment in defending the integrity of our country nor ungrateful for the performance of your colleagues in our armed forces.
When we spoke the first time, you expressed genuine anger at the reference, by others, to you and your comrades as dregs and animals. Elsewhere in this edition, I have asked our country the question ‘Who created the dregs?’ I await a response which will probably never come. But we, I mean the people of Sierra Leone, have got no time to wait for an answer because our country is burning and we need to rescue it from the embers of illegal usurpation. All that I know is that only very few people have been enjoying the full benefits of being Sierra Leonean which, we were told, includes the enjoyment, in nearly equal shares, of the natural resources of the land.
So Major Koroma, I know your anger and that of the RUF who have joined to reinforce your ranks. Yes, I know a little bit about the RUF because I, unlike most people, took the trouble to meet and talk to them to find out why they had taken up arms against our people. I did not agree with their reasons but I understood their position. For that I was labelled a rebel collaborator by those who did not want to know the facts. I also appreciate, and I agree with you, that now that the RUF have come out of their hiding places in the bush, from where they unleashed some of the worst violence on innocent defenceless country people, as well as on your comrades in the army, they should be encouraged not to return there but be given a genuine option to participate in re-building our country.
But notwithstanding all of the foregoing, I hope that you can see that none of them affords you a good enough reason for your coup. If however your intention was to throw focus on the fact that your grievances and concerns, including the delicate matter of the confrontation between the Army and the Kamajohs, were not being properly addressed by the government you ousted, then your coup has more than made the point. It is, however, a matter of profound regret that it was accompanied by the recklessness of disgorging the inmates of our prisons, including the most dangerous, onto our streets. It is evident that this act alone has made life very difficult not just for the citizens of our beleaguered cities but even for you yourselves, in your efforts to maintain law and order. You and your RUF allies therefore owe us a duty to ensure that the lawlessness, murders and rapes, and the looting and robberies (Did I hear someone say there was lawlessness and armed robberies even before the coup?) cease immediately.
I think the time has come for you to open your heart to the pleas of your countrymen and country women for the return to constitutional rule. I do not believe any more violence is necessary for this to happen. Naturally, once the civilian government returns - and I have no set mind about its nature and composition - it will be made fully aware that its survival will depend on putting such issues as I have mentioned at the very top of its agenda. I am sure it will be guaranteed by the electorate of Sierra Leone.
This paper, Focus on Sierra Leone, has established a reputation for patriotism, objectivity and fairness. It remains on permanent standby for your beck and call, should you wish it to play any role, in collaboration with other compatriots, to create those conditions for you and your comrades to secure the release of our country from the stranglehold of the impasse that has been brought about by your unfortunate action of May 25, 1997.
PUBLISH ….. AND BE DAMNED
[Ambrose Ganda]A Rash Of Born-Again Democrats
I love my country dearly, but not to the extent that I would urge others to pulverise it because I wish to assert a principle. No principle is worth that trouble.
There has been a rash of born-again democrats - these people now shouting democracy, like James Jonah, John Leigh and a host of others here in London and elsewhere. Where were they when some of us cried foul in vain during all the years of corrupt and undemocratic rule in Sierra Leone? The fight for democracy in one’s country does not start at the point of retirement nor is it the sole domain of UN pensioners. Democracy needs constant vigilance. It is not just about the single issue of reversing coups against one’s favoured government. It is to do with persistently, and if need be daily, monitoring and protesting about the occasional bad behaviour of governments towards citizens. It is rather too late in the day to go into the streets after the horse has bolted to demonstrate or shout empty political slogans because an isolated event, serious though the present coup is, takes place. We must learn to follow events in our country and monitor, or at least support those who monitor, the operations of democracy. We must shout even on the smaller and less glamorous occasions of undemocratic governmental action. And we must remember also that some, though not all, coups are actually the consequence of an accumulation of glaring failures in democracy by governments.