…even when it is committed in the name of the State
THE DEGRADATION OF SIERRA LEONE
Senator Robert Kennedy once had this to say about the death penalty: "Whenever any American's life is taken by another unnecessarily - whether it is done in the name of the law or in defiance of law, ...in an attack of violence or in response to violence – the whole nation is degraded".
I do not know about you but I feel deeply affronted and disgusted by
the recent execution of twenty-four convicted soldiers by Tejan Kabbah
and his internationally acclaimed restored-democratically-elected-government.
Quite aside from the emptiness of the current rhetoric about its democratic
credentials, this government’s decision to allow the execution of the soldiers
and the way it was carried out were both utterly repugnant and contemptible.
They offend against any sense of decency and decorum.
The barbarity of the State executions, not to mention the real prospect of their repetition (unless sensible Sierra Leoneans stand up and speak out), is enough to ward me off my country for the rest of my life. But I am prevented from doing so because of my continuing personal commitment to my country and people, especially for the underprivileged and disadvantaged – the underdogs – of Sierra Leonean society. They have been conned and fooled into submission by clever serial liars and opportunists inside a government into whose grip they have been thrust helplessly.
The heartlessness and cold-blooded nature of this so-called democratic government is most glaringly evinced by the fact that less than a week after carrying out its bloody mission, President Kabbah then hypocritically invited the rebels to lay down their arms under an ill-defined amnesty. He promised five of their named leaders a possible safe passage to any country of their choice and also undertook to personally appeal and explain to the country the need to accept in their midst those rebels who surrender to him and express remorse for their actions. But why, oh why only afterwards? More specifically:
(1) Why did he wait till after the executions to announce this amnesty?
(2) How can we secure the surrender of more rebels when we mow down some of their leaders who gave themselves up eight months or so ago? One of them, Brigadier S F Y Koroma, elder brother of AFRC Chairman Johnny Paul Koroma, according to the government itself, had given full co-operation and valuable information to Ecomog.
(3) If this government were really sincere about peace for the whole country, and not just in securing its privileged enclave of Freetown, why could it not have at least held these people in prison, let’s even say indefinitely (if they really did do that which they were found guilty of)? They could then have used them as a bargain to encourage the other fighters to lay down their arms and negotiate peace to end this war and its attendant suffering.
I will pursue these themes in future editions but I have to say right now that the option under my third question would not have been considered feasible because war has become big business and there are people within the present administration, as well as on the side of the rebels, for whom it is lucrative. The war is also the reason that many - including ageing retirees, spent forces and non-achievers - who are not fit to hold public office in Sierra Leone nevertheless are doing so now. They know that when real peace eventually breaks out - and by God’s grace it will – they will become nobodies. For them, the status quo of continuing war is worth protecting and they will ignore the most obvious ways of bringing lasting peace to the country.
I have no brief for murderers. I firmly believe in punishment for offences, including grievous ones like treason, murder and the infliction of serious injuries on innocent people as is currently happening in towns and villages across the North and East of the country. So the issue here is not that one questions the right of a credible judicial process - not one that draws inspiration from mob rule and vengeance - to hold persons guilty of the breach of any civil or criminal codes that are intended for the protection of society. I myself chose to become a lawyer primarily so that I can contribute (thus far at no expense to anyone) to the defence of my country’s basic values from especially iconoclastic and inhuman tendencies. But I have also learned throughout these years not to lose my humanity in the face of the worst adversity.
It was very, very wrong to have allowed the executions to go ahead, particularly of officers among the twenty-four who willingly surrendered to Ecomog forces in Kabala on or around 27 March this year. Their murder – for it was nothing less than that – is inexcusable even on the grounds of legalised state violence. At least by deduction, if not in law, they had become protected persons from the moment of their surrender, by which time a humane regime ought to have applied to them. Principles established under The Geneva Convention Relative to Prisoners Of War (1949) easily bear out this point. For example, Article 3(1) refers: "Persons taking no active part in the hostilities, including members of armed forces who have laid down their arms and those placed hors de combat by sickness, wounds, detention, or any other cause, shall in all circumstances be treated humanely, without any adverse distinction founded on race, colour, religion or faith, sex, birth or wealth, or any other similar criteria." And then it specifically prohibits "(a) violence to life and person, in particular murder of all kinds, mutilation, cruel treatment and torture … (c) outrages upon personal dignity, in particular, humiliating and degrading treatment; (d) the passing of sentences and the carrying out of executions without previous judgement pronounced by a regularly constituted court affording all the judicial guarantees which are recognised as indispensable by civilised peoples." One such judicial guarantee is the right of appeal for the convicted person. The executed soldiers were given no such right and the manner of their treatment and execution is contrary to the prohibitions in (a) and (b) above.
I acknowledge the protestations of human rights organisations like Amnesty International which condemned the trials and executions as unfair because of the absence of the right of appeal for the convicted soldiers. But they have all been surprisingly silent on the issue of the surrendered soldiers.
On the general point of the executions, I must confess to having a strong moral and ideological antipathy towards the taking of a life for a life. It is nothing more than the law of the jungle although, I suppose, it could well be argued that we have probably traversed the jungle and are now in no man’s land. When, like this government, you invite (or at least do not discourage) crowds to clamber up trees and stand on balconies to witness the mass slaughter of their fellow citizens - baying like hounds on a hunting expedition, bursting into sustained applause as the gruesome act of cutting down their quarry is carried out, cameras and sound recorders flashing, etc. - it speaks tomes about your own state of mind and the levels below which you the executioner and your supporters have sunk.
Mrs Coretta King – the widow of the late black American civil rights leader Dr Martin Luther King - speaking against the execution of the man convicted of the murder of her husband explained as follows: "As one whose husband and mother-in-law have died the victims of murder assassinations, I stand firmly and unequivocally opposed to the death penalty for those convicted of capital offences. An evil deed is not redeemed by an evil deed of retaliation. Justice is never advanced in the taking of a human life. Morality is never upheld by legalised murder".
This Government and its blood thirsty and vengeful retinue have committed murder in the name of the State. Theirs is not justice of a humane kind. Did the convicted soldiers, if they had to die, deserve to be put down in this very public and barbarous way?
The Attorney General Solomon Berewa defended the imposition of the death penalty as being part of "our" colonial heritage. Typifying the bankruptcy of current government thinking, he was quoted as saying "Exactly 100 years ago this year, the colonial masters in 1898 executed 96 people for refusing to pay the hut tax of 26 pence...So the capital sentence is not new to Sierra Leone. It is part of our history and a legacy from colonialism". Where was this bushman when our fathers and forefathers fought for the liberation of our country from slavery? Where was he when Sierra Leone gained independence and threw away, once and for all, the yoke of colonialism? I bet he is probably unaware that we are about to enter the new millennium. The man can offer no philosophical or ideological reason for his blood lust other than that the white slave master did the same thing when he was in Sierra Leone!
Then after carrying out the executions, they put forward the utterly ridiculous explanation that these executions will deter future coup makers from doing the same - just the kind of nonsensical drivel that we had grown fed up of hearing from minister and government officials just before the May 1997 coup. They should recall the words of George Bernard Shaw who wrote, "It is the deed that teaches, not the name we give it. Murder and capital punishment are not opposites that cancel one another, but similars that breed their kind".
What the government has achieved with this pernicious act is to teach its supporters, but especially the youth of Sierra Leone, that the taking of another’s life is justified in revenge. Period! It does not matter whether a partisan court martial, a tampered or nobbled jury that could not be sequestered from the buzz of rumours, innuendo and malicious allegations, or a corrupt and flawed judicial process, secured the convictions. I know that none of the recent executions per se will ever deter future crime - be it murder, a coup d'état or whatever. As long as people are placed at a disadvantage, in the case of Sierra Leone, for considerable numbers of years while only a tiny clique benefit from the common resources of the country, then those who are put at a disadvantage will rise up to claim that which is their own rightful share. If they perceive democracy as being party to that deception and not on their side, they will show scant regard for it.
I cannot say that such people will feel somehow constrained by the possibility of executions because that is countermanded by the probability that they will occasionally get away with it. Kabbah’s hero, the happily departed despot Sani A-Butcher of Nigeria, Jerry Rawlings (first and second time around) of Ghana, Yaya Jammeh of Gambia, Lansanna Conte of Guinea, and a host of other military Heads of State in the self-serving Ecomog bruderbond must all have considered the possibility of facing the firing squad if their respective coups had failed. But this prospect did not stop any of them going ahead with subverting democracy in their countries.
All that the government has accomplished with each and everyone of those executions (and others they are threatening to carry out) is to have committed the State of Sierra Leone to affirm that human life is cheap and that it can be traded to secure personal political power and one’s own selfish ambition.
This action, especially the way it was carried out, was ugly and just as bad as that by the former NPRC which did its own dirty job of executing 29 mostly innocent citizens in 1992. But at least they did not turn it into a public spectacle with fanfare. The only difference is that the one was ‘elected’ while the other was not!
How does a high profile self-styled democratic government, counting in its number two top ex United Nations international civil servants in the persons of President Kabbah and Mr James Jonah, find itself placed in the same league of cruelty and uncivilised behaviour as its predecessors. Moreover, if all this time we have been condemning the uncivilised and inhuman behaviour of RUF fighters and, lately, their allies in the AFRC, what moral authority do we continue to wield in the wake of these executions?
Let me further quote for the benefit of the executioners in Sierra Leone – Prime Minister Tony Blair’s "Good Guys" - the very moving statement by Marietta Jaeger, mother of a young woman who was kidnapped, raped and murdered in the USA. Despite her ordeal she pleaded for the convict, arguing thus: "To say that the death of any other person would be just restitution is to insult the immeasurable worth of our loved ones who are victims. We cannot put a price on their lives. That kind of justice would only dehumanise and degrade us because it legitimises an animal instinct for gut-level, blood thirst revenge". That was in America – yes, that bastion of western civilisation, itself still steeped in the practice of this barbaric system. No wonder that that our famous democratically elected government feels confident it could ride the waves of criticism!
Mrs Jaegar’s statement puts an aptly descriptive finger on the actual pulse of the present authorities in Sierra Leone. They have NOT been genuinely hankering after securing peace and justice for the ordinary man and woman in Sierra Leone. For, even as I write, civilians are being deprived of one or both limbs, a digit or two, an ear or even a head. No! What they have done stupidly and selfishly, but by no means irrationally (because I believe the whole sordid affair was well planned and they had drawn up a hit list of alleged collaborators while they were in exile in Guinea!), is to have dehumanised and degraded us as a Nation. And they have done so only because, in the words of Mrs Jaegar, it legitimises (their) animal instinct for gut-level, blood thirst revenge.
One of the executed men said it all on his short walk to the stakes. Colonel D K Anderson, one of the most experienced soldiers executed, defiantly protested that Nigerians had invaded his country and were now going to kill Sierra Leoneans. It may be that because the government has succeeded in destroying the remnants of the professional Sierra Leone Army – a fact that is implicit in the rank, quality and experience of those whom it has executed - there are no soldiers left who are good or qualified enough to do their dirty work. So they hired "dogs" from another country to kill their own "dogs". The word "dogs" is not my choice but that of Kabbah’s deputy Defence Minister and head of the Kamajoh militia, Chief Hinga Norman, who justified the execution saying "Dead dogs do not bite" (as quoted in the Economist of 21 November 1998: Sierra Leone – War without end). What this ex-coup maker (Did I hear someone say old dogs don’t bite?) has failed to grasp is that such inflammatory comment makes the goal of national reconciliation, much talked about by his government, impossible to attain. Chief Norman should be reminded that dogs, too, breed their kind. Their pedigrees do not cease to be dogs and they will bite if they have to, unless his crusade is to kill all dogs in Sierra Leone.
I cannot end this discourse without further reference to its moral repugnance. I feel morally bound to drop a few words of advice into President Kabbah’s ears. I doubt if he will pay heed since my experience is that he does not listen to good advice if it does not come from his own side!
The Tejan Kabbah that I once very well knew is an unassuming, devoted, spiritual, considerate and genial person. He is not by nature a bad person. Unfortunately, I cannot vouch for that from when he became President of our country because he operates, now, in a milieu called politics, which has laid to waste the dreams and fortunes of many equally good people before him. These days, his apologists, mainly businessmen to whom he has mortgaged the natural resources of the country, and beneficiaries of his political appointments, opportunistically trail these fine qualities around the world in his favour.
Yet as a professed devoted Muslim, President Kabbah should be the last to be reminded that even though his religion, Islam, has often been associated with harsh and severe regimes under fundamentalist States, the Holy Koran itself is less so and does call for forgiveness rather than retribution. It states that "even the taking of one life in retribution is too many". As we have seen recently in the case of the British nurses convicted of the murder of their Australian colleague in Saudi Arabia, the Holy Koran allows for the death penalty when there is irrefutable evidence of murder. I have seen nothing of that kind of evidence in the majority of the Sierra Leone cases!
Even when such evidence abounds, the Koran further allows the heirs of the victim to choose to take money rather than have the murderer executed. I am not suggesting that Kabbah’s kitchen Cabinet, including his Attorney General, should take money from the relatives of the convicted soldiers to save their lives. The Koran does not allow the State to take bribes to save lives. I only allude to this in order to demonstrate that the revulsion that decent Sierra Leoneans feel at what is happening in that country is by no means confined to the few of us able to articulate these views in one or other way.
I do not claim to be the most fervent in the practice of my religion, so I take my cue from others on this particular issue. Catholic Bishops in the US have succinctly put the case thus: "We do not question society's right to protect itself, but we believe that there are better approaches to protecting our people from violent crimes. The application of the death penalty has been discriminatory toward the poor, the indigent and racial minorities. Our society should reject the death penalty and seek methods of dealing with violent crime that are more consistent with gospel visions of respect for life and Christ's message of healing love." This is the kind of message I expect all religious leaders in Sierra Leone to promulgate in our bitterly torn society – a society in which genuine anger and a seemingly insatiable thirst for revenge are fast debasing our innate characteristics of humanity and compassion with consummate ease.
I do respect and empathise with the feelings of my countrymen and women for the suffering and upheaval that this current crisis has caused for everybody, and the personal loss that many of them have endured. Almost every family in Sierra Leone, including mine, has been affected in one way or the other, some more than others, by varying and unspeakable degrees of humiliation, depravity and agony. The pain is no less for me - and particularly also for my colleagues in The Alliance for Peace and Democracy In Sierra Leone or its sister organisation The Standing Conference on Sierra Leone which both spared no effort in recommending ways for solving the crisis although they were persistently ignored - simply because we live out of the country. Our exploits for peace and reconciliation during the crisis, when most people took leave of their senses, bear ample testimony to our individual and collective commitment to our people and our country.
I do therefore very well understand people’s desire for revenge. But I do not agree that it is right for them to set out purposefully and to deliberately destroy another life in revenge. No one has a right to foist his or her own crude standards on the rest of us. We, too, have a choice in what policies and standards should be applied in our country.
This affair boils down to the question of political leadership, or the lack of it. It is the duty of the leader to lead not to be led. Sometimes people, even good people convinced of their own cause, do need to be led in spite of their own desires or particular preferences. And sometimes, too, even the majority may need to be protected from their conceit and notions of self-righteousness. Sierra Leone unfortunately does not have that kind of leader. Even if one accepts the vague ritualistic claim made by government spokesmen including, sadly, the British High Commissioner (Paramount Chief) Peter Penfold, that the entire population of Sierra Leone wanted these executions (I do not know which polling methodology they applied in coming to that conclusion!), with the public display that accompanied it and the thoroughly unprofessional way in which the Nigerian marksmen carried it out, it was the responsibility of President Kabbah and his advisors to try and set an example, especially one that would:
(a) Help the country to turn over a new leaf;
(b) Set new principles of morality and humanity that would henceforth govern our society and our relationship with one another. After so many years of death and destruction in the country, an enlightened leadership should have opted to affirm restitution and reconciliation, non-violence, aid to victims and the improvement of social conditions;
(c) End the current cycle of violence which results from one lot of aggrieved family, friends and admirers of the victim of a perceived or actual injustice taking revenge on those it holds responsible; only then for the family, friends and colleagues of the latter to resort, in turn, to avenging the wrong they believe has been done to them …and so forth and so on.
(d) Encourage the nation to spend more of its time and energy mourning the deaths that have occurred and remembering the life that is here with us on earth. By encouraging the country to concentrate on "alleged" killers or traitors to the exclusion of the victims, President Kabbah and the entire leadership of Sierra Leone have mortally wounded our sense of humanity;
(e) Teach Sierra Leone’s children about the value of human life and respect for the personal property of others; the essential thing is for people to be educated in such a way that fewer or no crimes will be committed in the future.
By allowing these executions to go ahead, President Kabbah failed to give leadership. I am myself personally disappointed by him. Not for the first time, he has again allowed himself to be led by a mob of political agitators who keep on describing their actions as democratic. Invariably, such actions are latent signs, hallmarks and early beginnings of totalitarian rule in Sierra Leone – when the views of one man, one party and one class of people are the only ones acceptable and any others are considered to be wrong and/or, in this case, deemed to be in collaboration with the AFRC/RUF junta.
But President Kabbah has not been the only failure. The West too has failed Sierra Leone. Tony Lloyd, Britain’s Minister of State for Africa, complained that he had pleaded with Kabbah to commute the sentences to life and expressed his disappointment that it had fallen on deaf ears. But his protest was weak and faint-hearted. It was not followed, for example, with threats of cutting of all future aid if these acts were repeated. Instead, as if to give a gentle nod to Kabbah, less than a week after the executions, his government gave the Sierra Leone government a pat on the back with the sum of £5.2 million. Simultaneously, a team of 5 British military officers arrived in the country to help train a new national army of 5,000. (Why we have to concentrate much needed resources on a new form of militarism rather than on total disarmament is beyond my comprehension!) I suppose it could be argued that a new 5,000 strong army would need weapons and equipment. The view then must be that as long as the ‘savages’ in Sierra Leone and elsewhere in ‘dark’ Africa want to continue killing each other, the British armaments industry will have a new outlet for its exports.
It must be clear from above what my reaction is, as a long-standing compliant taxpayer to Her Majesty’s Government in the UK. I also know what British taxpayers’ reactions would be to this sort of abuse – if only they were to know that their money is being used to bail out a government that has defiantly carried out these uncivilised and barbaric punishments in the name of a democracy that their elected government bounced them into restoring. But they won’t know because they won’t be told. Little publicity was given to the executions in the newspapers of the UK, except in Wales where several newspapers and local radio highlighted the execution of Lt Colonel Foday, whose brother Ben Foday is a councillor in Cardiff City.
Above all the others, it is Sierra Leone’s intellectuals, professionals, and the educated and privileged few that have failed their country most. Ordinary people have always looked up to us for leadership and protection. But see the mess that we have got them into, including shaming and degrading ourselves and our country in front of the rest of the world. Yet we are the ones who know it all! May God and Allah help us all.
Letter from a ‘Good Guy’ (Freetown)
I hear there was quite a fuss made by some interfering MPs in your Parliament and media in the UK about the mercenaries that helped us regain our freedom and elected government. Please tell them that as far as we - I mean all Sierra Leoneans - are concerned, they did a good job for us and it was a real spicer …ing on our cake of victory. Everything is back to normal. You know of course that I speak for all the citizens of this country and that includes those God-forsaken rebels. We are all united now in speaking with one voice and in one language – i.e. violence! Never mind what that "unpatriotic and unprincipled" Alliance in London keep saying
You must have heard of our great Messiah’s home coming in March this year, fresh from being anointed by the international community. I swear, the Bible has been fulfilled - the Second Coming has indeed taken place right here in our midst in Freetown. You should have been here. The Messiah finally came back home riding on the backs of several Nigerian jack-asses, because those AFRC arseholes wrecked all the official limousines. Whoever said Sierra Leone is a cursed (or cursing?) country should eat their words.
It did not take us long to round up the AFRC/RUF bastards and their friends who gave us hell in this country. We have thousands of them securely locked up in our jails. We have since taken delivery of more consignments of their supporters from our former host in Guinea, our brother Lansana Conteh. They tell me his own troubles have just started, but thank God we are now safely out of his hellhole and back in our SaLone paradise.
We sacked that puppet Chief Justice Davies. Why did he waste his time swearing in that Pope Johnny Paul? All the juju and moray men of this country had already sworn the bastard! Was that not enough? Anyway we have installed our own CJ Desmond who they claim does not gamble with life! He will make sure those hooligans stay where they are right now - in jail. Our wise Attorney General, King Solomon, knows it all and he will not fail us. And if the wise one himself alleges that they are guilty - no judge can contradict him.
As for our conquering Nigerian army and our heroic kamajoh foot soldiers ...well they are doing just fine … although they have taken much longer (especially in our diamond areas) than we expected, mopping up the blood of those bastards and even more of our innocent civilians. We will pay them a fair wage for their troubles, if they have not already paid themselves enough ...with our diamonds. As you know, before his untimely and much lamented death – yes, we have even renamed historic Kissy Road after him - Cousin Sani Abacha assured us that his boys could stay as long as we want them?
Do you know something? We really want them to stay. They are our heroes even if those misguided fools in Nigeria keep treating them as villains - people like Wole Soyinka (tell him to go back to writing books!) and that very dead fellow, Chief Abiola, who kept annoying Abacha by claiming that he was the democratically elected President. He should have known better. Only our revered prophet Jonah, elects Presidents democratically. Poor Abiola’s mistake was that he allowed Cousin Sani to lock him up. But our Messiah - the democratically elected Tejan - mysteriously disappeared beyond the reach of the dregs and animals that kicked him out of power here. So could fight his way back to power.
So tell our Nago brothers and sisters that if they don’t want cousin Sani’s boys there, we will have them here... anyway we have no choice. They say we already have over twelve thousand of them here! How true when the Good Book says that a prophet does not get recognition in his own country! And does not the Good Book further say that the stone rejected by the builders will become the pillar of power in distant Sierra Leone? How ironic! They say life is cruel but I am sure we Sierra Leoneans have had our ration of cruelty and, sadly, have got used to it. Mind you I am not complaining… I am only explaining.
As for that "unpatriotic, greedy and unprincipled" Ambrose Ganda, Abass Bundu, Kabineh Koroma and their friends in that Alliance, and that Omrie Golley. Yes…. they are unprincipled and unpatriotic… because that’s how our beloved President described them in his letter to Tony Blair. We will fix their arses and unhinge their stupid heads if they ever dare to come to this country. Tell them we have asked our learned attorney general King Solo to draft an application to our dear friend Tony Lloyd for their extradition to stand trial for treason here. Our venerable PC Pa Komrabai Tenfold has promised to take the letter for us personally to 10 Downing Street on his next visit to that time-wasting Foreign Affairs Select Committee. Our gaols can still take some more collaborators. Hehn! Then they will know where all that book they claim to know really came from. Do you know that it was those bastards that initially put the wind up our cousin Sani which made his troops hesitate to blast the little AFRC/RUF vermin out of sight? But we tricked them. Listen to this.
Do you know that all that time when they were talking book about dialogue and reconciliation (What? With those dregs and animals?) we were at the same time asking our friends Beachline and HMS Cornmeal to quietly remove the AFRC buggers while we pretended to be interested in talking to them. Remember all those set piece summits at Abuja, Conakry, Abidjan, Ghana and even here in Freetown? That was a clever game of charade!
Our plan to use force to blast the dregs and animals out of sight was well advanced even by the time our friend and financier Saxophone was already in jail in Canada. But we did not care how he got his money - they said he stole £88 million from Indonesia. It’s plenty of money. We could do with some of his money over here. Life is doubly hard, you know! Arrrh… I am not supposed to say that! Forget that bit!
Any way our smart glorified errand boy Modu Comora rose to the task. He fired Saxophone a few letters and when the latter showed them to Beachline, albeit with the help of Paramount Chief Tenfold, who had been tipped off by our Messiah in Conakry, they were impressed and thanks to Tenfold everything was plain sailing from then onwards, because our British mentors were thrown off the scent. Now you see why the Messiah has kept Modu by his side - although now cruelly neutered - and threw out that loutish doctor, the pretender SLPP Prince of devils, out to the back woods! Do you see how wise and tough our Messiah has become?
As for that International Community, well they better get their fingers out. They told us to destroy as much of our country’s infrastructure and inhabitants - yes them too, as there would be less mouths for ICRC, CARE and UNICEF to feed in future - as was necessary to get those AFRC/RUF bleeders out of power. We did ...in fact we are still doing just that … destroying our country and the unlucky country people.
Can you believe that up till now our prodigal son (the one who rediscovered Sierra Leone after 40 years and only when he was retired from the UN), now our economic guru, the Prophet Jonah, has only been able to extract a mere pittance out of them? All we get are promises of more money; we never see the physical cash. I am still waiting for my six months pay …and I work for a bank! But I am not moaning. Things are really OK and normal!
So they sent five Euro moneymen to oversee how our Messiah spends the meagre sums they have coughed up so far. You see, the prophet Jonah says that he cannot trust his own people - Sierra Leoneans - to run their own affairs ...because they are all (excluding himself, of course!) corrupt. Can ‘t they.... I mean the international community.... appreciate that by the time we lodge and feed these imported experts, and equip their offices, and then pay their salaries in Euro-dollars, there will be nothing left to spend on us? Is this some kind of a joke? Have we been led up the garden path? Aaarh …forget I said that too!
By the way, please tell that nosy busybody Amnesty International to keep its human rights snout out of our affairs. Tell them to keep away. I hear they have been yelling at our Messiah just because he recently gave orders to Cousin Kobe and his marksmen to knock the dear daylight out of twenty-four AFRC dogs. Tell them to lay off and not to worry about us. Remember we are the good guys ... Tony Blair says so. They don’t need to waste their time and money investigating us. Tell them to go somewhere else …Nigeria ...shhhhhh... sorry, I take that back ... to Somalia, Eritrea, Sudan, Rwanda, Angola, Congo Republic, Burundi or next door Liberia.
Incidentally, why the fuss over the appointment of big brother Max Kobe as head of HIS own army? Why are you guys getting yourselves into a frenzy over a non est? Do not fret over something that is no concern of yours. I mean, you know we don’t really have an army, don’t you? Those NPRC/AFRC/RUF vandals destroyed it. Not even our Messiah Kabbah has the power to put his own subject at the head of an army he does not own or control? But be of good cheer. When we have our new Sa Lone army, our very own Brigadier Hinga Norman will take full charge. Then our kamajoh brothers and sisters will assume responsibility for the future defence and security of this country.
Ah! I nearly forgo Liberia. That wily Charlie Boy across the border has war in his blood and is raring for one. Well he’d better watch out. Our decent (but often unavoidably ruthless), professional, highly-democratically-trained and Beachline-armed Kamajors will teach him a bitter lesson. We have enough of them to cause havoc in his own country. He keeps forgetting that he is there only by the grace of our departed Cousin Abacha ... ah well that’s not so bad actually considering we too are! So tell him to mind his own business or he’ll have no country to preside over.
The good news is that D-Day for total peace in SaLone is Christmas Day! So say the Messiah and Chief Norman. As you know they are never wrong. So don’t lose sleep over us!
I will stop now but the next time I shall tell you about the rapid
improvement in our lives and the nine months that it has taken us just
mopping up the bloody remains of the AFRC dregs and animals.
Yours Ever(Razormouth’s reply will appear in the next edition of Focus)
SAYINGS OF WISDOM
Peace is not something you wish; it is something you make, something you do, something you are, and something you give away.
Robert Fulghum (USA)
WE MUST BE VIGILANT .… AND FIGHT BACK
IN my discourse in earlier pages of this edition about the death penalty and the shaming of our country following the recent executions, I briefly referred to the dangers of a nascent lurch towards totalitarian rule. I do not mean to sound alarmist but I can already see a trend, considering the understandable state of insecurity into which every Sierra Leonean seems to have been held captive.
As it grows daily in self-delusion, to the point where it currently shares an uneasy domination with Nigerian generals over Sierra Leoneans, there’s something eerily unappealing and (pardon me!) flavourless about President Kabbah’s type of democratic governance in present day Sierra Leone. A democracy which even as I write is being underwritten by the West as a model worthy of their support. Surprising really, because as one watches the unfolding tapestry of recent events, it’s almost as if a once placid nation is being purposefully primed to imploded upon itself. For that we have to thank a phenomenal development in mind bending never before experienced in Sierra Leone. Public perception of the country’s drift towards self-destruction is cunningly manipulated by insidious and dangerous propaganda orchestrated no less from the ministry of information and broadcasting under the aegis of one-time lecturer and dramatic artist – Julius Spencer. In effect, it has been exactly the kind of window dressing and deliberate misinformation that obfuscates basic facts about issues which the common man and woman needs to be informed in order to make a sound judgement. Coupled with witch hunting and the deliberate targeting of political and social rivals the result has been to force thousands of genuine patriotic Sierra Leoneans into painful isolation, silence and submission.
Equally unprecedented is the tidal wave of ignorance among Sierra Leoneans today. This is hardly surprising, given that the country’s press and radio have been cowered into near total compliance, with scarcely a murmur about what British PM Tony Blair’s ‘right guys’ have been up to - either before and during the coup or ever since the ousted government was re-instated to its rightful place. This development is more or less a throwback from the days of clandestine FM Radio 98.1 – recently confirmed as having been financed to the tune of £60,000 by the British Foreign Office - which matched junta radio in making a virtue of subverting the truth and daily inciting the already enraged civilian population to take physical revenge on alleged collaborators once they had been returned to power.
During those heady days of AFRC/RUF rule, the justifiable and genuine anger of the masses was manipulated and whipped up. Individuals, including political opponents who, though not supporting the junta, did not support Kabbah were singled out for vilification and eventual chastisement.
The result was that frenetic mob violence was unleashed soon after the fugitive President and his supporters returned to Sierra Leone. The masses, without stopping to reflect, mobbed several of these pre-targeted people, killing many on the spot. This cynical ploy afforded the government a much-needed pretext for literally hounding several of their political opponents into jail ostensibly "for the own protection". Little was said by way of condemnation of the extra judicial murders that took place, in over a dozen cases with the ubiquitous necklace.
No strong words of condemnation for these revenge attacks and killings came from the West – Kabbah’s mentors. Not a word from the Human Rights groups or from the Commonwealth Secretariat.
As for the UN, well what can one say? Secretary General Kofi Annan, who never spares an effort to crisscross the globe in search of peace, never found time to visit Sierra Leone – in his own West African backyard – to personally intervene to bring the parties together as he has done on several occasion since his appointment, e.g. Iraq, Congo republic, etc. He stayed in his ivory UN tower in New York and kept sending nondescript buffoons who had no idea about the origins of the conflict in Sierra Leone. They all said little by way of condemnation as if to say these junta people and their (alleged) collaborators have no right to protection or humane treatment. Why? Because the "right" man - their man - is back. To hell with those troublemakers.
Now therefore in the face of such exaggerated claims of overwhelming support by the entire country for what Kabbah and his government are doing, even the most committed and objective patriot struggles to argue or gain recognition for his or her own views. He or she stands no chance of influencing current national policies. He or she also faces an formidable array of Kabbah supporters. A rather daunting task indeed.
The best indicator of the futility of trying to reason with these people whose rule is in reality only confined to Freetown and, to a much less degree, the provincial cities of Makeni, Bo and (rather tenuously) Kenema, is the phenomenon of the treason trials. Apart from being wasteful, time and resource consuming, these trials have been cleverly used to whip up passions and distract the population from the realities, especially the disruption and economic turbulence that faces them now and in many years to come. They have also induced our society into a condition of intellectual paralysis and restrictive activity. Its unwholesome effect has been to discourage individual expression.
I am, for example, able to say these things and discuss them with the freedom I do admittedly from the safe distance of my current and long-time abode, here in the UK. Which is not to say that the entire society of Sierra Leoneans has suddenly become spineless or totally bereft of courage or inspiration. Far from that! But you’ll have to search hard particularly inside the country to find such people. In most cases, it will be down to those selfless citizens, in and outside the country, who see the inherent dangers in the reckless policies being implemented, to point out their pitfalls.
At present there is no doubt that the Kabbah government is enjoying absolute power. Witness, for example, its latest arbitrary clampdown on the press, persecution of reporters and news censorship which it justifies in the name of a war that it keeps alive partly through its own failed policies. One reason for this absolute power is the absence of serious or viable political opposition in Parliament; the other reason is people’s fear of being labeled as a rebel, rebel sympathiser or collaborator. It simply boils down to this: if you are not with us (i.e. pro Kabbah, pro Kamajor and CDF, pro Ecomog Nigeria, pro war and anti dialogue with rebels) then you are with them (i.e. pro RUF, pro AFRC, pro the "dregs and animals" that staged the coup, pro negotiation, dialogue and reconciliation with the rebels). One of the key elements in democratic society is individual choice. By restricting peoples’ freedom of choice to a simple black or white formula is steering us dangerously in the direction of fascistic one-man rule.
There is one further problem: Sierra Leone politics, as I never tire of repeating, has never been based on ideology or any kind of formalised thinking but purely on personalities, long-standing grudges and personal rivalries, greed, envy and a selfish desire to get rich quickly at the expense of everyone else without working for it. President Kabbah himself, in much happier days, impressively alluded to the destructive tendency among Sierra Leoneans to "pull one another down" in order to advance themselves – a habit, which he strongly condemned. How, then, can he convincingly explain his own willingness to be swayed by rent-a-mouth and call-by-night informers who go around maliciously inventing lies about innocent people, to the extent that his government has consistently defined its relationship with critical individuals on that basis alone?
If Kabbah and the SLPP feel they can run Sierra Leone effectively with
the motley group of spent forces that regularly heap sycophantic praise
on him then I am afraid to say his government will fail and fall, again
and again, each time more spectacularly than the last. Sierra Leone needs
vast army of unutilised and misused brainpower to help it escape the increasing
rigours of doom and gloom that lie in its present and future. Stigmatising
honest people who disagree with your policies or marginalising them because
they do not believe in or support your way of doing things will only perpetuate
the present bankruptcy in ideas and innovation so badly needed to lift
our country out of its seemingly terminal state of poverty and underdevelopment.
SO JESSE JACKSON, TOO, IS A COLLABORATOR!
A FOREIGNER arrives in West Africa and tells them to get their houses in order. They roll out the red carpet and listen to him attentively. He sky-jets to Sierra Leone and tells his hosts that they must sit down and talk peace with their own people. He tells them in plain language that the war is not winnable and that that the best way out is dialogue and reconciliation. He can say all these things to their face because he represents the most powerful nation in the world. But he knows very little about Sierra Leone. He is not Sierra Leonean. He is simply the US special envoy to Africa.
Ambrose Ganda (yours truly) is probably the same age as this extremely sensible and forthright stranger, admittedly with no political clout and resources. Together with his colleagues in the Alliance for Peace and Democracy in Sierra Leone and the Standing Conference on Sierra Leone, from day one of the coup and many months before that, they have advised that Kabbah and his government should adopt the path of dialogue and peaceful resolution. In varying degrees, they have stood firmly and publicly for Sierra Leone’s interests through many, many seasons of political adversity under successive undemocratic governments. They are not strangers to Sierra Leone. They are patriots and true nationals of their country and have same and equal rights with anyone else who claims to be Sierra Leonean, including President Kabbah, James Jonah and John Leigh, those twin purveyors of bile and doctrinaire elitism, to express and pursue their own views and ideas and suggestions in the best way they think fit for their country. They have every right to stand and be elected as President, Paramount Chief (Peter Penfold beware!) or cabinet minister although in this case we know too well that you do not need to be elected to become one as with, for example, Jonah, Berewa, Spencer, etc. - men who wield tremendous power without ever having being elected.
Yet for all our troubles, including our campaigns for peace and reconciliation between our warring compatriots and our genuinely expressed concerns for the future, the government, instead of listening, brands us as rebel collaborators. Now that’s what I call real democracy – being conceited about your own point of view to the exclusion of all others.
But common sense, which I now find is not so common and in very short supply in Sierra Leone these days, dictates that sitting down with your opponent or the enemy is the only way to make your point to them, and them to you, so as to arrive at some accommodation with one another. In the words of Moshe Dayan, Israel’s heroic war General "If you want to make peace, you don’t talk to your friends. You talk to your enemies".
Surely you don’t need Jesse Jackson to travel all the way from America to come and tell you that, especially when some of your own best and experienced nationals are telling you the same thing! But it seems to me that what Kabbah and his advisers are expecting is something of a deus ex machina – a providential intervention in the nick of time to help them solve their little difficulty with the rebels. But I fear they are either fatuously misguided or degenerately unrealistic.
IT’S A TRAGEDY THAT COULD HAPPEN TO ANY OF US AND OUR FAMILIES
LT Colonel Francis Foday, brother of Councillor Ben Foday (my cousin-in-law) in Cardiff, Wales, was one of the soldiers recently executed in Freetown. His execution means that the luckless Colonel has personally suffered cruelty and ingratitude from both sides of the Sierra Leone divide. He has also posthumously suffered another tragedy. (See later).
As one of the best fighters in the Sierra Leone army, Colonel Foday was also one of the soldiers most feared by the RUF. In 1995 during an offensive against a suspected rebel RUF hideout, "Rough Neck", as he was popularly known to senior as well junior colleagues, was hit by an RUF bullet. His stomach was torn wide open and his entrails came bubbling out. Undaunted, he scooped them into his cupped hands and walked to the nearby bush for cover. His squeamish soldier colleagues, unable to behold this sight, kept a discreet distance away as he lay writhing in agony.
Later he was flown to the UK where, after a long and painful operation including replacing his guts with plastic ones, he returned home. Months later he was at the war front ...again fighting, he believed, for Sierra Leone against its rebels. I spoke to one of his recruits, now a Sandhurst graduate who, as I spoke to him, appeared momentarily to have been deserted by his usual soldierly stiffness of courage due to the distress he has personally suffered since learning of Colonel Foday's execution. "I think they have done him a great injustice," he said.
MAJOR Kula Samba, whom I personally knew well, was a very independent-minded woman. I have spoken to a close relative of hers who assures me that he and members of their family did their damned best to dissuade her from getting involved with the AFRC/RUF Junta. She obviously strongly felt in conscience that being a member of the AFRC was the way she could serve her people – even though we might believe that the AFRC programme was not good for Sierra Leone.
In doing so, I am sure she knew the consequences. But in my own book, it is not a consequence of death at the hands of someone playing God or Allah. In fact from what we know now she more than anyone in the AFRC junta had been responsible for demobilising over some 400 child soldiers all of whom referred to her as their "Mummy". I also gathered that it was a project that was being supported by the UN. One child soldier aggrieved by her execution paid a moving tribute to her in a letter read on BBC Focus on Africa and vowed to avenge her death.
I hope I can reach this desperate child in time so I can convince him that the best way to remember his "mummy" is to live the way she would have wanted him to …away from the gun!
WHILE the State was busy executing the twenty-four soldiers, rebels at Gbendembu in the Northern Province were slaughtering the stepson of one of them, along with other gallant Sierra Leonean soldiers. About twenty soldiers, including Sergeant Idris Foday, son of the executed Lt Col Patrick Foday (see earlier), were killed during a rebel attack on Wednesday 11 November, less than two weeks after his father and colleagues met their fate at the hands of a Nigerian firing squad. It is said that he had gone to his designated posting against his will, anxious to know the fate of his father who was then awaiting the verdict of his court martial. By a cruel twist of irony, a government that had no scruples over sending his son to fight for them executed the father. Little did Sergeant Idris know that within a few days he too would be felled by the bullet of a rebel soldier - most probably his former comrade in the now disbanded national army which they both used to proudly serve together. A real tragedy, indeed. But what is happening to Sierra Leone is just sheer madness.
SIERRA LEONE like other warring nations in West Africa which have been torn apart by civil strife and internal political rivalries, is plagued by endemic revenge fever. Many erstwhile honourable, gentle and morally upright people have suddenly been consumed by an uncharacteristic passion for vendetta. Yet, for most people this new attitude is, rather sadly, in ruthless competition with their own natural instincts which, by tradition and historic acclaim, have been for mildness and tolerance towards adversaries and exemplary charitableness towards the unorthodox or deviant behaviour of members in their communities.
Years of slogging it out with rebels have driven sentimentality and trust away from the community spirit which is itself now out of fashion – thanks to the break up of families and other social ties and bonds, brought about by the incidence of a bitterly fought civil war. In its place is a new hard-heartedness that takes no account of our people’s history of friendliness towards strangers, external as well as from within, for example, harmony between the various tribes. It has created new national traits that are unlikely to be reversed in future – unless we have in place a progressive and enlightened leadership to steer us away from it before it dominates life in the country and becomes the modus vivendi for the future.
In the case of government, it has resulted in two parallel existences: one, an officially conciliatory and apparently democratic image mainly for public (and most obviously international) consumption; the other, a covert score-settling and violence-prone image characterised by the relentless pursuit, through treason trials, arbitrary detentions and sheer victimisation, of alleged collaborators of the junta.
Crucially though, a large number of those who have been hounded or accused are former colleagues of Kabbah and his retinue before the coup who may have inadvertently been associated in one way or other with the junta, out of their own sense of duty which did not (and why should it?) necessarily coincide with that of Kabbah and his own supporters. These feelings are hidden away but their combined effect is to make the hearts, minds, and ears of the country’s political leadership impervious to considerations of dialogue, reconciliation and peace with declared and in most cases imagined enemies.
At times these claims by government border on the surreal. For example, every government spokesman (and I include British High Commissioner Peter Penfold) has had some perverse pleasure out of recounting the gruesome story about "86 year old Mrs Coker" who lost her only son – a story that is so sad, yet so revolting, and such an affront to the public image and pride of the nation State of Sierra Leone that we will not repeat its sordid details for fear of upsetting the reader. One cannot help but feel that it is a carefully, deliberately chosen incident, true or not, which is calculated to cause the maximum disgust for audiences, to win sympathy for the government and prepare the ground for disposing of political opponents. My guess is that this tragic incident has absolutely nothing to do with the pain and suffering of Mrs Coker, the mother of the victim, and everything to do with political propaganda. It does not begin to explain or address the causes of such bestialities.
How is it possible, for example, for Sierra Leoneans to resort to this kind of behaviour and how might it all have started? Even High Commissioner Penfold, when grilled by his own country’s Parliamentary (Foreign Affairs) Select Committee about the "arms to Sierra Leone affair", tried to deflect the heat of questions about the barbarous executions by pleading the case of Mrs Coker. But he went farthest, launching into sycophantic praise of Kabbah as the man now feeding and clothing Mrs Coker. Is Mrs Coker the only victim of such bestiality? Is Peter Penfold aware that thousands of people are still hiding in bushes waiting to be found, fed and nursed back to health? Is he also aware that the civil war in Sierra Leone has always been bloody and full of such incidents and that there had been thousands of "Mrs Cokers" from villages and towns across the length and breadth of Sierra Leone, long before he arrived on the scene? If, as I suspect, Mrs Coker’s story is true, then she has my deepest sympathy and I will cry and mourn with her over her son’s tragic end.
What I do find immoral and totally indecorous is the opportunism of government officials and their apologists in latching on to such gruesome stories, trailing them around the world, when difficult questions are asked about their government’s own standards of behaviour. Penfold avoided the issue of the brutality of the governments own recent barbaric executions simply because he knows only too well that it would grossly offend the sensibilities of his own British society.
Why is there such selectivity in every reference to the endemic nature of the violence in Sierra Leone?
FOCUS has produced a table of alarming significance. Sierra Leone’s
population at the best of times has been put at between 3.5 and 4 million.
In fact a population census, carried out in (we believe) 1991during APC
rule by Peter Tucker, one of Kabbah’s present policy advisers, put that
figure at less than three million. Even taking 3.5 million as an average
population for the country, the statistics of the civil war is beginning
to tell a grim story after seven years of fighting. Civilian casualties
have been estimated at between 10 and 15,000 and have clearly risen since
March this year following the ousting of the junta from Freetown. Add to
that the numbers in this table and those that we have not been told about,
it is frightening.The death toll has reached an unacceptable level and
this, more than anything else, should henceforth be a key focus of attention
for, especially, the warmongers in our midst who want to fight to the finish.
Is this a price worth paying when there are clear and known alternatives,
including the obvious path of dialogue and negotiation? A country of our
size and population must not be allowed to suffer this dramatic depletion
of its numbers, especially when it is not caused by disease, natural disaster
or other natural cause.
We have yet to hear the truth of what is actually happening in the battlefield. Propaganda and deliberate lies by both sides – government and rebels - either exaggerates their successes (and strength) or plays down their losses, leaving us civilians in total darkness about casualty numbers and other matters.
However, 10 months after Kabbah’s fanfare return and the commencement of Nigeria’s contrived "Ecomog" campaign to "destroy" the RUF and "mop up" remnants of the AFRC junta - a strategy that many sensible people including this paper warned could not work without more and prolonged bloodshed, it would appear that the countryside is littered with corpses and skeletons.
We do not of course hear, or know, about rebel "successes" or "losses". Julius Spencer, the minister of information and broadcasting says we have no right to, until he wants us to! And he persecutes the very few journalists who risked their lives to tell us some of the uncomfortable truths about the claims of recent rebel advances towards Freetown. Will Spencer please tell the nation how many more deaths are necessary to buttress his democracy?
Focus further challenges the Government and Ecomog to confirm the casualty list as claimed by their various spokespersons. If that number of rebels has been killed and they have not yet been overpowered or defeated, then we were lied to, or somebody misread the facts, about their number and strength. Otherwise, we must assume that rebel casualties have been inflated. The BBC Focus on Africa might particularly wish to double-check some of the reports it has carried about rebel casualties by its correspondent in South and Eastern Sierra Leone, Mr Prince Brimah!
Since we are unable to produce an equivalent table for the rebel side – simply because the source from which our table is derived rarely reports statements by rebels about their own "successes" or "losses" – perhaps also the Government can tells us the true casualty list on our side – i.e. government and Ecomog. Then, if we are truly now living in a genuine democracy, people will have necessary information to make up their minds whether or not to support the policy of "war to the bitter end" sued by the government in their name. There can be no recourse to Parliament because its MPs are just as ignorant about daily events outside the cosy retreat of Freetown.
Scanning the same sources from which we derived our table, we were able to identify only two instances of Ecomog/Government casualties, numbering not more than 50. If true, then it would have been a remarkable feat indeed, considering the ferocity of some of the fighting that has been reported between the two sides over the last ten months. Time after time, it has been implied that Ecomog and Kamajoh bullets and bombs somehow manage to discriminate between rebel and civilians and that the civilians’ deaths are always caused by rebels. While nobody disputes the wilful atrocities that have been systematically caused by rebels against innocent defenceless civilians even in the absence of military confrontation, we have nonetheless been led to assume that civilian casualties in the heat of battle, have nearly all been caused by rebel bullets.
It seems that on our crude compilation alone nearly 3,000 rebels have been killed in the 10 months since democratic rule was restored - an average of almost 300 deaths per month. And they still keep coming?
So either Ecomog and the government are lying about their successes or the rebels, like soldier ants, are racing to their deaths in an ever-lengthening suicidal queue.
ON WHOSE SIDE ARE CHILDREN DYING MOST?
IN the light of this statistics, the recent complaint to the authorities by the Director-General of United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), Carol Bellamy, that the recruitment of child soldiers was still going on despite the government’s commitment to end the practice, is timely.
UNICEF claims that there are some 4,000 child soldiers involved in the conflict. Of that number, they reckon that 2,500 are with the RUF and the rest - 1,500 - are fighting for the Kamajor militia.
Our question is this: If both sides are using children in their frontlines, how many of their casualties are children? Looking at the figures for rebel casualties (since theirs’ are all we have got), how many of them are child soldiers?
For this reason, if nothing else, Focus urges Sierra Leoneans to rise up and demand that the parties resume genuine talks to end the war. Let’s unite to rescue and protect Sierra Leone’s impressionable children from the clutches of warring elders.
THE ALLIANCE FOR PEACE AND DEMOCRACY IN SIERRA LEONE
HERE in the UK, the dramatic events following the AFRC coup d'état of May 25, 1997 produced one major positive result – the formation of the Standing Conference on Sierra Leone and its sister organisation the Alliance for Peace and Democracy in Sierra Leone. Both organisations are unique in having attracted a wide variety and cross-section of Sierra Leoneans resident in the UK. The Conference held open meetings to raise and discuss issues, and agree suggestions for helping to resolve the crisis at home. The Alliance serves primarily as a Think-Tank of the Conference and continues, to the present day, to monitor, analyse and comment on all major events and their repercussions inside Sierra Leone.
Both Conference and the Alliance are guided by the following principles:
(1) total opposition to military rule; (2) an unwavering commitment to
Democracy and Human Rights; and, (3) the primacy of negotiation and dialogue
in the resolution of all national conflicts, including the present one.
Some of our statements are produced below and can also be read on Peter
Andersen’s Sierra Leone Website: http://www.sierra-leone.org/slnews.html
Dr Kabineh Koroma
(1) Statement following the visit of the US Special Envoy to Africa, the Rev. Jesse Jackson
The Alliance for Peace and Democracy in Sierra Leone commends the United States Government for its positive contribution to the search for an end to civil conflict in Sierra Leone, as illustrated by the recent visit to Sierra Leone by its Special Envoy to Africa, the Rev. Jesse Jackson. The Alliance is particularly encouraged by the Rev. Jackson’s stated position that the only way to end the conflict in Sierra Leone was for both sides to return to the negotiating table and find a political solution. Britain, the Security Council of the United Nations and several other international bodies have again recently echoed this position, long held by the Alliance. The Alliance therefore calls upon both the Government of President Kabbah and the AFRC/RUF coalition to heed the new call for negotiation without pre-conditions.
The Alliance agrees with the Rev. Jesse Jackson’s characterisation of the current situation in Sierra Leone as a regional problem requiring collective action by the US Government, the United Nations and, in particular, the neighbouring countries of ECOWAS on whose behalf ECOMOG continues to engage the rebels in a costly guerrilla war for which there is no end in sight. The Alliance therefore wishes to encourage both the Reverend Jackson and the US Government not to relent but to persevere in their efforts to encourage all the parties to the conflict to move quickly to the negotiating table.
We are heartened by this timely intervention of the US Special Envoy to Africa in calling on President Kabbah "…to reach out to the rebels in the bush and come to a solution at the bargaining table." We equally endorse his call to the rebels to adopt the path of peaceful negotiation and "…come to the bargaining table to talk it out and not fight it out".
The Alliance has been consistent in its opposition to the use of force as a means of ending the conflict in Sierra Leone. We have maintained this stance since the May 1997 coup and throughout the rule of the AFRC/RUF coalition and still do so. We therefore again urge both President Kabbah and the AFRC/RUF leadership not to throw away this opportunity of bringing lasting peace to Sierra Leone. This will stop the suffering of innocent men, women and children and allow the nation to embark on reconciliation and economic reconstruction. The Alliance firmly believes that this is what the majority of Sierra Leoneans want.
(16 November 1998)
The High Court in Sierra Leone handed down its judgement in the first set of treason trials on 25 August 1998. It found 16 civilians guilty of treason. There are two more groups of alleged civilian collaborators as well as one group of military officers before a court martial whose verdicts are awaited. Already, there are 59 civilians and 38 military officers on trial for treason in Sierra Leone, a crime that carries the death penalty. Another group of civilians is expected to be charged soon.
Already there have been international protests and pleas for clemency, led by Britain. Many are surprised that voices within Sierra Leone have been ominously silent on both the trials and their verdicts. Faced with mounting intimidation and threats of violence from party vigilantes, it is natural not to hear any voices of protest from within.
In our previous statements, we made our position clear. We unreservedly condemned the coup of May 25, 1997. We supported the return of constitutional rule in our country but warned against military intervention for the very reasons that are now unfolding before us. We believed then, and still maintain, that the use of military force will not save innocent lives and will prolong indefinitely the agony and suffering of the ordinary masses. We therefore recommended that the best and more lasting solution lay in peaceful dialogue and national reconciliation involving all sections of our society.
The Alliance still so recommends. This is why we are saddened and disappointed by the recent death sentences passed on 16 civilians accused of treason. This dangerous and retrograde step can only lead to further animosity, hatred and disunity among the people of Sierra Leone.
We are particularly disturbed by the fact that the judicial process by which these convictions were reached was not transparent and has created serious doubts about the fairness of the trials. With the declaration of a state of emergency, the Public Emergency Regulations were passed on March 10, 1998. An order was made on April 8, 1998, with retroactive effect, suspending and amending the provisions of the Criminal Procedure Act, 1965. Consequently, some established rules of criminal procedure and evidence have been substantially modified and new criminal procedures introduced. In particular, we highlight the following:
In the original Act, the presence of the accused in a criminal case was necessary for the trial to proceed. In the new regulations, however, a trial will not be invalidated or adjourned merely because of the absence of the accused. The trial would proceed if the accused has entered a plea of not guilty and is represented by a legal practitioner.
In the original Act, the unanimous verdict of a twelve-man jury was necessary for a conviction, even more so for an offence carrying the death penalty. Under the new rules, jury verdicts need not be unanimous; it is sufficient if two-thirds of the original jury passes them.
Where a member of the jury dies or is discharged as incapable, through illness or any other reason, of continuing to act in that capacity, the jury would nevertheless be considered as "remaining for the purposes of that trial properly constituted and the trial shall proceed accordingly, provided that the number of jurors shall not be reduced below nine".
Secondary evidence in the form of audio, visual or documentary material is admissible if the original cannot be traced or produced without undue delay or expense. Similarly, the photocopy of an accused person’s written statement is also admissible in evidence provided it was made freely and voluntarily, and without any inducement by any promise of favour or by menaces or undue terror.
What is even more disturbing is that these amended rules were introduced only after the first group of twenty-two civilian accused had made their first appearance before the magistrate courts in Freetown on March 31 and arraigned on April 6. These amendments have been defended as necessary for the purpose of "maintaining and securing the peace, order and good government in Sierra Leone", and more recently by President Kabbah himself as "merely to speed up the trials which would otherwise have lasted for over a year." The Alliance strongly believes that justice and fairness should not be sacrificed for speed. Justice must not only be done; it must be seen to be done. The cynical tampering of the criminal procedures, especially when criminal proceedings have already begun, can only be interpreted as a determination to secure convictions. We believe that the new measures derogate from the fundamental right of every citizen who is charged with a criminal offence to a fair trial by an independent and impartial court established by law, accompanied by presumption of innocence until proven guilty.
The Alliance finds it totally unacceptable that citizens who serve the nation in times of crisis can be held guilty of treason or aiding and abetting treason. It will be recalled that President Kabbah himself, the Minister of Justice and Attorney General, and the Minister of Finance and Economic Planning, all willingly and without compulsion, accepted public appointments under the previous illegal NPRC military regime which was not without blood on its hands. We believe they did so because they genuinely wanted to serve the nation especially during crisis. No one charged them with treason or aiding and abetting. It seems ironic therefore that these same people now leading a civilian government see it fit to charge with capital offences civilians who found themselves in exactly the same position as they did.
The incidence of political intimidation and reprisal killings especially of suspected political opponents has been real. This has silenced the vast majority of Sierra Leoneans. Vigilante supporters of the ruling party have often been seen milling around the courts, chanting slogans and demanding that the accused be handed over to them for "mob justice" to be applied. Such demands have been put across to the international community as if they reflect the true feelings of the "overwhelming majority" of Sierra Leoneans who are further represented as supporting the court’s verdict. In this particular regard, the Alliance believes that such statements, coming from no less a person than the Minister of Justice and Attorney General, could be prejudicial to fair trial. It is not clear by what means public reaction to the court’s verdict has been tested!
The Alliance adheres to the principle of justice as an essential part of reconciliation. It agrees that victims of atrocities find it easier to put the past behind them and move on with their lives if they knew those who committed the atrocities against them have been brought to justice. However, we believe equally that for such justice to be meaningful as an element of reconciliation, it must be holistic and all embracing both in conception and application. Focusing exclusively on the rule of law aspect of justice, while ignoring the rectificatory and distributive aspects, will only lead to further injustice.
We call on President Kabbah to take positive steps to end the violence in our country so that the killing of Sierra Leoneans by Sierra Leoneans, Nigerians and Guineans will stop now and forever.
We call on the international community to urge the Government of Sierra Leone to ensure that the highest standards of justice and human rights are adopted in the treason trials in Sierra Leone should the Government insist on continuing with them.
The Alliance has always affirmed its belief in peaceful national dialogue and reconciliation as the best method for resolving the crisis. This has proved successful in other parts of the world where there is conflict.
Prime Minister Tony Blair has correctly taken the path of "political dialogue" in solving the conflict in Northern Ireland even when challenged by recent atrocities. This is why we specifically appeal to the British Government to help the people of Sierra Leone find a peaceful solution to their crisis by using its special relationship with the Government of President Tejan Kabbah to urge all the parties concerned towards that end.
In the same vein, we also appeal to the new Administration in Nigeria to take a lead role in encouraging the Government and people of Sierra Leone to accept that there is virtue in dialogue and national reconciliation. We cannot fail to recognise the laudable process of national reconciliation recently adopted by the Nigerian Government itself in its efforts to bring together into harmonious relations the different sections of Nigerian society as a veritable alternative to discord and war. We are confident that this is the kind of assistance that the silent majority of Sierra Leoneans would like from their brethren in Nigeria.
(8 September 1998)
The Alliance for Peace and Democracy in Sierra Leone welcomes the return to power of the government of President Kabbah. We have always advocated and worked for the speedy and peaceful return of Sierra Leone to democratic and constitutional rule.
We unreservedly condemned the coup d’état of May 25, 1997. However, we regret that force was used to remove the junta from office to achieve the common aim of returning the country to constitutional government.
The Alliance firmly adheres to its principles of: A total opposition to military rule; An unwavering commitment to Democracy and Human Rights; The primacy of negotiation and dialogue in the resolution of national conflicts; The military coup of May 1997 and the operation subsequently mounted to remove the junta have cost many innocent lives and caused the destruction of private property and public infrastructure.
After years of war, destruction and carnage, we believe every Sierra Leonean is desperately yearning for the return of durable peace and security to their homeland. There is an urgent need, therefore, for all of us to work towards the achievement of lasting peace through dialogue and reconciliation.
The Alliance therefore pleads with President Ahmed Tejan Kabbah to:
devote his efforts to seeking a long lasting peaceful resolution to the destructive conflict that is still raging in the country especially in the provincial areas; exercise restraint and create the atmosphere for reconciliation between all the people and factions in the country. The President himself in an address to the United Nations General Assembly on October 1, 1997 made this significant statement: "If there is anything Sierra Leone needs today more than anything else, it is peace and reconciliation......The events of 25th May have only further deepened those divisions within our society which my policies had begun to heal. As a result, the adoption of a more vigorous policy of national reconciliation has become an absolute necessity". The President at a conference in London expressed similar sentiments on October 20, 1997. We commend the President for this standpoint and urge him to resist any pressure for political reprisals, which may only result in further divisions, which he said he wishes to avoid; and ensure that the Rule of Law remains supreme and those detained or accused of crimes are given a fair trial and are treated justly according to the established law of the land and international standards.
The Alliance likewise pleads with Lt-Col Johnny Paul Koroma and Corporal Foday Sankoh and their respective movements, as well as the leadership of the Kamajors to declare an immediate cessation of hostilities and to seek a negotiated settlement to the crisis. This will put an end to the misery of war that their fellow citizens have suffered for so long.
We call on the international community to: facilitate the mechanism for the restoration of lasting peace through reconciliation and dialogue using the Abidjan Peace Accord and the Conakry Peace Plan as a basis; and ensure that the principles of Democracy and Human Rights for which innocent Sierra Leoneans have perished are now fully implemented and respected in the country.
We believe that the peaceful future of our country can best be assured if all its citizens without exception are able to participate freely and without fear in the process of national reconciliation and democratic reconstruction.
(24 April 1998)