Sierra Leone

Volume 4 No 2                                                             February 1999

Editorial Comments

(1) HONESTY AND GOOD FAITH ON ALL SIDES MIGHT JUST GET US OUT OF THIS MESS

IT IS REFRESHING experience to know that "dialogue" and "negotiation" with rebels are no longer taboo words in the political vocabulary of Sierra Leoneans. Hitherto, in the long-running quest for a just, honourable and lasting solution for the country’s brutal civil war, the language of militancy and intolerance has preponderated. Mercifully, people are beginning to change their views.
  Focus On Sierra Leone, which has been consistent and in the forefront in pressing for the option of engaging in dialogue with the RUF and their AFRC junta allies, is encouraged by surprising noises coming from previously mutant quarters, including from President Kabbah, suggesting that this is probably the best option open to the SLPP administration. Despite the fact that moments after the President’s offer of dialogue the fighting resumed with bombardments by both sides, we remain hopeful.
  After a year of reckless and ungainly experimentation with the use of brute force to subdue RUF rebels and allied AFRC junta forces, with the resulting additional loss of nearly four thousand and more innocent lives in just one such month, we are encouraged that the powers-that-be are slowly, even though involuntarily, gravitating towards accommodating the concept of dialogue, compromise and reconciliation with the enemy. This is to be applauded by all sensible citizens of Sierra Leone.

 We are especially heartened that the civilian population, of Freetown in particular, has welcomed the sudden volte-face of the Kabbah government in the aftermath of the blitzkrieg that laid waste the heart of the city a month ago. We always knew that given a choice, the ordinary man and woman in the street would opt for peace, dialogue and reconciliation with their rebel opponents, if only in the national interest. If that meant taking the pragmatic step to sit at the same table with their known killers to end their misery, we had no doubt that they would be prepared to take the risk.
  Focus sincerely congratulates President Tejan Kabbah on taking this bold stand. We are however extremely disappointed that he did not accompany his call for dialogue with an offer of an immediate cease-fire. Nonetheless:

  •   We urge him to be no longer swayed, in the opposite direction, by those latter-day prophets of doom in his coterie who are still hell bent upon further plunging the country into another bout of killings and destruction. If he stands firm, he will receive the total and unswerving support of this paper and many of its readers who are fed-up with the monotonous language of war, war, and war.
  •   By the same token, we challenge the junta allied forces of the AFRC and the RUF to respond with equanimity and to rise to the challenge now thrown at them by the Kabbah government. It is essential that this time the rebel allies are seen to be constructive in their response to this overture for peace – especially one that will generate popular confidence, and give breathing space to the long suffering citizens of Sierra Leone. They must not continue to base their responses on their hatred for Kabbah and his followers but rather they should consider the overall national interest of Sierra Leoneans, many of whom probably have no brief for Kabbah’s government but only wish for the freedom to go about their humble life-styles without fear of losing their lives, limbs and livelihood.
  •   Above all, this time, we demand that the international community grows up and desists from the game play of supporting the one side in this conflict against the other, while supplying arms to the one or other side and, in the disgraceful case of Britain, both sides. (See later.)
Focus is firmly convinced that a solution is quite possible even at this late hour. The consequences of letting slip yet another opportunity to resolve the crisis peacefully once and for all will lead inevitably to the physical obliteration of the country from the face of this planet. It is therefore crucial that those who continue to entertain negative views about the way forward by rejecting dialogue and reconciliation should be pushed to one side so that those who genuinely want to deliver these basic expectations of the people of Sierra Leone can do so in confidence and with the support of the bulk of their compatriots.
  The basic problem, as we see it right now, is really and truly a question of the good faith of all the warring sides in this conflict. It needs to be tested, with all the rigour that it takes. Put in another way, the warring factions must be made to demonstrate their good faith and commitment to end the conflict and to co-exist with one another in an agreed and genuinely democratic way. They must also be made to commit themselves to respect the wishes and preferences of civil society. Evidently, ultimately, everyone must accept the need for dialogue as the only way forward and so must declare their intention to engage in meaningful negotiations to be conducted in a civilised way.
  As further proof of their intention to demonstrate this good faith, Focus issues the following practical challenge to all sides in this conflict as a starter:
  • To President Kabbah, the Government of the Republic of Nigeria and, by implication, the CDF including Kamajohs, Kapras, Gbethis and allied vigilante groups - to announce that they are prepared to accept, and do make a solemn commitment to all Sierra Leoneans, that they will immediately initiate "OPERATION WILL TAKE ALL PRISONERS ALIVE…AND NO SUMMARY EXECUTION OF SUSPECTED REBEL/COLLABORATORS" and undertake to observe an immediate cease-fire.
  • To the RUF/AFRC allied rebel forces – to announce that they are prepared to accept, and do make a solemn commitment to all Sierra Leoneans, that they will immediately implement "OPERATION NO MORE ATROCITIES AND ATTACKS ON CIVILIANS" and undertake to observe an immediate cease-fire.
  • To the UK, US and Canadian Governments – that they will scale down their military support for President Kabbah and urge him instead to the negotiating table;
  • To the governments of Liberia and Burkina Faso (both accused, without any clear proof, of "supporting the rebels") – that they will henceforth desist from giving such alleged support and that they will encourage the parties to opt for dialogue to settle their differences.
  • To the International Community at large (in particular, the United Nations) - to have another go at our problem, as an impartial arbiter this time, to separate the parties and declare its preparedness to host and finance negotiations between them while doubling its already laudable efforts to alleviate the immediate humanitarian needs of the population of Sierra Leone.
Once we get this guarantee from all sides it is possible for the following issues to be considered, discussed and/or implemented as and when they are agreed, provided that the necessary good faith exists:
  • The setting up of a meeting between the representatives of all the warring parties on neutral territory to discuss the conditions for peaceful settlement of the conflict. We suggest South Africa as a possible venue.
  • The release of all political detainees and civilians accused or convicted of being junta/RUF members and collaborators;
  • The immediate commutation of recently imposed death sentences and the dropping of all charges of treason, including pernicious and politically-inspired charges of "aiding and abetting";
  • The possibility of an interim power-sharing arrangement and the possible inclusion of rebel representatives in the governance of Sierra Leone, until elections can be held;
  • The possibility of a neutral or less controversial individual to head such an interim government, especially where the personality of President Kabbah may be seen as an obstacle;
  • The holding of fresh elections with a larger electorate than that in 1996 under which the present parliament and President were elected;
  • The rehabilitation, re-accreditation and reassembling (not disbandment) of the Sierra Leone Armed Forces as it existed under the Constitution of the Republic of Sierra Leone, with a genuine undertaking to hear and address the grievances of army personnel that could have triggered the coup d’etat;
  • The staged, but certainly not an instant withdrawal, of Nigerian and other foreign troops from the territory of Sierra Leone; save in the case of those forces whose role may have, in the meantime, been genuinely designated as peace-keepers between the parties;
  • The repatriation of mercenary groups and personnel on all sides and a total ban on their re-entry into the country in future;
  • The setting up of a Truth Commission;
  • Consideration of compensation for parties aggrieved by deaths (including of close family members), injuries and loss of private properties, etc;
  • The resettlement and rehabilitation of the internally displaced;
  • The repatriation and rehabilitation of external refugees;
  • The setting up of, preferably, a UN peace keeping force to supervise the containment of the troops of both parties in designated locations;
  • A National Conference of Sierra Leonean Civil Society to discuss options for lasting peace and reconciliation; Kabbah’s government is currently suffering a credibility deficit. Also, during all this time, Sierra Leoneans have not been talking among themselves because everyone is suspect, or suspicious of the other. In the absence of a properly functioning Parliament there is, and has been, no democratic process since restoration of the legitimate government in February 1998. It will be a sad day in Sierra Leone if, in the end, the will of the warring parties who brutalised them, alone prevails over them. Hence this Conference is of supreme primacy. (See below, Organising Civil Society)
  • A key issue that needs to be thrashed out once and or all is the burning one about the ownership and exploitation of the abundant mineral and agricultural (including timber) resources of Sierra Leone. Unquestionably, all the fighting to date has been over them. Therefore a definitive statement of intention by all parties, including the National Conference, must be agreed for the exploitation, equitable distribution and enjoyment of these assets in future.

(2) ORGANISING CIVIL SOCIETY

AS ARGUED above, civil society, being the backbone and informal expression of the hopes and expectations of Sierra Leonean society, should be enabled to participate fully in all deliberations that will affect the country’s future. It is important therefore that, in anticipation of this eventuality, somebody or group in Sierra Leone takes the lead to start putting together the fabric for such a force. This is no mean task.
  For a start, there is clearly a credibility gap between the government of President Kabbah and many sections of citizens in the country which is in large measure paralysing popular response to government initiatives. However, even this lack of credibility is nothing compared to the lack of trust between most citizens and the AFRC and RUF junta forces and their supporters.
  One therefore has in mind a possible role for the churches, mosques, the media (which appears to be speaking in divisive tongues), traditional Paramount Chiefs, students, trade unionists, non-political women’s organisations, known community leaders, NGOs, etc. They should begin to pull together and come up with ideas and solutions for the current crisis. It is disappointing that many of them have remained silent, especially on the atrocities in the recent months. On the rare occasion when they have commented, their equally one-sided condemnation of atrocities has meant that they, too, have a lot of catching up to do in order to gain credibility with, for example, the rebel factions. Nonetheless, they are a focal point in the society and therefore need to come into the fore more prominently.
  At present, understandably, every Sierra Leonean is preoccupied solely with fighting simply to survive and protect their families; so it is difficult for people to concentrate their minds outside those immediate constraints. But people need to organise, or be organised, to face the reality and speak consistently, supported with a plan of action that is home-grown and from among themselves. They do not have to wait or rely on the Nigerians, British, Americans, Liberians, Libyans or Burkinabes for solutions.
  Thus the onus is on those individuals among the people who are credible and creditworthy, to hold themselves out, offer their services and their very being in order to create such a civil society focus group.
  For practical purposes, influential Sierra Leoneans must get together now to look at the security of the whole country and to work on opening a way to negotiations by:

  • softening the will of Kabbah to resist dialogue, in the case of those who have his ear; and,
  • encouraging those who have access to the rebel leadership to use any leverage they can, to convince them of the need for negotiation. Needless to say their (offer of) facilitation should in no way be construed or regarded as sympathising or collaborating with rebels. Such labelling has been disingenuous, unhelpful and counter-productive. It only serves to stymie discussion and initiative.
These activities and initiatives, whether individual or collective, should not be seen as Northerner, Westerner, Southerner, Easterner or tribally inspired. That is why it is crucial for a new and larger grouping of society to emerge from such an effort.
  Sierra Leoneans abroad in the Diaspora who have been keen and constructive in their advocacy for peace and justice in their country should be involved in these manoeuvres so that the representation is broad and cross-sectional.
  Finally, we should all be convinced now that there is no viable alternative to bringing the parties together to thrash out their differences other than for them to continue fighting, squabbling and further polarising Sierra Leonean society. The current psychological environment and the arbitrariness of the methods of the military parties and their allies are, at once, both an incentive as well as a disincentive to individual or collective civilian action. But paradoxically, it does at least give civil society a small window of opportunity that it must not fritter away. Let’s take it with gratitude and use it to our advantage.

(3)  BRITAIN MUST CHANGE COURSE

FOCUS expresses its displeasure and dismay at the clumsy manner in which the British Labour Government has squandered the best opportunity so far for any outsider to intervene between the warring parties to reconcile their differences amicably. The other chance fell to Ecomog who have simply botched the job.
  We have not failed to notice Britain’s irrational and partial intervention on the side of President Kabbah, while completely disregarding the historical factors underlying Sierra Leonean society’s severely strained relationships, notably that between the poor and disadvantaged on one hand and the educated and privileged elite of the cities on the other. In addition, the British have not briefed themselves enough about the ructions in civil society, eloquently attested to by the accumulated evidence of corruption, bad governance and the misuse and abuse of power and national resources, during the three decades since independence, by successive governments. Nor have they appreciated the depth of the resentment felt by volatile sections of that society, especially disadvantaged and disaffected youths, at being marginalised and pushed to the periphery of their society.
  Sierra Leoneans have been extremely grateful for the humanitarian assistance that the British Government has given to the country during the current crisis. But all will come to nought if peace has not been won. Peace, though, cannot be won by war. Being opposites, the two don’t mix.
  In practice, British Foreign policy towards Sierra Leone has proved to be an unmitigated disaster. It was based on the now utterly discredited perceptions of its maverick Ambassador, PC Peter Penfold (seen here left), who has even had the audacity to intervene in the domestic affairs of the country of his accreditation - including, rather uncannily, advising President Kabbah about who can be a cabinet minister. The man must be recalled before he creates further mischief. Prime Minister Tony Blair must reverse his policy now - a policy predicated on an erroneous and blatant misreading of the true situation in that country.
  We believe that there is just time for the British Government to take advantage of the residue of goodwill it continues to enjoy among those, like this paper, who prefer dialogue as a means for ending the conflict in Sierra Leone. It must, as a matter of utmost urgency, take the sensible action now to switch its much-valued resources away from encouraging Kabbah’s administration on its path of war towards practical strategies to energise action and support for those working for peace through dialogue and negotiation. Only thus will it salvage its credibility and reflect the real expectations of the mass of the ordinary citizens of Sierra Leone.
  For a government which says it is committed to the application of ethical values in its foreign policy, we see an inherent contradiction in Mr Blair’s government encouraging a policy which justifies sacrificing the lives of poor, innocent and defenceless citizens to secure the political power of an individual or government – especially one that is for all intents and purposes a lame duck. It is even more despicable, if that support is given also as a concomitant ploy to secure the commercial interests of any country or its citizens. Surely the outbreak of peace between all our people, and in the country as a whole, is the best guarantee that such interests can be enjoyed by all.
  This experiment for ‘democracy’ in which people’s lives are being used as pawns must stop. The price has already been too high and is certainly not worth paying. A change form militarism to diplomacy would not go amiss. Otherwise Mr Blair and his marines will be snookered next time round!

TRIBUTE TO THE NIGERIAN DEAD

IT IS TRAGIC enough to die for your own cause. Equally so, if you die for a cause of others with whom you share a common interest. But it is even more tragic and, for many, incomprehensible to die for a cause that has nothing to do with you, about which you know absolutely nothing, and which involves issues you have neither caused nor been involved with. That is the absurd reality surrounding the fate of the hundreds of Nigerian soldiers who have fallen victim to the bullets of the RUF and AFRC junta coalition forces in conflict-ridden Sierra Leone.
  Despatched at the time by the ruthless and vicious military dictator Sani Abacha, into whose arms a desperate and de-stooled Kabbah rushed for military help soon after he was toppled from power, the hapless Nigerian troops have been reduced to a disoriented and flat-footed army, frequently staring real defeat in the eye at the hands of a supposedly ‘rag-tag’ rebel army. Faced with a battle-hardened rebel army that is comfortable on terrain that is both foreign and unfamiliar to them, the Nigerians have frequently been cut down mercilessly in ambushes, trapped in no-mans land, in strange and unfriendly terrain, without a sense of direction.
  Trained in conventional warfare, they do not have time to adapt to fighting a guerrilla war on the ground. Instead they are immediately thrown into the melee of a heated battle straight after landing at Sierra Leone’s Lungi International Airport, which is now both a fortress and little colony of Nigeria. It has all been a terrible mess and they are sadly paying for it with their lives in droves.
  Soldiers fighting the good fight need motivation to fight a war. In this case the Nigerians clearly have none whatsoever. As a country they have had no quarrel with Sierra Leone. Their citizens have no quarrel with our citizens; they do not even have a quarrel with the RUF or the AFRC junta. Many of them are friends and comrades of former Sierra Leone Armed Forces personnel with whom they served together in Ecomog in Liberia. The abstract proposition of fighting to restore democratic government in Sierra Leone, thousands of miles away, at a time, until recently, when Nigerian citizens in their own country could never dream of one for themselves, was an irony that could not be lost on them.
  In terns of gallantry, the Nigerian troops have excelled no less than any other crusading army. But the Sierra Leone expedition is clearly proving to be a lost cause. They must be encouraged to cut their losses by putting pressure on their government to put pressure on Kabbah to engage in dialogue and negotiation to end the war so they can return home.
  Focus pays tribute to the dead, maimed (yes, many have had their arms and legs chopped off!), and wounded soldiers of Nigeria. Our sympathy goes to their wives, children and relatives who have been demonstrating at various military establishments throughout Nigeria for them to return home. They are not alone because even as we pay this tribute to their lost ones, thousands of Sierra Leoneans continue to lose their lives needlessly in a useless war waged by one side to keep their personal power and privilege, and by the other intent upon seizing power to impose themselves on the rest of us.
  We do hope that when peace comes they will be remembered for their gallantry which has been misused by manic dictators and self-serving maverick politicians in their country.

WAR AND THE NUMBERS’ GAME .…. THE COUNT LOOKS REAL

IN THE LAST EDITIONwe discussed the war numbers game and alluded to the imbalance in the presentation of casualties. At last we can now balance the equations of war to tabulate some of the known casualties on all sides, thanks in part to the off-hand statement by the British Foreign Secretary, Mr Robin Cook, in Parliament when paying tribute to "the 700 [Nigerians] who have died trying to restore the legitimate government of President Tejan Kabbah". But that was over a month ago. The death toll and the causality list among Nigerian Ecomog troops has since risen tangentially.
  According to one of the many Nigerian newspapers reporting on events in Sierra Leone, the experience has been benumbing. Tempo, in its report on 4 February, reported thus: "A rag tag rebel army in Sierra Leone continues to waste the lives of Nigerian soldiers…In spite of the loud silence of the Defence headquarters on the actual Nigerian casualty in the last four weeks, TEMPO can reveal that the country has lost not less than 850 men while no fewer than two thousand soldiers and officers are on death row in hospitals. Last 24 January, the Nigerian government ‘shipped’ home from Freetown, 1,500 soldiers, 200 of whom were already dead."
  Civilian casualties also have escalated but it does not seem to have moved the hearts and minds of either side to change their stupid idea about outright military victory. On the contrary, it looks as if the policy of Sierra Leone’s Chief of Defence, Nigerian General Maxwell Khobe, is to make all civilians in rebel-controlled areas legitimate targets for their bullets and bombs.
  According to newswire reports, rebel casualties also have also multiplied. An independent but previously unquoted source told this paper that the casualty count following the rebel invasion of Freetown was something like 1,250 rebels killed, 250 Nigerians dead and the rest civilians. The Ministry of Information in Freetown announced that city health officers had by now buried about 4,200 bodies. If one subtracts the combined figures for claimed rebel and Nigerian dead (i,e 1,500 as above), the assumption must be that nearly 3,000 of the corpses buried were of civilians. These numbers do not include the East End of Freetown, which was then, and parts of which are still, under rebel control or no-man’s land. Reports said there were still corpses lying rotting in some of the back streets. No reliable figures have been given fort those seriously wounded.

KHOBE’S NOTICE OF INTENTION TO COMMIT GENOCIDE

IN WHAT is believed to have been a fit of sheer desperation, General Maxwell Khobe, Sierra Leone’s Nigerian Chief of Defence Staff served notice to the world of his intention to commit genocide against the civilian population of Sierra Leone. The General who was visiting his country, Nigeria, to attend (it is claimed) the funeral of several of his fallen men, explained that the rebels were able to enter and later escape the city of Freetown during their invasion last month because they used civilians as human shields. "Next time," he said "We’ll shoot everything from the opposite direction".
  Almost at the same time, in language that was unhelpful and as if to reinforce this bellicose message, the Commonwealth Secretary General, Chief Emeka Anyaoku – also a Nigerian - came on the air to ask for more petrol to be poured on the burning fires instead of putting his weight behind the current drive for dialogue. Anyaoku called for "urgent international action to halt the conflict in Sierra Leone" in the form of "more material and logistical support" for the intervention force.
  But fresh hopes did finally emerge as the Head Of State of Nigeria, General Abdulsalami Abubakar (right), on a visit to Dakar, Senegal on 6 February declared:
  "I am happy to say that President Kabbah is not averse to dialogue and we will encourage him to enter into dialogue with the rebels".
  General Kobe should be pitied. For a commander of one of Africa’s most powerful armies to see his men fall in such large numbers is as much an ordeal for himself and the institution he represents as it is for the families, friends and compatriots of the deceased Nigerian soldiers. We can only hope that he regains his sanity in what must be a very heavy burden to carry.

Just For The Records…..

WHO IS GUILTY OF GENOCIDE?

I CAN tell you who is guilty of Genocide. The word was first introduced, or rather the accusation was first made, by that excitable roving Ambassador of Tejan Kabbah, Mr James Jonah, on CNN TV on Thursday, 10 September 1997 in the heat of the battle to end the AFRC’s illegal seizure of power.
  Peter Andersen’s Sierra Leone Web (www.sierra-leone.org), in its archived news for September 1997 reported that:

"Jonah accused the junta of having a "very gruesome plan" for genocide, saying there is now "very concrete information of the unfolding of this plan". He said the junta had imported a large quantity of land mines into Sierra Leone, and that one of the ships docked in Freetown was loaded with poison gas. He said that under the genocide plan, civilians were being used as human shields to create the impression that ECOMOG troops were killing civilians."

  These were blatant lies but, as always, Jonah was playing on the gullibility of the international community. Of course the AFRC junta and the RUF committed brutal crimes and atrocities against innocent civilians during their brief illegal tenure of power in the country. But there has been no proof that they planned to commit genocide. Jonah could at least have produced to the world the spent or unused canisters of poison gas when his government was restored to power in Freetown.
  He has again resorted to similar practice, by creating melodrama out of the recent sorry events in that country so as to mesmerise unsuspecting would-be donor countries. He has not produced a shred of evidence to prove his allegations against Liberia, Burkina Faso, Libya (which has since offered to host talks between Kabbah and Sankoh), France and NGOs operating in the country.
  When Jonah made his genocide allegations in 1997, he failed to admit that his own (then) government-in-exile had already drawn up a blue print that was tantamount, in effect, to genocide. I was astounded at the lack of protest at the time from the human rights organisations.
  At the height of the tension between Nigerian troops and the AFRC/RUF junta, it emerged that President Kabbah with the obvious complicity of Jonah, and, it has been alleged, with the apparent (if not active) connivance of the British High Commissioner Peter Penfold - Kabbah’s chief-operations-manager-in-exile in all but name - succeeded in embargoing the transhipment and delivery of food and medicine into Sierra Leone. This was clearly a breach of human rights law, especially as it was not authorised under UN Resolution 1132 on Sierra Leone. The purpose of the plan must have been one or a combination of any of the following: (a) to ensure suffering, insecurity, and, thus, instability in various regions controlled by the Junta; (b) to starve the civilian population and so intensify their rage and disapproval of the junta; (c) to engage in punishments or reprisals against civilians unsympathetic to the ousted government; and (d) to keep food out of the hands of insurgent forces.
  Existing human rights law recognises the right to adequate and available food in Sierra Leone and it applies to all civilians, including those under rebel control. It is not the fault of civilians if they are caught behind rebel lines. So why should they be punished?
  Article 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights helps to interpret human rights obligations under Articles 55 and 56 of the United Nations Charter. It declares that everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food. It was therefore a violation of human rights law for anyone to deny adequate food to the Sierra Leonean population. It was equally unlawful and outrageous to deny the right to adequate food as a government tactic to control people, or as a weapon of war.
  Again, Article 54 of the Protocol to the 1949 Geneva Conventions provides specific standards which expressly state that:

"starvation of civilians as a method of warfare is prohibited"

It further declares:

"It is prohibited to attack, destroy, remove or render useless objects indispensable to the survival of the civilian population, such as food-stuffs ... for the specific purpose of denying them for their sustenance value to the civilian population or to the adverse Party, whatever the motive, whether in order to starve out civilians, to cause them to move away, or for any other motive."

In short, the "deliberate starvation of civilians" is recognised as a war crime.
  The use of starvation as a strategy or policy of denial of food certainly involves criminal responsibility when starvation is intentional or deliberate. Common sense dictates that food, like medicine and medical supplies, should always be treated as neutral property during an armed conflict. That the government in exile adopted a strategy or policy of denial and neglect with respect to food clearly amounts to a crime of genocide. We know now that hundreds of civilians died of hunger and starvation during that period. If that was not genocide, somebody please tell me what.
  It was also alleged in NGO circles that at least 18 trucks loaded with food in Guinea, waiting to be transported across the border into Sierra Leone, were embargoed by the explicit say-so of government officials, and with the tacit agreement of President Kabbah’s international community minders, some of whom threatened their client NGOs with discontinuation of their annual grants. The British Foreign Office was accused by some NGO of undue pressure in this respect. It is now well established that Britain was the key to Kabbah’s return. Its High Commissioner, Peter Penfold, has being revealed as a bull in a china shop. He virtually became Kabbah’s Prime Minister-in-exile - a revelation that has placed his minders in London in a state of permanent discomfiture.
 
 

MY QUARREL WITH BRITISH FOREIGN POLICY


[Ambrose Ganda]



I HAVE nothing but contempt for the cavalier attitude of the British Prime Minister Tony Blair and his acerbic Foreign Minister Robin Cook in their reaction to the recent House of Commons (Foreign Affairs) Select Committee Report on the "Arms to Sierra Leone" (also referred to as the "Arms to Africa") affair.
  As I understand it, Britain having sponsored and seen through the adoption of a tightly drafted UN resolution prohibiting the sale and shipment of arms to the warring sides in the Sierra Leone civil war, deliberately or otherwise condoned its breach in allowing supplies to President Kabbah’s side and, as we have lately learned, both sides including the rebels. That resolution, among other things, specifically endorsed peaceful dialogue as a means of securing both the end of the rebellion and the handing back of power by the AFRC junta to the legitimate government of President Kabbah. It did not sanction the use of force, although threat of its use remained an option. Caedit quaestio; the case was proved conclusively before that Committee.
  Staying with this topic, I would like to lay to rest once and for all this red herring of a claim about Kabbah’s legitimacy and election. It seems to be the parrot line delivered regularly by the Foreign Secretary, and by Mr Tony Lloyd (sitting left of Mr Cook in the picture on the left) and his colleagues at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to justify their now discredited one-track policy towards Sierra Leone.
  Yes! President Kabbah was elected and yes, by virtue of that fact, we accept without question the legitimacy of his government. But so what? Do we then kill as many of our citizens as necessary in order to restore and keep him there? What’s the use of a legitimate and elected government that cannot govern, has no army of its own to fight its war, and only applies the ‘rule of law’ when it favours its own cause?
  Furthermore, let me recall that the election and the legitimacy was obtained on the crest of violence and a raucous debate over the wisdom of holding elections at the height of an exceptionally vicious campaign by the RUF against country people. Civilians were attacked, pregnant women were eviscerated, people’s limbs were severed and holes were drilled into their lips and laced with padlocks. Focus vehemently opposed those elections in a reasoned and pointed editorial and predicted the consequences that the country has reaped since then. The protagonist of that ill-advised and ill-timed election argued, rather naively and disingenuously, that it was the only way to bring peace.
  The violence predated the Kabbah government’s coming to power. It is still there after two attempts to foist him on the country. The country did not get the promised peace following the Abidjan Accord. The blame for that cannot simply be put at the feet of the RUF alone though they, too, created major obstacles by their lack of co-operation. But just look at the people that Kabbah appointed to his Peace Commission and you can see why it failed. They were the very architects and symbols of the society that the rebels had rejected and taken up arms against. The Commission did not include the real champions of the pressure for peace – those key people in civil society inside the country at the time who argued for dialogue and reconciliation.
  The point must be made that raising arguments about Constitutions and legitimacy is running away from the bread and butter issues which matter to ordinary Sierra Leoneans. All they want is a government that can protect them and give them security. Above all a government that can bring peace and harmony back to their country. If I felt Kabbah had a chance to do that for them, I would be the first to give him my support. But I am not convinced that the militant hawks around him are yet prepared to see the folly of their ways.
  I do not minimise the problems associated with dialoguing with an enemy like the RUF that has proved to be heartless, brutal and unrelenting in its attack on innocent and defenceless men, women and children to advance its ill-defined cause. But I can point to a glowing example, here in the UK - that is, the steadfastness of the British PM Tony Blair (seen right) and his extremely able Secretary Of State for Northern Ireland Mo Mowlam in their determination to prove that one does not lose face simply by dialoguing with the IRA – an organisation that has itself been variously described in terms similar to that applied to the RUF and its AFRC junta allies. Blair correctly reacted to angry Protestant loyalists in Northern Ireland the other day during violent protests against his peace initiative. "Scum bag" one loyalist yelled at him; "Traitor", cried another. All because he met and shook hands with representatives of British people’s arch enemy - the IRA. He ran the gauntlet nevertheless and later commented that people had to learn to live with one another and that it was important that "this matter be settled by dialogue between the parties in Northern Ireland."
  What I want like to know is this; Why is dialogue so crucial in Mr Blair’s’ plans for resolving the conflict in his own backyard in Northern Ireland but not in Sierra Leone? Does he believe that a government restored by force is going to rule Sierra Leone peacefully? Would not such a government itself be obliged to use force to maintain its rule over its people? Would that then be democracy?
  There are two other points to make: first, when this policy to support the use of force to remove the AFRC was taken, did anyone try to answer the simple question "Would using force lead to more harm and damage than had already been done?"; and second, was restoring Kabbah’s government a means to an end, or an end in itself? If it was a means to an end, what was that end?
  Clearly in the case of the former, more harm has been done over the period since restoration because more lives have been lost and more of the infrastructure has been destroyed. In the latter case, the focus has entirely been on restoration rather than consideration of what comes after. An objective reading of the portents then would have revealed a complexity of miasmic issues that could not be tackled easily by a government that was more than likely to be held hostage to fortune. Everyone seemed focused solely on getting the legitimate government back as if that were an end in itself. So Kabbah was returned but then just look at the consequences for the country.
 Sadly, even as I write, the British government is continuing to create the impression – warships plying our shores, Royal Marines reconnoitring, information gathering, fresh logistic supplies for Ecomog, etc - that a military confrontation to the bitter end will secure the survival of Kabbah and his apparatchiks in power. That remains to be seen.
 For what it is worth, I would strongly advise Mr Blair to whisper gently into the ears of President Kabbah that he should sit around the table with his people and talk. The Prime Minister was prepared to get everybody on the metaphorical Northern Irish peace train - a train he delayed so often and so many times just so that the IRA and other paramilitary groups could get on board. Surely what’s sauce for the goose is good for the gander. We, too, need that train in Sierra Leone - NOW.
  Encouraging this bellicose posturing by Kabbah is giving false hopes to the citizens of Sierra Leone, who have already been fooled not once, not twice, but three times now into believing they have an impregnable shield – Ecomog – to protect them against the worst excesses of the rebels. It is a policy and a strategy that has failed, and will continue to fail. Over to you, Prime Minister.
 
 

NEWS DIGEST

ARMAGEDDON IS HERE AND NOW

The released captive priest Fr Guerra described the scene as he came out of his hellhole as apocalyptic. It could not have been more graphically put than that. Sierra Leone’s Armageddon arrived in spectacular fashion marked by anarchy and chaos of unspeakable proportions. It all happened right under the noses of the city’s protectors.

Deprived of the informed views of capable and able citizens not convinced about the folly of a military campaign to beat the rebels and their AFRC allies, the government and Ecomog were caught napping as rebels literally walked into the heart of the city weeks after threatening in certain terms that they would do so. Citizens had been lured into a false sense of security by the pronouncements of the minister of information – Dr Julius Spencer - who kept assuring them that Ecomog had everything under control. Even when civilians’ sixth sense told them that trouble was brewing not far away from their doorsteps, Spencer and another minister, Mr Allieu Bangura, lied to them, on FM Radio 98.1, that there was no need to be worried. Then, they all but imprisoned everybody in their homes when they ordered Freetown’s citizens to stay at home or risk being shot if they stepped out into the streets.

Faced with the stark choice of staying indoors and be killed by rebel intruders or coming out and be blasted, by Ecomog soldiers or rebels massing in the streets outside, the beleaguered citizens obeyed their masters and stayed indoors. It was probably the better of two evils. Thousands who dared to defy the order, or came out because they had been forced by invading rebels, met their fate at the hands of both sides - the rebels and Ecomog alike.

What followed thereafter is all history as the gruesome events were blazed across the screens of the world’s TV screens and newspapers. Sierra Leone, once the oasis of peace and tranquillity, had done a full turn-around to the opposite - a Wild West jungle and no man’s land.
 
 

ABDUCTED ARCHBISHOP AND MISSIONARIES ESCAPE CAPTORS

His Grace, the Archbishop of Freetown and Bo, Joseph Ganda, brother of this editor, and four other missionaries recently escaped after nearly two weeks of captivity by rebels who held them hostage in the east end of Freetown. He and his colleagues "went through arduous times in the hands of the rebels before he was finally rescued by ECOMOG …..the rebels used lit cigarettes to torture the Archbishop"" a mission official was quoted.

The relieved but visibly distressed and traumatised prelate was quoted as saying "We're happy to be alive but there are others still there with the rebels. We're praying for them."

After a brief meeting with President Kabbah following his release, His Grace was flown to Guinea for medical checks where reports said he had responded well to treatment at a private clinic. He was later expected to travel to the US for further recuperation.

We wish His Grace a speedy recovery from his ordeal and continue to pray for the safety of all the missionaries still unaccounted for in the country.



EDUCATION, EDUCATION, EDUCATION!
BUT FOR WHAT?

[Ambrose Ganda]


THE TASK of informing and educating the masses in Sierra Leone is gargantuan. But that apart, educating the educated Sierra Leonean is an even more difficult proposition because one then encounters formidable barriers like conceit, arrogance and the undeniable fact that some of our brothers and sisters are self-opinionated. We lack the ability to cohere and to apply our knowledge to practical effect.

I am of course speaking in general terms and I hope I am not causing offence to our best brains in the country. But even they will agree with me that many of us who claim to be educated are largely unproductive in our professed areas of learning. How many books have we written as living proof of our excellence in our specific areas of high learning, with all the degrees that we boast about? How many inventions have we made that can be applied to enhance the quality of life of our people and nation? 

How many have applied their knowledge and self-acclaimed intellectual prowess to things tangible and useful for the common man and woman in the street? How many literary achievements do we as a nation lay claim to, compared with countries of similar, or even less, size and resources? But specifically, considering the notoriety that Sierra Leone once gained as the Athens of West Africa, what has been so Athenian about our achievements in the last 40 years, including the thirty-eight or so since independence? Nothing! Absolutely nothing! It makes me sad.

And who have been in charge of the country during that time? No! Not Corporal Foday Sankoh; not poor Captain Valentine Strasser or the untested Brigadier Julius Maada Bio, both of the NPRC. Not RUF rebels or AFRC junta men. It has been our very own so-called ‘bookmen’ whom we depended on to run the universities, government ministries and departments, parastatals, etc., and Cabinet Ministers. They carry strings of letters after their names. And what have most (though I must exclude a handful) of them shown for it? Not much really.

For all his faults, including being the prime architect of the current troubles in Sierra Leone, late President Siaka Stevens had the best aphorism to describe his many PhD-titled cabinet ministers for whose intelligence he had nothing but contempt. He would often remind them that "Nar sense dehm take mek book, nor to book dehm take mek sense". (Translated as "People use their intelligence to write books; books do not create intelligence".)

Did you see the educated men and women who prostituted themselves before the altar of Siaka Stevens’ kleptocracy? They were not the ordinary rank and file Sierra Leoneans because they could only hope for crumbs from the tables of their peers. Did you see the carnage left behind when these bookmen raced each other to get to the top of the ladder? It was a shameful scramble to advance self to the exclusion of others. It was dog eat dog.

Before my trusted friends and colleagues pounce on me, I should just pause to remind them that I have deliberately used the phrase "in general" which, I hope, more than adequately compensates and gives due recognition to Sierra Leoneans who have been productive and excelled in their chosen careers to acclaim beyond our territorial borders. But they are not many. Above all, even they would also admit that they are not given recognition in their own country, which sets out deliberately to either destroy them or devalue their achievements.

Like the Irish priest, my former Latin and English teacher at the Christ the King College in Bo who, when recently discussing with me the horror of recent events in the country that he and other missionaries spent their lives - 30 years in his own case – trying to help develop, commented to me: "Ambrose" he said, "back home in Ireland our national problem is known to be the ‘bottle’ (alcoholism) and it’s an accepted national weakness of my people. In Sierra Leone, your greatest national problem (which you have yet to own) is the propensity for your leaders – mainly your educated people - to dip their hands in public coffers and their inability to distinguish money meant for development of the country from that in their pocket. This has held back your country’s progress and development. Otherwise, I am sure people like you would have been back to create one of the best nations on earth." I could not agree more.

A nation of selfish individuals
In a country with a tradition of higher education going back so many years, it is a serious indictment that we lag behind virtually all other countries in both development and now, according to the UNDP index of countries, the quality of life. The reason is simple. We are extremely selfish people. As long as we ourselves or our families and friends are not affected or, as in this case, the violence has not reached us, we are OK, thank you!

The citizens of Freetown have large numbers of their kith and kin in the UK, notably here in London. These people, whom I call occasional democrats, only react when there is a major catastrophe in their backyards but otherwise ignore distress signals elsewhere in the country. I note that they have been organising demonstrations, religious services, vigils and signing petitions to the British government since the destruction of their citadel, Freetown. I do not gloat over this event, tragic for everyone as it has proved to be. But it is fair to say that the vast majority of them did not care a toss when we gave warnings and related the facts about the destruction that was taking place in towns and villages across the country. When we went out to demonstrate for an end to the carnage up country they showed little concern and many did not turn up. Why? Simply because they treated the civil war at arm’s length as something to do with ‘country people’.

That said, I want to publicly applaud progressive individuals from the Western Area who have been steadfast in their commitment for peace and justice, sometimes to the annoyance of their friends and relations in Freetown, and have been campaigning on behalf of ALL Sierra Leoneans regardless of tribal origin or political association. They can hold their heads high above the rest of their compatriots.

The rebels are our creation
I have written about the origins of the conflict in Sierra Leone many times. I will not stop even if I have to repeat myself. We Sierra Leoneans – but especially the educated and privileged class – created the dregs and animals that are wreaking havoc on this country. By our previous and continuing policies of "we know it all" and of handing down decisions, without consultation, to the ‘lower classes’, we had arrogated to ourselves the right to control, and in the process have destroyed, the lives of so many innocent people.

Well then, even among such ‘low class’ people or ‘dregs’ as they have been called, the occasional clever and opportunistic ones emerge in the full knowledge that they will succeed in making hell on earth for the rest of us. They have no difficulty convincing their own ‘class’ of people to stage a revolt against the established order because the recruitment would have been done for them by the accumulation of failed government policies over the years.

The educated and privileged elite take cover in institutions like parliament, the judiciary, police, army, the university, and in phrases like ‘law and order’, ‘aiding and abetting’, etc., which the ‘dregs’ see merely as tools for keeping them in their place of disadvantage. So they rebel against these, too. Hence the carnage and the wanton destruction in Freetown both at the time of the coup in May 1997 and its action replay which we have recently witnessed in the city again.

A revolution ...for good or bad
If my distracters feel again that I am defending the brutish-ness of the rebels, and that by virtue of that I am myself a rebel, then I say to them politely, "You are wrong and missing the point". Let’s face the truth, folks! What is happening in Sierra Leone is a revolution - unplanned maybe. 

But I ask: how come the RUF have outlived our best endeavours to defeat them? Not ideologically based or, as some self-righteous idiots keep asking, "what do these people really want?" And I say: why don’t you go and ask them, if you care so much?

The fact is, this thing that is happening in Sierra Leone is a backlash against everything negative that the country has stood for all these years. 

I will not go so far as to endorse the studied comment of one of our learned elders in London who telephoned me after reading the last edition of Focus to advise me to stop wasting my "time and money on a cursed people". "Sierra Leone" he said "is being cleansed by the wrath of God, Mr Ganda. They are all evil people in that country. And you can do nothing to change the will of the Almighty. That nation is paying for all its sins. They are ungodly. They are ungrateful and wicked to one another, especially these educated people. Leave them to kill each other! Then maybe the good people will come afterwards and rebuild the country."

Strong religious fundamentalist stuff,  I thought! But before I could put in a word of mild disagreement he had already hung up on me. I meant to ask him what he meant by "the good people".

The RUF (AFRC) "revolution" may be unorthodox and not fall on all fours with our own "educated" notions of what a revolution should be. But it is nonetheless a revolution for Sierra Leone and it cannot just be reversed easily or wished away, let alone by long-distance half-baked Kamajoh and Kapra fighters in the streets of London, or by emotional claims of divine wrath and vengeance. 

Now it has gathered its own momentum which is threatening to play itself out to its logical end while both sides test each other’s resolve, ignoring the constraints that many sensible people are urging on them. It will end only when all sides recognise that the 27,000 square miles of land mass, artificially carved by colonialists and arbitrarily labelled Sierra Leone, is meant to be shared and enjoyed by all its inhabitants, as much as possible, equally and collectively as a community of one nation. That nobody, no single family, no tribal, religious or cultural grouping has any more right, notwithstanding its numbers, than the smallest of such groups. Thus:

  1. We must learn to live with one another, educated or not, to our own individual standards or not, and accept the strengths and weaknesses of each other. We must learn to respect Sierra Leoneans who have achieved, and give them encouragement to do better. 
  2. By the same token we must show understanding for the weaknesses of others and help them when we can. We must live symbiotically so as to sustain each other and serve as safety nets for one another when we – I mean the whole country - are visited by bad times like the present.
Collective amnesia
Another related problem I detect is that we suffer rather readily from collective amnesia about our recent past. I had cause to refer to this in an earlier article and I make no apology for repeating it here. We see things that are wrong today and we know that they are responsible for our present predicament but then we act as if something else is the matter and that what we have just experienced, and in most cases are experiencing, is somehow a totally new and unrelated phenomenon. We seem to have no sense of linking dramatic events in our life cycle as a nation and as truly educated people should. For it is from these that we learn about our strengths and weaknesses, and our failures and successes. Then, if we have a national leadership that is committed to the welfare of all our citizens, it would be their moral duty to draw upon their experience of those events, reinforce the good ones and steer us away from the bad ones.

I can vouch that the ordinary, uneducated and illiterate masses, for whom we have such contempt, do not have these failings. At worst they tend to copy and ape the worst excesses of their educated and notional enlightened compatriots. It is not patronising to say that they have always been extremely willing to learn, to be told things and to be led.

Remember when you went back to the village at the end of school term, the reception that everybody in the village gave you and how the young men and women of your age, whose parents could not afford to send them to school, looked to you with awe and admiration? They are full of respect for the educated. In many respects they are gullible, easy to please and quite malleable to ideas, especially those that are explained to them as necessary for their advancement, in language they can understand. Their educated brothers and sisters know this, so they take advantage of them and exploit them.

Growing cultural divisions
These days I see growing cultural divisions in the country. One is between the people themselves, when one tribe begins to look down on the other with suspicion and scorn. This is becoming more evident in statements by various Southern (mainly Mende), and Northern (mainly Temne and Limba) kindred tribal groups, as the one accuses the other in crude tribal terms, in a desperate search for scapegoats to blame for the current disaster. Some leading (presumably educated) luminaries on both sides are guilty of this rabble rousing and crowd-baiting tactic. It is grave enough already to warrant anxiety.

But the biggest and most serious of these divisions is between the people and their government. This is because ordinary citizens are reduced to mere spectators since they are not considered by their rulers to be ‘educated’ enough to partake in the process of government. They put up reasons like "Oh, they do not speak English" (Whatever happened to Krio?); "they cannot’ understand the ‘budget speech’ in parliament, the ‘rules and procedures of parliament’, or the substance of ‘administrative law’, etc. By these means, the educated ruling class ensures that it does not face competition. Everything is tailored to suit its preferences.

Thus the real competitions, hence the operative contradictions in our present Sierra Leonean society, are played at a much higher level - between the two faces of politics that the Sierra Leone public is exposed to almost everyday:

(a)  The one is open and full of impressive inspirational ideas about the intentions of government – this is where a lot of our ‘doctors’ excel, with their ‘expert’ writings of programmes, projects and analytical essays which attract World Bank, IMF and UNDP monies. Don’t ask me what happens to the money when it gets into their hands! The projects never see the light of day, or if at all they do they are usually abandoned in mid term.

(b)  The other is to do with government and big business. It is secretive, elusive and exclusive. It is untrustworthy, and untrusting, to those outside government. It even discriminates against the educated who ‘do not belong’.

For those people under (b) the chicken has finally come home to roost. They have fled the country twice in one year because they have no affinity with the ordinary masses on the ground. Let’s hope that they, and we, are all gradually, but surely, learning our respective lessons for the future. It is a pity we are doing so in needless painful ways. As everyone should have known by now, it is pain that does not discriminate between the educated and the illiterate, or the privileged and the disadvantaged.

Education, after all, is only a means to an end and should not be taken as an end in itself. More importantly, even that end must not be self-serving to the exclusion and detriment of all else around. But as the saying goes, out of evil some good is bound to emerge. I sincerely hope it does, even in - as my defiant late Auntie Frances Momoh used to call it - a "God-forsaken country" like Sierra Leone.
 
 




PUBLISH …AND BE DAMNED

[Ambrose Ganda]


IN THIS SECTION I plead with the reader to allow me the license to digress for just a while and address my distracters – this once! No doubt, they will pounce on me – in all seriousness I do not mean it metaphorically - and accuse me of justifying the action of the rebels. But they are wrong and they know it. I am doing nothing of the sort simply by debating these issues. For the umpteenth time I am neither a rebel sympathiser or collaborator, as some cowardly and pusillanimous types have been alleging in their little tribal cliques and cabals. I never have been, and cannot be, by virtue of my education, upbringing, intelligence and personal crusade for Sierra Leone. What I do however is to tell the truth as I see it and stick by it come rain, come sunshine. No one …no power can shake my resolve. My only allegiance is to my conscience and my God and I will not relent until I draw my last breath. Those who know me and my work, know fully well that I am an implacable opponent of, hence a rebel against, the corrupt policies and practices of successive governments, and a life-long whistle-blower on dishonest public functionaries who abuse positions of trust and power in Sierra Leone. That includes the present Kabbah administration which I have made no secret of not supporting because of (a) what it has allowed to happen in the country, particularly to the peace process for which I and many others have worked so hard, freely offering our time, resources and goodwill; (b) the corruption and arrogance of some of his appointees; and (c) the folly of many policies that were being implemented prior to the coup. SO, TO HELL WITH THAT LOT!

The civil war in Sierra Leone appears to be creeping gradually into the heart of London - Peckham to be precise, whose High Street is sometimes nicknamed 'Kroo Town Road' after a famous Freetown thoroughfare, because of the large number of Sierra Leonean residents in the area. I heard that the Sierra Leonean proprietor of a popular take-away shop, catering for nostalgic local tastes, has allegedly been attacked on a number of occasions because he tells his customers there is no way Kabbah can defeat the rebels other than having dialogue with them. He has my sympathy and support. Also recently, another outspoken patriot Mr Thomas Legg, a long-time crusader for the equitable exploitation and use of the country’s mineral resources, was set upon by a gang (it was alleged) of four SLPP thugs and hit several times in the body. "Luckily", said Legg, "they did not cause me serious injury because a friend intervened to ward them off. I will be reporting them to the police". Legg had earlier argued at a meeting that Kabbah’s position was untenable and that he no longer had an effect authority to govern after the rebel invasion. The incident took place after a so-called briefing meeting at the Sierra Leone High Commission, called by the High Commissioner Dr Cyril Foray on Thursday, 4 February. It was attended by representatives from the Ghanaian and Nigerian Embassies, and the Commonwealth Secretariat. By all accounts it was a disappointing meeting for those who attended in the hope of finding out what was being done to contain the violence and resolve the crisis.
  The High Commission itself has become the location of a sewage pump of innuendo and malicious falsehood against Sierra Leoneans who refuse to support the crazy policies of Kabbah’s government. Crowd-baiting and rabble-rousing are its only mission these days. At these meetings, as at the last one, a speaker gets up and says "The government is doing its best but there are people in this country (UK) that support the rebels…and we know them." Then follows a predictable crescendo of voices reminiscent of monkeys’ playtime in the jungle and a strident chorus of catcalls from the back of the room chants "We know them! We know them!" Then an ‘official’ plant shouts back (as on this occasion) "Ambrose Ganda!" "Abass Bundu!" (and in the US) "Karefa-Smart!" The comedy show goes on, while the country burns. Not one of these meetings has put forward a concrete suggestion for resolving the conflict. Three people who attended the London meeting told me that they left in disgust because it had been a waste of time. They had learnt nothing new.

IT IS alleged by responsible people on the London scene that Mr Peter Tucker, one of Kabbah’s chief policy advisors, blames the President for not listening to his advice or not consulting him and his team? If that is the case, why has he not resigned to make this fact known in public? What has he advised and not been acted on? And, what does he not agree with, in the light of monumental lapses by the government he advises? This kind of closet criticism is the source of some of the wildest speculations and uncertainties in national life. Come clean, Bra Pete! Let’s see where you stand – publicly - on the issues of the day. Stop moaning in the corner. A real gentleman like you whom I have always looked up to for guidance and emulation, should not behave in this way. Tells us what we do not already know for the sake of SaLone and release some of us from the pressure from the rabble.
  

A very popular and respected civil leader in the Eastern Province.  Rebels allegedly murdered him in cold blood last February during five days of fighting, following the assault on Kenema by Ecomog troops to retake the city after ousting the AFRC Junta from Freetown.  A service of thanksgiving to commemorate his life of sterling service to the nation was held in London by relatives and friends on Sunday 14 February 1999. May his soul rest in peace.

AND NOW I hear that desperadoes, notably a tiny clique of demented and illiterate jackasses belonging to the moribund SLPP (London Branch), are threat-ening "to attack and beat" me up because they say I am a "rebel sympathiser". Well, I never! These people are unable to connect their pea brains to anything resembling reality and are shamelessly distorting the tragic circumstance of our country. During a recent memorial service for the late Honourable B S Massaquoi (see inset above), a cluster of them were heard making their vain threats against me, naturally, behind my back. Needless to say these cowards cannot face argument and reasoning. They shy away from reality like slugs from salt.
  The same sources further say that people like me, together with my colleagues in the Alliance for Peace and Democracy in Sierra Leone (see below), have been "earmarked" by the authorities in Sierra Leone. Why? Because we have publicly opposed the decision to destroy the country and its innocent citizens to restore the legitimate government of President Kabbah? Even more ridiculously, I also stand accused of being a "traitor to my Mende tribe" because I "should be using my resources and abilities to support, and not attack, the SLPP Government and the Kamajohs".  My polite reply to them is that I do not wish to belong to any organisation, or be a supporter of any government or political party, that preaches or believes in tribalism. I was not brought up or educated to think in that way. The SLPP I want to belong to, like the one I used to belong to and for which I worked tirelessly, is not a tribal party but a national party in which all tribes are welcome, respected and valued.
  I now appreciate why Kabbah recently wrote to SLPP Party members to remind them that he was President of the whole country not just of their party. Poor man! With supporters like these, he does not need enemies from outside his party.

MOST OF the Kabbah rabble here in London, particularly the breed of SLPP supporters I call KABBAH-ITES that one (unavoidably) comes across, display a mental horizon that evokes an ideology that is crudely tribalistic and paternalistic. Which is, I reckon, about as much as one could wish for those who have nothing to show for their years of residence abroad. Kabbahites seem to have learnt absolutely nothing from what happens around them, or about events (especially wars and conflicts) in other countries, despite being daily exposed to modern means of mass communication like TV, radio and newspapers, and Internet which bring these events into their living rooms. I can understand, hence forgive, the ignorance of the mass of Sierra Leoneans resulting from official deception and the fact that they do not have the benefit of such exposure. But I am not prepared to countenance, let alone forgive, the irrationality and flight from realism displayed by these people.

JUST SOME timely words about Focus….. I do not run this paper as a support organ for a political party or a party political point of view; nor as a vehicle for tribal aspirations and bigotry. I run it simply because I feel strongly about the future of my country – a country whose citizens have been exploited for decades by governments that failed to address their basic bread and butter issues. Writing as one does from this distance, I cannot claim to have been a direct victim of such neglect but I empathise with the less fortunate members of my society. I know that I am not in a position physically to change their worsened, and ever worsening, economic, social and - in the light of their prolonged suffering from the violence of the civil war - psychological situation. But I hope I can explain their predicament and, thereby, help in shaping the course by which their wretched conditions can be remedied by those who have the power and the means to do so. If I cannot do that, then I do not deserve to be a Sierra Leonean. It is the least that I can do. The only means that I have at my disposal to fulfil that end is called Focus on Sierra Leone. Is that a crime?

SIERRA LEONEANS have had many leaders before. Several are alive and kicking. But why are they silent while the country is burning? If the country bestows all its honours and privileges on someone, and he or she retires and continues in some cases to enjoy the respect and adulation of the nation, why would such a person remain mute when the country is in crisis? At least ex-President Joseph Momoh tried in his own way to help resolve the crisis although now it is alleged by the ‘victors’ that he was only trying to make a come-back on the back of the AFRC. Dr John Karefa-Smart did his very best to persuade the AFRC to reverse their usurpation but see how the ‘victors’ turned the mob on him to the extent that the official leader of the largest opposition in Parliament cannot return to his country. But what about Maada Salia Jusu Sheriff the one-time SLPP leader who decamped and became a fully-fledged member of the APC under which he rose to be vice president, and acted as President on several occasions? I hear that he is not very well these days; he has my sympathy and I wish him well. Still, why have we not heard one comment from this man who has held virtually all the highest offices of state in Sierra Leone? Has he made any attempt to bring the parties together to sort this matter out? Ex-Governor–General Banja Tejansie is a old man who claims to have influence with his nephew, President Kabbah. I have yet to learn of constructive action that he has taken to ensure that the country that gave him all these honours and privileges is saved from self-destruction!
  The truth is that they are all hedging their bets waiting for the worm to turn. They will then jump on whichever side ‘wins’. That’s why they are all quiet. But it is precisely at times like these that those who stand for justice and equality should make themselves heard. Let the good people stand up and be counted even if their words cause inconvenience.

MEA CULPA! Mea culpa! But the struggle will go on.My fault is that I am always telling people that they are wrong, and invariably I am proved right, and they do not like that. With all the threats around me, I frankly do not care one bit. The worst they could do is kill me and I have already been threatened with that. When they do, they will still have to live with their own stupidities. I am, and always have been, committed to democratic means to change society including the Kabbah government which I clearly and unequivocally do not support: partly because it is engaged in false pretences in governing Sierra Leone and partly because in my own book government is meant to be for every body and not just for those who tow your own line.

THE ALLIANCE FOR PEACE AND DEMOCRACY
IN SIERRA LEONE

THE Alliance continues to perform its patriotic duty to all the citizens of Sierra Leonean without distinction as to tribe, religion, political affiliation or social status. The Alliance has been active day and night, since the commencement of the current troubles, working out ways and means of pushing through its unshakeable commitment for dialogue and reconciliation as the means to end the conflict in the country. We are beholden to no one but the people of Sierra Leone. We will pursue our mission until peace finally comes to our motherland. Below we reproduce three of our most recent statements.

Kabineh Koroma (Dr)
Spokesman
London.UK


STATEMENT ON THE ACCEPTANCE OF A PEACEFUL RESOLUTION OF THE CRISIS BY THE GOVERNMENT OF SIERRA LEONE

 

(Issued on 11/2/99)


The Alliance for Peace and Democracy in Sierra Leone welcomes with great relief the statement by the President of Sierra Leone on 7 February 1999, in which he declared the willingness of his government to accept peaceful settlement procedures for the resolution of the conflict in our country and to use as a frame of reference the Abidjan Peace Accord of 30 November 1996. We also welcome his agreement to allow the leader of the RUF to meet with his colleagues in a neutral country.
 We commend this decision of the government of President Kabbah. It reflects the position the Alliance had taken since the beginning of the crisis namely, that there is no substitute for political dialogue in the search for truth, justice, reconciliation and durable peace in Sierra Leone.
  We also commend the AFRC/RUF for accepting the President’s offer of dialogue. We urge both parties to proceed, without delay, to take the necessary steps that would establish a conducive atmosphere for genuine negotiations.
  To this end, the Alliance wishes to renew its appeal to both the Government and the RUF/AFRC forces to observe an immediate and unconditional cease-fire and to demonstrate positive leadership by engaging the nation in an all-embracing process of national dialogue.
  We call on the International Community to continue its support for the process of dialogue. In this regard, we call on the United Nations to strengthen the United Nations Observer Mission in Sierra Leone (UNOMSIL) and broaden its mandate so as to embrace functions such as peace-keeping, monitoring and supervision of the cease-fire and all other functions and responsibilities agreed upon as a result of the negotiations.
  The Alliance wishes to restate its commitment to the process of national dialogue and renew its readiness to make a meaningful contribution to this vital process so that our country can be speedily returned to lasting peace and democratic reconstruction. We call on all Sierra Leoneans at home and abroad to join in the realisation of this noble objective.

STATEMENT ON THE ATROCITIES COMMITTED IN SIERRA LEONE

 

(Issued on 27/1/99)
The Alliance for Peace and Democracy in Sierra Leone has received with shock news of the continuing terror being directed against innocent civilians and the indiscriminate and wanton destruction of property in the capital city of Freetown.
  The Alliance unreservedly condemns these acts of uncontrolled violence directed against the hapless people of our country. In particular,we condemn:
  i) All atrocities by the rebel forces, especially murder, mutilation, maiming and abduction of unarmed civilians, the raping of women as well as the wanton destruction of public and private property, wherever they occur in Sierra Leone.
  ii) All atrocities by the pro-government forces including summary executions of innocent young people, former soldiers of the Sierra Leone army who have laid down their arms, and captured rebels, as well as mutilation of civilians and indiscriminate aerial and artillery bombardments of populated areas which are causing large numbers of civilian casualties.
  We call upon all belligerent forces to respect scrupulously the laws of armed conflict and international humanitarian law and end the gross abuses of human rights against unarmed civilians.
  We appeal to the International Community to declare to all belligerents in Sierra Leone its determination to punish any grave breaches of the laws of armed conflict especially atrocities committed against unarmed civilians, women and children.
  The Alliance wishes to restate once again its long held view that dialogue and national reconciliation is the best way of solving Sierra Leone’s current political crisis. The Alliance therefore renews its call on Government to demonstrate positive leadership and love for its people by engaging the nation in an all-embracing process of dialogue and national reconciliation.

STATEMENT FOR PEACE AND DEMOCRACY IN SIERRA LEONE FOLLOWING A CALL FOR CEASE-FIRE ON 7 JANUARY 1999

(Issued on 10/1/99)


 The Alliance for Peace and Democracy in Sierra Leone welcomes the latest calls by the Government of Sierra Leone for a cease-fire in the escalating conflict in Sierra Leone. We believe that it is the only way that can lead towards a negotiated settlement of the present hostilities and for bringing lasting peace to our war-striven country. The Alliance therefore urgently appeals to:
  (1) The AFRC/RUF coalition rebel opposition to accept the offer of a cease-fire in the interest of our country and people, despite their expressed doubts and suspicions about the intentions of the Sierra Leone Government. We believe in the indivisibility and unity of all the peoples of Sierra Leone. We encourage our brothers and sisters in the rebel opposition to join hands with the rest of their fellow countrymen and women in creating genuine conditions for peace so that they too can participate fully in the process of rebuilding our country, so badly battered by many years of civil strife.
  (2) The Government of Sierra Leone to take genuine steps to give credibility to their offer of a cease-fire including handing over the RUF leader Corporal Sankoh to a neutral party acceptable to both sides. In this way, we believe the credibility gap between the government and the rebel opposition will be overcome so that genuine negotiations can be held. The Alliance recalls the prophetic advise by its sister organisation, The Standing Conference on Sierra Leone, in its observations of 27 October 1997 on the Ecowas Peace Plan for Sierra Leone (also known as the Conakry Agreement of 23 October 1997), that it "was unlikely that the rebel opposition would yield to the demands of any disarmament agency unless they are ordered to do so by their leader (Foday Sankoh)". We firmly believe that Foday Sankoh’s current status as captive of the Government of Sierra Leone will militate against any attempt to persuade his followers to lay down their arms in the prevailing climate of tension, distrust, suspicion and hostility.
  (3) The International Community, but especially the governments of the United Kingdom and the United States, to take the leading role in putting pressure on both sides to the conflict, namely the Government of Sierra Leone and the RUF and their allies the AFRC, to move quickly to a position of dialogue for the speedy resolution of this long standing horror story that has crippled our country. Taking a one-sided position, as has been the case so far, does not appear to have helped the situation. We therefore urge the international community to review its stance and take an impartial position so that all the parties in the conflict can feel confident that justice is not only being done but seen to be done.
  Finally, the Alliance reiterates its previous call upon the UN, the OAU, the Commonwealth and the Government of the Cote d’Ivoire, all of whom, under Article 28 of the Abidjan Peace Accord of 30 November 1996, "stand as (its) moral guarantors" to insist that the Agreement is implemented with integrity and in good faith by both parties. In particular, we recall that both the OAU and the UN Security Council had re-affirmed this Agreement as providing "a viable framework for peace, stability and reconciliation in Sierra Leone". We therefore urge that the Agreement be made to govern both the cease-fire regime and the entire disarmament process.

FOOD FOR THOUGHT
The events immediately preceding and following the invasion of Freetown by junta and RUF allied troops provide a backdrop for wider examination of the fickle nature of human aspirations and the processes of political change.  Socio-political analysts, take not!
  What, for example, inspired the youths, particularly in the East End and in the shantytowns in central Freetown, to join the invading rebel troops even as they demolished their city? Could it have been the sense of rejection of everything and everyone around them?  Or, was it the illusory notion about the 'good life' that they were going to 'enjoy' under their soon would-be masters?  Or, was it merely the fact of peer pressure - because they saw their friends joining in?
  Now name one Cabinet Minister in this government who has given any thought to these questions or can offer us an answer. Over to you Messrs. Julius Spencer, Allieu Bangura, Solomon Berewa and Professor Septimus Kaikai - all recently accredited members of President Kabbah's family!



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