(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
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.
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.
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.)
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:
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:
To President Kabbah, the Government of the Republic of Nigeria and, by
implication, the CDF including Kamajohs, Kapras,
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
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
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.
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.
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
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
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
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,
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.
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
I HAVE nothing but contempt for the cavalier attitude of the
British Prime Minister Tony Blair and his acerbic Foreign Minister
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
EDUCATION, EDUCATION, EDUCATION!
BUT FOR WHAT?
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
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
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".
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:
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.
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.
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
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
(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
(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
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)
"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
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.
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.
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
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)
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
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
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
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.
(Issued on 27/1/99)
The Alliance unreservedly condemns these acts of uncontrolled
violence directed against the hapless people of our country. In particular,we
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
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,
Berewa and Professor Septimus Kaikai - all recently accredited
members of President Kabbah's family!