OF A PEACE SETTLEMENT FOR SIERRA LEONE
THERE ARE special reasons which lead us to believe that an active
quest for peace holds more promise now than ever before for Sierra Leone.
There are also signs, judging by the reaction of ordinary citizens soon
after the rebel invasion of Freetown, that Sierra Leonean ingenuity, dormant
for most of the time during this crisis, is awakening to a new constructive
But there is an even bigger crisis than the present one looming
over the country. It is one of impending failure. Failure, that is, of
the current peace process. Elsewhere this editor has tried to unravel some
of the underlying factors that must be taken into consideration in arriving
at a proper peace agreement. Nevertheless there is still something fundamentally
lacking to which the negotiators from both sides, at the forthcoming peace
talks in the Republic of Togo, need to be alerted. In its absence the country
is assured of complete failure and its citizens will again witness their
cherished expectations vanish before their eyes. Let us explain what we
to both sides, that is the Government of President
especially his less-than-helpful speech to the recent
Conference on the Peace Process held in Freetown, and reading through
the sterile statements emanating from that conference itself which in effect
rubber stamped the leading and rhetorical questions posed to it by the
President, our fear is that there is a palpable lack of imagination and
innovation to deal with this crisis effectively, with candour and sincerity.
Similarly, listening to the few comments from the rebels through
their legal representative and spokesman Mr Omrie Golley including
the very necessary but purely mechanistic demand for the release of Corporal
Sankoh, one is left thinking that everybody is keeping their cards
close to their chests. In other words they still appear to us to be playing
games and that neither side is really contemplating an immediate cessation
of the violence.
What is evident to us in the light of the above is that both
sides have developed fixed patterns of argument, familiar slogans and well-tried
formulas. This does not augur well for real peace.
In particular, looking back over the mountain of reports in recent
months in newspapers, on internet web sites and from official, including
Ecomog, and semi-official sources, we have noticed how much both sides,
and even ordinary citizens who seem to take their cue from them, have been
concerned with purely transient and ephemeral issues of the past and how
little with the future. The key concerns have not been the contemporary
life and future destiny of Sierra Leone but the settling of scores and
exacting revenge for the past deeds and mistakes.
Of course it is necessary for a proper understanding of the
root causes of the crisis to ask questions like Who is to blame for
the country's past difficulties? as it is undeniably these that have
translated into the present debacle for the country. But if we are really
sincere and desirous of peace we should be addressing more the far-reaching
question: How can these problems and difficulties be constructively
and justly solved? At present there is more anger than intellectual
curiosity in the debates that are going on about Sierra Leone today. For
Focus which is trying to remain objective in its analyses of these burning
issues it can be extremely frustrating, to say the least.
Sierra Leone is a country that suffers greatly from the fact
that its economic progress has not kept pace with its rate of political
advance. The contrast between political progress and economic inertia is
responsible for many of the dissatisfactions that afflict our country,
and have weakened our democratic institutions almost to the point of popular
irreverence towards them. It is this that needs to be addressed.
The preoccupation purely with grievances rather than with solutions
is characteristic of many discussions of late. Even Focus has, admittedly,
been guilty of this sometimes. The point is that this type of focus does
not help Sierra Leoneans to come face to face with the realities, such
as the factors that will influence the life of the country and determine
the future of its citizens. Let us look at these briefly now.
First: Who shall define and shape the peace settlement?
This must be seen up front as the prime task of all Sierra Leoneans. However,
for immediate purposes, the onus lies fairly and squarely on the two warring
parties but with the involvement of civil society. It cannot be delegated
to others - Ecomog, Ecowas, Nigeria, Liberia, Britain or US - individually
or collectively. We Sierra Leoneans have to do this for ourselves otherwise
we will not demonstrate commitment to any peace arrangement that follows
it if it is imposed from outside. We must want peace, and show our commitment
to it, in order to achieve real peace.
Second: Linked to this objective is the question of method.
Can the settlement arise from any other procedure than from direct negotiations
between the warring parties concerned, through their accredited representatives?
The answer is clearly no! Hopefully the coming meeting of both sides in
the Republic of Togo, or wherever, will go a long way towards reinforcing
this sentiment. One hopes it will be addressed there and then.
Third: What are to be the contents and attributes of the
peace settlement? More specifically, will the parties be entitled to reach
any agreements based on consent? Must they not be able to let their minds
move freely over the entire range of alternative solutions and programs?
Are they going to these talks with hands tied to their backs, hamstrung
by the recent resolution of the National Peace Conference in Freetown,
or the decisions of whichever consultative processes might have taken place
behind rebel lines? Are they taking their prejudices and preconceptions,
in the case of the AFRC/RUF their anger over the execution of 24 of their
colleagues last September, with them to these talks? We sincerely hope
not. What is crucial is for all parties to publicly admit that the real
answers - i.e. truth - may still have to be found and that the formula
for a peace agreement can be achieved, provided that, as the headline in
our last edition advocated, there is "honesty and good faith on all sides".
In other words, the parties must go to these talks with open minds.
Fourth: Does the Government of Sierra Leone and the AFRC/RUF
coalition have a clear view, even if in general outline, of the nature
of the peace settlement which, assuming they are desirous of peace, they
seek? So far all we have heard are negative coded statements as to what
neither side might concede. But do they believe that matters can be swiftly
and justly resolved without sacrifice of honour or of legitimate interest
by either side?
Accepting that these are the critical issues for the time being,
let us now further point to some concerns that should guide these forthcoming
deliberations in the quest for lasting peace, national recovery and future
prosperity in Sierra Leone.
First: The experience of nine years of warfare must surely
be uppermost in any consideration for a peaceful settlement and in the
mechanics of the peace process itself. These years have conclusively proved
that even mediation - for which one pays tribute to earlier efforts by
the Government of the Ivory Coast, in particular its Foreign Minister
Mr Amara Essy - and conciliating agencies cannot by themselves establish
cordial relations between the parties unless the parties themselves meet
face to face in free negotiation. One big minus for the Kabbah administration
is that it has encouraged the international community and governments to
think of not just their RUF/AFRC junta opponents, but even neutral and
objective citizens, including the editor of this newsletter, as being somehow
infected to the point where their own views about peace are unwelcome.
There is something inherently fallacious in the idea that the Government
of Sierra Leone and their AFRC/RUF junta opponents can only settle their
dispute by "negotiating with" others who are not party to it.
Second: Are the parties going to be talking about legal
and constitutional impediments if one side demands concessions from the
other? This problem has never been thrashed out with sufficient clarity
and frankness. It may well be that what is a watertight constitutional
or legal framework may amount to a provision, which, though it may appear
innocuous, is in actual fact a vast system of roadblocks on the path to
peace. Does one then reject the most sensible thing simply because the
"law says so" even if that means more people will be killed? Our intention
here is not to reprove Kabbah's government. Far from that! But his government
owes the people of Sierra Leone the candour and honesty of not appearing
as a virtuous slave to the unvarying sanctity of law or constitutional
niceties. If we are to be as frank as the gravity of this civil war and
its effects on civilians requires at this very moment, then we can point
boldly to the fact that all governments when faced with national problems,
especially if it embraces the survival of their nation, have NOT, on some
occasions, found themselves able to strictly adhere to the letter of the
law. Indeed many have just ignored it as a political expedient. Short of
advocating law breaking, this actually reinforces the point that the law
should be tailored to serve the needs of the community as a whole. If we
are to be faithful craftsmen in the construction of durable peace in Sierra
Leone then we must continually perfect our (legal and any other) instruments
and sometimes not hesitate to change them.
One contentious issue in this respect is that of power sharing
which is already being ruled out by supporters of Kabbah on legal grounds.
But we know that when the restored SLPP government wanted
to secure the conviction of its opponents, namely the coup makers and their
alleged collaborators, the Attorney General Solomon Berewa (pictured
left) used his legal ingenuity (for what it was worth) to formulate new
laws, including rules of procedure, to operate retrospectively against
the accused. His government had the political will to tamper with the laws
then. It is that political will, only this time its conscionable and positive
exercise, to get a settlement that Sierra Leoneans will expect from the
By the same token, we must draw attention to the despicable
practice by the RUF, prior to being joined by their AFRC Junta allies,
of opposing agreed possible solutions at critical times when conditions
for implementation were ideal, and then later demanding implementation
knowing fully well that the provisions were no longer capable of being
put into effect. Such tactics rank equally with childhood pranks when kids
ring doorbells and then run away when they are convinced that the door
might after all be opened!
All of these points simply affirm the overwhelming need for
solutions, not resolutions, at the forthcoming talks. Let us now say what
immediate advantages for Sierra Leoneans will flow from the kind of solutions
First: We do not need a solution that leaves the military
forces of both parties in close and vigilant confrontation with each other.
Security provisions in the immediate aftermath should in no way create
further inconvenience and danger for ordinary citizens. In fact if the
crisis is settled through a proper resolution formula, this concern should
be paramount in its content. Incidents involving unnecessary loss of life
and tension among the civilian population should be minimised or removed
completely. The declaration of an immediate cease-fire would eliminate
local outbreaks and violence. Various Area Commanders of both sides should
agree locally arranged cease-fires. The peace negotiations should consider
practical measures to that end.
Second: Sierra Leoneans expect a solution that will convince
and help them to recognise their basic human needs and the fact of their
mutual dependency for national as well as individual survival.
Third: We expect that both sides will undertake to take
in no further supplies of arms and that steps will be taken gradually to
disarm their members, including all paramilitaries. At present we face
both the dangers of proliferation of weapons and needless waste of resources
at the expense of economic progress.
Fourth: The settlement should envisage regional co-operation
for strengthening peace in the West African region as a whole within the
terms of the charters of various regional organisations. The region would
benefit from a new framework of relations that would eliminate tensions,
threatened outbreaks of violence and periodic explosions across mutual
borders. In the event, Nigeria too, which has lost hundreds of its soldiers
in this bloody campaign, would benefit by being relieved of a difficult
and expensive responsibility in maintaining a large and cumbersome intervention
force in Sierra Leone.
Fifth: Sierra Leoneans will demand and expect that both
sides start showing their own goodwill by publicly declaring that they
regard this problem as one of deep and urgent humanitarian concern. They
should discuss earnestly the question of international co-operation for
the solution of the refugee question. Nothing could be more inspiring than
for the two parties, in a spirit of sincere concern for the plight of the
innocent victims, to make joint proposals to the International Community
for international assistance to alleviate the terrible suffering brought
about by their own actions. The plight of the refugees would make a profound
impression upon international opinion.
Sixth: The people would want a peace settlement that
will transform Sierra Leone into less of a pariah state. The efforts of
the United Nations and all friendly governments and NGOs to assist the
country have been frustrated by the futility of our civil war. These peace
negotiations, if they materialise, should rapidly reach agreements releasing
the country from this self-inflicted deprivation. Sierra Leoneans are entitled
to hope that there is still some element of human solidarity left in the
hearts and minds of the warring parties, which must prevail over political
This blueprint for peace, which we advocate, is different
in many respects from that envisaged in the Abidjan Accord. Even if it
does not conform to people's past conceptions, we believe it accords with
the requirements of our common future as a nation. Focus hopes therefore
that the warring factions in the civil war in our country will give their
most mature, serious and deliberate considerations to the approaches outlined.
RUF MUST COME OF AGE AND LEARN TO RESPECT THE WISHES
OF THE CITIZENS OF SIERRA LEONE
has never balked at telling the truth as it sees it. That is why at this
crucial moment, when the hopes of Sierra Leoneans are again raised in the
expectation of a peace deal, we feel duty bound, not for the first time
- and it will not be the last - to remind the RUF and their AFRC Junta
allies to ponder their own positions, self critically, in the coming months
of activity to secure a deal for lasting peace. We plead with them not
to do anything to scupper the fresh attempts that are being made to resolve
this crisis once and for all. They must come of age and learn to respect
the wishes of the ordinary citizens of Sierra Leone who have placed a high
premium on peace to end the years of suffering.
The violence of the RUF up to 1997 and from since their joint
operations with ousted AFRC junta forces has dislocated the lives of the
people of this country to an unprecedented degree. It must stop. One way
that this can happen, which we have advocated from the beginning of our
commentary on Sierra Leone's civil war, is through dialogue and by argument
and the airing of grievances rather than through more bullets and bombs,
and indiscriminate killing including decapitation and dismemberment of
defenceless innocent men, women and children. They must know that it does
them and their cause no good whatsoever.
Some people may feel that we have been hard on the Kabbah government.
We probably are! It, after all, claims to represent us Sierra Leoneans
who believe in democracy. The RUF by its own methods and tactics has alienated
thousands of Sierra Leoneans who, even if they wanted to, have no chance
of meeting or putting their point of view to the RUF and the AFRC junta
soldiers. But at least we can reach Kabbah and we have every right to put
our disagreements and agreements to him and his government. We have done
exactly that and have no intention of doing differently.
Focus has consistently condemned the violence that the RUF/AFRC
junta allies have inflicted upon the country although we acknowledge that,
seen from the perspective of their opponents, i.e. the Kabbah administration
and their own allies, our efforts have not been deemed to be enough or
honourable. But we expect that kind of reaction in war time when a country
is split between "them" and "us", and objective views such as ours emanating
from the middle ground are perceived by one side as supporting their opponents.
We chose to be objective in order to drive home some salient truths to
both sides and drive some common sense into the heads of their supporters.
That being our stated and long proven stand, recognising
the awe and respect that they command among their own followers, Focus
appeals to Corporal Foday Sankoh (pictured above), the leader
of the RUF, and Lt Col Johnny Paul Koroma, Chairman of the ousted junta
forces, and to all their battlefield commanders to put the nation first
in their forthcoming deliberations with the Government of President Tejan
Kabbah. Sierra Leone can bear its agony no longer.
PRESIDENT KABBAH NEEDS TO ENGAGE EVERYBODY IN THE
"HE THAT is not with me is against me" vividly encapsulates
the attitudinal problems that have beleaguered
President Kabbah's government and presidency, in attempting to win over
key elements in Sierra Leonean society to support his policies for peace.
The President appears to many, certainly to us, to place his trust more
in outsiders and less in his own people.
So we have Mr (PC) Peter Penfold and his predecessor, former
High Commissioner Derek Partridge
(seen left) and a host of meddlesome know-it-alls doing the rounds and
lobbying on his behalf. These people have got it into their thick skulls
that they love the country and care about its citizens more than us Sierra
Leoneans who are ourselves trying in our various capacities to contribute
towards a fair and just solution of our own crisis.
But President Kabbah's attitude is bound inevitably to lead
to his own undoing. Surely, the President of the Republic of Sierra Leone
must learn to engage every Sierra Leonean, who is willing and sincere for
peace, in the peace process. They do not have to be members of his SLPP
or die-hard supporters of himself or his administration. That would be
an inappropriate test for patriotism. The true litmus test should instead
always be whether or not people have the interest of the country at heart
and put that first as their priority.
For example, there is presently a huge divide in the UK over
the wisdom of Nato's current action in the European enclave of Kosovo
and against the dictatorship of President Milosevic
Some luminaries in British politics, academia and the Arts, as well as
in the Press, have come out publicly against the Nato action. Yet even
these people are still being consulted and given the opportunity to air
their own opinions, embarrassing though it may prove to be for the British
Government led by Prime Minister Tony Blair. But they have not been
accused of being supporters of the Serbian dictator or the ethnic cleansing
that is taking place in that country. In the words of one diarist writing
in the Guardian (UK) newspaper (16/4/99) "…the most important thing
is that we go on sharing our opinions on it, over meal, with a drink, whatever,
'cos if a war isn't worth having a strong opinion about, could someone
please tell me what is?"
President Kabbah should learn from this. He must genuinely -
even humbly - encourage all Sierra Leoneans, without discrimination, to
join him to bring peace to Sierra Leone. We want to believe that his call
to the rebels to sit down and talk peace with him is genuine. If then he
is (correctly) prepared to dialogue with those who are responsible for
the numerous deaths and destruction in this country, why for Heaven's sake
does he find it difficult to call on the goodwill of his political opponents
or critics, especially when they at least have not killed, chopped heads
and limbs or spilled the blood of innocent civilians? It is foolhardy to
seek peace with the rebels if you cannot carry the rest of the country
with you. This anomaly must be corrected sooner than later.
We can all benefit from a switch in tactics. Only God and fools
do not change. This affair is beyond the power of any one individual or
a partisan political party alone to resolve. It is a whole nation's future
that has been at stake and the Party which Kabbah heads is patently ill
equipped and lacks the goodwill to uplift its politics to one that embraces
overwhelming national concern.
THE SLPP – A DYING DINOSAUR STARVED OF FRESH BLOOD
ONE SHOULD feel pity for the ruling Sierra Leone Peoples Party
Not simply because after 30 years of clobbering by the APC under President
Stevens and later President Momoh it has had its return to power
twice cruelly interrupted, but because as things currently stand its prospects
for holding on to power will very soon evaporate ...unless it urgently
reconsiders its function and purpose as a national organisation and political
Since restoration of the Kabbah government, the Party has become
introvert (which it probably always was!) and tribalist. It has become
another opportunists' romp. It is paranoid about opposition and its officials
and activists have become extremely bellicose and intolerant of moderate
critical opinion. There is almost a perverse belief that somehow they and
their government are entitled to exercise power without conscience.
The Party's London branch is a special case in point. This group
has lost its way and thrives purely on gossip, backstabbing, behind the
scene manoeuvres and engaging in some of the most vicious campaigns of
character assassination of perceived opponents. They lack the ability to
look at the issues either objectively or dispassionately. It never occurs
to them that they may be wrong in their own views about the country. Because
they cannot withstand logical debate and argument, they invariably resort
to the threats of violence, but really only in the guise of empty fulmination.
Most of their activists, a majority of whom are youths of a violent
disposition, have turned out to be dropouts whose every waking hour is
spent plotting and lying on the telephone to various paymasters in London,
New York, Washington and Freetown about innocent people.
In Sierra Leone nation-wide, the SLPP is still in a bad state
of denial. Most of the terrible decisions about waging the war including
the pathetic handling, albeit with a significant Ecomog lapse, of the then
threatened invasion of Freetown by rebels, have all been taken by its government.
Faction and ill feelings towards one another still distinguish the party,
as does nepotism, which characterises several of their political and diplomatic
appointments. The frequent attacks on Kabbah’s parity as opposed to national
leadership is the clearest evidence of continuing feuding and factionalism
in the party. This leaves Kabbah having to decide whether he wishes to
connect with the masses by an act of follower-ship rather than an act of
leader-ship. In other words does he want to lead or be led?
Recent events prove again conclusively that the party is bereft
of astute political thinking. The fact is, quality of this kind is unlikely
to flourish in the dry, turgid and ideological terrain of primitive party
loyalty. Structurally, the party has remained distinctly rigid and unmodern
and will remain so in the foreseeable future because of the lack of real
thinkers to move it into an ideological mindset. It has painted itself
into a corner, with nothing to offer a new generation (barring a raucous
and vociferous youth wing) which does not share in its bigotry.
The party is like a dying dinosaur starved of fresh blood. Nearly
two-thirds of its ruling structure is comprised of the has-beens of the
period just before independence in 1961 to the day it lost power in September
1967. Many had even deserted the party to join the kleptocratic APC under
Siaka Stevens. Today the same people have bounced back into the SLPP in
new incarnations. Hence it is backward looking and nostalgic for its ancient
heydays. So for example when it won power in February 1996, it re-appointed
the party's last foreign minister of 1966 - 30 years after he had left
office. It was no surprise that he performed badly. The world had moved
on but not for the SLPP.
Since coming back to power, there has been no grand vision for
the country either expressed in much quieter times when things looked "civilised"
and not so bad, or now when they have gone seriously awry. All that there
has been is a regime of crisis management and the piece-meal accretion
of policies, including salvaged oddments from long abandoned development
plans too outdated to bear any relevance for the country’s entry into a
There is still plenty of time to save
the Party. That task will fall on those who wish to create a genuine democratic
party that eschews regionalism, tribalism, nepotism and corruption. It
will be an uphill task redeeming its soul. But it can be done with the
necessary goodwill and commitment. Some soul searching by its members will
not be out of place.
SAYING OF THE WISE
Think not forever of yourselves, O Chiefs, nor of your own generation.
Think of continuing generations of our families, think of our grandchildren
and of those yet unborn, whose faces are coming from beneath the ground.
(T. S. Eliot )
THE FACTORS IN A PEACE SETTLEMENT
(Based on a paper presented by
editor of Focus On Sierra Leone, to an invited audience at the Foreign
and Commonwealth Office, London, on Monday 22 March 1999)
A Common Identity
The Government of President Ahmed Tejan Kabbah, the Kamajohs
and armed militias, the citizens of Sierra Leone, the ousted members of
the AFRC Junta led by Lt Col Johnny Paul Koroma, and the RUF led
by Corporal Foday Saybannah Sankoh, all share a common identity
these days, in that they share a common fate or threat to their very existence
and beliefs. This has brought about a mutuality of interests that both
sides of the Sierra Leone divide consider necessary to protect. This, more
than anything else, continues to bind and sustain their armed and violent
In his book about the dynamics of identity in personal and social
conflict (Intractable conflicts and their Transformation; 1989),
Terrell Northrup states that "a fear of continued but meaningless or
powerless existence may be just as threatening to the self as a physical
threat" and, whether it is imagined or actual, in most cases it inevitably
leads to severe conflict.
Fear has become
the driving force in consolidating each of these groups: fear of losing
their identity, of assimilation and of being conquered by their opponent.
For the RUF and its AFRC junta allies this fear reached fever pitch following
the execution of twenty-four of their soldier colleagues in September 1998.
It meant for them that a similar fate awaited them. For the Kabbah government
and the rest of the civilian population, especially the citizens of Freetown,
their fear reached its apogee following the rebel invasion of the city
this January. It signalled that even the nation's capital - the seat of
national sovereignty and of government - was itself no longer sacrosanct.
The key factors that must be taken into consideration for a
peace settlement in Sierra Leone are as follows:
Breaking down barriers
It follows from the foregoing that the removal of barriers between
the warring factions created by fear is by far the most important requirement
for a durable peace settlement in Sierra Leone. Unless these barriers are
broken down now, even in the absence of full military engagements, the
country will remain under the paralysis of low intensity warfare for the
Identification And Recognition Of The Parties
(a) For any compromise or solution to happen there must be a
high level acceptance, up front, that only the parties to the conflict
can deliver it. This requires that the parties should be given due, if
possible formal, recognition and be then called upon to deliver. To avoid
one party and exhort the other, or to put pressure on one and not on the
other, and act without an even hand, will create the suspicion and mistrust
of those who are currently holding themselves out as facilitators for peace.
If only one side is given recognition while the other is treated at arm's
length without acknowledging its role as a party to the conflict and as
having responsibility for bringing the hostilities to an end, then it defeats
the purpose of the whole exercise. Recognition of the parties - however
much we loathe them and their activities - is crucial for confidence building.
(b) The requirement for recognition presupposes that the identity
of the key people and groups involved in the conflict are known. The lack
of coherent articulation of the rebel's demands and grievances - a point
that is often raised by their opponents - does not mean that they should
be denied a hearing or redress. The RUF and the ousted AFRC junta must
be encouraged to gradually spell out their own political demands and confirm
their desire to secure a non-military solution.
Identifying The Root Causes Of The Conflict
(a) It is impossible to deal with any problem, let alone one
as protracted and involved as this one, without analysing its root causes
and exploring every sinew of available options to arrive at solutions and,
if need be, compromises acceptable to all sides. Edward Azar suggested
in a paper (Management of protracted social conflicts in the Third World;
1986) that conflicts, like ours in Sierra Leone, can only be resolved
when "underlying sources of conflict are addressed and efforts are made
at the same time to minimise or eliminate the attendant violence".
Examples from elsewhere, e.g. Mozambique, show that it is extremely important
for any peace making effort to come foremost to terms with, and to an understanding
of, the underlying and often hidden factors that serve as the combustion
engines of conflicts.
(b) One can safely assert that the sources of the conflict in
Sierra Leone are mainly historical and include the following factors:
Conditions like these have created an inexhaustible pool of potential
recruits for the RUF which took advantage of widespread disillusionment,
especially among uneducated, unemployed and disaffected youths who had
no prospects for advancement in their communities. Ubiquitous bands of
disgruntled, discredited and (now) disbanded personnel of the former Sierra
Leone Armed Forces and disparate groups of malcontents and renegades from
local/chieftaincy/land disputes ensured that there was never a shortage
of volunteers waiting for the call of the RUF.
Long standing grievances;
Hostility towards a group, tribe or class of people;
Lack of concern or care for the plight of the disadvantaged in society
by the policies of previous governments;
Years of undemocratic and corrupt government;
Opportunities for advancement based on patronage rather than merit;
The absence of investment in social infrastructures;
The incidence of widespread degrading and inhumane poverty; and,
A large army of dispossessed people existing at the margin of Sierra Leonean
society, on whom the lack of opportunities to better their lives confers
a sense of drift, anger and abandonment, exclusion and despair.
It is only natural to expect that men and women who feel betrayed or
rejected, or whose fortunes remain desperate turn to equally desperate
means to survive or to retain their self-worth or being. Anything short
of accepting and adopting these factors as underlying causes of the war
will result in merely a temporary palliative, very short of durable peace.
(c) The war in Sierra Leone has been the result of a serious
political and economic crisis, which has been exaggerated by the extreme
and sustained use of violence, resulting in a tragic humanitarian disaster
for the whole country and its citizens. But, the civil war is NOT the cause
of the political and economic crisis. It was the latter that preceded the
war and created the conditions for it. This is a critical point of focus
that those in the international community, and particularly the British
government, who say they want to help solve Sierra Leone's problem, need
to acknowledge and take on board. International support is always going
to be critical throughout the entire process of peace making, to give moral
guarantees but also to alleviate the financial burdens implicit in a major
undertaking like this.
Mediation And Peace
(a) For the purposes of a peace settlement, there has to be
a starting point. To some extent we have gone beyond it, albeit with little
success. To help the parties to get it right this time, or next time, more
outside help will still be necessary in the form of mediation and peace-brokers.
Mediation by its very nature is aimed at settling particular aspects of
a dispute by having someone act as a go-between or facilitator. The situation
in Sierra Leone is not just a single issue matter, and, being the complex
situation it is, what is required, according to Mark Hoffman of Conciliation
Resources (UK), is a concerted process of third-party facilitation
help them to define and confront the roots of the conflict; and then
(b) Although present attempts to secure a peaceful settlement stretch
back some five or so years, their momentum has not been sustained, and
invariably have ended in failure leading to a restart of the war, with
increased intensity and greater ferocity at the expense of defenceless
citizens. If mediation is to succeed, what is required is a well-developed,
proactively encouraged, multi-layered or multifaceted peace process that
operates away from the limelight. This is necessary to allow space for
the parties, once they have accepted the need for dialogue and peaceful
settlement, to move away from face to face confrontation. And, so that
when formal negotiations appear to hit a brick wall, other layers of mediation
are positioned to act as safety valves of reassurance via which the angst
and frustration of both sides can be vented without prejudicing the basic
aim of attaining a peaceful outcome. The absence of such channels is extremely
unfortunate in our current circumstance.
encourage the parties to reach a solution acceptable to all sides.
Involvement Of Civil Society
(a) Any plan for peace will fail if the people who are most
directly affected by the consequences of the war, i.e. civilians, are not
involved in the search for peace and its implementation. Space must therefore
be created for civil society because only it can transform the conflict
and the mindset of the parties; and only it can preserve and sustain the
peace that has been negotiated or agreed. A strong and vibrant movement
must evolve among the masses. People who command respect and leadership
must be encouraged to take the lead. This calls for the emergence of credible
national and international actors who do not carry any characteristics
or prejudices that might offend the parties, but who can instil confidence
and trust in them.
(b) Since the current breakdown is not confined to government
alone but extends to Sierra Leone's civil society, there are at present
no comparable, credible local non-governmental institutions to support
or sustain a peace process or agreement. NGOs are particularly crucial
in the current state of national paralysis, and would be best placed to
carry out an even-handed approach as long as the parties to the conflict
trust them. Only very few practical initiatives for winning or maintaining
peace have been thought of so far. Thus in the first instance, duly accredited
international NGOs with appropriate structures and guaranteed transparency
can help fill the void by gradually enabling key persons and groups in
the country to stand on their feet and begin to think and devise a way
of helping themselves.
(c) The danger though is that an NGO may run foul of the government
- especially a government that is strapped for cash - which might grow
envious of the tremendous resources controlled by the NGO, become suspicious
of its motives and see it as challenging its own authority. But international
donors can help by ensuring accountability by these NGOs, while at the
same time putting pressure on the government to allow the NGOs to operate
under a set of mutually agreed rules for the benefit of the country, without
compromising their independence and impartiality.
Measures For Constitutional Reform
(a) There is a need for a far-reaching programme of constitutional
reform not to protect the elite and their grip on power, but to encourage
the rebels that, despite all that has happened before, they too have a
future in democratic government like everyone else. Such reform will also
enable matters that are found to be unique to the conflict but which have
no precedent in current practice of government, or in the Constitution,
to be addressed within a legal framework.
(b) The present Parliament has proved inept and largely irrelevant
to people throughout the duration of this crisis. What is needed is quite
a different kind of accountability outside the rigid, legalistic and charged
atmosphere of parliamentary framework, that can readily serve to assure
ordinary local people that they have full control over their own destiny.
Risks should be taken to hold local elections in areas with no rebel activity.
On current form, this will be a very limited exercise. Even so, it can
be used to select representatives of local communities who can initiate
or implement action plans, relating to peace and reconciliation, in the
(c) Fundamental to justice is the need for a truly independent
and impartial judiciary. This is one major area in which Sierra Leone has
been found wanting. The judiciary has been universally seen as corrupt
and highly politically charged. To avoid this in future, there is need
to reinforce the independence and impartiality of the judicial system.
Also, there is need to ensure that judges are flexible in applying the
rules so they can develop the law and make it user friendly for the needs
of society. How the courts arrive at their decisions must also be closely
monitored and proper guidelines must be set within which they can exercise
More judges should be appointed from a wider cross section of
Sierra Leone society. We must move away from appointing judges because
of their political support for a particular government, political party,
tribe or class of people. Judges too should be more protective of their
independence from government, hence the need for judges with strength of
character. Unfortunately, in Sierra Leone, at present this relationship
has been blurred by the actions of successive governments that for many
years have tended to appoint only those judges who support their political
In future, particularly during the post-war peace building period,
we should ensure that judges are only appointed on merit and that those
who sit in judgement on others, especially the 'dregs of society', are
fully qualified, with the required experience and sensitivity so that they
can interpret and apply the law fairly and impartially.
Other Key Components
The other equally important prerequisites for not getting it wrong
are really quite basic:
Awkward Questions Must Be Asked
A clear definition of the objectives for a peace settlement and a timetable
to be strictly adhered to by parties.
The aim should be for a "whole country" and not just a "Freetown"
The emphasis must be put on disarmament and redeployment not rearmament.
Need for truth telling without bitterness, justice without vindictiveness,
judicial fairness without impunity, and healing with reconciliation. This
process could be operated under the aegis of a Truth Commission.
An even greater emphasis must be put on creating a good police force and
less so on a powerful army
Individual traumas and communal rifts stemming from the war must be confronted
and addressed, now not later, through cultural and traditional resources
Since Britain now stands as the leading champion of President Kabbah's
government, it must set stringent conditions to ensure that the Sierra
Leone government is committed to peaceful resolution of the conflict and
makes progress towards that objective according to a prescribed time-scale.
The periodic grant of a blank cheque to President Kabbah by the British
government appears to have eased his government into a state of diluted
enthusiasm for a negotiated settlement. But in putting such pressures,
Britain must be discreet so that the other side does not take advantage
to scupper the chances of talks taking place or succeeding. By the same
token, similar pressure must continue to be placed on the RUF and its AFRC
A high level of financial support and commitment to the process is important.
The international community must deliver on recent financial pledges to
enable the kind of social and economic reforms that are necessary to address
huge problems outlined in this paper.
We must ask awkward questions and seek answers to them. Questions such
Areas Of Growing Concern
Should the RUF leader, Corporal Foday Sankoh, be released? The argument
is that it will signal an end to the politics of revenge and recrimination
and add substance to the talk of national reconciliation. The further expectation
is that tempers will cool down to allow the process of healing.
Who should be involved in the government? Clearly, the democratically elected
representatives of ALL who have a stake in Sierra Leonean society.
But should there be a transitional power-sharing arrangement? This could
lead to an inclusive government of national unity. In the present impasse
this is a viable, even if seemingly unpopular, option provided it is an
interim measure and a definite date for democratic general elections has
How should state resources be shared or enjoyed? How, for example, will
the mining, timber and other resource concessions be awarded in future,
and to whom? Since the present war is being fought mainly over the control
and exploitation of resources, this is an issue that will need to be addressed
(a) One source of deep anxiety is the widespread availability
of light, and in some cases heavy, weapons throughout the country, which
is encouraging a culture of dependency on violence to settle personal and
local feuds, with or without rebel provocation. The acute tensions in society
will inevitably be surfacing once money begins to do the rounds for rehabilitation
and reconstruction. The fear is that if it is not handled sensitively it
will lead to a re-emergence of more violence and a fresh outbreak of hostilities.
(b) Following the rebel incursion in Freetown, the political
will of the Kabbah government has become even more suspect under the rigorous
scrutiny of a cynical population. Because we have a political party - the
Sierra Leone Peoples Party (SLPP) - in government, as opposed to say a
government of national unity, it appears to be more interested in pursuing
its own political agenda than in effecting a peaceful resolution; focusing
on its own short and medium term interest as opposed to the long-term national
interest. This tendency to pursue its own priorities independent of the
popular clamour for a peace settlement, some say at any cost, is alienating
significant groups of people in society who do not belong to the SLPP.
The true test of its commitment will be in securing consultation and participation
of the masses of whichever political persuasion.
(c) There is real risk in placing all hopes in a reformed Kabbah
government. While the war and the violence continue, and the peace process
does not take off, people will become disillusioned with the performance
of the democratically elected government. This could then precipitate a
desertion by its citizens. If the attitude of the government does not change,
then dangerous consequences may ensue or a shift of power may occur from
the government to people in the streets. Events during the assault on Freetown
when certain groups of people took to the streets to welcome the rebels
are still fresh in people's minds. There was a complete breakdown of state
(a) The Liberian/Guinean factor: there is a need to contain
the conflict within Sierra Leone's borders otherwise it becomes impossible
to control as present indicators show. That is why the two neighbouring
Presidents of Guinea and Liberia must be involved directly as honest brokers.
However this prospect looks very dim with swords already drawn - President
Taylor being accused as the mentor of the RUF while President
Conte's troops are fighting alongside Nigerian Ecomog troops against
the rebels. It is impossible to see how their role as mediators can derive
from this level of their involvement. Both countries are themselves not
in the best of shapes. But peace in Liberia and Guinea are needed for comprehensive
and assured peace in Sierra Leone. This point might suggest therefore a
re-examination of the role of the
Mano River Union.
(b) The role of Ecowas: Ecowas needs a drastic reconfiguration
and reorientation so as to provide effective political direction to Ecomog
operations and reassure the inhabitants of the region that it can be trusted
with the role of solving, not exacerbating, regional problems. For this
purpose it should recommit itself to using Ecomog as its instrument of
political action rather than as a means of backdoor military surrogacy.
How this metamorphosis can take place given the level of its involvement
in the present Sierra Leone conflict is not quite obvious to me.
Our Star Letter
Let's give Golley a chance
Our eight-year war has brought disruption, chaos, terror,
and sheer misery to Sierra Leone. Even if the belligerents signed a peace
agreement tomorrow, it will be years, if ever, before the wounds are healed.
The treachery and brutality of so many actors in this conflict will ensure
that bitterness, betrayal and a desire for revenge will characterise our
social fabric for many a year to come.
It is often said that truth is war's first casualty. Perhaps
the second casualty are personal reputations. During war, it seems, there
is no middle ground. No place for the voice of reason. It is as if "he
who gathereth not scattereth", as I believe the Holy Bible says. I presume,
Sir, that this is why someone like your good self has been vilified as
a rebel sympathiser simply for attempting to speak good sense to all sides
in this our dreadful war. No doubt you feel most aggrieved by this injustice.
Perhaps you might spare a thought, then, for one who has
been vilified even more than yourself or another seemingly declared persona
non grata, Dr Abass Bundu. I am, of course, referring to the RUF's legal
representative, Omrie Golley. Now, first, let me stress, I hold no brief
for the man. Indeed, I hardly know him. But, curiously, I feel a strong
need to raise a voice in his favour. I think he is doing us a valuable
Why? Well, for a long time, many commentators on the war
have contented themselves with the idea that the rebels are angry, yes,
but that's about it. Rebels without a cause, they have been called. No
one has really convincingly explained why angry men (and some women) spend
eight years fighting a brutal war. We are told that they are high on drugs.
But for 24 hours a day, seven days a week and for 365 days a year? Do they
never come down off their perpetual high and wonder what on earth they
are doing in the bush with a gun in their hand?
That the rebels have committed the most unspeakable and atrocious
crimes against innocent victims is not in question. That the ferocity and
even bestiality of their attacks qualifies our war to be the most vicious
in the world we cannot doubt. But we must surely question the notion that
it is simply a war prosecuted by drug-crazed psychopathic youths funded
and supported by greedy, diamond-seeking foreigners.
This widely accepted explanation of the war gave us the excuse
we wanted to remain in denial about the hard truths about our society and
the causes and history of the war. RUF commanders are not articulate or
media-savvy in the way that, say, Charles Taylor is and have never really
put across a clear message about their goals.
And this is where Omrie Golley comes in. By being a voice
that we cannot simply dismiss, he forces us to listen. And I believe that
if we want peace in Sierra Leone we need to listen and listen hard. Amongst
other things, the rebels are certainly angry. And they are unlikely to
be satisfied until they've been heard. (Of course, we will all also have
to listen to their victims.) Whilst totally and unreservedly condemning
the rebels' brutality, many, many Sierra Leoneans and others know in their
heart of hearts, and admit so in private, that the rebels (and their army
collaborators) do have some legitimate demands. But the scale and repugnance
of their atrocities mean that few people are willing to touch the rebels
with a barge pole.
Golley has taken that step. I do not know what motivates
him. But if the rebels are to be persuaded (does anyone still believe they
can be defeated militarily?) to accept peace, they will need people they
trust to represent their interests in whatever post-war power structures
are agreed upon. Having seen them and their friends try to run the country
for nine months (in power but not in office might be a fair description)
we know that they lack the capacity to govern. Seeing some of the notorious
rebel commanders occupying prominent positions in a post-war government
may be more than many Sierra Leoneans can stomach (and who could blame
them?). Compromise figures who might be able to portray themselves as being
on the RUF's "political wing" (as per the IRA and Sinn Fein) might be a
But the more we vilify Golley, the less likely others will
be to step into the maelstrom. With fewer friends, the more isolated the
rebels will feel and the more likely they will be to continue to prosecute
the war. We have tried backing them into the corner before and look where
that got us the last time. That is no way to make peace. We should stop
trying to condemn and ostracise those who publicly speak out for the rebels.
Let us allow Mr Golley to represent the RUF. Let us listen carefully to
what he has to say on their behalf. And let us speak respectfully and honestly
to him in the hope that the rebels will listen to him. That way we might
just bring and end to the misery in our country.
An impatient patriotic Sierra Leonean
(Name and address withheld on request.)
WHERE ARE THEY NOW?
ONCE AGAIN Focus raises the issue about the fate of members of
the RUF delegation that was kidnapped after they "sacked" Foday Sankoh
as their leader and "replaced" him with one of their number,
Captain Philip Palmer seen then paraded here, right, at an RUF camp.
Also on show were former RUF spokespersons Mr Fayia Musa and Dr
Barrie (below left) and Miss Juliet Deen and Mr Ibrahim Deen-Jalloh
is that they have not been executed, as was claimed by the exiled government
in Guinea. That is why we feel bound to repeat our call to the RUF in Focus
Vol. 3 No 1 to show compassion and demonstrate their
commitment to peace and reconciliation by setting these people free to
join their families. Mending fences must start in their, as well as our,
own backyard. If they
did wrong, it cannot compare with the wrongs that the RUF itself has committed
against the people of Sierra Leone who, despite their terrible suffering,
have shown a willingness to reconcile with their enemy.
The pictures are frames taken from a video clip of their presentation
to the Xinhua News Agency in August 1997, posted on the AFRC's web site
that operated during their brief rule.
THE 'NINJAS' – DEVILS OR ANGELS?
FOCUS WILL always defend the right of the free press to
comment, oppose, expose and contradict, as long it is done without rancour,
objectively and in the national interest. That is why we again have to
question the Government's lack of generosity to the press lately. And that
bothers us. It must be in their interest to have information laid at the
feet of their subjects. Otherwise how else do they expect people to make
up their minds about their own destiny? Which does not let the press off
the hook. Several of the press reports that have caused annoyance have
been mischievous and scurrilous at times but not such as to warrant censorship
by government. What we want to defend is the right of the Press to report
fairly and accurately and that means even the unpalatable truth about RUF/AFRC
allies, the SLPP government, Ecomog and Kamajohs.
That is why we take this opportunity to welcome the initiative
in setting up the NINJAS internet web site which, since its inception before
last Christmas, has significantly changed people's perception of what is
happening in the country. Like them or hate them, they are rendering invaluable
service to Sierra Leone and the outside world in, at least, giving another
side to the sorry state of Sierra Leone. Judging by the cross-sectional
nature of the comments that have been posted on its talkback section, some
commendatory and others totally condemnatory, they have already scored
a remarkable victory during their short existence. The NINJAS are a group
of three anonymous journalists who, claiming neutrality in their reporting,
say they recognise the legitimate government of President Tejan Kabbah
but do not wish to report censored or sanitised Ecomog/Government news.
This must be good for our fledgling democracy and we wish them well.
Editor: This newsletter or editor has no link with the NINJAS
as has been alleged by mischief-makers. Nor do we know their identity.
But like thousands of surfers we avidly read the detailed information provided
by them. However, because the NINJAS web site is much visited, Focus is
grateful that, upon request, they have kindly posted our editorials and
feature articles on their site. Focus itself will shortly be inaugurating
its own web site to complement other sites specialising on Sierra Leone,
including the NINJAS: http://www.sierra-leone.cc/; Peter Andersen's highly
recommended Sierra Leone News web: http://www.sierra-leone.org/; and the
new Sierra Leone Government web site: http://www.sierra-leone.gov.sl/
This is the picture of late Mr William Hadji, the 39 year-old
son of Mr & Mrs Joseph Hadji, of
London, UK, massacred during January's rebel invasion of Freetown. Born
in Kenema, Sierra Leone, on 1st of August 1960, he suffered a gruesome
death on 12 February 1999 at the hands of a crazed and brutal gang during
the ensuing violent encounter between rebel and Ecomog troops and Kamajoh
militia. William, who worked at the Department of Health in Freetown, leaves
behind a widow and two children. May he rest in peace.
MUTILATED CHILD VICTIMS OF SIERRA LEONE'S WAR
Many citizens including strong advocates of dialogue and reconciliation
have received an RUF/AFRC rebel demand for the withdrawal of Nigerian troops
as the price of a peace settlement with dismay and disapproval.
Ecomog has announced the recapture of Songo, some 47 miles east
of the Freetown, from rebel hands. It claimed that "125 civilian" corpses
found in the deserted town "were massacred by retreating rebels". Responsibility
for the killings has been disputed and described by rebel spokesman Omrie
Golley as false. He said that it was Ecomog that had been bombing the
area during five days of heavy fighting.
RUF leader Sankoh has arrived in Lomé, the capital of the Republic
of Togo for face-to-face talks with key members of his organisation. A
RUF delegation of between 14 and 16 persons was being put together in readiness
for a UN sponsored flight to meet their leader. Earlier the UN Security
Council temporarily lifted a travel ban it imposed on RUF/junta officials
in order to facilitate the rendezvous with their leader who has been temporarily
released from jail, where he is awaiting an appeal against a death sentence
imposed last October.
Fighting has erupted on the Liberian border with Guinea following an incursion
allegedly by the Ulimo-K militia led by Alhaji Kromah.
The ICRC is to be allowed back into Sierra Leone following its expulsion
last February after allegations by government that it allowed its communications
equipment to be used by invading rebels troops last January.
In a bid to gain more territory and strengthen bargaining positions in
anticipation of future peace negotiations, both sides intensified their
attacks on enemy battlefront positions in the last month. Attacks and counterattacks
have been reported daily with claims of success by each side in northern,
eastern and central regions, and in satellite towns west of Freetown.
BBC reporter Winston Ojukutu-Macaulay was again briefly held in
a cell at Wilberforce barracks by Ecomog officers who accused him of trying
to incite civilians against them. They said he had alleged in one report
that vehicles impounded at Ecomog checkpoints were not being returned to
Presidents Khadafi (Libya) and Taylor (Liberia) have agreed
to support the peace process for Sierra Leone.
The Sierra Leone Contact Group comprising 11 countries including Britain
and US has met in New York and endorsed a "twin-track approach" to the
Sierra Leon crisis: military pressure on the rebels dialogue and their
external supporters, and dialogue. Also attending were delegates of the
UN, Ecowas, European Commission, Commonwealth Secretariat, World Bank,
IMF and the ICRC.
Nigerian President-elect Olusegun Obasanjo will not withdraw Nigerian
troops from Sierra Leone without adequate security provisions for the country.
But he warned that the troops could not remain there indefinitely.
The Sierra Leone Inter-Religious Council has met with an RUF delegation
and members of the Liberian government in Monrovia. "The two groups met,
they embraced, they were all talking about peace, they want peace for their
country," said Liberian Information Minister Joe Mulbah.
The economic outlook remains grim and is getting worse according to James
Jonah, the minister of Finance. Foreign reserves had fallen to a low
of $37 million at the end of March, from $45 million at the end of 1998.
There has been an alarming increase in deaths among displaced persons,
mainly women and children at in camps at government as well as rebel held
areas, up and down the country, due to poor health and sanitation facilities.
Chickenpox, cholera, measles, dysentery, and influenza have become the
The National Stadium in Freetown where displaced residents of Freetown
fled and have pitched camp since the rebel invasion has been the cradle
for 82 newborn babies so far.
A 3-day National Consultative Conference on the Peace Process addressed
by President Kabbah has ended in Freetown with a tough statement adopting
an uncompromising stand against any power sharing with rebels.
A new Ecomog command team has been posted to Sierra Leone. A new Force
Commander, Major-General Felix Mujakperuo who replaces Major-General
Shelpidi, leads it.
Plans are in progress to raise a new Sierra Leone army of 5,000. Nearly
500 cadets have been selected to proceed for training in Nigeria.
DR STEPHEN PETER RILEY
Dr RILEY died on 28 December 1998. He was an Africanist of great
intellectual abilities. As a scholar, the thrust of his research and publication
was the need for social justice. He advanced
practical solutions to mitigate the effects on the lives of the poor of
the related issues of debt, corruption and the impact of structural adjustment
programmes. The title of the book be was writing at the time of his death
was Stealing from the Poor: Corruption, Development and Anti-corruption
Strategies in the South.
Sierra Leone was the country in Africa that was closest to his
heart. He visited Sierra Leone regularly since the 1970s. Both in the UK
and internationally, he was the leading scholar and commentator on Sierra
Leone. He was widely consulted by governments, the media, international
institutions, and non-governmental organisations.
Dr Riley taught in the Department of Political Science at Fourah
Bay College between 1982 and 1984. During that time, he met his American
wife, Dr Kathryn Frank, who was also teaching and researching in
Freetown. From 1989 to the time of his death, Dr Riley was external examiner
of the University of Sierra Leone.
At the time of his death, Dr Riley was clearly distressed by
developments in Sierra Leone and hoped (in his usual optimism) that Freetown
would not fall into rebel hands. Sadly, he died at a time when he should
be around to help us all make sense of the madness that has gripped our
country. Wherever possible, he extended his kindness and love to every
Sierra Leonean he met, offered financial assistance to Sierra Leonean refugees
in Guinea, made representations on behalf of asylum seekers from Sierra
Leone and even helped find jobs for some. He is thus a big loss not only
to his family and close friends, but also to Sierra Leone at large. He
will be sorely missed.
(By Dr Max Sesay)
I first met Stephen in the summer of 1971 when we both attended
a seminar on the soon-to-be-introduced one-party Constitution in Sierra
Leone at the Africa Centre, in London. We struck a very close friendship
and in the following years until his untimely death, he became my closest
intellectual mentor, off whom I would often bounce some of my own ideas
about Sierra Leone. He was never one without a thoughtful concern for the
country. He became a constant source of encouragement throughout my years
as editor of numerous newsletters including Sierra Leone Report,
SLAM and Focus which, two months before his death, he and others
advised should not be discontinued. His critical appraisal was always very
Stephen had a great and mischievous sense of humour. He enjoyed
a good laugh especially during his innumerable caricatures of various personalities
in Sierra Leone’s political life. But there was always a serious message
of concern behind that joviality. His prognoses about events in Sierra
Leone always proved right. In 1996, he reviewed a UK Channel 4 TV documentary
about Sierra Leone for Focus (FSL Vol. 1 No 5) and, after the AFRC
coup of May 1997, he gave permission for one of his most powerful and prophetic
analytical essays – Sierra Leone: The Militariat strikes again
- to be published in this paper (FSL
Vol. 3 No 6). He also ran many courses and seminars on Sierra
Leone, giving lectures on various aspects of the country’s precarious condition.
I was shocked at news of his death, more so as I had talked
to him just three days before. I must have been one of the very last few
people to talk to him. There was nothing unusual other than his pointed
concern at the hopelessness of the situation in Sierra Leone, which we
discussed at length.
Stephen will be badly missed in academic circles. As far as
sustained academic interest and concern for Sierra Leone goes, he is an
irreplaceable icon. For it was people like him who kept Sierra Leone in
the focus of international attention. May his soul rest in peace.
A suspect gets the boot treatment from Ecomog troops during last January's
rebel invasion of Freetown.
PUBLISH .....AND BE DAMNED
THOSE WHO continue to argue against dialogue and put forward such
weak prognoses as "these rebels cannot be trusted" betray a failure of
their own imagination. So what? Do you then stop making an effort? Assertions
that nothing will change the rebels have usually come from those whose
political capital has been irredeemably invested in the violence of the
past eight years. Such arguments are almost abstruse to the point of madness.
But as I wrote in my last edition, if what we have in Sierra Leone is democracy,
then we too have a choice and we must express our dissatisfaction with
the current bungling fools in charge of the country. It is from the imagination
that new possibilities come. Democracy must give free rein for that imagination
to flourish. Otherwise, opportunities to resolve our war will come and
go and we would not have noticed. By not standing up to these armchair
tin pot soldiers we would ourselves be complicit in the continuance of
the carnage in our country. Fancy this! To dare to suggest that we must
engage in dialogue with the rebel forces is immediately to face abuse and
derision. And, in some cases it means that you fall foul of the SLPP lynch
mob. Sadly, gutless politicians, cravenly seeking cheap popularity, have
allowed the caprices of public opinion to control their political decisions.
That said, there is no doubt that the rebels' atrocities and
their unrelenting intransigence has brought this disturbing trend into
fashion. One can find no words adequate to describe or condemn the acts
of gratuitous sadism in which they have indulged. Such is the hatred that
their actions can conjure up that only a bold leader can entertain the
idea of dialoguing with them. However, painful though it may be, it must
be done in order to bring the fighting to an end. I know that arguments
like these do not wash with the die-hard warriors who belong to the bomb-all-kill-all
brigade and to whom such ideas are unpalatable. But sooner or later, Kabbah’s
government, despite the rhetoric of the last traumatic weeks, will finally
have to bite the dialogue-with-rebel bullet.
HAVE YOU noticed one of the most dreadful developments in this
crisis? People are afraid to speak their mind! Because they do not want
to say the wrong thing and then be labelled by this or that side. It is
so bad as to reach frightening proportions. There is fear everywhere. That
is why good ideas are hard to come by to help in unravelling a solution
to the country’s problem. The situation is quite critical for those of
us who write, comment and dare to put forward alternative views that challenge
the established wisdom. The problem is that if you speak the truth and
it somehow appears to offer an excuse for coup makers or rebels, you are
then branded a supporter and vilified; similarly if you justify and applaud,
for example, Kamajoh militancy or the Ecomog effort, then you are an apologist
for Kabbah. One is supposed not to write or say anything sensible about
Sierra Leone if it is likely to contain strands of arguments that could
favour the one or other side. But I say poppycock to all and sundry. I
will stick to my agenda which is to keep commenting objectively on all
aspects of the crisis.
POOR Dr Abass Bundu! He has become the bogeyman of Sierra
Leone politics and a convenient scapegoat for President Kabbah, the SLPP
and the government. We were at the same social function on one of the very
days that the Government accused him of having travelled to Monrovia (his
hotel name and room number thrown in for good measure!) to arrange for
a supply of arms to the AFRC/RUF rebels. The fact is Bundu has not been
to Monrovia for aeons and he is not on the best of terms with President
Taylor, who sees him as the architect of the plan that despatched Ecomog
to Liberia to rob him of power when he was within arm's length of the Mansion
House! Why the government feels the need to resort to shameful bare-face
lying to defame its opponents in this way is hard to understand. It is
so unnecessary. The BBC also fell for this fad and broadcast one such officially
inspired bogus claim suggesting that Bundu was a RUF member. It has been
forced to eat its words and has offered a profound apology to Dr Bundu.
I hope they have learnt their lesson. As for me, I was recently accused
(behind my back) of being one of those supplying arms to the rebels and
that I too had been to Monrovia on a similar trip. My accuser happens to
be a diminutive weasel-faced skeletal ignoramus at the Sierra Leone High
Commission. No doubt in years to come, history will record this period
as a McCarthyesque episode of Sierra Leonean lunacy. Now every non-Kabbah
supporter (like yours truly) has to perform some adroit political side-stepping
to avoid being labelled "rebel" or "rebel collaborator" by crazed kabbahites.
BUT A phenomenal paradox is taken hold both inside and outside
the country. Only very recently, it had become apostasy to call for dialogue
with rebels. Now it seems the penny has finally dropped and an unprecedented
number of citizens (including the Press) is now calling for dialogue with
the rebels and the Junta. There is also at least official lip service paid
to it. Evidently, we are winning minds if not hearts! The logic of this
development is that very soon everybody in Sierra Leone will become a rebel
collaborator. It is simply amazing how (in this case harrowing) events
can help shape the mentality of some people. The word out is that government
ministers are now thought of with stale, incurious affection. Democracy
is certainly working by leaps and bounds. Long may it endure!
I HEAR Ex President Joseph Momoh is alive and well and
under the safety and custody of rebel forces somewhere in the rebel controlled
territory. I was also pleased to hear the live voice of Mr Hilton Fyle
sounding his usual ebullient self on BBC Focus on Africa radio the other
day. Some reports say that a large number of former inmates of Pademba
Road Prisons, freed during the rebels' invasion of Freetown, are now safely
behind the lines of their rebel "liberators". They include a horde of civil
servants, including, it is alleged, President Kabbah's former trusted Secretary
to the President, Alhaji Sheku A T Bayoh. Rumour had it that he
was being put to good use spearheading the process of consultation in rebel-held
territory for the impending peace talks in Togo. I say all power to your
I AM STILL at a loss why ex President Joseph Momoh was
pursued with such venom to the point of nearly being sentenced to death.
Who was it that allowed him back? Was it not the SLPP government of Kabbah?
So what is their problem with him? After all, he vacated the rooms in Conakry
to make way for Guinea’s new guests following the May 1997 coup, didn't
he? People should remember that Momoh lived in Guinea for four good years
away from his country. And, how did he get there? Because of a coup d'état
in 1992. Whether we liked his government or not - I did not and opposed
it as vigorously as I do the current one - it, too, was legitimate and
democratically elected …with APC cheating and ballot rigging in good measure.
Ah! But what's new? After all James Jonah - Elections Commissioner,
later rewarded with the Ambassadorship to UN and now Finance Minister -
allegedly did the same for the SLPP.
Momoh was overthrown by the NPRC and although initially there
was no bloodshed during the operation itself, members of his government
and other innocent parties were later seized and executed six months later.
The international community, led by Britain's then Foreign Secretary, Douglas
Hurd, mounted a campaign of denunciation but within five months or
so the NPRC was rehabilitated. There were no persistent calls for Momoh
to be reinstated. Okay, Kabbah's ousting was different because of the accompanying
rapes, looting and the licentious violence that was unleashed both during
and after the AFRC coup. And because Britain and the US paid for his election.
So Momoh fled to Guinea. But I do not recall him combing the
streets of West African and European capitals in search of foreign troops
to reinstate him, let alone insist that unless he was put back he would
demolish the country and compromise its sovereignty. On the contrary, like
the perfect gentleman soldier, he and his wife Hannah Momoh, who
sadly died during their enforced exile, vegetated in Conakry and did their
time. I saw him there (Focus Vol. 2 No 1) - it was a pitiful sight.
But he survived and was invited, rightly (FSL
Vol. 3 No 1), to return home by a then compassionate
If as it happened Momoh was in Sierra Leone during the illegal
seizure of power by the AFRC and did not leave the country as did the rest
of the ruling elite, what should he have done? Sit idly by, do nothing
and let the country over which he was for ten years its Executive President
and Head of State, and the Commander-in-Chief of its Armed Forces, collapse
for lack of responsible intervention? Were the new arrivals in Conakry
i.e. President Kabbah and his government-in-exile really expecting Momoh
to return to Guinea to recommence another stretch of exile? No! He chose
to stay behind for his own best reasons. I think the man was right to do
whatever he could to arrest the dangerous slide into chaos if he thought
he could have some sway with the AFRC coupists to reverse their illegality.
CIVIL WAR, like a virus, rages and mutates, evading even the
best efforts to destroy it. This explains why, instead of nature's own
creation - the virus - mutating to attack us, we ourselves have mutated
into monsters and are killing each other with the degree of inhumanity
and lack of concern as has never before been witnessed in our country.
This experience of Sierra Leoneans, the subtext of the events back home,
is a chilling example of how human beings can degenerate into monsters
when complex human problems are dealt with in maverick fashion and without
consideration of the underlying factors. In the June
1997 edition (FSL Vol. 3 No 4), I warned that if
there was no strategy for containing the coupists in Freetown in the event
of an invasion they might just take refuge in the countryside and pick
up from where they left off before the coup, i.e. terrorising the residents
of the countryside. And what happened? Exactly that! At the time it looked
as though, and when they entered it was argued that, an invasion by Ecomog
- Nigeria strictly speaking - would bring about the instant solution to
the illegality and its attendant consequences, including wiping out the
rebels. "Bomb them out" cried idiots with brains in their behinds. So far
it has created more problems than it has solved.
Bombing and fighting are not only pointless but also potentially
always harmful unless effective action is taken to protect innocent civilians
who may get caught up between the parties. The intervention has only led
to a prodigious toll of deaths and maiming. Still, kabbahites like the
all-knowing presidential spokesman Professor Septimus Kaikai and
self-styled human rights lawyer Mr Sulaiman Banja-Tejansie would
say it is all worth the price…so long as it is not their own lives that
are being so needlessly lost. What, after all, could be more harrowing
than knowing that you are at risk of becoming limbless or being decapitated
when there is nothing you can do about it? It was such realisations, especially
the probable predicament that ordinary people were going to be subjected
to, that led those of us who had the vision to foresee these events to
warn against armed intervention as the solution to the Sierra Leone conflict.
But we were talking to the wind! Despite the evidence before their eyes,
these arseholes still believe in their kind of solution, i.e. continue
to slog it out to the end. Not satisfied with the mayhem caused by their
advocacy of this ridiculous strategy, these balmy kabbahites are saying
Blair should divert the Nato bombers to wipe out the rebels in Sierra
Leone once the Serbian job is done. What madness!
THE REAL DANGER facing Sierra Leone is not so much that Kabbah
will hang Sankoh. That has its own ramifications especially when you consider
the reaction of the junta men following the execution of their 24 colleagues,
including senior officers, last September. But the even greater danger
that looms is that if Kabbah continues to deal with Sankoh like a puppet
and reduces him to merely a laughing stock, it might provoke the RUF to
ditch Sankoh and appoint a new and even more obdurate leader. In this kind
of group there can never be a shortage of takers for leadership. The
government should therefore get down to the serious business of conducting
a well-groomed policy for peace and reconciliation. Let it be seen and
demonstrated that the people who do not want peace at all are not the democratically
elected government but their opponents, the rebel RUF and their AFRC junta
allies. When I am convinced of that I will say so!
AS I STRUGGLE to finish writing this edition, frustration has
just started to boil in my chest. The tragedy in Sierra Leone is particularly
poignant in three ways:
First: it brings out the conflicting emotions of (a)
because one has seen the total disintegration of a community that one has
loved crumble and perish; where people have not perished, they are being
quietly consumed by a fear of the unknown; but also (b)
all Sierra Leoneans – especially we the educated ones - have not done enough
to help avert what is in essence a self-inflicted fatal wound on ourselves.
Second: it brings home to us that after all is said and
done, we simply cannot run away from the fact that this is a war in which
Sierra Leoneans have decided to kill each other, albeit with the active
connivance and encouragement of external mentors on both sides of the divide.
So for this war to end, we will have to come back to our senses and accept
the principles of co-existence and living in the real world when the constant
battle is one of grappling with the twin problems of good and evil.
Third: the rebel invasion of Freetown vividly demonstrates
that it was the control freakery of Julius Spencer and his Ecomog
minders matched by the mindless counter desire of the rebels to see it
broken that partly caused it. Both are products of the perverse culture
of intolerance and self-righteousness, which is based on the stupid premise
that virtually everybody in the country should have precisely the same
views on every issue, and if they don't, killing people is the answer.
When only one of several views can be the best, it is an utterly farcical
basis on which a democratic government, or a rebel movement that claims
to be a 'people's army', can conduct its affairs. But it may just open
everyone’s eyes and end the pretence that everyone must think and say the
same idiotic things. Both sides are propagating so much inaccurate nonsense,
which is not making things any clearer for the citizens of Sierra Leone.
They are fed lies day in, day out by both sides. It really frustrates me.