Hinga Norman: Tragic Hero or Opportunist? (Part 1)

1 January 2006 at 03:23 | 586 views

This is the first of a series of articles by Stephen Lawrence, the Patriotic Vanguard’s correspondent in Denmark.The articles will examine war crimes indictee Sam Hinga Norman, President Kabbah, Vice President Solomon Berewa, Johnny Paul Koroma and other major players in Sierra Leone’s recent history. Even though Norman will feature in all of the articles, this is not just about him.

Lawrence is a political analyst with deep and profound knowledge of Sierra Leone.

By Stephen Lawrence, Denmark

The unique character of the Special Court of Sierra
Leone cannot only be found in its hybrid nature but
also in the way it surprised many a political pundit
by taking into custody a very powerful minister of a
government which the international community itself
helped to restore - by any means possible. Sam Hinga
Norman, at the hey days of a somewhat universal frenzy
to restore a democratically elected government back to
power, became an epitome of heroism in the pursuit of
such a goal.

So when a British mercenary firm, Sandline
International, collaborated with the powerful to break
a UN embargo on arms to Sierra Leone, the chief
recipient of the cache was Chief Hinga Norman - the
demagogic warrior from Ngolala village who had all of a
sudden snatched power in all but name from a
hibernating President Kabbah. In the bid to bring back
Kabbah to power after the AFRC stunned the world with
a most unexpected coup, Norman was the man on the
ground resisting the forces of anti-democracy.
If there was no Hinga Norman, there would have been no
kamajors; if there were no kamajors, the AFRC would
have still been in power; then Kabbah would not have
been in power; if Kabbah had not been in power, Hinga
Norman would not have been in jail. That’s why
supporters of the thinly-coated civil defence militia
betraying a tribalistic, if regional, simplistic
nomenclature are furious about how their man was used
as a cat’s-paw to remove the chestnut from the fire -
and then dumped, sorely disgraced.
Just at the height of settling down to continue to
celebrate kamajor power as new Internal Affairs minister, the shine was removed from
Hinga Norman’s shoe. That fateful day, he had a
line-up programme to meet traditional elders after
meeting with President Kabbah just the previous day.
Norman had given the usual broad smile - as it was in
those days in Guinea when he used to get directives
from the head of state - and said good night to his
former boss, not knowing it was the last as friends. It
could not have been less amazing to those chiefs when
they witnessed the arrest of Sierra Leone’s most famous
(infamous, depending from which side of the coin you
are looking) contemporary civilian defender, with the police bundling the bearded man into a waiting van, handcuffed.

It was like abomination itself taking a position in
forbidden territory. By the time the news had even
reached all corners of Freetown, there were already
loud protests on street corners - as Norman was taken away to the Court which had been set up to try those bearing the
greatest responsibility in an 11-year war that ate not
only the physique of the nation, but also her psyche.
The American-born former prosecutor, David Crane, said
he had enough evidence - as for all the others
arrested - to make the former deputy Defence Minister
never to see the light of day again. Ever since, the
configuration of the politics of Sierra Leone in the
aftermath of the May 25 coup took a deep u-turn. And
when recently, Norman himself, in a desperate bid to
fight back from the shackles and destroy the plans of
Kabbah to choose Vice President Berewa as successor,
made a pact with his former arch enemies (the leaders
of the AFRC and RUF), who themselves were in the cells
of the Court for the same reasons as Norman’s,
analysts opened another chapter in the zigzagging
politico-military life of Sierra Leone’s first

Hinga Norman has come a long way. He started this
journey to power - again - through the self-same
coup-makers of Sierra Leone. When the NPRC, headed by
Capt. Strasser, swept its way to power, overthrowing
the APC, which had already committed itself to
returning to multi-party democracy (at least in name),
the junta boys appointed Norman (a former soldier
himself) as Regent Chief. Before long, Norman had
created a myth around himself as the leader of the
fiercest fighters in the war. Before long, Norman was
literally at war with his benefactors. Norman became
more than a chief: his fighters had taken full
military powers: fighting a war as a militia, yet now
having power to arrest regular soldiers. The
accusation that there were in actual fact no rebels,
but that the Sierra Leone Army were the sobels
(soldiers by day, rebels by night), captivated the
minds of the local people - under Hinga Norman’s
chieftaincy. Soon, the kamajors had got a territory
where no member of the army dared tread. And that was
where his friendship with Kabbah started.
The NPRC were in a desperate move to rebuild a lost
nation - as they said - and they were looking for sons
of the soil all around to come and help. Soon Kabbah
became the Chairman of the Advisory Council, James
Jonah was recruited to become elections chief, Kadie
Sesay was brought in from the university, Berewa was
part of Kabbah’s team. All of them, together with
Norman, were serving the nation after having been
appointed by a military government.

Photo: Chief Samuel Hinga Norman