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

7 February 2006 at 06:48 | 615 views

Our correspondent in Denmark continues his analysis of Hinga Norman and the events that engulfed Sierra Leone towards the end of the 20th century.From his own point of view. A tough assignment but a necessary one.

By Stephen Lawrence in Denmark

One thing for which everyone - friend or foe - should
admire Sam Hinga Norman is his indomitable spirit, his
passion to go against the odds and succeed, on his own
terms. Just remember how he had to make the SLPP big
wigs nearly vomit their hearts out by challenging the
legitimacy of holding a convention - even from the
dungeon. And now, one just needs follow the startling
testimony he is giving at the Special Court and his
political escapades, then you’d realize that the man’s
ambition cannot naturally be daunted.

Wrongly or rightly, Norman has always been like that.
Let’s do a political post-mortem then: To take the cue back from my previous article, as I stated, the
peace process brought about by the signing of the
Abidjan Peace Accord had been mismanaged by the SLPP.
And because of the indiscriminate rebel attacks in the
north, and the soldiers’ lacklustre defence while
complaining of lack of logistics, coupled with the
fact that the kamajors were generally well armed and
defending their south-eastern territory, Northern
politicians and opinion leaders called a meeting at
the Miatta Conference Centre to state that the
government was not sufficiently showing interest in
the defense of the north, and that they would raise up
their own militia to defend their people. The
situation was that bad!

The Defence Ministry, practically manned by Hinga
Norman, didn’t give a damn - until May 25 1997 when
giving a damn was no longer an issue. My purpose is not to justify a military take-over, but because
coup-making has been a configuration of
post-colonial African history (like Latin America in
the 18th century), and taking cognizance of the fact
that many senior Sierra Leonean compatriots - not
excluding President Kabbah and Solomon Berewa - once
regarded as democratic models- also served in previous
military regimes as top advisers and state
functionaries, I found - and still find - it
incongruous to pick on the AFRC coup as an abominable
and a most obnoxious act. Therefore, any analysis of
the socio-political military landscape prior to the
coup must be done dispassionately and without the
prejudice of either being lovers or haters of
democracy, or fans or foes of juntas. In Africa, as it
was in the European revolutions of 1830 and 1848, bad
civil governance could lead to unrest and a disruption
of the status quo.

Please forgive me for this - yes, I have not forgotten
that I am writing about Hinga Norman and his exploits,
past and present, culminating to his present
predicament at the hands of the Special Court. It was
the soldiers’ (I mean the coup-makers’) view that
Johnny Paul was unfairly arrested and detained; so, as
compensation, they made him their leader and head of
state. Although Hinga Norman lately claimed to have
been the informant that first told President Kabbah
about the coup or something like that, it was senior
military officers (some of whom were later to be
executed by the SLPP - oh, I’m jumping the gun) who
first told the president about it. That was why when
the boys eventually succeeded (because the head of
state didn’t do a stitch in time to save nine), they
arrested, molested, looted and detained all senior
officers together with the politicians, vowing to
execute them.

But thanks to a junta leader, strange as it may seem. Johnny Paul claimed to have met Jesus
Christ in prison, and he was so changed that he
prevailed on the boys not to carry out their
intentions, but to release all detained men -
politicians as well as soldiers - if not, he was
willing to be executed along with them.

I’ve already mentioned the soldiers’ looting and
general chaos that military take-overs generally come
along with, yet the May 25 coup did not follow the
traditional pattern of coup-making in the sense of
either executing politicians (a la Samuel K. Doe in
Liberia) or indefinitely incarcerating them (like the
previous NPRC coup in Sierra Leone).

Yet the condemnation and vilification of the AFRC’s
image was so intense that even being a distant
relative of a soldier was a crime in itself. Thanks to
Sam Hinga Norman. Before President Kabbah could call
the BBC from Guinea to threaten to return, he must
have first ascertained that his loyal Hinga Norman,
the leader of the invincible and ‘unkillable’
kamajors, was alive and kicking. And with Sanni Abacha
having just received a package from the president,
there was certainty that Aso Rock would forget about
the State of the Forces Agreement (SOFA) and join
forces with a militia. The certainty was perfect. The
Defence Ministry -after overblowing the ‘sobel’
phenomenon, which the rebels admitted during the TRC’s
public hearings as their tactic of using military
fatigues to cause mayhem in order to give the army a
bad name and hang it - not meaning that the soldiers,
like all others in any war situation, did not harm
anybody- had so sidelined the national army that the
security of the head of state and many important and
strategic points of the country was entrusted to the
Nigerians before the coup - and while the coup was
being executed it was also certain that there was
bound to be a clash ( which resulted in deaths of both
Sierra Leonean and Nigerian soldiers).

The point here is that all this could not have been
anything other than the machination of Hinga Norman.
Because, from my personal opinion, President Kabbah
was not - and should not - be afraid of the army. For
two main reasons, and perhaps a third. One, it was
allegedly on the invitation of the NPRC junta
(national army) that President Kabbah returned to
Sierra Leone and was made Chairman of that regime’s
Advisory Council. Two, say what you may about
international or national pressure, it was the
military that voluntarily handed over power to
President Kabbah amid hobnobbing and compensation for
outgoing leaders. And a third likely reason why there
was no point in President Kabbah being afraid of the
national army was that in all his political life there
was no record of him having once been in conflict with
the army or a group of soldiers, or that he had once
associated with one group of soldiers as against

So who feared the army? It was Hinga Norman. For Tellu
Bornghor. But the scheme exploded in his hands. Yet he
vowed to return and was prepared to supply his
kamajors with weapons from a British mercenary firm in
breach of UN sanctions to declare Operation Black
December (of course with the blessing of President
Kabbah, who came to Lungi at the time), even though
the Conakry Peace Plan (with the UN, the former OAU
and ECOWAS as moral guarantors) had been signed two
months earlier in pursuit of a peaceful handing over
within six months.

And this was when Norman had discovered that the
invitation of the RUF by the AFRC forty-eight hours
after taking over had paid positive dividends, in the
sense that there was actually a real cessation of
hostilities throughout the country (save for Nigerian
bombardment), curfew had been lifted and people could
for the first time in years travel the length and
breadth of the country even in the middle of the night
( a UN team that visited the country that year
expressed surprise that what they heard in Guinea and
what they saw in Sierra Leone were two different
situations; and earlier, the then Ghanaian Foreign Minister
Victor Gbehu, on an assessment visit, said there were
no dead bodies on the streets as the propaganda was
indicating - of course the so-called pro-democrats
labelled both reports as the handiwork of some

Yes, there were constraints and harassments
due to the air, land and sea blockade unilaterally
imposed by the Nigerians and because the rebels were
actually coming in contact with civilians in a
non-combatant situation for the first time, yet the
story of the AFRC before Hinga Norman’s Operation
Black December was not a tale of savagery and chaos
(as the Kabbahists were telling the world) - after all
schools were running, only disrupted by jet fighters
and missiles coming from the Nigerian base at Lungi.
And all this was happening after, in earlier battles
with the Nigerians, the AFRC had captured, and - in a
rare show of magnanimity, vouching for peace -
released 310 officers and men of the Nigerian army
using Sierra Leone Army buses to convey them back to
their base at Hastings.

And this was also the time when child combatants of the RUF
were already being disarmed and demobilized under the
supervision of a female military officer, Major Kula
Samba (who was later tried, found guilty of treason,
and executed for doing just that).

Read the final part of this series next week

Photo: Johnny Paul Koroma, AFRC leader, believed dead.

Photo credit: Peter Andersen, Sierra Leone Web.