Hinga Norman: Tragic Hero Or Opportunist? (Part Two)

16 January 2006 at 01:38 | 617 views

In this piece our Denmark correspondent Stephen Lawrence continues his take-no-prisoner assessment of perhaps the most controversial politician in Sierra Leone’s history, Chief Samuel Hinga Norman and other players.

By Stephen Lawrence in Denmark

The recent press release purportedly coming from supporters of Sam Hinga Norman with the motive to disrupt the peace in Sierra Leone should not come as a surprise to those who know the maverick history and ambition of the Special Court indictee. It is not the first time - and may not be the last.

I was in Sierra Leone in January 2004 when officials of the Special Court discovered that Hinga Norman was using the phone facilities accorded him to incite his kamajors to mobilize and come to the city to free him and apparently make him head of state. At the time, I had a friend working at the Court, and he told me the details of the diabolic communications Norman had relayed to his former fighters. This friend of mine (who himself had personally taken the cult-hero status given to Norman by many supporters as truth and had expected him to rely on the law for his freedom) was so dismayed and disappointed that he had to ask whether Norman was actually the real deal.

Yes, Hinga Norman is a real: I tried to give an answer to my friend’s question - as if he really did not know that already. But my friend was justified to have asked the question, because he was a foreigner and did not know much about Norman. But those of us who know Norman know that he has been a schemer all his life - that is, ever since he was sensible enough to distinguish between right and wrong. Let’s have a look....

In 1967, as a young lieutenant entrusted with the responsibility of ADC (aide-de-camp) to the then Governor-General Henry Lightfoot-Boston, Norman first exhibited traits of absurd disloyalty when he joined the first ever coup-makers of Sierra Leone to put the democratic process to a halt. He personally arrested and detained the man he was supposed to protect! Their aim was to protect the SLPP and prevent the APC from taking over after winning the elections that year - the first time in Independent Africa that an Opposition party was defeating an incumbent.
With that blot and an unsuccessful enterprise, the coup makers were booted out by junior officers in the army. Norman survived, but he was removed from the military. Yet, carrying along his deceptive nature (‘monkey norba lef in black han’), Norman, even in the wilderness, promoted himself to captain and started referring to himself as retired Captain Sam Hinga Norman - and up to the day he was arrested by the Special Court, that was how many people had come to call him; but one only needs to check the military records to discover that the archives only have a former Lt. Sam Hinga Norman (can you
beat that?) .

But that is taking the story too far too early. Norman retired into partial oblivion, but apparently secretly had plans to carry out his aim to the top. In his south-eastern home, Norman reportedly started recruiting young men into a ‘society’ wherein they were given quasi-military training. Credible sources say these young men were allegedly used as thugs to carry out diabolical missions in elections and serious land disputes so that their head, Sam Hinga Norman, became a lord to himself. This culminated to the ‘Hindo Hindo’ crisis that had to be quelled by the military. Yet Norman was never daunted. People close to him have revealed that he initially was not hostile to Foday Sankoh’s rebellion on hearing that it was aimed at removing the APC from power.

However, that support waned and dissipated when the soldiers took over in 1992 and he was made Regent Chief of Tellu Bornghor. Just a Regent Chief, but immediately Norman all but transformed himself into a full-fledged Paramount Chief - even becoming more powerful than all the actual Paramount Chiefs combined. With his fighters always at hand, Norman ingratiated himself with the NPRC boys and was soon to advise that his combatants act as volunteers or vigilantes to guide the soldiers in unknown terrain. He called his men kamajosia, hunters with shot guns. But his schemes were soon to be discovered (as I indicated in Part 1), as regular soldiers and these men started having conflicts of interest and clashes, culminating to the infamous Tellu Bornghor massacre whose death toll is still to be properly determined. Norman himself escaped like the proverbial spider.

Only to resurface during the 1996 elections as strong supporter and campaigner of the SLPP and Ahmad Tejan Kabbah. And when the party won, Kabbah indeed made him Deputy Defence Minister. Hinga Norman was definitely coming to the top. He started his careful, calculated strategy to dismantle the ‘APC army’ and create his own. Before long, the kamajors came into extra prominence as those that all along had actually been defending the country against the RUF. The kamajors, as we all know, became a law to themselves and could now openly attack, disarm, detain, and even kill regular soldiers with impunity - sure nothing would come out of it, as long as Hinga Norman was at defence.

Because the peace train had already been started by the NPRC, and although Norman was reported to have supported a military campaign to the end, a peace accord was signed in Abidjan on 30th November 1996. On his return from Abidjan at midnight on that day, President Kabbah showered flamboyant praises on Norman and his kamajors for apparently ending the war.

But who says Hinga Norman would be satisfied with that? Even before the peace accord’s ink could be dry on paper, the kamajors were going ahead with their military campaign - ceasefire or no ceasefire - attacking RUF bases, including Camp Zogoda (this came out clearly during the nation-wide public hearings of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission).

Norman’s justification for continuing with the military option was that rebels should never be trusted; and he immediately gave them a two-week ultimatum to either surrender or be forced to do so - despite the fact that the accord was clear on how to disarm. The RUF cried foul and complained about the attacks. International pressure was brought to bear on the hawks to give peace a chance. Progress was subsequently made, resulting to the RUF being confident enough to send its representatives to Freetown to sit in the Commission for the Consolidation of Peace (a product of the peace accord).

But it was not to last. Norman played no small role - inside sources say - including playing the tribal card, in convincing Phillip Palmer, Fayia Musa and Agnes Dean-Jalloh (all hailing from the same region as Norman and the SLPP) to disown Foday Sankoh and announce his overthrow. And when Sankoh moved from his jungle base to attend a ‘peace’ conference in Nigeria, General Sanni Abacha (the late dictator does not need any introduction) arrested him for unlawful possession of arms - though he was given a guest house and luxurious facilities, including a satellite phone.

Yet those actions never ended the war. It instead started all over, making nonsense of the signed accord, as rebel attacks intensified - now mainly directed to the North. At the same time, the soldiers were complaining that they were not given sufficient logistics to prosecute the war - as opposed to the bounty being dished out to the kamajors by the Ministry of Defence. The animosity between the two groups worsened, and the kamajors became bold enough to impose a curfew for soldiers in the East and to brazenly attack the military brigade in Kenema at a time when Hinga Norman was present in town and the late Chief of Defence Staff, Brigadier Hassan Conteh (later executed by the SLPP, but later on that), was in the brigade.

Therefore, on the eve of the AFRC coup, every perceptive observer of the politico-military situation in Sierra Leone would tell you that the peace process, initiated by the NPRC, had been mismanaged by the SLPP so much so that the whole country was literally in a mess. An attempt by Norman and co to use the dissident RUF men to convince the rank and file to stop fighting and themselves disown Sankoh backfired terribly - as the boys tricked and arrested all those sent to talk to them until their leader was released.

The army suddenly looked for a short cut (please note that I am not a supporter of coups; I’m just recounting the facts) to peace. They left the bush and came to town on May 25 1997 and overthrew the SLPP, putting in its place a junta, headed by Johnny Paul Koroma, who was up to that day in prison for treason.

But that’s another story. Koroma had always denied planning any coup, but that Hinga Norman initiated his arrest when army units stationed at Sierra Rutile defended themselves against a kamajor attack which resulted in the deaths of hundreds of Norman’s men who wanted to take over control of the mines from the regular army. The immediate reaction was to put treason charges on the commander of the troops, at the time Johnny Paul Koroma. Vintage Hinga Norman! Yet that does not mean the army did not have its share of the blame on why and how things went wrong in Sierra Leone.
(Part Three coming soon)

Photo: Chief Sam Hinga Norman