Peace and Reconciliation Challenges in Sierra Leone

18 February 2006 at 03:02 | 499 views

A reflection on a topic of special interest in Sierra Leone by the Patriotic Vanguard’s Deputy Editor Abdulai Bayraytay. Bayraytay, who lives in Toronto, Canada, has a background in journalism, political science and human rights activism.

By Abdulai Bayraytay

As Sierra Leone recuperates from one of the most brutal and vicious wars ever unleashed in the post-colonial history of sub Saharan Africa, efforts at both local and international spheres at rebuilding that tiny West African country are still Herculean, to say the least.

Some of the reasons attributed to this are very obvious: whilst a cross-section of politicians both in the ruling party and opposition are show-casing their oratory in some desperado effort to retain or capture power come the much publicized 2007 elections, yet majority of the unsuspecting citizenry continue to wallow in abject poverty. It would have been wonderful if the energy so far exerted would just have been used to find solutions as to why majority of my five million or so kith and kin would go to bed without food, suffer deplorable medical conditions and as to why the mass of youth are neglected.

Of course, the political mantra usually advanced by the Kabbah-led government was “my fellow citizens, this is your duly elected president speaking to you. As you may all be aware, we inherited a vicious war created by the All Peoples’ Congress (APC) Party, and you have to bear with us.... We will surely complete the Lungi Bridge as soon as possible and food security for all will be a reality come 2007. In fact, the Chinese have just provided us with two fellow citizens, blah, blah, blah...” Sure, all the masses could do was to be glued to their rickety radio and TV sets as one monotonous trumpeted speech followed another.

Meanwhile, whilst the government is uttering reassurances of food and human security, its human rights record is on the dive. Nothing could be more scandalous than the minister of Justice and Attorney General’s indication that he could not bring to justice those thugs who beat up the erstwhile and late editor-in-chief of the For di People newspaper, Harry Yansaneh because pathologist Willoughby’s report had no direct link with the editor’s death.

So, if by any logic one agrees with the supposition that indeed Harry’s death was as a result of his “failing kidney” as the AG wanted us to believe, does that mean madam Sierra Leone Peoples’ Party (SLPP) honourable Hassan and her thuggish West Side kids should go scot-free?

Yes, this is Sierra Leone where selective justice is gradually becoming the norm rather than the exception leading to the bastardization of the independence of the judiciary. Can you imagine the lightening speed with which the opposition leader of the Peoples’ Movement for Democratic Change (PMDC) Charles Margai and co were charged with “attempt to assassinate the vice-president? In contrast, passport thieves and brutal killers like Eldred Collins and NPRC criminals have all been given a red-carpet welcome by no other than the SLPP in order to foster political clientelism and patronage.

One can only wonder whether the government is really serious about reconciliation, taking into consideration its struggle to meet most of the demands of the amputees but could bring into its fold the very perpetrators of the carnage as the new “leaders”?

No wonder former chief spokesman of the notorious Revolutionary United Front (RUF) Omrie Golley Jr. has called for the presence of international observers in his trial for treason because, according to him, the judiciary is a sham and in a precariously useless situation.

This further brings to the limelight the continued detention of former Kamajor boss and deputy minister of Defence, Sam Hinga Norman. The vexing question here is, can someone like Hinga Norman establish a civil militia group that would legally operate within the sovereign confines of the country without the tacit approval and support of the incumbent government? If not, then why was he still in government and not prosecuted after the restoration of the government? On the other hand, if the response is in the affirmative, then to whom was Hinga Norman answerable and from where was he getting his weaponry and financial support during the fight to restore the Kabbah government? Was Norman the almighty boss that was not answerable to anyone?

Interestingly, the UN Special Court has a big fish in its net and must in the first place justify its very existence since other notorious indictees like RUF leader and field commander Foday Saybana Sankoh and Sam Bockarie aka Mosquito are dead, whilst erstwhile Liberian president and alleged chief financier of the RUF is basking in opulence in Nigeria. Indeed, a devastating blow to the Special Court was the recent pronouncement of newly elected president of Liberia, Ellen Johnson- Sirleaf that the Taylor issue is not a priority to her but the restoration of electricity to her war-ravaged country.

Africa’s political stability depends to a very large extent on the honesty of her leaders wherein they are obliged to not only curb corruption but also have to deliver social services like affordable housing, medical care, job creation especially for the youth, the mostly vulnerable and belligerent in the continent’s notorious conflicts, coupled with a respectable infrastructure.

If not, according to the American writer David Lamb in his “The Africans” political questions that could be amicably resolved through peaceful means would blossom into uncontrollable violence because of frustration. And, since early warning for preventing conflicts in especially Africa’s fragile democracies is a respectable module, human rights, good governance, ethnic tolerance, gender equality and a pro-active civil society should have space in the political spectrum. If not, the challenges for post-conflict peace-building, reconciliation and reconstruction will remain a chimera dressed in tasteless political speeches for the consumption of the usually gullible and unsuspecting masses.

Photo: Dr. Fatmata Hassan