Salone News

President Kabbah’s Mistakes and Miscalculations

18 January 2007 at 00:36 | 1899 views


By Yankuba Kai-Samba, Brussels, Belgium.

President Kabbah’s judgements on security and peace were shown to be flawed and costly to innocent lives. His recent welcoming of the ECOWAS initiative to base its logistic depot in Freetown should not be left to his decision alone. His overt support and obsession to get Solomon Berewa to succeed him as president has made him an instrument of division in our country and he should go now.

In October 2006 The Economic Commission of West African States (ECOWAS) agreed to support a sub-regional peace keeping force with its logistic depot situated in Hastings,Freetown. At first glance, this seems a good move, when perceived from the past conflicts, the potential for more and the inability of domestic authorities to stop it. The president of Sierra Leone, Ahmed Tejan Kabba, has welcomed the ECOWAS initiative. But the country needs to know how such fundamental military commitments will impact on long-term peace and security, if the project comes to fruition and is fully implemented.

Meanwhile, the Speaker of Sierra Leone parliament, Mr Edmond Cowan, has made a cautionary remark against the deployment of foreign military bases in Sierra Leone without parliamentary approval. It can be deduced, therefore, that any commitment entered into by president Kabbah, without the necessary parliamentary approval will have no constitutional validity. Moreover, I believe that the security of a sovereign nation should not be delegated or compromised with foreign forces, unless such a project is able to recognise that there are viable competing internal political dynamics at play, hence an extensive debate and consultation on this initiative is required. Changes in the political dynamics can happen and when they do, they bring with them new challenges. Thus any strategic issue which involves military activities, must, therefore, solicit wider concerns to include other political parties, the sovereign army and civil society groups.

A debate in parliament and in the country should evaluate the ECOWAS initiative and not leave it to the judgment of president Kabbah, because in the past, his judgements on security matters were, to my mind, very poor. President Kabbah, as commander in chief of the armed forces was told in 1997 that a coup was planned and imminent, but did nothing, only for him to escape in a helicopter to Guinea when it happened. I was in Freetown as a Just Cam (JC) when the coup took place and was deeply affected by that experience. I was even shocked when amid the incessant gun fire in Freetown, I heard president Kabbah tell the people of Sierra Leone in his first interview with the BBC, from his hiding place in Conakry that, he knew of the planned coup three days in advance.

It cannot be stressed any further that this was a palpable negligence and a grotesque incompetence that casts serious doubt over president Kabbah’s leadership ability to make quick judgements and take effective, appropriate actions to avert serious crises. Two questions flow from this apparent incompetence. Firstly, why did President Kabbah fail to alert the unsuspecting public of the planned coup when he knew about it, so that people could have prepared some means of safeguarding themselves? And furthermore, why as head of the army did he also fail to act to preempt the coup he admitted to have knowledge of?

Strategic errors and vindictiveness
At the height of the RUF offensive President Kabbah was unable to trust even his own advisers. His judgement was imprisoned by his lack of prior political experience - he never made a political statement or was never quoted until he was recruited by the NPRC Strasser regime to help with constitutional issues. He was trapped by indecisions over viable policy options to end the war. He projected himself as a reconciler but miscalculated the strength of the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) who remained impervious to negotiation and were determined to oust him from power.

The president accommodated the RUF through his policy of reconciliation, which he demonstrated by doses of appeasements, notably, the blanket amnesty he granted them. But his decision to drop the Executive Outcome mercenary group at a critical time when their superior weaponry seriously depleted the fighting and logistical capability of the RUF was a costly blunder because it helped the rebels replenished their arsenals and to regroup.

The signing of the Lome Accord by president Kabbah was the culmination of his failures to act robustly and decisively when given intelligence reports. A good number of people believed that had president Kabbah listened to the right advice and acted accordingly, he could have contained the rebels and forced a settlement largely based on his terms. As it happened, it was the RUF that forced peace on President Kabbah. Many also believed that the president’s policy of appeasement dangerously weakened his capability to mount the necessary co-ordinated assault on the aggressors despite the huge material, diplomatic, technical and financial support from both international and domestic sources.

The late secretary to President Kabbah, Sheku Bayoh, may his soul rest in peace, was privately critical of his boss’ handling of the war and thought the president was not receptive to credible advice. I spoke with Sheku Bayoh at State house before and after I held audience with President Kabbah days before the coup took place. I was not surprised when I learnt that subsequent to the coup Sheku Bayoh sought refuge in Ghana rather than join President Kabbah and the rest of his cabinet in Conakry. I believe it was because of president Kabbah’s weaknesses and his poor judgement that drove Sheku Bayoh to seek refuge with the AFRC Junta.

The history of human conflict has shown time and time again that force is a necessary component when dealing with an intransigent and brutal aggressor if peace were to be secured. The President’s reliance on reconciliation in the face of the merciless enemy onslaught was a tactical mistake that cost the lives of many brave men and women who fought and restored democracy and peace in Sierra Leone.

Before President Kabbah signed the Lome Peace Accord, he asked Dr Peter Tucker, his chief adviser at the time, to come up with recommendations- articulating his government’s position. But when President Kabbah realised that Dr Tucker’s views were contrary to his, (to sign the accord no matter what) he reacted badly and sacked Dr Tucker even though Dr Tucker’s advisory position was sponsored by DFID. President Kabbah had decided by himself to comply with the entire rebels’ demands, short of surrendering the presidency to them. But this was not properly communicated to the nation and parliament, partly because there was a glass ceiling between the presidency and the people he was supposed to defend. It was mainly the sycophants and job hunters who attracted the president’s attention at such a period of critical decision making.

Dr Tucker’s views strongly refuted the blanket amnesty and the rationale in signing an accord, in which the RUF could share power from a position of strength. Alarmed by the real prospect that the rebel would exploit the generous offer to seize power, he (Tucker) wrote to all parliamentarians urging them to reject the blanket amnesty, an exercise that greatly infuriated president Kabbah. Precarious as it was, the Lome accord placed the rebels a step closer towards seizing real power, since this was their reason for going to war. Without any evidence of a countervailing strategy shown by president Kabbah to forestall further troubles that could emanate from the signing of the shaky deal, it was deemed unsustainable by any good strategist. Moreover, the appointment of the rebel leader to the position of vice president and in charge of the diamonds, the very resources he utilised to fuel the war, was not only a strategic folly but an exercise that was deemed by many to be morally repugnant.

Constitutional violation.
It was through Dr Tucker that I first learnt during a meeting in London to discuss the Lome Accord that president Kabbah had violated the 1991 constitution when he bypassed constitutional avenues to sign the Lome Accord, which brought in Foday Sankoh as his vice president. Dr Peter Tucker is an Oxford trained lawyer and an architect of the 1991 constitution. Several other commentators with legal training, including Charles Margai, PMDC leader, Adikalie Foday Sumah and Dr S I Kamara - PMDC USA, have accentuated this position and several others have accused president Kabbah of multiple violations of the Sierra Leone’s constitution.

Weaknesses led to costly end
President Kabbah’s peace overtures to the rebels, through the repeated blanket amnesty, did not end the war as some people had perceived, but it motivated them instead. This was especially true because the president had abundant resources at his disposal, which he could have deployed to gain military supremacy over the aggressors and thus compel them to a settlement. Moreover, he did not fully utilise the fighting potential of the Civil Defence Forces, because he was advised that they could also pose future security threats to his presidency. However his fixation with reconciliation, which the RUF was not interested in, was misdirected and overplayed, hence we saw a rebel movement revitalised with a corresponding increase in brutalities each time the president granted amnesty to them. On 6th January 1999, as a consequence of the Lome Accord, the rebels invaded Freetown. It was estimated that at least 6,000 people were killed in Freetown alone; a carnage that was accompanied by mass rape and destruction of properties.

My view is that the victims and relatives of that carnage should hold president Kabbah personally liable and seek compensation from him when he leaves office, because it was his flawed decision against all plausible advice to sign the Lome Accord, plus his unwillingness to apply the appropriate strategy that contributed immensely to the rebels’ second successfull invasion of Freetown.

Notwithstanding that, president Kabbah could find himself confronted with multiple state enquiries unless Solomon Berewa is not defeated in the 2007 presidential election. For the purpose of accuracy and accountability the state will demand to know his stewardship of the economy and handling of the war that needlessly killed so many; his failure to carry out his pledge to tackle corruption; his alleged constitutional violations; his questionable deals with foreign financial predators involving our country’s natural resources; the controversy surrounding the alleged sale and purchase of the Sierra Leone High Commission in the United Kingdom; the illegal occupation by Guinean troops of Yenga; the usurpation of our immigration system that encourages illegal migrants from Guinea for the purpose of illegal mining of diamonds and piracy in Sierra Leone etc.

Why Solomon Berewa?
Many people of all walks of life and political divides across the country and in the Diasporas are genuinely curious to know why president Kabbah is investing so many resources on Berewa’s bid for the presidency.

Throughout this campaign for leadership, president Kabbah had gone into an extraordinary length to get Solomon Berewa elected as president, oblivious about the damage and disunity his overt backing for Berewa would cause the party and the country. In my honest opinion, president Kabbah has become an instrument of division in Sierra Leone and should, under these circumstances, do the decent thing and resign because he has become a lame duck president, no longer serving any useful purposes but only there to facilitate and promote Solomon Berewa’s presidential ambition.

A presidential deception on signing Lome accord?
Relations between Dr Peter Tucker and President Kabbah broke dawn for no other reason than President Kabbah’s intolerance with Dr Tucker’s objection to the blanket amnesty; even though he(Tucker) ultimately proved to be right. Do not sign a deal with rebels from a weak position; instead use all the resources at your disposal to force the rebels to a negotiation table, it was emphasised. Dr Tucker took temporary voluntary exile in the UK where he joined forces with the late former Sierra Leone High Commissioner to UK C P FORAY (may his soul rest in perfect peace), Mathew Ganda etc and formed the Movement for Human Rights, Justice and peace (MHRJP) with Dr Tucker as the chair, C P Foray as deputy and this author as secretary.

The movement aimed to help president Kabbah broker a sustainable peace based on justice. We believed that peace without justice could not be sustained and that the campaign to try the rebel leaders for conducting a senseless brutal war against the people of Sierra Leone must be critical to peace and reconciliation in Sierra Leone.

A meeting was underway at the late C P Foray’s High Commission’s residence in London when president Kabbah telephoned from Freetown and spoke to C P Foray, apparently acting on a tip off about the meeting.I learnt from that telephone conversation that president Kabbah had told C P Foray three weeks prior to the signing of the Lome deal that he would never sign such an accord with the rebels. But it was shortly after saying that, it emerged, that president Kabbah went ahead and signed with no substantive amendment. President Kabbah and Solomon Berewa, then Attorney General addressed the Sierra Leone community in London during which C P Foray repeated his misgivings on the Lome Accord in the presence of former UK development minister Clare Short.

President Kabbah was angered and embarrassed by C P Foray’s frankness from the high table. Like Dr Tucker the blanket amnesty created a serious rift between C P Foray and president Kabbah. C P Foray confided to us his intention to resign from the High Commission’s post to mount a political challenge to president Kabbah’s irresponsible leadership, but we advised him to wait for President Kabbah to sack him instead. As expected, president Kabbah did sack C P Foray but in a rather vindictive and humiliating manner. To me, president Kabbah’s sacking of C P Foray has a lot to do with the tensions triggered by the disagreement over the Lome accord and president Kabbah’s perception that C P Foray harbours a leadership ambition. Indeed C P Foray had leadership ambition and contemplated on declaring for the SLPP.

Threats ignored
Upon hearing of our misgivings over the peace deal and our movement’s campaign to put him on trial for war crimes, the late rebel Leader Foday Sankoh who was now president Kabba’s deputy went on the Sierra Leone Broadcasting service radio and threatened members of the MHRJP with the “long arm of the RUF“ for opposing president Kabbah’s peace plan. On the instructions of Dr Tucker, I wrote a letter to president Kabbah urging him to condemn Foday Sankoh for publicly issuing threats to our lives. President Kabbah ignored our letter. I was then convinced that President Kabba lacked vision and political convictions.

Indecisions and Betrayer?
President Kabbah was not explicit on what to do with the rebels in terms of bringing their leadership to justice, even though he knew the UN, Amnesty International and other rights bodies had rejected his policy on blanket amnesty for those responsible for the greatest human rights violations in the Sierra Leone war. However, his speeches to our stake holders and the Sierra Leonean community in London, suggested that he was inclined to adopt the South African concept of truth and reconciliation above international war crime trials. But president Kabbah did not demonstrate the strength and conviction to push it through to the people of Sierra Leone.

Besides, he was conscious of the fact that a trial of those with the greatest responsibility for violation of humanitarian laws, in the type of war that visited Sierra Leone, could lead to an open ended scenario and possibly drag in others from all unexpected quarters. One might ask: Did the president really want Hinga Norman to be tried for war crimes out of malice or did he lack the strength and courage to have resisted the international pressure? Why should other countries be so adamant in forcing a sovereign government to hand over Hinga Norman, regarded by many as a hero, to stand trial for war crimes, when he himself had fought alongside international armed contingents that were tacitly sanctioned by the international powers themselves to restore the democratically elected government in Sierra Leone?

Vice President Solomon Berewa shed some lights to these questions when he addressed his American audience during his sensitization tour. Solomon Berewa, who played a pivotal role in the Lome Accord stated to his audience that his government was pressurised by the donor countries to hand over Hinga Norman; adding that they, (donor countries) had threatened to withhold funds if his government did not comply. Surely, when a government sacrifices the liberty and freedom of a comrade in arms, widely recognised to have valiantly fought for the freedom and peace which they enjoy today, then serious questions must be asked about future military arrangements by the present government.

Kabba prolonged the war, the people and international community finally brought peace in Sierra Leone.
A critical look at president Kabbah’s approach to the resolution of the conflict in Sierra Leone could show that rather than shorten the war, President Kabbah actually prolonged it through his policy of appeasement, indecisions- underpinned by internal strategic weaknesses of his own making. Fundamentally, the president inherited a state apparatus-the army, civil service etc that was not going to be loyal to him overnight. He needed the appropriate political skills and statesmanship to usher strategic changes without alienating the sensitivity of others. This, I believe he failed to do, but instead reverted to the old order and rewarded some of his staunchest advisers and kept them in key strategic positions. This, his administration called reconciliation. I call it political appeasement that could undermine true democracy.

Others have also asserted that the "SLPP led government" brought peace in Sierra Leone. I do not subscribe to this view though I accept that peace finally came with the current government in power. To understand how peace was finally restored in Sierra Leone, one must transcend party political propaganda and desist from attributing the peace we have today solely to the sitting government; a government that purported to be an SLPP government.

Let me explain what I meant by ’purported SLPP government’ before I move on. Because the constitution of Sierra Leone allows the executive president to appoint any qualified person he likes outside parliament to his cabinet, the current president has misused and overstretched it. Substantial numbers of President Kabbah’s appointees that formed his government were drawn from non-party members; those traditionally opposed to the party; opportunistic politicians; failed and rejected APC ministers and outsiders who, with the support of president Kabbah have elbowed out genuine committed supporters.

As for the actualisation of peace, it was the unusually horrific application of brutality on the civilian population by the rebel movement that paradoxically brought peace to Sierra Leone. For no civilised country in this century could have tolerated the kind of violence inflicted in Sierra Leone; a violence that was characterised by the chopping of children’s limbs and other unspeakable atrocities specifically targeted at the civilian population.

The world was shocked by the unprovoked attacks on civilians, with the hunted government of president Kabbah powerless to halt the carnage, led, indeed, to the application of the doctrine of responsibility to protect- thanks to the former UN Chief Koffi Annan. This doctrine calls for international intervention in a failed state and when a government is either unwilling or unable to protect it citizens in the face of unmitigated violation of humanitarian laws. The war in Sierra Leone provided a typical case for international intervention. When Her Majesty’s government sent 1000 fighters in Sierra Leone, it cited that very phrase for intervening and specifically because of the gross human rights violations, which the weak administration in Freetown could not prevent.

In today’s increasing conflicts in which unarmed civilians are targeted, the doctrine of responsibility to protect is increasingly being adopted and is gaining international moral acceptability as opposed to the long held closeted principle of non- interference in internal affairs. It was this doctrine that helped bring peace to Sierra Leone and not the policy of reconciliation or appeasement principally associated with the SLPP government.

Thus for anyone to attribute the achievement of peace in Sierra Leone solely to the SLPP government and turn this in to an electioneering issue is bogus and disrespectful to the suffering people of Sierra Leone. The government should accept that it did not have the capability to end the war and recognise that it was the complex international political dynamics and diplomatic manoeuvring coupled with the admirable resilience and steadfastness shown by the ordinary people of Sierra Leone against the evil junta that swayed international intervention that finally ushered peace in Sierra Leone.

ECOWAS logistic depot in Freetown, not a solution
It is against these backgrounds that Sierra Leoneans should participate more actively in any arrangement on their behalf that could impact on their security. The ECOWAS agreement to base its logistical depot in Freetown for its peace keeping force offers an important dimension to regional response to conflict in the sub-region. Others may view the peace-keeping force as a logical adaptation to enforce the doctrine of responsibility to protect in troubled states. But the difficulties, I perceive, is that it is almost inconceivable, even with the best of intentions, for ECOWAS to provide a coherent-sustainable mechanism in terms of policies, finance and logistical capabilities as a regional body that will be independent of world politics. Thus it is quite possible that the basic premise this initiative espouses (regional peace keeping force) will paradoxically be unraveled by- on the one hand- the internal contradictions and political conflicts from within the sub region and international political dynamics from the developed world- depending on whose interest was at stake, on the other.

Furthermore, such military commitment will present a confused situation with a potentially dangerous representation in which an individual affected sovereign country can assert the principle of non -interference in their internal affairs and thus place her in direct conflict with peace keepers. In Sudan-Darfur for instance, the authorities continues to frustrate the AU peace keeping forces; their presence there has not prevented the ethnic cleansing described by the USA officials as genocide. The commander of the AU peace keeping force in Darfur had complained of lack of logistics and other resources to enable his forces carry out their duties effectively.

What this shows is that peace keeping operations are inherently problematic and only become credible when there is unanimity backed by resolute commitment by the countries involved. President Kibaki of Kenya, as chair of the sub-regional East African group known as IGAD, has been having difficulties getting the other countries to send peace keepers to Somalia. So far no coherent response is forth coming. These countries are obviously concerned about committing their troops into a quagmire situation given Somalia’s perennial conflict. Only Uganda, it is reported, has offered 1500 troops but this is subject to parliamentary approval. Practical difficulties, therefore, when added to political and strategic constraints among various countries can hinder peace keeping efforts as the unfortunate situation in Darfur has shown.

With 7,000 A U troops as well as 10,000 UN personnel in Darfur, gross human right abuses still prevails. There are hundreds of thousands of USA, British and other forces in Iraq fighting for “democracy” in the Middle East, but their presence there is the very reason for the escalation of the war; a bitter irony officially acknowledged by the USA. In Ivory Coast, French troops have been based there for decades, yet their presence did not prevent the country sliding into serious conflict. When Sierra Leone agreed to have the ECOMOG forces on its territory, the rebels stepped up their offensive and became nastier in their tactics.

What is needed in Sierra Leone is a sincere and responsible leadership with a clear vision and honest determination to remove those forces which created the conditions for disenchantment that led to conflict in Sierra Leone. Having a military depot in Freetown could make our city a sitting target and could not provide for our national security. Sierra Leone should take this on board before assenting to military commitment of the kind welcomed by president Kabbah.

Inappropriate Comment is not a presidential prerogative.

President Kabbah has shown that he has a problem trusting the people he governs.
“Sierra Leonean mentality“, the president reportedly said is “very dangerous”. If ever such negative views and inappropriate comments about the people president Kabbah governs influenced his judgement and policies, then God help our people in Sierra Leone. In any mature democracy president Kabbah could be censored for breach of trust. How can a leader govern a people he did not trust and then describe them collectively as “very dangerous”? One question Mr President: When you said Sierra Leoneans are “very dangerous” does that include you as well since you are a Sierra Leonean? I don’t mean to be rude but as a Salone Man, I am genuinely offended by that kind of generalised attack.

About the author:
Yankuba Kai-Samba(photo) is a former SLPP Secretary General for UK and Ireland,former Secretary of the Movement for Human Rights Justice and Peace in Sierra Leone and former Secretary of the Movement for the Restoration of a Multi-party system in Sierra Leone.