From the Editor’s Keyboard

Sierra Leone: Indigent Hosts and Tainted Donors

26 June 2007 at 22:31 | 620 views

"All said and and done, with the commitment shown so far by the wider spectrum of civil society groups first by insisting on elections in 1996 that chased the infamous National Provisional Ruling Council (NPRC) out of power, the resistance against the brutal Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC) and the demonstrations against rebel leader Foday Saybana Sankoh and his subsequent demise, votes of Sierra Leoneans will surely not be bought by cheap means, even if the ruling government were to bring loads of buses and garbage trucks from dubious donors and sources. That’s my fervent belief."

Commentary.

By Abdulai Bayraytay, Vanguard Deputy Editor,Toronto.

Sierra Leone’s two main political parties, the All Peoples’ Congress Party (APC) and the newly formed People’s Movement for Democratic Change (PMDC) have collectively accused the ruling Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP) of complicity for inviting Libyan leader Colonel Muammar al-Qaddafi to visit the country.

While the opposition APC and the PMDC were unanimous in condemning the visit of the North African leader, they also politicized it to the best of their ability in rather self-serving ways.

APC leader and presidential candidate Ernest Bai Koroma was more or less so preoccupied with succeeding president Kabbah that he repeatedly accused the Libyan leader of breezing into the country in order to solidify his unflinching support for his new-found friends, Kabbah and SLPP’s flag bearer Solomon Berewa for the latter to succeed the former come the scheduled August polls.

This is nothing new. The APC leader also recently accused the SLPP government of “importing” Nigerian military personnel in order to rig the polls in favor of vice-president Solomon Berewa.

Charles Margai on the other hand took a rather radical stance. “If I were president of this country, I will never allow Qadaffi to enter my country without first apologizing to the nation for his notorious role in aiding and abetting rebels of the now defunct Revolutionary United Front (RUF)”, the PMDC strong man was quoted saying on the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) Focus on Africa program.

Charles Margai did not stop there. He further challenged, or rather accused the SLPP government of complicity. While the government had spent millions of tax payers’ money to print T-shirts bearing the face of the Libyan leader, an indication how much the people revered him, the PMDC on the other hand called on Sierra Leoneans to put on blank T-shirts as a sign of mourning in memory of the brutal killing of innocent and unsuspecting civilians in a war whose flames were fueled by Qadaffi.

In spite of these contradictory stances, Sierra Leoneans have the right to be hostile such a high-profile visit.

From 1991 until the cessation of hostilities in 2002, Sierra Leone witnessed one of the worst rebel wars unleashed in the post-colonial history of sub-Saharan Africa. It was reported that close to 75,000 people were massacred by the RUF killing machine, with scores of several others raped and maimed along side the recruitment of child soldiers.

The criminal culpability of Libya in the Sierra Leone civil war cannot be succinctly illustrated then what the Liberian political analyst cum journalist, Abdoulaye Dukuly summarily described in an article, ‘War against terrorism: indicting Libya and Burkina Faso” this way: “...if the War Crimes Tribunal in Sierra Leone indicts Taylor, Burkina Faso and Libya must be brought in as co-conspirators...”.

The above suggestion is not without merit: Libya’s foreign policy under Muammar al-Qadaffi in the 1970s was to train “dissidents” in order to overthrow what he then considered repressive, colonial and imperial regimes.

This grand scheme was shrouded under his political philosophy of the Third Universal Theory and the training of “freedom fighters” at the Mathaba Guerilla Camp in the outskirts of Tripoli. This clearly reminded me of my snap visit to the Mathaba Camp in 1995 away from the welcoming hospitality of Malta and the Netherlands.

During the 24-hour trek across the Mediterranean Sea on the Garnata ship, my first impression of Libya started onboard when I was confronted by a man I suspected to be a member of the Libyan Intelligence Service. He mumbled some words in Arabic to me and when I responded in English with an emphatic “what?”, he enquired if I was American. I hastily retorted in the negative, brandishing my Sierra Leonean passport at him. I however became friendly since I did not want him to have the license to thwart my mission of visiting the great Mathaba Camp.

Later, I ran a front page story in Expo Times captioned "Using false name, Sankoh trained in Libya”. No sooner than the paper hit the newsstands that my psychological ordeal started. Anonymous callers rained insults on me with threats to bury me six feet if I dare write on the RUF. As a cub reporter, I was really scared, to say the least.

Not surprisingly, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) established in the aftermath of the war also found Libya wanting. The commission in Chapter 2, Volume 3B Number 7 of its maiden report indicated that “Qadaffi provided a safe haven and weapons training for individuals who wished to instigate revolutionary struggle in their own countries...to overthrow dictatorial and colonial regimes...”.

But, with Sierra Leone wallowing in abject poverty amidst the same political slogans of the elitist political class, coupled with the ineptitude to address their transportation, medical and raging unemployment needs, caused partly by the endemic corruption that is eating into the intestines of the country, gullible Sierra Leoneans will surely defy the clarion call of Charles Margai for a boycott.

Rather, they will even fake singing the Libyan national anthem as a sign of friendship so that the Libyan leader could increase the windfall of buses, garbage trucks (at least to combat the scandalous filth of the city) if that will mean reducing the suffering of the common man condemned to the status of “city piler” a name that describes who cannot afford transportation and depend on their two legs for mobility.

Afterwards, what? The TRC members who indicted Qadaffi will be there to welcome him anyway; members of parliament will be there anyway, the cabinet,excluding Prince Harding, will be there anyway.

“Bo duya leh den lef we. Nar di same pipul dem, leh den gi we more bus dem, den una go try Qadaffi nar di Hague”, (please just leave us alone. They (meaning politicians) are one and the same. We shall ride the buses then you can try Qadaffi in The Hague), some of the youth are quoted to have said. This is against the backdrop that the same political class since independence is busy stoking the fires of the next conflagration, even before the embers of the last one have been put out.

All said and and done, with the commitment shown so far by the wider spectrum of civil society groups first by insisting on elections in 1996 that chased the infamous National Provisional Ruling Council (NPRC) out of power, the resistance against the brutal Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC) and the demonstrations against rebel leader Foday Saybana Sankoh and his subsequent demise, votes of Sierra Leoneans will surely not be bought by cheap means, even if the ruling government were to bring loads of buses and garbage trucks from dubious donors and sources. That’s my fervent belief.

Photo: Libya’s Gaddafi at the national stadium in Freetown.

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