Unfinished Business and the so-called ex-Combatants

2 August 2007 at 17:51 | 669 views

By Fayia Sellu, California, USA.

The whole Tom Nyuma saga in Bo has resurrected an ugly monster that Sierra Leoneans want to believe they had swept under the carpet following the largely successful disarmament, demobilization and reintegration of ex-combatants that climaxed the peace process.

There are however still those combatants mostly the big fish who escaped the NCDDR either by so electing or because they were the big fish charged with leading the small fish into the DDR net while being pampered for the peace to hold.

The changing phases and faces in the peace process must be recapped for the sake of those whose memory spans are too short. Before 1996 we were talking of a Foday Sankoh that was more of a myth than a reality. Many people believed the name Foday Sankoh was a conduit for malcontents (thanks to Momoh’s do-nothing-ism) who were set on unseating the APC.

Suspicion and speculation ran wild and the APC big guns were looking at the dissidents or marginalized SLPP members as the hands behind the war. Momoh must have consented to multi-party elections after student activists particularly from Njala University College called for multi-party democracy among other such incidents at the time expressive of raging popular dissent enveloping the nation.

Momoh’s lethargy towards prosecuting the war may have been genuine and part of the whole bad governance package that an Ekutay-centric cabal could offer. If that were not the case then the next logical conclusion would be that Momoh’s strategy was to keep the areas hit by the war, the east and south of the country (believed clearly SLPP’s traditional strongholds) on fire while the APC would go ahead and win the elections.

Well, the boomerang effect kicked in and the ill-equipped soldiers who saw their lives as being recklessly endangered turned their guns on their Commander-in-Chief. Momoh fled. The rest as they say is history...one replete with coups and counter coups, escalation of the war, switching of enemies, allies, multiple peace pacts and ever-changing stakeholders.

I wish to however emphasize a few pointers to the fact the recent remobilization of itinerant thugs, apparently from the erstwhile fighting forces, as so-called bodyguards by the political parties is symptomatic of the uneasy calm blanketing widespread mistrust. It would be like crying over spilled milk; but we as Sierra Leoneans did not push elements of peace and reconciliation in the peace process to the fullest.

We made a fine mess of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) by running it simultaneously with the Special Court. The Kabbah administration would say that the international community was calling the tune at the time.

You and I could look at the Liberian example and say that we could have avoided the Special Court had we the political will to move in the direction of permanent peace and reconciliation. The recommendations of the TRC remain grossly ignored. The healing of war wounds were kicked to the backwaters of the national agenda. Even at the hearings, the focus was not truth-telling as much as self-exoneration or playing one-uppers, from President Kabbah to everyone else before the commission.

Everyone shifted blame from one side to the next. The whole essence was lost on us. The NCDDR (which was donor-designed donor-funded, donor...you get it!) had taken away the guns and people soon forgot that the wounds of the war were just gauzed, not healed. Business as usual!

The NCDDR did a relatively good job of dismantling the command structure and engaging ex-combatants in activities that would not only demobilize them as fighting forces, but also demobilize their minds. Two things here: As aforementioned the stakeholders changed so quickly. The fact that there were palace coups within the ranks of almost all fighting forces was problem enough in respect of fragmentation and cultivation of hatred among the members of these groups. SHAMELESSLY, our political parties of all groups have chosen to capitalize on these fertile seedbeds of divisiveness to run wedges among former fighters.

The Government being the only seeming constant factor had to play along making promises, playing one group up against the other and making shotgun marriages here and there to maintain power since 1996. Take the RUF. There was a failed Phillip Palmer coup, then the rise of Sam “Maskita’ Bockarie whose fall ushered in Issa Sesay. Even the CDF had its internal wrangling involving Eddy Massallay and others challenging the late Chief Norman.

The support-base dynamics are understandable especially when viewed against the backdrop of the brewing dissent against the SLPP and sympathy with the APC. The AFRC Junta had a steep inclination toward the APC. Everybody but the APC believed the NPRC coup was going to be reversed. The APC has never forgiven the NPRC for routing its dictatorship from power. Ask any senior member of the NPRC living abroad they will tell you that APC has hounded them and made life very uncomfortable for them. From Strasser, Idriss Kamara, Komba-Kambo to Tom Nyuma.

The main trump card has been the extra-judicial killings of Bambay Kamara and others. But you and I know that the APC knows fully well it would have a hard time taking over the reins of government through popular means. For that they say no thanks to the NPRC. The fact that key players like Maada Bio, Komba Mondeh and Tom Nyuma are now acolytes of their successors strengthens suspicions that they handed over power to the SLPP after unseating their “pass we die” era. Those die-hard APC supporters remember their days in power and the “ol’ belful” and hate anything NPRC all the more. But frankly on percentage of turn-coats who have converted to SLPP, former APC elements clearly outnumber every single group. And it just me who remembers that the All Political Parties Association (APPA) was one of the most formidable political alliances ever; they included the APC and worked so hard to see the back of the NPRC. Popular resolve booted out the NPRC!

On the issue of alliances and loyalty, I would rather take the fifth. Would anybody care to remember that the late S.A.J Musa returned to work with the AFRC/RUF/APC alliance? If that is not the mother of all ironies, what else qualifies as thus? S.A.J Musa it is widely believed handled the liquidating of Bambay and others. But he was sacked by the NPRC at some point and that made it cool for APC elements to tolerate or work with him. Let us not go down the loyalty rout. The posts keep shifting all the time.

The real questions we should be facing are; have we gotten over the war days? Are parties so desperate for support or votes that they lend relevance to disgruntled former fighters in the RUF, AFRC and CDF? I can’t help drawing the analogy between the Salone politician and these ex-fighters when it comes to loyalty. Who ever could feed them for the day has their loyalty. Idrissa Kamara (Leather Boot) and Soriba were the bodyguards or plain thugs during the NPRC days. Hence they were AFRC and then Soriba was bodyguard to Sankoh. We can’t, shouldn’t make violence or nuisance value attractive for these thugs who fell through the cracks during the peace process; elections or not. It is strictly a matter of law and order! Violence in no shape or form should be tolerated as we go the polls come the 11th. And about unfinished business or who killed who during the war days; we have to forgive and move ahead.

That Bambay Kamara and others, Kula Samba and others, Chief Norman and others lost their lives is part of the bitter past that we should be able to leave behind us. The amputees have the bad luck of living with that testimony. Whoever wins the presidential elections should be able to hold the nation together and be father figure and ensure lasting reconciliation and reconstruction. Trust me, I live in California which has the problem with overcrowded jails and highest prison population in the U.S. The U.S. is not only a model for democracy on the globe, they even export it! The law has teeth here. The law courts and jails are to be effective for common criminals. Give those career thugs an inch!...

Photo: Dr. Francis Kaikai, former Executive Secretary of the National Committee for Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration(NCDDR).

Photo credit: Sierra Leone web.