War and Peace in Sierra Leone

18 August 2005 at 21:12 | 1304 views

A lot of analyses on the Sierra Leone civil war have been published and many more will come. In this poignant piece, The Patriotic Vanguard’s UK correspondent Sheka Tarawalie lays bare his unique insights and perspectives as somebody who witnessed and observed the major episodes of that war.

By Sheka Tarawalie

The civil war in Sierra Leone began in 1991 as a spillover from a similar conflict in neighbouring Liberia. Ten years later the conflict had killed thousand of people and numerous peace accords had failed to bring the carnage to a halt. Regional, sub-regional and international organizations all played a role in an effort to restore peace in my home country, so it would not be out of place to analyse the 11-year-war in Sierra Leone from the perspective of the impacts caused by respective international institutions in resolving (or failing to resolve) a conflict that killed thousands of people, left many more homeless, and destroyed an inestimable amount of property. Now, the war - but apparently not the conflict - in Sierra Leone is over, as hostilities have ended, but there is the simmering judicial confrontation posed by the establishment of the UN-backed Special Court for Sierra Leone that has been given the task of trying all those bearing the greatest responsibility in the war, irrespective of which faction (pro- or anti-government) they belonged to.

Has the Sierra Leonean conflict been really resolved? What roles did the international community and institutions (and their personnel) actually play in resolving or - as may be revealed - fuelling the conflict? Why did three internationally backed peace arrangements (The Abidjan Peace Accord ,1996; the Conakry Peace Plan, 1997; and the Lomé Peace Accord, 1999) fail? Was it wholly the fault of local players or were they influenced by international forces? Do personal relationships or friendships really have a role in some of these arrangements as against the general good and the stipulations of the accords? What lessons are to be learnt from the Sierra Leone experience? These and many more questions and issues are going to be addressed in this paper.


"Perhaps due to the ineptitude and lacklustre performance of the government, some people hailed the war as the only way of removing an entrenched clique".

The Sierra Leonean war could appropriately be described as a by-product of the war in Liberia. One can from the outset suggest that, had there not been a war in Liberia (both for geographical proximity and warlord affinity) it would have been virtually impossible to start one in Sierra Leone. No wonder that - to come to the conclusion beforehand - the former President of Liberia, Charles Taylor, has been indicted as one of those bearing the greatest responsibility for the war in Sierra Leone. One thing that is absolutely clear is that both Charles Taylor and Foday Sankoh, the late and erstwhile leader of the rebel Revolutionary United Front (RUF) that started the war in Sierra Leone, were ’comrades-in-arms’ who received their guerrilla training in Libya, from where they proceeded to Ivory Coast and launched the war against Liberia in 1989, which subsequently spilled over into Sierra Leone in 1991. It first started as cross-border raids by Liberian fighters searching for food and escape routes, but when Taylor threatened to ensure that Sierra Leone tasted ’the bitterness of war’ for allowing troops from the Economic Community of West African States Monitoring Group (Ecomog) to use it as a base to stop the war in Liberia, and when Foday Sankoh went on the air to say he had started a rebellion to remove the All People’s Congress (APC) government from power in Sierra Leone, the stage was all but set for the unleashing of one of the world’s most disastrous and inhuman civil wars in contemporary times.

The government and the army were ill-prepared for war. Having been in power for over 20 years without much to fear from an insurrection or an invasion, the APC government largely had a ceremonial army, poorly armed and poorly paid. Sankoh, having been an army officer himself, knew this and capitalised on that. Starting from Bomaru in the Kailahun district in the east of the country on 23 March 1991, the war gradually but actively claimed and captured territory such that the nation came to know that it was for real. Initially, perhaps due to the ineptitude and lacklustre performance of the government, some people hailed it as the only way of removing a clique which had so entrenched itself in power that the slightest opposition was virtually not tolerated. Although one school of thought maintained that the APC was by then introducing reforms for a pluralistic political atmosphere. Its opponents still insisted that the changes were cosmetic and a mere bid to hoodwink the international community, which at the time, in the aftermath of the fall of the Soviet Union, was calling for the democratic ’wind of change’ to blow across the globe with a view particularly to change communist and one-party states, one of which was in power in Sierra Leone.

The rebel war was therefore bound to have sympathisers and collaborators. The rebels’ main targets were initially military positions, but they began a programme of ’sensitisation’ of the civilian populace in the areas they captured, which led to the level of collaboration becoming immeasurable and things became so confusing that there was now lack of trust between the soldiers and the civilians as to how to approach the war. Simultaneously, the government, sitting in the cozy unaffected city, was blamed for lack of commitment. And for this it paid a dear price when a group of soldiers abandoned their positions at the war front, came to Freetown to apparently complain, which eventually ballooned to a military take-over on 29 April 1992.

The National Provisional Ruling Council (NPRC) committed itself to quickly end the war and return the country to democratic rule. The response of the civilian population was a unanimous acceptance of the regime - at least from the demonstrations and utterances in Freetown and other big towns in the country. The international community was at best aloof, with Britain (the former colonial power) the lone voice in pronouncing reservations about the take-over and announcing the temporary closure of its High Commission in the country (It was, however, later re-opened during the course of the regime).

The new head of state, Captain Valentine Strasser, promised to fight the rebels on all fronts - land, air, and sea - which he made manifest by allocating a greater chunk of the national budget to the purchase of military hardware and increasing pay and other services for the army. Indeed, by December 1993 the rebels had been pushed back, with towns and villages recaptured from them as far as back as the Liberian border. By all means, the whole territory of Sierra Leone had been liberated. Immediately thereafter, the government announced a unilateral ceasefire, holding out the olive branch to all those rebels who were willing to surrender. But this, as events subsequently turned out, was a terrible mistake. Because, as the soldiers stopped their pursuit, the rebels used the lull as an opportunity to regroup and restart the fighting.

By the time the army knew what was going on, they had been overwhelmed - and the RUF was soon to knock on the doors of the city as they came as close as 23 kilometres away. The lack of trust between soldiers and civilians intensified, and soon there were inevitable bloody clashes between the two. Although there was already a transition programme that was apparently being followed, the civilians added more pressure for the military government to back out. Three months before the holding of the scheduled elections there was a palace coup against Strasser which placed his then second-in-command, Brigadier-General Julius Maada Bio, as the new head of state. Bio committed himself to continuing the election process, while at the same time starting to talk to the rebels for an end to the war.

He organised a communication process whereby the military and some politicians were able to directly speak to Sankoh in the bush via VHS radio. The voice was heard but there were still doubts as to the authenticity of the speaker. So, when the government sought to delay elections by organising a consultative conference asking for peace before elections, there were suspicions; and delegates - backed by calls from the international community for democracy to take hold - replied with a big ’no’, pressing for the vote even though the head of the army said he could not guarantee security for all during voting. And it turned out that on the day of elections, the rebels went to town and disrupted the voting in some areas, even cutting off people’s thumbs for exercising their franchise.

The initial perception about the war in Sierra Leone by the international community, and even many Sierra Leoneans, was that Foday Sankoh was a mere hoax being used by the rebels in pursuant of their goals - whatever those were. The feeling was that the rebel outfit was rudderless and there was no Foday Sankoh. It was only through the efforts of the then Ivorien government of Henri Konan Bedie (whose Foreign Minister Amara Essy, encouraged by the NPRC, flew to Sankoh’s jungle stronghold to convince the rebel leader to come out and state his case) and a non-governmental international organisation, International Alert, working with the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), braving the jungles of Kailahun district via helicopter and by road, that Sankoh was convinced to come out of the bush for the world to see him. He appeared bearded, dishevelled, but firm in his convictions on his first public appearance since the war, in Ivory Coast.

The international community’s interest was then aroused, and efforts were made to strike a peace deal between the rebels and the government, which culminated in the signing of the Abidjan Peace Accord in November 1996 - that is, after it had been ensured that the fruits of peace could only be harvested with the international community’s support when there was a civilian government in place. It was during the military government that Sankoh was brought out of the bush, but it was at the time of the civilian government that emerged after the elections under President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah that the peace agreement was signed, with international institutions as moral guarantors. Ecowas, the Organisation of African Unity, the Commonwealth and the UN were all represented during the deliberations. Basically, the agreement called for an end to the war, a disarmament programme for all combatants, and the formation of confidence-building commissions which would include the rebel group in the running of state affairs. From then on, the regional and international bodies paid greater attention to the conflict-resolution process in Sierra Leone.

The Abidjan Peace Accord was generally hailed by both sides of the conflict, backed by jubilation from the general Sierra Leonean populace and commendations from African and world leaders as the best way out of the mess in which the country had found itself. Yet, by January 1997, hostilities resumed, the peace agreement was in tatters, and everything was back to square one.

The big question therefore is what went wrong? Who was to blame for the breakdown of the peace process? Did the international institutions that committed themselves to the peace process play their roles well? I must hasten to mention that after the Abidjan Peace Accord, at least three other peace agreements (the Conakry Peace Plan of 1997, the Lomé Peace Accord of 1999, and the Abuja Peace Commitment of 2000) were signed before it was finally declared that peace had finally returned to Sierra Leone. And each of the subsequent arrangements was hailed as a way out, but each (except perhaps the one at Abuja) woefully failed, to the extent of pushing the whole nation to the precipice of an all-out war.

For the sake of this paper, I will concentrate on analysing the roles played by the international community in resolving (or refuelling) the conflict in Sierra Leone. One question to ask is would peace have come earlier, say in 1996, instead of now after so many people had been killed and properties destroyed, if these institutions had acted in accordance with their respective objectives? Were they acting in concert and co-ordinating with each other, or did the regional institutions and actors have their own agendas, different from that of the wider international ones? Did these institutions themselves get mired in the conflict, and in a sense become participants in the hostilities? Or was their best just not good enough for the Sierra Leonean warmongers?

One thing we must accept absolutely is that it has been through the signing of an accord that peace has eventually returned to Sierra Leone, and essentially one accord cannot be more beautiful than any other. Certainly, there must have been some terrible mistakes by either the stakeholders or the moral guarantors for more than one accord to fail. The provisions of the Lomé Peace Accord were certainly not essentially different from those of the Abidjan Peace Agreement, neither from those of Conakry nor from those of Abuja - and the one connecting reality is that they were all signed under the tenure (whether at home or in exile) of President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah, who is still the sitting president of Sierra Leone. So, was the failure of the earlier agreements a result of a hidden agenda, a miscalculation, or a self-serving ploy?

With President Kabbah having worked at the UN for more than 15 years before returning to Sierra Leone, these questions could not have been more appropriate with another persona as head of state of Sierra Leone. The first thing that comes to mind is that, since these institutions were run by human beings, perhaps - and at this stage it is simply perhaps - a sense of honour, of being prone to err out of sentiment, could have influenced certain situations in support of a former colleague when reality and common sense could or should have dictated otherwise. Was a blind eye turned to the plight of the country to save the name and neck of a former UN official? Or was a retired UN official allowed to interpret the rules in his interest as against the provisions of the peace arrangements? Was it a question of might against right?

On the other hand, as the rebels expressly started the war to remove a government from power, were they power-hungry to the extent that no peace deal would stop them from gaining ultimate political authority? Were they merely signing to give the impression of seriousness but underneath planning to wreak more havoc until they took the seat of power? Was rebel leader Foday Sankoh ever satisfied with a compromise position that placed him in a subsidiary authority other than that of head of state? Or were his fighters just ruthless vermin whose preoccupation was to cause mayhem and not to abide by any internationally endorsed principles?

I must state that I am going to give more attention to the two most controversial peace accords - Conakry and Lomé - in which the international community actually showed greater attention and made more contributions. The Abidjan Peace Accord of 1996 was more the outcome of haphazard bilateral-cum-regional efforts than anything else. The government of Ivory Coast at the time, headed by President Konan Bedie, influenced the RUF (which had an office in that country) to sue for peace. Facilitated by International Alert and the Red Cross, the Ivorien Foreign Minister Amarra Essy met RUF leader Foday Sankoh in Sierra Leone, brought him out of the bush, culminating in the signing of the accord on 30 November 1996.

Among other things (according to the webpage, the agreement called for the demobilisation of RUF fighters, the removal of foreign forces, including the South African mercenary force Executive Outcomes, for the government to establish work-training programs for former RUF fighters, and for the incorporation of some former rebels into the Sierra Leone army. It also provided for the transformation of the RUF into a political party. However, as stated earlier, by January 1997, the peace accord was in shambles. The blame for this could be apportioned more to internal players than external factors.

There seemed to be a considerable lack of trust between the two parties, and before long there were accusations and counter-accusations. The government accused the RUF of an unwillingness to disarm, while the rebels claimed that the government was disregarding the accord and attacking their positions. It was hard to believe anyone. But what became clear was that the government downplayed the breakdown of the ceasefire. For example, when reports emerged about a massacre of up to 150 people by "unknown gunmen" in an area held by the RUF in Tonkolili district, presidential adviser Sheka Mansaray denied it, and said: "The reports threaten to undermine the increasingly cordial relations between the RUF and the government....Several donor countries have informed the government since the signing of the accord of their willingness to contribute to the government’s plea for $1 billion to rebuild and resettle the country. These reports threaten to keep donors away."1

Apart from sounding overzealous for the money, one wonders if the government spokesman was telling the truth, at least about the "increasingly cordial relationship" with the rebels. A few weeks later the government colluded with some representatives from the RUF sent as representatives to participate in the Commission for the Consolidation of Peace (CCP) in Freetown. This group then announced the overthrow of rebel leader Foday Sankoh, who at the same time had been arrested in Nigeria by the Sierra Leonean government’s ally, General Sani Abacha. Later, the leader of the plotters, Philip Palmer, confessed to the plot with the government.2

After that unfortunate mistake (which made the government naively to ask the plotters to go back to the bush and talk to the fighters on the ground to accept the overthrow of Sankoh, which in turn led to the fighters kidnapping the delegates), there was not an iota of trust left between the two parties, and hostilities resumed. None of the provisions of the accord was implemented. Another decision the government took was to reduce facilities for and even downsize the army, instead of planning to incorporate the rebels.3 In fact, the government was accused of swelling the ranks and arming the pro-government militia, the Kamajors.

The army felt threatened, and in the end staged a coup in May 1997. Notwithstanding the fact that it was mostly due to internal distrust and miscalculation, the international community and institutions represented during the signing of the accord could have done more. The arrangement called for the deployment of UN observers to monitor the peace accord, but none arrived to do so up to the time of the coup. Also, the international community failed to remind the government of the folly and indeed the danger of supporting the overthrow of Sankoh, who was the chief signatory representing the rebel group in the accord. The international community should have known that its own credibility was at stake, because " February 1995, the UN Secretary- General appointed a special envoy, Mr Berhanu Dinka...(who) worked with the OAU and Ecowas to try to negotiate a settlement to the conflict.....Dinka assisted in negotiating a peace agreement in November 1996 between the government and the RUF known as the Abidjan Peace Accord."4

It was only after the overthrow of the government that the international community raised concerns about the peace process and the importance of constitutional authority. The accord that was subsequently signed in Conakry, Guinea, was actually now more the result of the efforts and work of the international community and institutions. The Conakry peace plan, with the UN, the OAU, and Ecowas principally playing the role of moral guarantors, was signed on 23 October 1997. It was not significantly different from the previous one, but it must be noted that this time around the elected government was in exile and the RUF was now subsumed into the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC), the ruling military junta. Among other things, the accord called for the return of power to the elected government on 22 April 1998, an amnesty for all combatants, the inclusion of Foday Sankoh in the peace arrangements, the enlargement of the Ecomog force to disarm the warring factions, and, "if approved by the Security Council, assisted by UN military observers."5 The accord was hailed by all as the best way out. But it again failed.

Whose fault was that? Here, I dare submit that the international community and institutions - or rather the personalities representing them - played a greater role in derailing the accord. It appeared they were prepared to gloss over all other provisions and concentrating on the one which stated that President Kabbah should return on April 22. The junta complained that, though they were willing to abide by that date, there were key issues to be addressed before its implementation. It maintained that there were no other soldiers in the "so-called" Ecomog force except Nigerians with whom they had previously had several skirmishes, that RUF leader Foday Sankoh should be released, and that the Sierra Leone army could be restructured but not disarmed. This was interpreted as a lack of commitment to the accord on the part of the military junta.

The website of the UN Observer Mission in Sierra Leone (Unomsil) does not mince its words on that: "Although the junta publicly committed itself to implementing the agreement, it subsequently criticised key provisions and raised a number of issues, with the result that the agreement was never implemented."6 This, to me, is essentially misleading. Because the UN special envoy at the time, Francis Okelo, visited Freetown, and after discussing the issues with the junta, told a press conference that they were "legitimate" and said if steps were not taken to address them, "we might fall behind the deadline."7 Furthermore, the UN team, which travelled to Makeni in the north, expressed surprised that the situation on the ground was different from the picture of chaos being churned out to the world by Guinea-based politicians. In fact it was the pro-government militia, the Kamajors, implementing ’Operation Black December’ (launched after the signing of the accord) that carried out attacks in the presence of the UN team.8 (Unomsil, an observer mission, was replaced in October 1999 by a much larger UN force, known as the UN Mission in Sierra Leone or Unamsil).

But what baffles me, and why I have allocated a greater portion of the blame to the international/regional community and institutions for the collapse of the Conakry Peace Plan, is that they had known that the government-in-exile was playing some tricks and yet hailed it when it used force to totally destroy the accord and overthrow the junta. In justifying that action, the UN website states: "In February 1998, Ecomog responding to an attack by the rebel army/junta forces, launched a military attack that led to the collapse of the junta and its expulsion from Freetown." This is amazing, because the facts state that the Security Council felt hoodwinked by the Nigerian forces in that while they were talking peace on the surface, they were actually planning an all-out attack, and UN Secretary General Kofi Annan actually called for an end to hostilities.9

Apart from the government’s launching of ’Operation Black December’, which should outrightly have been condemned by all moral guarantors of the October peace plan, the government was preparing for war with their Nigerian allies bombing Freetown, going far beyond their UN mandate to enforce sanctions on petroleum products and arms. Ecomog had also contracted the services of a British mercenary firm, Sandline International, whose chief co-ordinator Indian-born Thai banker Rakesh Saxena was arrested in Canada in early February10; and the former Nigerian commander in Sierra Leone was quoted way before the attack, in the Vanguard newspaper of Nigeria, as having stated that "only force" can restore President Kabbah.11 All this shows that there was a calculated plan on the side of the government and its allies to break the peace agreement, and the international community and institutions cannot pretend not to know that. They were giving Kabbah all the fitting accolades of the head of state of Sierra Leone, attending all international conferences - and being given financial and moral support: the European Union pledged $360 million, the UK pledged £130,000, while the US categorically stated that it only recognised Kabbah as the president of Sierra Leone.12 On its part, the Organisation of Islamic Countries made President Kabbah its vice-president for Africa in a conference held in Iran.13

"It appears that the international community has ganged itself up against Sierra Leone while its people suffer. We want the international community to play a fair game in the name of neutrality."14 These were the words of the AFRC Secretary General, Col AK Sesay, who after the overthrow of the junta was executed along with 23 others, forgetting that the Conakry Peace Plan called for an amnesty. Clearly, the international community and institutions did not only fail to condemn but actually colluded in contravening the peace plan to which they were moral guarantors. This is because after the fall of the junta, all were sending congratulatory messages to the intervention force: the US government, President Robert Mugabe (as OAU chairman) and Niger welcomed the intervention15, while Chief Emeka Anyaku, the secretary general of the Commonwealth, praised the success of the Nigerian soldiers.16 I need not mention Ecowas because Nigeria’s Sani Abacha was its chairman then; and as for the UN, its statement speaks louder: Following the return of President Kabbah, "The Security Council terminated the oil and arms embargo and strengthened the office of the Special Envoy to include UN military liaison officers..."17

This could be described as the most terrible mistake of the international community in trying to resolve the Sierra Leone conflict, because the destruction that resulted and the number of people killed and mutilated between that time and when another peace accord was signed in July 1999 outnumbered all that had happened previously in the 11-year war. That none of these institutions or their representatives reminded President Kabbah of the need to still have dialogue with the rebel/army coalition even after his reinstatement on 10 March 1998 underlined some sort of "conspiracy" against the accord. It was only when the whole thing boomeranged, with the Nigerians incapable of "flushing out" the rebels and the latter approaching Freetown (which they eventually attacked and occupied), that voices started to come out about negotiating again. Even then, the intransigence of the government and some of its allies, even within these institutions, could not be hidden.

A look at some statements uttered at the time can tell the story. On hearing of the resurgence of rebel activities, President Kabbah had this to say to Freetown residents on radio and television: "There is no reason to panic. There is no way the rebels can harm you. They are a handful of people and not strong enough to make any trouble for you people in Freetown.... Ecomog has assured us 100 per cent that they are completely on top of the situation...."18 Ten days later, Kabbah was more categorical in stating that the rebels were trying to create panic in the civilian population "in an attempt to pressure the government to negotiate", but said that he and his government "would not allow " themselves to be forced into such a deal. He went on to state that Liberian President Charles Taylor had advised that RUF leader Foday Sankoh be released, yet "it would be totally irresponsible" and a violation of the law if he did that.19 It was more than a capitulation when after the rebels entered the city on 6 January 1999, Kabbah was more than enthusiastic in taking Foday Sankoh from prison and starting to negotiate with him, leading to the signing of the Lomé Peace Accord.

But way before that, some exposure had been made of the hypocrisy of the international institutions and /or their representatives. Even though a consultative conference of paramount chiefs and traditional elders was urging that "the philosophy of fire putting out fire cannot work any more. This war will only end at the negotiating table"20, and rebel Field Commander Sam Bockarie had stated their objective of attacking Freetown, but "We are asking for peace. We are not coming for revenge... We want to enter into dialogue," provided there was an immediate and unconditional release of RUF leader Foday Sankoh, saying the rebels would give up their arms only if Sankoh made the request, on the condition that he were "free, on neutral territory, and not under duress"21, no one took action to try that path. In fact Ecomog detained the chiefs, with the assertion that "Ecomog is in control of the situation, and is presently engaged in routing and destroying the rebels."22

And they had tacit, if not overt, support from the international community and institutions. The resident chief of the UN observer mission, General Subashi Joshi, told UN staff that there was no cause for panic: "The situation would be under reasonable control within a couple of days.... Freetown is well protected."23 Coincidentally, that was the same day that President Kabbah had assured 100 per cent security to Freetown residents, and it was on that same day that a statement of the UN Security Council read by its President, Jassim Mohammed Buallay of Bahrain, maintained that council members "expressed their concern at the intensified attacks launched by rebel forces.... (and) reaffirmed their support for the government of President Kabbah and continue to commend the role of the Ecomog force..."24

Britain’s Minister of State for Africa, Tony Lloyd, while evacuating British citizens due to the worsening security situation, still maintained: "But our strong support for the democratically elected government of President Kabbah remains undiminished... We continue to lead international support for the legitimate government in Sierra Leone, and we are in close touch with our partners in the Security Council and elsewhere on how to take things forward."25 On his part, the Commonwealth Secretary General, Chief Emeka Anyaku, responding to the situation, said, "I hope that the resurgent rebel activity which has intensified in recent days, will be swiftly and effectively dealt with", adding that the ousting of the AFRC military junta in February and the restoration of the elected civilian government had demonstrated the Commonwealth’s commitment to democracy.26 The Ecowas Committee of Five set up for the resolution of the conflict, held an emergency meeting in Abidjan, but didn’t come up with new initiatives: they called on the rebels "to cease fighting immediately, lay down their arms, and recognise the government of President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah....". Perhaps the only personality to be singled out of the blanket blindness to the situation at the time was UN Special Envoy Francis Okelo who stated that the Sierra Leone government might have no choice but to negotiate with "those who have grievances" sooner rather than later, because "the situation on the ground is getting worse. The government has to take this seriously. It can’t stand back and wait for things to get better".27 But, in reality, it was the barking of a toothless bulldog, as no action was taken to that effect.

What I am trying to point out is that, in their support for democracy or particularly for President Kabbah, the international community and institutions and /or their representatives forgot about the peace process, particularly having dialogue with the rebels - until Freetown fell that is. The UN website has this to say: "In the aftermath of the rebel attack (on Freetown in January 1999) UN Special Representative Francis Okelo, in consultation with West African states, initiated a series of diplomatic efforts aimed at opening up dialogue with the rebels. Negotiations between the government and the rebels began in May 1999 and on 7 July all parties to the conflict signed an agreement in Lomé to end hostilities and form a government of national unity."28

Then one is tempted to ask, why was the deadline of the Conakry Peace Plan for Kabbah to have been reinstated peacefully on April 22 1998 not adhered to? Why all the fuss, the force, and the killings, when in the end the RUF leader was given the status of vice-president and junta leader Johnny Paul Koroma made chairman of the Commission for the Consolidation of Peace (CCP) through the Lomé accord? All the hundreds if not thousands of people - soldiers as well as civilians - detained as rebel collaborators (forgetting the amnesty provisions of the Conakry accord) after Kabbah’s reinstatement were now again given freedom and amnesty under the Lomé accord. Eventually, according to the provisions of Lomé, the Sierra Leone army was to be restructured, not disarmed or disbanded and was to include the civil militia, and suitable RUF fighters were to be incorporated in the army. And then the reality of not leaving the peacekeeping task entirely on the Nigerians dawned: "The parties to the conflict also requested an expanded role for Unomsil...the Security Council authorised the establishment of Unamsil, a new and much larger mission with a maximum of 6,000 military personnel, including 260 military observers, to assist the government and the parties in carrying out provisions of the Lomé Peace Agreement. At the same time, the Council decided to terminate Unomsil."29 Progressively, the Unamsil contingent reached a peak of 17,500 military personnel. While not justifying military rule, I wish to submit that all these efforts by the international institutions were much the same things that junta leader Johnny Paul Koroma was talking about, yet it was said the junta was not committed to the peace accord. In hindsight, one could say without hesitation that had all these steps been taken in 1997, many lives and much property could have been saved, and my country Sierra Leone would not have gone through the bestial atrocities for which it has lately become known.

Indeed, it was the Lomé Peace Accord that effectively ended the war. Although there were hitches here and there, including a return to hostilities when some UN soldiers were captured by a group of RUF fighters culminating in the shooting down of some 20-odd demonstrators at the residence of RUF leader Foday Sankoh, the truth is that many rebels had already disarmed when Sankoh in the company of UN soldiers ordered them to do so, and virtually all soldiers listening to an order from Johnny Paul Koroma had returned to demobilisation camps for eventual retraining. It was in fact these former ’renegade’ soldiers that stood up on May 8 2000 to forestall the aim of the splinter RUF to disrupt the peace process. Although the rebels complained that they took that decision to draw the attention of the international community to certain unimplemented provisions of the accord (like not giving their officials key appointments to government parastatals), the presence of Unamsil as a configuration of soldiers from various nationalities, and the national army’s realisation that they were still regarded as the soldiers of the state, gave the necessary impetus to forestall further chaos.

I would be remiss in my duty if I state that the international community and institutions totally and absolutely failed in resolving the conflict in Sierra Leone. Not at all. My humble submission is that they acted very late - and that truth cannot be divorced from the fact that there was too much sentimental support for President Kabbah to the effect that many things were overlooked. I am tempted to feel that had it been another person - and not Dr Ahmad ‘Alhaji’ Tejan Kabbah - the situation could have been different. But Kabbah, having studied in the UK, worked at the UN (in the US, with UN Secretary General Kofi Annan as "a friend") for over 15 years, also having former Ecowas chairman Sani Abacha as a very close friend, with the Commonwealth secretary general being a Nigerian, at the same time being a Muslim at a time when the presidency of the UN Security Council was held by a fellow Muslim from Bahrain, the timing could not have been more auspicious for him to have manipulated the situation to his advantage. However, I must state, that these leaders might not have acted the way they did had there been any expectation of a catastrophe of the magnitude of that which befell Sierra Leone under Kabbah’s tenure. But, all in all, with many of us having survived to tell the story, there is a partial success side to the events; because, there is a measure of democracy and some peace in the country, which, I admit, could not have been attainable without the continuous efforts of the international community and their institutions.

The main lesson to be learnt from Sierra Leone is that, these institutions actually have the capacity to succeed, without the need for unnecessary delays and sentiments. The international community and institutions have the wherewithal, the resources, and the expertise to avert catastrophes and even prevent wars; but many a time, as in the cases of Sudan, Rwanda, Somalia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Liberia, and Sierra Leone, are crippled and at times incapacitated by either bureaucratic delays or human foibles - which usually lead to unforeseen and untold carnage, only to be regretted by all. Then there is the added problem of patronage and sentiment, which more often than not even contravene the very essence and foundation for which the international institutions were established.

The Sierra Leone experience must be a lesson that even the greatest nations and the most powerful institutions must - as far as possible - act fast enough and remove personal relationships in the course of promoting peace and tranquility for our world. The Special Court, back by the international community, is a welcome deterrent to many a warlord, but it remains to be seen whether it will turn out to be worth the colossal sums of dollars and pound sterlings have been invested in it. Particularly, there is the disheartening fact that the principal players/ key indictees "bearing the greatest responsibility" in the war are actually all absent from the dock. RUF leader Foday Sankoh and his most powerful lieutenant Sam ’Mosquito’ Bockarie plus the Nigerian commander of the intervention force (lacking a requisite UN resolution to use force against the junta) General Maxwell Khobe are now dead, Liberian warlord and former President Charles Taylor has refused to submit to the court’s jurisdiction while enjoying the protection of political asylum in Nigeria (with Sani Abacha dead and gone), and former junta leader Johnny Paul Koroma has evaded arrest by going into hiding. Furthermore, a perhaps extreme school of thought sees no reason why President Kabbah’s former Deputy Defence Minister Sam Hinga Norman could be indicted while letting off the head of state from whom he had been receiving directives and logistics.

Whatever may be the end result, the international community, especially the United Nations, needs to be more impartial in resolving conflicts, whether in the Philippines or India/Pakistan or Israel/Palestine or Iraq, than it has been in trying to do so in Sierra Leone. Our world deserves better.

1. - 10th December 1996
2. Ibid. - 29th December 1998
3. Ibid. - 31st December 1996
4. - background
5. Ibid.
6. Ibid
7. - 15th & 16th January 1998
8. Ibid. - 16th January 1998
9. Ibid. - 11th February 1998
10.Ibid. - 3rd February 1998
11.Ibid. - 23rd January 1998
12.Ibid. - 5th December 1997
13.Ibid. - 11th December 1997
14.Ibid. - 1st Decenber 1997
15.Ibid. - 13th February 1998
16.Ibid. - 20th February 1998 -background -13th Decmeber 1998
19.Ibid. - 23rd December 1998
20. Ibid. - 4th December 1998
21.Ibid. 24th December 1998
22. Ibid. - 22nd December 1998
23.Ibid. - 23rd December 1998
24.Ibid. - 23rd December 1998
25.Ibid. - 26th December 1998
26. Ibid. -30th December 1998
27.Ibid. - 29th December 1998 - background

1. - an independent website established in 1994.
2 - official website of the United National Mission in Sierra Leone. Published by the peace and security section of the Department of Public Information, in co-operation with the Department of Peacekeeping Operations