When Would We Stop Wielding the Axes?

24 December 2005 at 23:57 | 630 views

By Karamoh Kabba

One would think that post-war Sierra Leone, like Germany after WWII, would swap its battle-axes for work-axes. Introspectively, it does not claim to be left alone to face the brunt of seeking peace and post-war rehabilitation. It mustered the largest UN-peacekeeping force in recent times-UNAMSIL- to restore its peace, but not until much damage had been done. The more than a decade-long rebel war that ended in 2002 in Sierra Leone was infamous for the hacking of limbs of rebel victims including infants. The last contingent of the UN-peacekeeping forces left its shores only this month after five years of peace-keeping services. Despite the record amount of donor military and cash investment in that nation, anxiety looms while UNAMSIL is packing up its luggage.

In November this year, the Sierra Leone Peoples’ Party (S.L.P.P.) government officials sanctimoniously reacting to the threat of violence against Vice President Solomon E. Berewa in Bo, the second largest city in Sierra Leone, arrested and incarcerated Charles Margai, leader of the Peoples Movement for Democratic Change (P.M.D.C.) that is yet to become a political party. Margai’s supporters, especially the youth base, believe that the arrest and incarceration was a disingenuous action that was politically motivated to trample on his political ambition. But the S.L.P.P. government authorities claim that the demonstration by Margai supporters that resulted in the throwing of missiles and the booing at the vice president’s motorcade were masterminded by Charles Margai. Charles Margai was released pending an investigation into the matter following which he was re-arrested and charged along with ten others with eleven counts ranging from conspiracy to unlawful gathering. Critics of the government for its overzealous reaction against Margai were not surprised that his bail was set at the incredibly lofty sum of five million leones with two sureties who must be property owners in Bo.

In a recent telephone conversation with Charles Komba, a student at Milton Margai College, he stated: “Charles Margai has much support amongst the masses especially the youths, way more than Berewa. Many people don’t like Berewa.” But Vice President Berewa won by a landslide victory the S.L.P.P. convention held several months ago, about two years before the actual general elections, even though he does not seem to command the support of the masses. This gives much credence to the suspicion that the government’s legal action against Margai is a naive reaction to the political insecurity that has bedeviled the SLPP when Margai severed relations with that party. The two main questions many people are asking now are: What was the motivation behind the premature S.L.P.P. convention? Is the waiting time between now and the 2007 general elections a factor capable of placing the country at a low ebb for peace?

According to reliable sources, it was to allow Vice President Berewa enough time to build a formidable political fortune for himself. I may be wrong, but it appears that the second question is fast becoming the unwanted answer for the first. Evidently, the long waited period for the general elections has become counterproductive especially to the fragile peace. Many would agree that this political stratagem of misguided premise has produced an undesirable inference: Margai could not have had the luxury of time to break away from the S.L.P.P. for the reason of forming a new political party if the convention was not held too soon. Overzealous political ambition orchestrated by President Tejan Kabbah to dictate who should be the next president has sown bad seeds; manifest bitter rivalry and hatred amongst members of the S.L.P.P. In fact, the S.L.P.P. has become even more apprehensive now that its chances of winning the 2007 elections have been seriously reduced or hampered by Margai’s dissent.

Here are the stakes in this precarious political atmosphere: The people, especially the youths, who are mostly unemployed, marginalized and eager to see a change at the top, cannot afford to fight another war. But that is not to say that they will not pick up their battle-axes once more if the precarious trend does not improve for the better. It is dawning on Vice President Berewa that the overwhelming victory in the S.L.P.P. convention is not a silver bullet for victory in 2007. He is awakening to the hard fact that the S.L.P.P. delegates that were responsible for that victory are not a true measurement for presidential victory in 2007, especially when the Margai rebellion is factored into the equation.

Nelson Rolihlahla Madiba Mandela says: "From the regent,... he learned that ’a leader ... is like a shepherd. He stays behind the flock, letting the most nimble go on ahead, whereupon the others follow, not realizing that all along they are being directed from behind.’" But the S.L.P.P. leadership has positioned itself at the head of the flock observing and monitoring those who are not willing to praise-sing or be with the flock.Members of the international community, especially France, Britain and the United States, who have financed the peace process and are now financing the rehabilitation of many sectors of the economy have echoed the concerns of the government’s critics when they recently expressed, in strong words, their displeasure over the Margai arrest.

It was okay that Sierra Leoneans needed a third party to separate its warring factions, but have they learned anything at all from the eleven years of the atrocious war that has been characterized by some of the most egregious war crimes and crimes against humanity in recent years? The Sierra Leone civil war was a war of power politics fueled by the same youth factor that is building up once more, thus rendering the ongoing drama of power politics a frightening prospect.

Despite the aid that has been pouring in Sierra Leone, the time the country seems to be at work is only when its leaders are busy campaigning for elections. It is even worse now that those in power have given to themselves enough time not to concentrate on how to use donor funds to jumpstart the economy that has been battered by war and now corruption, but on how to stay in power and continue to line their pockets with donor funds.

West Africa, Africa, the rest of the world were standing on the edge of peace and war waiting to hear from George Weah in his own words on BBC radio, “I’m a peaceful person: I don’t want to jeopardize the peace process in Liberia; Liberia should move forward and Liberia is more important than the body.” Because of the reported violence between peacekeepers and his supporters following the disputed election result, these words restored many observers’ respect for George Weah, the wonder from the slums of Liberia who quickly became world footballer of the year, not to mention his good work with UNICEF. He has once more shown the world, in his own words that he is the winner without doubt.

This means that Liberia is no more a threat factor for sustainable peace in Sierra Leone. But many would agree that with George’s peace-loving and honor-loving words, “Liberia is more important than the body,” the heavy burden is now on the head of President Kabbah whose manipulative power politics has created the cause for threat of violence in Sierra Leone. Will Sierra Leone resurrect from its ashes of more than three decades of burning in red fire like a phoenix or wallow in donor funds ignorantly and voraciously as the pig, thereby sending its children to Hades once more?

In Bob Marley’s words, “If you are a big tree/we are the small ax.” Hopefully, George does not falter and that his voice is heard loud and clear by the leaders of Sierra Leone to swap their battle-axes for work-axes for a better Sierra Leone, for a better West Africa, for a better Africa and for a better world.

Karamoh Kabba copy©right 2005