Sierra Leone's New Circus of
By Tom Kamara
November 13, 2000
The Sierra Leone circus of tragedy is again in full swing. A ceasefire has been signed and many people are jumping with joy only to sit in despair later. If the celebrated Lome Agreement, backed by London, Washington and the UN, ended in Hell, the current Abuja ceasefire agreement, (like the Abuja Peace Agreement that gave Liberia a President Charles Taylor who has kept Freetown's flames of terror burning) is likely to give Sierra Leone a President Foday Sankoh, now that the rebels are equating British troops with "mercenaries" who they want out of the country.
Key issues in the ceasefire, such as RUF's demand to expel all "mercenaries", meaning British troops that have contained them, tell the rebels' real plans---military conquest through buying time--- hatched and to be implemented from Monrovia. The rebels are simply reechoing their master's voice, for they have no independent agenda or demands other than those of their Liberian controller.
"We are very concerned about the large presence of British Forces outside of UNAMSIL in Sierra Leone," Taylor told reporters upon his return from a trip to Libya and Burkina Faso. "We have raised these concerns in the sub-region. If they were part of UNAMSIL, good."
This demand came just after Taylor announced in Nigeria that he had withdrawn support to the RUF. Although he had consistently denied supporting the ruthless rebels known for children limb-amputation, he was now withdrawing the support he claimed he never gave.
West Africa's agony is becoming a question of Taylor having the biggest gun to intimidate and impose his will on others. His fear within a region of self-created enemies is a militarily stable neighbor outside his manipulative influence aimed at the continued theft of Sierra Leone's diamonds. And the arrogance of the Liberian, based on his continued successes in destabilization plots via rebel groups like the RUF, is shown in his quest to determine terms of bilateral relations between countries. He wants the British out of Sierra Leone. He has already protested American training of the Guinean Army. Just what he is relying on in calling the shots, plagued with a ruined economy and growing disenchantment, is anyone's guess. Although the Sierra Leone Government insists the role of British troops is based on a bilateral arrangement between two sovereign states, Taylor intends to use the RUF as his trump card in kicking the British out and to further consolidate his hold on rebel movements needed in his stealing and other designs. At the moment, with arms supply pouring into various Liberian seaports, and with South African Neo-Nazis flocking to Monrovia along with Ukrainians mercenaries training the RUF and beefing up his own fighters, the British present the most potent threat. Guinea is already in flames ignited in Monrovia.
But the RUF is emboldened in demanding British troops' departure by, among many other factors, its success in expelling the South African military group Executive Outcomes after the 1996 Abidjan peace talks. A naïve Kabbah, under IMF pressure but also because of one of his ties to Charles Taylor due to their Libyan links and other values, yielded to the rebels, only to set the stage for the invasion of Freetown. Backed by the Liberians and trained by the South African Neo-Nazis in return for diamonds, the RUF rode into Freetown in genocide and mayhem. Thousands died as Kabbah was flown to Conakry. But with Conakry itself now a target of combined Liberian and RUF assaults, Kabbah may have nowhere to run the next time. Giving ears to the RUF in making more demands exposes his barbarity.
In Abuja some months ago, Taylor told an angry President Obsanjo that Sankoh must be released since a rebel leader needs a terrain in which to operate freely and give orders to his killers. Since then, although men like Obasanjo protested at such insanity, RUF's campaign of mayhem continued, forcing new rounds of talks to make Sierra Leoneans see "reason" in capitulating. And without the British who whipped out another menace called Westside Boys, there would have been an additional armed faction with additional demands at the ceasefire talks. That Taylor and his buffer RUF Army can equate British troops with mercenaries and demand their withdrawal unveils their final plan---military conquest for diamonds. The terror waged on Sierra Leone for diamonds defied description and yet, men and women who perpetuate such evils are given ears, treated as people with legitimate claims by West African leaders when world determination against them is needed to give Sierra Leone's children justice. Says British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook:
"I went to Sierra Leone this summer and I visited a camp for the amputees where I saw two thousand people who had had arms or legs lopped off by the rebels, including babies who are unable to crawl before they had their arms lopped off by the crazed rebels. My objective in Sierra Leone is in order to try and prevent anybody else having their arms lopped off by the rebels...We will pursue with determination our goal of a Sierra Leone free from fear and rid of the rebels. Britain is already making a bigger military commitment to Sierra Leone than any other Western nation."
This new twist in the Sierra Leone drama, clearly masterminded by Taylor the ever-restless strategist of anarchy for personal wealth, is far from unexpected. It is designed to let his will prevail. "Give me 10 years and I will control this region", Taylor told confidantes recently. But the truth few West African and world leaders are willing to accept is that unless Taylor is crushed in Liberia, Sierra Leone's (and West Africa's) woes will never end. International pressure on the Liberians has been mounting in recent months, with the Americans, the country's traditional benefactors, barring all Liberian government functionaries, their families from the United States. The crony and criminal economy is in ruins, with former US President Jimmy Carter once one of Taylor's admirers, shutting down pro-democracy projects in the country and charging:
"Much to our dismay, Liberia is a country where reports of serious human rights abuses are common, where journalists, human rights organizations, and political activists work in an atmosphere of fear and intimidation, and where there is little political space for meaningful democratic debate. Instead of being used to improve education, infrastructure, and development, Liberia's resources have been diverted toward extra-budgetary uses. In addition, it is increasingly evident that Liberia's role in the conflicts of the sub-region has been a destructive one".
Thus, Liberian adventures in Guinea, partly implemented via the RUF, have left over 600 people killed and many towns destroyed. And yet, the logic circulated, bought by the media, is that the Guineans, who fought and died in Liberian peacekeeping, deserve the terror because they are allegedly backing Liberian dissidents.
And the lies continue while Sierra Leone faces an uncertain future. Although Taylor had previously promised UN ambassadors he would instruct the RUF to turn over diamond areas, he has no plans of doing so. Says a rebel Colonel Kposowa who headed the RUF team at the ceasefire talks:
"Why are they [the government] curious now? Instead of finding solutions to the problem, they are telling us about diamond, diamond, diamond. I don't think that's the problem.'' And what is precisely the problem? The RUF [and Taylor] desire to keep the diamond fields with political power, outside of elections, as their protection? To achieve this objective, the limbs of children and the defenseless must be amputated? "Ma ma, will my hands grow like my friend's when I get big", asked an amputated 5-year old child. Yet, the pretense within West Africa is that RUF and their masters have genuine political grievances to be addressed and settled.
But unless instructions can be handed down from the rebel master and controller sitting in Monrovia, the ceasefire will crumble, and RUF rhetoric after the fanfare of signing indicates just that:
"Therefore what I'm saying is that we are going to use [the ceasefire] as a stepping stone," making it clear that he could "give no guarantees it [ceasefire] meant the end of the war." He said, "The release of Foday Sankoh is a very, very important of the RUF, but for now let us forget about that. What our country needs most is a ceasefire. Once there is peace we can then discuss other issues...Let's see whether there will be [success]. So long as there is confidence, then we have to do something after the 30 days," rebel spokesman Kposowa declared.
Here is all talk and no substance. It is Taylor who said during the Liberia war, "We will talk, talk, and talk about the talks". The RUF is simply adhering to strategy, and the new ceasefire agreement is just one of the limitless tactics. Once they are accommodated for new rounds of endless discussions, Sankoh's release will be put forth in the name of "peace." If not, the amputations will be intensified. Most naïve people will then conclude, (just as they did in 1999 and rewarded the rebels with the diamond fields) that if Sankoh's release is what is required for peace, then so be it. Sankoh will be released for the second time, but there will be no peace, only more deaths, amputations and plunder, Liberia's gift to West Africa.
Moreover, hopes in the ceasefire are premature because terms of the new agreement are identical to the disastrous 1996 Abidjan Agreement when the RUF, wanting to expel the South African military company Executive Outcome, (that had contained them and denied them victory) signed a ceasefire agreement. Once the South Africans military threat was removed, the RUF marched on Freetown, leaving about 6000 dead and the city in ruins by 1999. With Taylor's military and territorial backing, the RUF was sufficiently prepared to launch an all out offensive seizing power. Taylor had recruited South African mercenaries, members of the notorious Apartheid defense forces, who gave the RUF the needed muscle. But the RUF and their allies were dislodged by combined Ecomog-Kamajor force. Another Agreement, the Lome Agreement, was signed, again outlining the same demands in the failed Abidjan Agreement and bringing the rebels into government with diamonds as their reward. In the end, they refused to disarm, and instead disarmed UN troops expected to disarm them. Sierra Leone civil society took to the streets and the rebels opened fire, killing over 20 peaceful demonstrators. Their notorious leader went into hiding only to be captured and imprisoned. World conscience demanded that the rebels should face an international tribunal for subjecting a defenseless population, including thousands of children, to terror for material objectives.
Now, the rebels have staged a new play aimed at recuperating from their loss and to buy time. The British have replaced the Executive Outcome as the enemy number one. Once they are gone, or once they cease their training of the country's Army, the RUF "peace" will come. For the second time, they want their chief butcher released. And they are promising peace they promised 10 years ago. This is a dangerous game.
West Africa is playing with a dangerous fire that may consume it in the very near future. Many rulers may see their interests tied to Taylor and the RUF but this is a fatal mistake. No interests are worth protecting over countless dead bodies and when you are dead. Guinea, hosting over half a million refugees from Sierra Leone and Liberia, is combating determined invasion plans involving the RUF. In recent weeks, border towns, including the strategic town of Forecaria just outside Conakry, have been attacked. Hundreds of Guineans have been killed. The United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) is lobbying for over US $13m to resettle refugees affected by the fighting in border areas. Reports indicate a booming arms trade from Liberia, facilitated by several seaports in Taylor's uncontested dominion. Monrovia remains the base for RUF military and political operatives who flew from Monrovia for the talks. They will renter their bush hideouts via Liberia, although Taylor claims he no longer backs them. Angry University of Liberia students recently demanded the expulsion of the RUF from the city and country. And yet, West African leaders are listening to political and military demands from men who cutoff children hands, feet in the name of politics.
The bigotry that led to the installation of mass killers and plunderers in Liberia as national leaders has resulted into continued chaos within the region. More and more people are fleeing from Liberia. The economy remains in ruins as isolation intensifies. Liberian mercenaries for hire are available to anyone with the minimum and many are still held in Abidjan following recent election violence, according to sources. Liberia is West Africa's problem, and those who pretend that they are dealing with reasonable men and women instead of criminal gangsters will soon know their folly. Yesterday it was Sierra Leone. Today it is Guinea. Ivory Coast is not yet out of the woods. Who knows who will be next?
What the world must understand is that very few of Africa's current rulers see anything repugnant with rebels who chop children hands, and use them as sex slaves in the pursuit of imagined political demands, just as they saw nothing evil in crowning mass killers, rapists rulers in Liberia. A good number of the current cast of rulers emerged out of the school of death and plunder. Sankoh's rebels are simply at home with bedfellows whose only embarrassment is that outsiders are watching. If not, Sierra Leone would have long been injected with the Liberian medicine of "African solutions to African problems". Decent mankind must pray against that.