Peace Never Had A Chance In Sierra Leone Under
the Lome Agreement
By Patrick L. N. Seyon
Sierra Leone is headline news again. Another tragic, human catastrophe unfolds. Since the beginning of May, tens of thousands of people, under attack by Foday Sankoh's Revolutionary United Front (RUF), are streaming into Freetown, the capital. Diplomatic activities at the United Nations in New York and at Abuja, Nigeria's capital, have been underway to send more UN peacekeepers into Sierra Leone, free the hostages, and stop the fighting. So far, the fighting continues, though away from Freetown, and the hostages have been freed.
In the meantime, Foday Sankoh, leader of the RUF and Sierra
Leone's vice president until the fighting broke out, who mysteriously
disappeared, has now been arrested. It remains unclear whether
the UN will now negotiate with Sankoh. The popular sentiments
in Freetown and the international community, though, are to put
Foday Sankoh on trial. The fragile Sierra Leone government has
made it clear that it would prosecute Sankoh.
This raises an important question: What will happen now to the peace agreement signed last July in Lome, Togo, by the RUF and the Sierra Leone government that brought the RUF into the government? It was supposed to establish peace in Sierra Leone, but peace remains illusive, given the latest outbreak of fighting. For all practical purposes, that agreement could neither establish peace then, nor can it be relied upon now to do so. For the following reasons, peace never had a chance in Sierra Leone:
First, the assumptions undergirding the peace formula and the formula itself were fundamentally faulty, rendering it unworkable, if not useless. The leaders of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), who mediated the Lome agreement and the international community, which gave its stamp of approval and support, were of the conviction that the RUF leadership wanted peace and would cease fighting, given the right incentives (which for the RUF meant taking control of the gold and diamond mines and the country, just like Charles Taylor and his NPFL in Liberia); that it wanted to share power; that excluding it from power-sharing would doom peace; and that it could and would be a trusted ally in the cause of peace. This conviction prevailed in spite of the absence of any guarantee that the inclusion of the RUF would or could secure peace.
Nevertheless, the mediators hoped that banding together thieves, mass murderers, and inept politicians to govern was the magic potion for peace in Sierra Leone (a potion tried in Liberia without success). President Ahmed Tejan Kabbah of Sierra Leone was pressured to grant "absolute and free pardon" to Foday Sankoh - the man responsible for the reign of terror that left 20,000 - 50,000 dead, 2 million more displaced and limb amputees of thousands of women, children and men - and "all combatants and collaborators." But a peaceful, stable political environment was neither of interest to nor wanted by the RUF. Hence, there was neither meeting of the minds between the parties nor was there an accord. To contend that there is an accord, which is, being violated is false, because actually, there is no agreement, or it exists only on paper. The RUF walked away from the conference table and continued fighting, as if it had not signed an agreement. And Sierra Leone has not had peace since!
Second, it was hoped, rather than required, that pirates and bandits, who lack common humanity, decency, integrity, and honor, were somehow going to do the right thing (lay down their weapons, obey humanitarian laws, and fulfill all other contractual obligations), because they have signed an agreement. The mediators and the rest of the world were on notice that that was not going to happen - we witnessed the fourteen agreements with Charles Taylor and his NPFL in Liberia, none of which was ever honored. On their way to the Lome talks, the RUF negotiating team stopped in Liberia and spent two days being tutored by Taylor. That alone should have alerted everyone concerned.
Third, the Lome accord was all carrots and no stick. Foday Sankoh was given the status of vice president. He and Johnny Paul Koroma, leader of the 1997 junta that overthrew the Kabbah government, took their seats in the coalition government without their fighters being completely disarmed and demobilized. In addition, Sankoh was given the responsibility to oversee gold and diamond extraction and marketing, the source of the violent conflict. Once they were in the government, there was no incentive to disarm their fighters, nor did the accord provide a mechanism or the stick to force them to do so. They should have been made to disarm and demobilize their fighters as a precondition for taking their seats in the government. With their fighters holding on to their weapons and entrenched in the gold and diamond mines, the RUF leadership could return to the bush and resume fighting, if things did not work out in their favor. And this is precisely what has happened.
This tactic is not new on the African scene. This is how Jonas Savimbi operated in Angola and Charles Taylor in Liberia. The threat of ECOWAS leaders meeting in Abuja on Tuesday, May 9, 2000, to revoke the amnesty granted Sankoh and others is hollow. For example, the 1996 Abuja Accord II on Liberia, worked out by the same leaders, stipulated that warring faction leaders, who did not cooperate or who violated the accord, would be prosecuted for war crimes and crimes against humanity, and not be allowed to participate in the elections. The warlords violated the accord, but no action was taken against any of them. Why then should anyone take the ECOWAS leaders' threat seriously now?
Finally, the Lome mediators probably assumed that politics is not about morality or ethics or Max Weber's legitimacy. To them, it is about power, derived from the gun barrel or chopping off the limbs of people who do not submit. They sided with Machiavellian that rulers are to be feared, not loved, particularly in Africa. And who could strike fear in the minds and hearts of Sierra Leoneans more than Foday Sankoh? Even though the Lome mediators touted respect for human rights and humanitarian laws, popular participation and democratic governance, they showed their true colors by putting Sankoh and his like in power. This may partially explain why Sankoh and Charles Taylor of Liberia have not been charged with crimes against humanity and war crimes. Being bankrupt of the social capital of trust - the glue that holds people and communities together - and lacking moral credibility, the ECOWAS leaders fashioned an accord that could neither restore nor inspire trust among the people or in their new government. They imposed a government that could not be seen as having the capacity and/or commitment to correct the moral injustice and wounds the people had suffered for so long. The Lome accord is thus repugnant to good conscience because it enthrones injustice over justice, and it puts moral wrong over right. It leaves the Sierra Leoneans gasping for hope; yoking together their bodies, minds and souls in one gigantic, unrelenting and revolting Pain. And that is why it cannot be relied on now to bring peace to Sierra Leone.
As if it has not learnt any lesson from history, ECOWAS foreign
ministers meeting in Monrovia recently, have called on the United
Nations to lift the arms embargo imposed on Liberia more than
five years ago. This clearly leaves much to be desired especially
at a time when the entire West African region is saturated with
arms that are ravaging the region in their ongoing civil wars.
To secure peace in Sierra Leone, the Lome agreement must be scrapped, and a new peace initiative undertaken. Foday Sankoh is in no position to deliver peace. He must be held accountable. A credible, enforceable order must be issued to fighters to cease-fire unconditionally immediately (within a 72-hour timeframe). The new peace accord, not in order of priority, should include: (1) unconditional and immediate cease-fire; (2) no recognition of the RUF as a social group seeking to exercise the right of self-determination like the Palestinians in the Middle East; (3) complete disarmament and demobilization of all fighters within a specified timeframe ( 30-45 days); (4) a minimum 10-year conditional amnesty for fighters who disarm and demobilize as required, a violation of which would automatically kick in their trial and punishment; (5) disarmament of all other groups bearing arms, including the Sierra Leonean army; (6) a health, counseling, education, and humanitarian package, including cash for the fighters; (7) holding of a sovereign national conference that includes all civil society organizations and the government to put in place a transitional government, and to draft a new constitution; (8) material, financial, and diplomatic support to maintain the peacekeepers in Sierra Leone for at least two years to provide an enabling, stable, political environment in which to conduct elections and seat a new government; (9) total arms embargo on Sierra Leone; and (10) a declaration and guarantee of Sierra Leone as a neutral state without a standing army.
These steps, if taken with the willingness and commitment of the people of Sierra Leone, may help to pave the way for permanent peace in Sierra Leone.
Patrick L. N. Seyon - Research Fellow - African Studies Center, Boston University