By our Correspondent
Wednesday March 22, 2006
15. Whereas every person in Sierra Leone is entitled to the fundamental human rights and freedoms of the individual, that is to say, has the right, whatever his race, tribe, place of origin, political opinion, colour, creed or sex, but subject to respect for the rights and freedoms of others and for the public interest, to each and all of the following?
The bar is an excerpt of the National Constitution of Sierra Leone Act No. 6 of 1991, Chapter III?The Recognition and Protection of Fundamental Human Rights and Freedoms of the Individual. For the purpose of this rejoinder, specifically, “Freedom of conscience, of expression and of assembly and association,” would be of concern. As a member of a transnational organization [African Union (AU)], the government of Sierra Leone is a signatory to Article 20.1 of the Banjul Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights of June 27, 1981, which states: “All peoples shall have the right to existence. They shall have the unquestionable and inalienable right to self- determination. They shall freely determine their political status and shall pursue their economic and social development according to the policy they have freely chosen.” As a member of an international organization, we will also introduce Article 20.1.2 of the 1948 General Assembly of the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights: “Everyone has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association. No one may be compelled to belong to an association.”
When the Secretary General of the ruling S.L.P.P., Mr. Jacob Jusu Saffa questioned the freedom of association of another citizen is an intent to violate the above charters or he simply does not understand the national, transnational and international Fundamental Human Rights charters. A good-sense approach would be to hurry up to the seven pointless laudations of the S.L.P.P. government he raised. However, we have opted, for the sake of good citizenry, to serve as surrogates. Mr. Saffa must read the above declarations?they are fundamentals of politics. What we cannot help him with is his intent to violate another citizen’s right of association.
But we can also update Mr. Saffa on other matters pertaining to politics in Sierra Leone before we proceed to the issues he raised: Sierra Leone was a single party system state from 1978 to 1995. Many politicians, during that period, belonged to the All Peoples Party (A.P.C.). Only few politicians, who have pride and did not share the single party ideal, quit politics altogether. The decade-long rebel war began in 1991 when rebels attacked the eastern border towns of Sierra Leone with Liberia. Up to 1996, we have been at war or under military dictatorship. Many politicians left the A.P.C. mainly because it was blamed for creating the conditions for war through bad governance. Honorable Tamu Bangura died along with the Peoples Democratic Party (P.D.P.) Mr. Saffa alleged Mr. Dauda Tombo Bangura once belonged. Well, for the records, Mr. Saffa had a dream of forming his own political party, and many meetings were held at Stop Press. When that failed, he joined Mr. Bangura who was then a member of the Grand Alliance Party (GAP), and there is an indication, according Peep tabloid, that he has not tendered his resignation with GAP. Nonetheless, the two were only expressing their freedom of association. Upon what a strong S.L.P.P. presidential aspirant, former Ambassador JohnEarnest Leigh called “Conbention”, referring to the alleged political machination that placed Vice President Berewa at the top of the S.L.P.P. ticket for president in 2007; Mr. Dauda Tombo Bangura joined Charles Margai to answer the marginalized citizens of Sierra Leone’s call for a “Positive Change.”
It takes a man with courage to resist the temptation of joining an established undemocratic process, especially in Africa where it often has the upper hand in politics, and start a grassroots movement. Mr. Saffa or Mr. Bangura, which one of the two has the moral right and authority of the accusation of flip-flopping? After what happened in Makeni, only the blind loyalists of the S.L.P.P. stayed. Although the personal attack on another citizen’s Fundamental Human Rights does not worth the attention we have given it, however, we have contributed greatly to a betterSierra Leone by serving as surrogates, lest we could have dismissed the baseless accusation as childish and go straight on to address the issues.
The SLPP has brought peace to this country and is consolidating the gains:Categorically, this is a fallacy Mr. Saffa. A recount of events that led to peace in Sierra Leonewould prove that you are wrong. This cannot be accomplished without starting with the August 1994 National Consultative Conference at Bintumani, where the elections for February 1996 were scheduled.
Sierra Leoneans, including President Kabbah, were helpless when Captain Strasser raised security reasons to stall the elections schedule had it not been for Brigadier-General Julius Maada Bio who replaced him as NPRC Chairman in a coup, and made a pronouncement to keep to the elections schedule. Bio too reconvened a second Bintumani Conference to try to postpone the elections schedule, which was met by an overwhelming opposition to go ahead.
In March 17, 1996, President Kabbah was declared the winner of the elections after rerun elections. In March 25 and 26, Bio and the rebel leader, Foday Sankoh, met in Yamoussoukro,Cote d’Ivoire that led to a short-lived cease-fire. President Kabbah and Sankoh start peace talks on April 1996 in Yamoussoukro after Bio transferred power to the S.L.P.P. on March 29, 1996. The Yamoussoukro peace failed because President Kabbah would not redraw the service of the notorious South African based Executive Outcomes mercenary fighters.
All subsequent peace talks President Kabbah went into with the rebels failed, not withstanding the $1.8 million a month payment for a 100-man contingent and two helicopters to Executive Outcomes. The nation inflation rose to 35 per cent. Meanwhile, the soldiers were not being paid, their rice ration was not forthcoming and they became disgruntled. Is one of several President Kabbah’s leadership bungles that provided the need for the largest peacekeeping UN-contingent in the world?17,600 strong force. Is this state of condition?disgruntleness in the army that Major Johnny Paul would take advantage of to chase President Kabbah out to theRepublic of Guinea. He left the people in the hands and mercy of the brutal Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (A.F.R.C.) junta. President Kabbah would admit over the BBC Focus onAfrica magazine that he knew of the coup three weeks ahead. This is what the former British High Commissioner, Peter Penfold, confirmed recently in Freetown in the Special Court trial of Chief Hinga Norman.
This same chronic forgetfulness is making it possible for the S.L.P.P. leadership to sit by and watch its people languish in Yenga and Kalangba in the hands of Guinean soldiers, while Mr. Saffa speaks of the S.L.P.P. is “consolidating the gains.” According to Awareness Time newspaper of March 7, 2006: “A large contingent of heavily armed operatives of the Guinean Armed Forces (GAF), over the weekend attacked a town, Kalangba, situated in the Kambia district, laying claim to it and holding the inhabitants of the township to ransom.” They seized the operation of the mines that provide revenue for our struggling economy and ran off the workers.
In spite of such threatening reports, Mr. Saffa behaves like Squealer in George Orwell’s “Animal Farm”, who always has logical, but not honest and truthful explanation for every bad thing that happens on the farm, following the concerted effort by the animals to expel Mr. Jones and later Snowball?the revolution is over; it now in its tenth year, and Mr. Saffa has become the self-appointed spokesman for the S.L.P.P. But we will warn Mr. Saffa that when the people speak in 2007, the same Lemuel Gulliver, the big man in Lilliput, becomes miniature man in Brobdingnag.
One would ask the following question; why is Mr. Saffa not worried about the destruction of houses without compensation that is underway in Freetown in the name of road construction? According to an anonymous source in Freetown, houses under construction are being demolished by Vice President Berewa’s order. The recent acquisitions of these lands indicate that someone in the S.L.P.P. government sold them to the citizens?some corrupt S.L.P.P. leader in the Ministry of Works, Housing and Technical Maintenance. But the S.L.P.P. government claims that the houses were build on government land designated for road construction as if the people took upon themselves to build houses hither thither in the city.
What is more, the S.L.P.P. leadership, always, manifests this same false determination for development in Sierra Leone right around elections. No wonder the Presidential Spokesman, Mr. Kanji Daramy, several months ago, stated that one of President Kabbah’s promises to the people to be accomplished by 2007 is a bridge across Targreen. When Vice President Berewa becomes the champion of road construction in Sierra Leone? Another warning for the S.L.P.P. government is that this breed of Sierra Leoneans are no more gullible?they know these things?they hear late Bob Marley reechoes late Abraham Lincoln; “You can fool somepeople sometimes, but you can’t fool all the people all the time,” on their small stereos everyday. No one is going to fool them this time, for they are listening closely to the fierce wind of “Positive Change” that is blowing.
Good governance including local government reforms: The S.L.P.P. leadership can boast of excessive corruption, not good governance. They have been brainstorming over what to do with government for ten years without substantial results. The S.L.P.P. leadership, in many cases, in the absence of good leadership, is resorting to high-handed rule. There have been many reports on bad governance from Sierra Leone. From the death and imprisonment of journalists, manipulation of elections to foot-dragging of the registration of political parties. These kinds of actions are only possible in an undemocratic society, in which bad governance is the norm. Recently, the joint expression of concern by foreign governments and international organizations over the stalling of the registration of political parties by the S.L.P.P. leadership was prompted by such observation of bad governance.
Local government reforms and decentralization has been a paper reform since its launching by President Kabbah in 2003. The S.L.P.P. leadership cannot point to any substantive development or progress because of local government reforms and decentralization. Only when it works in favor of the S.L.P.P. in gaining votes?recently, Vice President Berewa traveled to the provinces and dished out money without any development plan for the way the money would be used in the benefits the masses, pointing to decentralization for a reason to do so. Decentralization of local government does not call for a reckless disbursement of central government funds to local authorities without an agenda to benefit the public. But by doing so, Vice President Berewa would be killing two birds with one stone regardless of how the money would be used?to buy the favors of the paramount chiefs in 2007 elections and lining their pockets.
Local government reforms and decentralization is nary a reform: President Kabbah traveled in the provinces in 2003, telling the local authorities how to keep an eye on people traveling in their territories as it is done in Libya and former USSR under Lenin. When it came to the most important issue, the land tenure system that is stunting growth in the provinces, in the country and alienating another sector of the community in their own country? the Creoles, President Kabbah promised to look into it. “This matter has been spoken about a lot. It is my view that the prevailing system of land tenure in the provinces be discussed openly to enable Government to arrive at a definitive policy position as to whether the system should remain as it is or whether some modification needs to be made in it,” he said in his 2003 tour of the provinces. Where is the reform then, when nothing came out of it since?
Let us look at the present land tenure system. Notice the phrase “any non-native”?it is discriminatory. These fertile lands can become source of plenty of food and employment for the people rather than laying fallow to subsistence farming that cannot fully exploit the potential of the land:
“In the Provinces, land is in family ownership, and by definition in the ownership of the community which is headed by a Paramount Chief. Thus, land cannot be alienated to any non-native unless with the consent of the Paramount Chief and his Councilors. They are the trustees of such lands. The term “Non-native” is defined to mean any person who does not belong to a provincial tribe. Therefore, the restriction on the alienation of provincial land does not apply to persons belonging to tribes in the provinces. In order to remove the obvious exclusion of persons of Western Area origin, you may say that it is necessary to expand the definition of non-natives to include all Sierra Leoneans while retaining the general restriction on the outright disposal or alienation of provincial land in any case. This may be a way of giving further meaning to our “one country, and people” policy.”
It is an oxymoron when President Kabbah said: “A prospective investor wishing to invest in agriculture, may, for instance enter into a joint venture arrangement with a land- owning family whereby the share of the investment on the part of the land owners would be the land itself with a notional value put on it which they would make available while the prospective investor’s share would be the machines and other inputs also properly valued. The profits realized from the enterprise can be distributed in accordance with the values placed on the respective contributions to the capital of the joint venture.”
It means that diamonds drop into the pockets of the investors, not from the land. (please explain further – a bit confusing) (can we rephrase thus..) It means that diamonds drop into the pockets of the investors as if from the sea; with no consideration of where they come from. One tends to ask What is the value placed on the land from which diamonds are being excavated? Instead, the Koidu Holdings is foot-dragging the building of the houses of the peasants that live in the Tankoro Chiefdom Kimberlite area. They run for their lives when the siren goes off to blast the granite to extract diamonds. The S.L.P.P. leadership, at the least, cannot get the Koidu Holdings to embark on safe mining policies while they are yet to build the houses of the residents in a different location.
I know these things because I hail from Saquee Town in the hearts of the Kimberlite craters, not ones made by meteorite, but by constant explosion, sending out meteorites to kill the people: I have witnessed my mother’s house being damaged by kimberlite rocks two times; I have seen my cousin for the last time, her brain spilled over her shoulders by the kimberlite rock [during the NDMC]; I have heard of a police woman of the Tankoro police station being killed by the kimberlite rock; I have heard of families living their lunch and dinner on fire, running for their lives, hard earned food going bad before they returned after the blasting [same conditions under the Koidu Holdings]. Above all, my poor mother told me that the Koidu Holdings would replace her seven-room house with a three-room shanty. It means that she would have more than four people per room with her nine children and many grandchildren. Nevertheless, when the S.L.P.P. Mr. Saffa talks of good governance, the peasant does not matter to him. It is natural that one prominent S.L.P.P. called the same suffering people; “Low grade noisemakers – san san boys, honda drivers, ex-combatants, carwash boys, etc.”
Security sector reforms: The UNDP Security Sector Reform program among other things includes disarmament, demobilization and reintegration. These are the main aspects of the program, and it is not an S.L.P.P. program?the government does not have a choice in the absence of a program of its own, but accept the United Nations’ conditionality for development in exchange for aide. It is understood that the reintegration is a failure. This needs no scientific proof. All it takes is a visit to the capital city, Freetown, to learn how miserably this aspect of the security sector reforms has failed. Ex-military and rebel combatants are the most disgruntled sector of the society today. The child soldier has become an empty phrase in Sierra Leone. Make no mistake there is a serious threat of a leadership vacuum in Sierra Leone if the state of the mind of the youth sector is not addressed and very quickly. Once the international players left the scene, all the progress stopped. A large number of the military was retired. There is no problem in retiring people at retirement age, but what justifies the sudden retirement of a large number of our fighting force. This was very myopic on the part of the S.L.P.P. leadership. We were lucky that the average Sierra Leonean has resort to peaceful solution, lest a likely condition to threaten the hard earned peace.
No sooner the British head of the police force left, it returned to it old self?Charles Margai was arrested and jailed before any investigation to link him to the unrest that led to the threat of violence against the Vice President Berewa at the CKC Thanksgiving ceremony in Bo, the second largest city in Sierra Leone. President Kabbah knew of the arrest of Omrie Golley before the Inspector General of the Police did?he announced the arrest as if he were the police officer who conducted the investigation of the alleged crime?this is a clear manifestation that an order to arrest Omrie Golley came from above for reasons yet unknown as the case is still in court. Berewa has become the demolition man in Freetown?he is going about ordering the demolition of houses without compensation plan. The unemployed condition of the youth population is at its worst. Thousands of child soldiers are still roaming the streets of Freetownuncured. When Chris Robertson, the head of Save the Children Fund stated that “These atrocious actions have placed the youth population at risk, if not attended to, that may lead to a leadership vacuum in Sierra Leone,” cannot be taken for granted. The people of Yenga and Kalagba are being treated by Guinean soldiers as if they have no protection from their government.
Stabilize the economy and has a robust agenda for private sector development: There is no agenda for private sector development. How could there be an agenda for private sector development when the land is on chains in the hands of subsistent farmers who do not have the technological expertise or the capital to exploit fully the land in the benefit of the masses? Is Mr. Saffa’s private sector limited to giving up public utilities bestowing apparatus to western investors? Sierra Leone‘s private sector is the most undeveloped in the world. Majority of the jobs are government jobs, nothing has changed. In fact the teachers, 17,000 are being paid by the UN?development program that has placed a cap on how much teachers there should be in the classrooms. Below is the synopsis of the economy that Mr. Saffa has claimed has been stabilized:
“The 2004 budget is weak on proposing structural reform and the IMF has recommended greater fiscal discipline. The government projects that domestic revenue will total Le333.2bn (US$127m) in 2004 and total expenditure LE839.7bn, resulting in a fiscal deficit of 24.4% of GDP excluding grants. The Economist Intelligence Unit believes that these figures are optimistic, and that both revenue and spending will be lower. Revenue will rise in 2004 compared to 2003, as tax revenue increases in line with the establishment of more businesses and the management difficulties in the new National Revenue Authority are ironed out. However,Sierra Leone’s porous borders, and the associated loss of revenue through smuggling (particularly of diamonds), will continue to limit revenue growth. There will be continued pressure to increase spending, given the huge rehabilitation and rebuilding work being undertaken following the war, but delays in disbursals from donors will create a funding shortfall. We forecast that the overall fiscal deficit (on a cash basis including grants) will remain at around 9% of GDP during 2005-06, which will be met through domestic borrowing.” (The Economic Intelligence Unit Country Report December 2004)
No government officer in his right mind would call the economic situation above stabilized economy.
Food security: Except that Mr. Saffa is proud of the imported food to feed, about five million people living in a country abound by some of the most fertile and follow lands of the world. There has been nary a plan in the past ten years for Sierra Leone to achieve self-sustenance in food production. Until we can feed ourselves, the UNDP food security program does not mean a thing. It is not something, of which a government can be boastful. We have waited for ten years on the S.L.P.P. with nary a plan on how to cultivate those vast meadows lying barren across the nation, those fertile hilly lands in wants of rice seedlings, and those planes that are ready for anything that wants to grow on them. Nevertheless, the S.L.P.P. government chose to keep most of the members of the healthy sector of the population in Freetown, where they fight for some of the looted money to trickle down in their pockets. But if one pushes such idea to hard, the S.L.P.P. government would not create incentives for the people to go back home in the provinces peacefully at their will, they would load them in trucks like animals and bring them to nothing as they did before. It has become apparent that the S.L.P.P. is clueless when it comes to leadership. In a recent debate in Maryland, a highly ranked S.L.P.P. official referred to food security as a measure to protect food from being poisoned. These people often end up in theSierra Leone government as ministers upon raising much Diaspora funds to support party politics.
Education: Mr. Saffa’s words are the best response for his fallacy: “the SLPP has improved school enrollment, which, he says has quadrupled since 1996 with pressure created for additional teachers and classrooms. ?This is what government is currently addressing.'” First, schools were in non-existence status, especially in the provinces, before 1996. It means that school enrollment would naturally increase after the war. And a good government would have foreseen the need for more classrooms and teachers because many of the facilities had become casualties of war. A good government would have foreseen the upsurge of school enrollment and properly prepare for the needs of the students. Here, Mr. Saffa is telling us that the S.L.P.P., like always, was unprepared for or was clueless of the increase in school enrollment following an absolute non-existence of schools in the recent past. School enrollment in the last ten years would certainly quadruple because children have been fighting for their lives, which is more important than going to school. They have all decided to enroll back in schools, many who have been schooling in displacement camps have returned only to find out that their government is not prepared for the upsurge in school enrollment in the aftermath of war. This statement by Mr. Saffa is quite revealing?no wonder we hear of constant inadequacy in school supplies and teachers’ demonstration for non-payment of salaries.
Health: Sierra Leone has the worst health facilities in the world. Recently, I read in an article that Sierra Leone is the only country in the world where pregnant women are transported in wheelbarrows to the nearest medical centers for child delivery. There is no future for the children of Sierra Leone under these deplorable conditions with no fundamental human rights to free emergency medical care for anyone especially the poor and needy. Even with the massive donor funds, the health sector is still lacking. The corruption in Sierra Leone can only be explained in terms of what one writer calls a money Bermuda triangle, where money disappears as soon as it arrives.
Until the fierce wind of “Positive Change” that is now faltering the speeches of the likes of Mr. Saffa blows the S.L.P.P. away, progress in neighboring Liberia with the leadership of Sirleaf Johnson would take place in leaps and bounds over Sierra Leone’s. In his agenda booklet for the S.L.P.P. Secretary General Position in the Makeni convention, Mr. Saffa wrote; “Strengthening the democratic values of the party: The SLPP is well known for its democratic values. It was the first political party to lose a multi-party election in 1967. Elections are held at all levels. I will therefore uphold and strengthen these values. Specifically, I will develop clear guidelines for the conduct of elections at all levels and regularly inform members of democratic values.” Nonetheless, it is a proven fact that those who cannot rise above a turbulent wind like the eagle tempt to fight with it. We have however taken upon ourselves to remind Mr. Saffa of his own words in the process of fighting with the wind of “Positive Change.” Because, it is scaring the way he is becoming worried about the political position of those who have the strength to flow with the fierce wind of “Positive Change.”
Because of these empty laudations and forgetfulness that is so common amongst the S.L.P.P. leaders, I begin to muse whether the then Sierra Leone Head of Mission to the United Nations, Mr. Ibrahim M. Kamara was only blowing out hot air when he made the following statement in a Sierra Leone Diaspora meeting in Virginia State University, USA, in 2001: “January 6, 1999, and all the other tragic incidents of the rebel war have taught us a lesson. They will forever strengthen our resolve to rebuild our nation, and moreover to uphold the pledge that forthwith, we shall refrain from the use of threat of use of armed force to bring about any change in our beloved country.”