January 6, 1999 : Never again in the chequered history of our beloved nation
By KABS KANU :
Tears are still fresh in the eyes of victims of one of the most cataclysmic events to have hit Sierra Leone , tears for beloved sons, daughters, mothers, fathers, uncles, aunts, friends, neighbours and compatriots who lost their lives or suffered the worst brutality imaginable to modern man, when rebels of the Revolutionary United Front ( RUF ) entered the Sierra Leone capital, Freetown on January 6, 1999 in one of the most defining moments of the barbaric 11 year war that not only cost the nation the lives of nearly half-a-million of its precious people but left a colony of amputated and disabled citizens and a completely destroyed nation, infrastructurally and otherwise. As the nation commemorates the thirteenth anniversary of this bloody day , there is no true Sierra Leonean who will not spare a tear for what happened in our country on that lamentable day.
The war has ended and we are busy rebuilding our lives and our nation. There was not a Sierra Leonean who was not affected one way or the other and as we continue the tedious and difficult process of national healing, national reconstruction and national recovery , the least that we want to do in our recriminations is insult the intelligence of our people and open up old wounds again. We all know how the seeds of the war were planted in Sierra Leone from the moment the green,white and blue national flag was hoisted to replace the Union Jack on Independence Day, April 27, 1961. The 11 year rebel war was the history of politics gone bad in the nation since Independence and if everybody has to cast blames, these blames will stretch far and wide–from the insensitive governments that ruled us since Independence that sowed the seeds of the bitterness, frustration and disenchantment that partly contributed to the war to the very demon-possessed people who thought that it was only by becoming beasts and animals that they can overthrow the All People’s Congress ( APC ) Government of the late President Joseph Saidu Momoh. But this should not be the time for casting blames.It should be a time for reflection about how we as a nation can avoid a repetition of the bloody conflagration that consumed our nation.
Supporters of our two major political parties —The ruling APC and the opposition Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP) —should know that nobody can be exonerated from blame for what happened in Sierra Leone. If SLPP supporters accuse the APC that the maladministration of the old APC caused the war, it is just another base degeneration of their perverted thinking patterns from the stupid to the ridiculous. The blame for Sierra Leone’s immediate post-Independence misgovernment and misrule that partly caused the war should be laid equally at the doorsteps of both the old SLPP and the old APC . When Sierra Leone gained Independence in 1961, it was the SLPP that was at the helm of governance in Sierra Leone. They had a golden opportunity to demonstrate that Sierra Leoneans had the ability to govern themselves well, BUT the SLPP never got its act together . Tribalism, regionalism, corruption, nepotism , official misfeasance and malfeasance quickly engulfed the nation and by the time the epic 1967 General Elections were held ,Sierra Leoneans were teethering at the edge of frustration and praying fervently for the return of colonial rule. And the SLPP did not help the situation when after they were defeated by the APC in the elections they refused to accept the results of a process deemed to have been free and fair and introduced violence and military coups for the first time in the politics of our virgin nation. That single act alone by the SLPP , of being the first party to destroy the democratic process, introduce violence and invite the military into the country’s politics, makes them as culpable as the old APC for the dangerous politics that bred the civil war. When the old APC came in in 1968 and proved themselves no better alternative to the SLPP but continued the pattern of corruption , misrule and negation of the welfare of the people, it became obvious that it was only a matter of time before the tinderbox of frustration exploded.
Interestingly, before the volcano exploded, Sierra Leone had an APC/SLPP Coalition government in power , so to speak. Under the APC One-party rule that ensued after 1978, SLPP politicians whose party had been proscribed , were crafted and grafted into national governance in the interest of national unity so that by the time the late APC Leader and President Siaka Stevens retired in 1985, there were more SLPP operatives in the APC Government than the born -and -bred APC members who had toiled blood, sweat and tears to bring their party to power in 1967. Most of the leading ministers controlling the show in Sierra Leone hailed from the South-East , the stronghold of the SLPP and most were SLPP veterans —Salia Jusu-Sheriff, Francis Minah, Joe Amara Bangali, Joe Jackson, Michael Abdulai, A. J. Sandy, George Gobio-Lamin, Dr.Moiwo Korji etc.etc. Therefore, if anybody should say that the misdeeds of the old APC provoked the war, then the SLPP must also share the cake of blame because it was actually an APC/SLPP Coalition in power when the nation’s wealth was carved apart by politicians and shared among themselves. The VOUCHERGATE dragnet caught both Northern and South-Eastern politicians and civil sevants . This is why it is very foolish for any one party or region to blame the other for causing the war. The late President Siaka Stevens ensured that old SLPP officials had enough say in the one-party APC Government to promote his philosophy of national reconciliation and national unity .
The old APC/ SLPP Coalition One-Party Government made heavyweather of political misrule and misgovernance but another question that needs to be asked is whether it was only through violence that meaningful change would have been effected in Sierra Leone. In as much as one would agree that the bitterness and frustration of politics under the old APC partly caused the war, it is also an undeniable fact that the RUF war was a creation of disgruntled SLPP operatives who decided to use violence to oust the APC. The RUF was TRUE creation of the SLPP as manifest from the names of its main actors and its modus oprandus was to overthrow the ruling APC Government, never mind the use of a disaffected half- Northern-half SouthEasterner ex-soldier, Foday Sankoh, to lead the insurrection. . If we accept this fact about the origins of the RUF, how can SLPP journalists now turn around and blame the APC for the RUF war ?
When one considers that even the war itself was not necessary because structures had been put in place for a return to multi-party politics in Sierra Leone, the fact that we went through such a bloody and costly war becomes even more disheartening. Everything had been done to dismantle the one-party state; New political parties were being formed ;over 100 newspapers belonging to every shade of political persuasion had started operating in the nation when the rebels stormed the nation on March 23, 1992.
Even the rebel invasion of Freetown itself was not destined to happen. If the then ruling SLPP Government was vigilant and serious and had the interest of the people at heart, the attack would have been staved off.The rebels dilly-dallied around the periphery of the capital long enough for any government to have mobilized its forces and the multi-national army ,ECOMOG , to drive the vandals and killers back. But the President Tejan Kabbah Government gave the people a false sense of security and assured them that no rebel was in fact approaching the capital. As the blood-thirsty invaders were breaking through barriers in the bushes and hills to enter the city , the SLPP Information Minister, Dr. Julius Spencer, was busy announcing over the radio that people should remain calm and go about their normal business in peace and the situation was under control. The wilful inefficiency and worthlessness of the Kabbah SLPP Government caused the rebels to enter Freetown on February 6, 1999 and partly contributed to the successful massacres and amputations carried out because the people were taken by surprise after relying tragically on the assurances of the government.
This revisiting of the history of the invasion is just to warn our politicians and their supporters that every party is culpable for the war and this is no time to cast blames but to consider how we can, as a nation, avoid a recurrence of the war. The problem with the SLPP is its dishonesty and insincerity. President Ernest Koroma, as opposition leader, apologised to the nation at the Truth and Reconciliation (TRC) for the role played by the old APC but the arrogant and selfish President Tejan Kabbah epitomised the SLPP’s unrepentant spirit before the TRC by refusing to apologise. Is it surprising if on the 13th anniversary of the Freetown invasion, the SLPP is still playing the blame-game insteading of reflecting on how to avoid a recurrence ?
Liberians appear to have learnt from their own experience of war , but we in Sierra Leone do not appear to have done so. It is time for us to stop the finger-pointing and posturing and begin earnestly working towards national reconciliation. We have to realize that whatever our political affiliations , we are one people and one nation. We have to forget the past and begin thinking about how we can all work together to make our nation a better place.
President Koroma has successfully launched Sierra Leone on the path to sustainable socio-economic and political development. It is time for all Sierra Leoneans to jump onboard and be part of the team . War should not be mentioned in our midst anymore.It is now time for peace and hard work to build back the devastated places of our land. With God’s blessings, we are capable of achieving these goals . I wish to extend my condolences to all of us who lost loved and precious ones as a result of the war and also the February 6, 1999 invasion of Freetown.