Flashback: 25 May, 1997

…The Day AFRC/RUF murdered our Democracy

May 25, 2016

Nineteen years ago today (Sunday, 25 May, 1997), a ragtag group of soldiers called the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC) overthrew the government of President Ahmed Tejan Kabbah, who had been elected president in March 1996 in the first multi-party elections for nearly three decades in Sierra Leone.

According to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Report, the mastermind of the coup was Sgt. Alfred Abu Sankoh (alias “Zagallo”). He was joined by Sgt. Alex Tamba Brima, Lance Corporal Tamba Gborie, Corporal George Adams, Warrant Officer 11 Franklyn Conteh, Warrant Officer 11 Samuel Kargbo, Sgt. Ibrahim Bazzy Kamara, Sgt. Brima Kamara, Sgt. Moses Kabia alias Rambo, Sgt. Sullay Turay, Corporal Mohammed Kanu alias 55, Corporal Momoh Bangura,  Lance Corporal Foday Kallay, Lance Corporal papa Bangura alias Batuta, Ex SSD Officer Hector Lahai, Bioh Sisay, Abdul Sesay, a civilian staff of the army, to truncate the steady march to laying a strong democratic foundation in the country.

Johnny Paul Koroma, now a fugitive of the Special Court for Sierra Leone, went on to head the brutal and murderous AFRC for nine months. He had been among nine soldiers charged with attempting to overthrow the government in September 1996.

The AFRC joined forces with the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) to wage a campaign of terror and unleash mayhem on the population throughout the length and breadth of the country. The nine months rule of the AFRC/RUF – from 25 May 1997 to 13 February 1998 – was characterised by egregious human rights violations and a complete breakdown of the rule of law.

The majority of the people stood on the right side of history by rejecting and denouncing the junta. Schools, government offices, business and foreign embassies closed down, in a defiant show of solidarity with the government and people of Sierra Leone.

Thousands paid the price with their lives. Women were raped. Those who resisted the tyranny, including journalists, were killed, incarcerated and forced to flee the country into exile.

President Kabbah and his cabinet had sought refuge in Conakry, Guinea. They returned nine months later, after ECOMOG (Economic Community of West African States Monitoring Group) troops, headed by the late Gen. Maxwell Mitikishi Khobe, stormed Freetown and drove the RUF and AFRC to the country side.

The coup, on African Liberation Day, was seen as an aberration by African leaders, who were determined to ensure it did not succeed. Former Nigerian head of state, Gen. Sani Abacha sacrificed his country’s sons and daughters, plus resources to save Sierra Leone’s nascent democracy.

Many sons and daughters of Sierra Leone sacrificed everything to restore democracy, not least the brave crew at Radio Democracy, FM 98.1 – Dr Julius Spencer, Amb. Ali Bangura, Hannah Fullah, et al. Others, including former British High Commissioner, Komrabai Peter Penfold, sacrificed their career in order for good to triumph over evil!

Few others though chose to dine with the devil, apparently for power and money, as they helped prop the junta, ostensibly for a peaceful resolution of the conflict. Some have been compensated with plump jobs within the seat of power today, and show no remorse absolutely for the part they played in the death of hundreds and suffering of millions of their compatriots.

As we reflect on that sad chapter in our history, which still leaves a chilling reminder, many of those who participated in the infamous gangster plot to oust a democratically elected government of the people, by the people and for the people, or collaborated with the plotters thereafter, are today self proclaimed pseudo-democrats, enjoying the benefits of the toil and sacrifices of thousands who lost their lives in the crazed world of Johnny Paul Koroma and his blood thirsty zombies. But nemesis will surely catch up with them, sooner or later.

While we remember the brave and continue to mourn the martyrs, it is hoped that those who betrayed their country and people will show genuine remorse by seeking reconciliation and working towards sustainable peace and development.