The Omrie Golley Story
January 20, 2021
In this first episode, we begin our narrative – to tell the true story of a man whose role in Sierra Leone’s 11 year civil conflict is often misrepresented, misunderstood and twisted for inconceivable reasons.
From the intervention of foreign forces, to the various peace accords and the behind-the-scenes negotiations between the Ahmad Tejan Kabbah led government, ECOWAS, the United Nations, the Revolutionary United Front and Civil Society, we bring you an unadulterated account of how Ambassador Omrie Golley risked everything to ensure the return of multi-party democracy, peace and the rule of law to Sierra Leone. We reiterate that this exercise is by no means a precursor to any political ambition by Mr. Golley but rather, an opportunity to let Sierra Leoneans and the world know how he deployed a risky but effective strategy to help bring lasting peace to a country ravaged by a war judged as one of the most atrocious in modern times.
In the fullness of time, we shall be bringing you testimonies from credible local and international players in Sierra Leone’s peace process.
You cannot afford to miss this thrilling historical perspective about the journey of a man who ate and slept in the jungles of Sierra Leone with heavily armed and fierce looking rebels just to bring peace to his home land.
The Call from UNAMSIL, and London Dinner With Adeniji
We fast-forward to January 2001. It was a cold and blustery afternoon in London. The Receptionist at the law chambers of Mr Omrie Golley at Kensington Church Street had just received a call from the Office the Special Representative of UN Secretary General to Sierra Leone Oluyemi Adeniji (now deceased). It was after the Christmas and New Year break in the UK. The UN office from Freetown had requested the mobile number of Omrie Golley because they wanted to connect him with the UN Representative who was on transit in London after an official assignment in New York. Ambassador Adeniji had been appointed just over a year earlier as the Head of the United Nations peace keeping operations in Sierra Leone UNAMSIL.
Mr. Golley wasted no time to call SRSG Adeniji. An appointment was fixed and according to Golley;
“We had spoken over the phone on a few occasions but this was the first time that I was to meet up with him in England. After exchanging the usual courtesies, he suggested that we met before he returned to Freetown, and went on to ask me whether I liked Moroccan food. I said that I did, and we agreed to meet a day later in a Moroccan restaurant in the west end of London”
During dinner, Adeniji gave a brief account of the peace efforts in Sierra Leone and described the peace process as very slow. He mentioned in particular that the RUF movement was rudderless, and did not have the requisite skills to progress with the peace process in the aftermath of the Lome Peace Accord, and the subsequent arrest and detention of the RUF leader, Corporal Foday Saybana Sankoh.
The priority for the peacekeepers, according to the SRSG was disarmament, demobilization and reintegration of all combatants and a political process to take the country to the next level.
Apparently, the late Ambassador Adeniji requested that Golley who was previously involved with the RUF before the signing of the Lome Peace Accord return home to help the RUF disarm as well as ensure that the group was developed into an organized entity that could sit and negotiate with the Government under the supervision of UN, ECOWAS and the wider international community. Golley’s response was brief;
“I said that I didn’t feel that I wanted to be involved in the process any longer, reminding him that I had not long before, announced my departure from the RUF after the signing of the Lome Peace Accord, and subsequent policy differences with the leadership of the Movement over the implementation of certain aspects of the Accord”
He recounted the encounters he had with the RUF rebel leader, Corporal Foday Sankoh from the time of his involvement around 1998 to the period leading to the crafting of the Lome Peace Accord. Adeniji was adamant that Golley, who was happy to have returned to his legal profession in London still had a role to play in restoring lasting peace to Sierra Leone. Ambassador Adeniji reiterated in a very persuasive manner, the difficulties that they were now facing with the RUF in bringing the conflict to an end. In several discussions between the government, the UN peacekeepers and the interim RUF leadership, about the need to have a body to negotiate a new and lasting peace process, Golley’s name came up as somebody that could lead such a body within the RUF. Concerns about his personal safety and the fact he could not trust the government of President Ahmed Tejan Kabbah proved a stalemate in the informal meeting between Golley and the SRSG.
“I went on to inform Ambassador Adeniji that even if I wanted to return to Freetown, that I would have grave misgivings and worries about my security and wellbeing because I did not trust the Kabbah Government, and didn’t believe I would be safe in the country.”
In a dogged determination to ensure the return of a man believed to have carried the charisma and persuasive attributes for a rudderless and intransigent rebel group, Ambassador Adeniji quickly assured Golley of his personal safety in Sierra Leone but also told him;
“Omrie, as it happens I spoke to President Kabbah about you, and he does not trust you either!”
Golley thought that was the end of the conversation but Ambassador Adeniji went on;
“For me this is a good point of starting this journey! You don’t trust each other, and that’s a good starting point!”
After much persuasion from Ambassador Adeniji, Omrie Golley agreed to return to Sierra Leone on two conditions; first, a written assurance that he would be safe and secure. Second, a satellite phone for him to be able to contact his family in London at any time. The RSG immediately obliged to both requests. It was a successful meeting and Golley subsequently returned to Freetown in February 2001.
His arrival followed the signing of the Abuja Ceasefire Agreement – the only agreement in the whole of the conflict that the parties to the Agreement, in this case the CDF and the RUF conscientiously adhered to. It is important to note that Omrie Golley was involved with the RUF in three stages of the conflict:
1) The period between November 1995, – April 1996 when he established physical contact with its leadership in Danane, Ivory Coast. This was under the auspices of the National Convention for Reconstruction and Development, a political think tank he formed to explore avenues to bring about lasting peace in Sierra Leone.
2) The period between 1998 – 1999 when he served as the RUF’s Spokesman and Legal Adviser.
3) When he rather reluctantly served as the Acting Chairman of the RUF’s Peace and Political Council – a body that ultimately embraced the idea of ushering lasting peace to Sierra Leone between February 2001 and July 2002.
It is also important to understand that Golleys’ decision to lead the RUF was after the movement had evolved into a political wing. He also announced his resignation from the movement after it became necessary for him to widen his engagement in the country’s peace and reconciliation efforts and according to Peter Anderson’s sierra-leone.org (19th November 2001), Golley said in press release he issued after returning to London;
*“I feel that the time has now come for me to reassess and refocus my personal role and involvement in consolidating the peace process to which I remain completely committed…..In this regard, I am today announcing my resignation as chairman of the Political and Peace Council of the RUF, which will enable me to widen my involvement in the peace process by actively supporting policies of reconciliation and also assisting with the reconstruction and rehabilitation of our beloved country.”*
His relationship with the RUF hierarchy was believed to have been turbulent but he has always insisted they separated on good terms.