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Remembering the January 6, 1999 Invasion of Freetown

A statement by Civil Society Movement-Sierra Leone (CSM-SL) - 6 January 2015

JANUARY 7, 2015

Exactly16 years today, rebel forces of the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council and the Revolutionary United Front (AFRC/RUF) invaded Sierra Leone’s capital city, Freetown, in the early hours of January 6, 1999. The ensuing actions of the invading forces were characterized by extreme violence on particularly civilians in the forms of rape, mutilations and summary executions, resulting in the deaths of over five thousand people and the displacement of hundreds of thousands of others.

This singular act dealt a shattering blow to the fledgling peace process that the country was pursuing at the time of the invasion. There was, therefore, a need to take urgent and concerted action to salvage the situation by first repelling the invaders and then bringing the peace process back on the rail. In response to this urgency, the civil society of Sierra Leone, under the aegis of the Civil Society Movement-Sierra Leone (CSM-SL), worked with all progressive forces, particularly the ECOMOG forces led by the Federal Republic of Nigeria and the Government of Sierra Leone, to drive back the marauding rebels in the face of extreme danger and difficulties.

The eventual successful repulsion of the rebels from the city and the ultimate conclusion of the rebel war after 11 years of bloody fighting taught us one big lesson or at least should teach us one big lesson, and that is, there is great value in working together in the pursuit of our dreams as a civil society platform and as a nation. This is more so when the country is faced with challenging moments like the ones the rebel war and the Ebola Virus Disease presented. And the Ebola Virus Disease continues to kill our people without any let-up.

As we commemorate this very important milestone in the annals of the history of this country, and as we remember all those who lost their lives in the most horrendous manner during the January 6 Invasion and to the Ebola Virus Disease, we must also celebrate their remarkable sacrifice, and we hope that their deaths will serve as an inspiration to all of us to work hard to make their dreams of a peaceful, democratic and prosperous Sierra Leone come true. Also, we should be more willing to selflessly serve a cause greater than our individual selves. We must strive to do away with all the factors that led to the rebel war and the Ebola Virus Disease in the first place. We believe this is the best way to mourn and remember them.

Like the January 6 Invasion of Freetown, the country is today fighting another deadly war whose adversary is invisible. And this war is the Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) whose outbreak in the country was formally announced by the Government of Sierra Leone on 25 May 2014. And as of Sunday 4 January 2015, the EVD has killed over 2,500 people across the country with hundreds of others continually battling with the fangs of deaths. This noxious disease continues to defy all the efforts and all the resources that the Government, her partners and the people have been marshalling towards stamping it completely out of the country.

Meanwhile, we take this opportunity to profoundly thank the Government of Sierra Leone, her development partners and all other individuals, organizations and institutions that are working tirelessly to eradicate this dreadful disease from all corners of our country. We also want to thank our colleagues in the civil society whose individual organizations have supported the efforts of the Government in the fight against the Ebola through their diverse interventions across the country; sometimes at very high risks.

As we sadly mourn our compatriots who have lost their lives to the Ebola Virus Disease, particularly our frontline healthcare workers including doctors, nurses, lab technicians, porters, burial teams and drivers, we offer our heartfelt condolences to the bereaved families. We encourage all of them to take solace in the fact that their departed loved ones are true patriots of this country. They undertook a brave work under very challenging circumstances. They sacrificed their own lives to save the lives of others. They died for a heroic and worthy cause.

And in grieving for them, we call on the Government of Sierra Leone and its development partners to ensure that we give these heroes and heroines the honour and pride of place that they deserve. It goes without saying that they died in the service of the nation leaving behind their families including children, wives, husbands, mothers, fathers and other dependants. We, therefore, urge the Government to continue to take concrete measures to cushion the sufferings which the deaths of our compatriots to both the January 6 Invasion of Freetown and the Ebola Virus Disease would have on their immediate families.

We are not unaware of the huge task that the Government is faced with, nor are we unmindful of the efforts that the Government is already making in this direction. But we believe strongly that the welfare of survivors of our healthcare workers must occupy a pride of place on all post-Ebola recovery programmes. We, therefore, suggest that the Government explores, without delay, the possibility of establishing a “Special Fund” to support the surviving families of January 6 and the Ebola Virus Disease after the Ebola would have ended, particularly the children that are going to school.

For us in the Civil Society Movement Sierra Leone, today is a moment of deep reflection with the present Ebola menace in the country at heart. And in doing so, we must ask ourselves a simple question: If we succeeded in repelling the January 6 invasion of Freetown through collective efforts and unwavering commitment, why mustn’t we apply the same approach in fighting to eradicate the EVD from the country? We are under no illusion that the task ahead of us as a nation is easy, but we equally believe that this is the moment when Sierra Leoneans within and without the country should put all their differences aside and focus on fighting the one common enemy that we have now – the EVD.

It is in this regard that we want to take this opportunity to assure the Government and people of Sierra Leone that the Civil Society Movement Sierra Leone will continue to step up its mobilization and coordination of its member organizations across the country to support every effort that is aimed at ending the EVD and for the effective implementation of the post-Ebola recovery programme, just like we did for the rebel war. We owe it to our people, and we owe it to our nation, to once again play the leadership role for which the CSM-SL has won great acclaim within the country and abroad.  And more particularly, we owe it to the Late Hassan Barrie who was the first chairman of the CSM-SL. He was a highly respected trade unionist and a mobilizer of people par excellence. He died in active service to humanity. May his soul rest in peace!

In conformity with the policies and regulations of the Government as regards the fight against the EVD, particularly those that relate to public gatherings, we have decided to limit the activities for this year’s commemoration of January 6 to media work and prayers. Radio and TV discussions on the importance and relevance of the event are already in progress in some media institutions in Freetown and other parts of the country. Special Muslim prayers will take place at the Central Mosque on Water Street on Friday 9 January 2015 at 1 PM and Christian prayers at the Sacred Heart Cathedral on Siaka Stevens Street on Sunday 11 January 2015 at 9 AM. Special prayers will also be offered in other mosques and churches in Freetown and in the regions.

In order to ensure efficient and good quality delivery of these programmes, the CSM-SL is collaborating and partnering with the appropriate institutions, both private and public. It is in this regard that we want to profoundly thank the Inter-Religious Council of Sierra Leone, the Sierra Leone Association of Journalists, the Boards and Managements of the Sierra Leone Broadcasting Corporation, Radio Democracy FM 98.1, SKYY Radio, Eastern Community Radio in Kenema and Kono and others that we do not name here. We appreciate your invaluable contributions towards the success of this year’s event.

In conclusion, we want to take this opportunity to inform the people of Sierra Leone that the Civil Society Movement-Sierra Leone is once again poised to provide the leadership, which we deemed to be critical to the effectiveness of our work in tackling national issues that affect our people. We are not fully there yet, but we are happy to say that the divisiveness, internal strife and squabbling among our membership, which for sometime have been undercutting the effectiveness of our engagements have been gradually and successfully translated into renewed commitment, devotion and optimism. We will, therefore, continue to engagement our membership to further strengthen and solidify the relationships among ourselves and with other stakeholders in the interest of our people. We thank you for your attention.