By Oswald Hanciles
“Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it…”
– Philosopher, Santiyana
The Editorial in PREMIER NEWS of January 22, 2014, ISSUE 6323, titled, ‘Reflecting on the Historical Antecedents to the War in Sierra Leone’, quotes from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) Report thus: ‘The vital test is preventing the recurrence of such a tragedy (what we dubbed the ‘rebel war’ – between 1991 and 2002: one of the most nauseous and brutish wars in human history!!) lies in whether Sierra Leone can learn the lessons of its past….’ The past! Sierra Leoneans!! Learn!!!
Foday Sankoh was sired by 30 years ‘Tribal War’ of SLPP/APC
The 1991-2002 Foday Sankoh-led Revolutionary United Front (RUF) ‘rebel war’ that was waged mainly against unarmed civilians had its genesis in the preceding 30 years of ‘Low Intensity Tribal War’ that masqueraded as normal political competition between the SLPP and the APC. That Premier News would be publishing such an editorial today could mean that its editors have deduced, from journalistic pulse-touching of the public, that that which caused our civil war is being stoked today. Some politicians swooning into complacency by the cacophony of ‘dreg men’, intoxicated with new found power and wealth, afflicted by chronic amnesia and incapacitated by lack of foresight…..could dismiss my ‘tribalism serial’ as sensationalism. If President Ernest Bai Koroma’s government have recently hosted a conference on ‘National Dialogue’; have invited all political parties to a heart-to-heart meeting at State House, and perked their hope that there would be regular consultative meetings with them…. it could mean that the President has heard the tsunami rumblings that threatens to be a harbinger for something worse than our ‘rebel war’.
The TRC Report states…: It was during the protracted reign of the APC….that politicians and the processes they directed were to forfeit all credibility….A system of power through patronage developed, with blatant corruption and the plundering of state resources……Neither the SLPP nor the APC has made (we hope, for this APC, that tense would be ‘had made’) any real effort to attend to the debasement of the post independence politics and economy of the country..” (Apparently, super star musician “Emerson” studied the TRC report; for his ‘Kokobeh’ song in his recent CD just puts into music (or, sermon) the ‘truth’ in the “Truth” and Reconciliation Report (TRC”) Report.
APC’s Shaki Stevens More Potently Used the ‘Tribal Weapon’ of the SLPP’s Albert Margai
In 1967, the SLPP-led government of Prime Minister Sir Albert Margai tried to use the ‘tribal weapon’ to prevent the APC leader, Siaka Stevens, from taking the reins of government that had been handed to him by the then Governor General – it led to Sierra Leone’s ‘compromise coup’. There were rumours that when Shaki Stevens was released from jail in 1967, he went into exile in Guinea, and mobilized a ‘rebel force’ to invade Sierra Leone to rout the National Reformation Council (NRC) junta in power. The ‘rebel force’ were being trained when there was a coup against the NRC in 1968. The quirks of Sierra Leonean ‘tribal history’ needs to be analyzed as to why the man who announced the coup against Juxon-Smith’s NRC, Warrant Officer Amadu Rogers, a Mende from Pujehun District, within forty eight hours handed over power to Colonel John Bangura, the Temne military officer who was widely believed to had been one of the military leaders of Siaka Stevens’s rebel force in Guinea, and who had been a victim of Albert Margai’s tribalism, forced out of the military in 1966; and why did Colonel Bangura, from the majority and powerful Temne tribe, hand over POWER to Siaka Stevens, from the minority Limba tribe, that were at that time intellectually and economically insignificant? It should be noted that in 1968, the tribal dynamics in the military had changed little from what it was in 1967 – with the Mendes still the dominant force in the military.
Once in power in 1968, the APC leader, Siaka Stevens, escalated on that ‘tribal war’ or ‘regional war’ that had been set into motion by the SLPP’s Albert Margai. Between 1968 and 1972, the Mendes were purged in the military en masse – reduced from the average 70% to 5%!! Using legal and paramilitary coercive tactics, Siaka Stevens reduced the SLPP seats in parliament from 32 to 12 – the Bye Elections during that period were farcical: the SLPP would ‘lose’ seats in South/Eastern constituencies that were only in 1967 fanatically SLPP. This trend continued until the Fourah Bay College, University of Sierra Leone-ignited student uprising of 1977. The student protest spiralled, engulfing the entire country. To calm nerves down, to placate the students (and, apparently, to forestall ambitious military officers using the pretext of an anarchic country to grab power), Siaka Stevens met one of the demands of the students – General Elections.
The General Elections that resulted from that student 1977 unrest was one in which Siaka Stevens used thugs to launch a full scale ‘war’ on the SLPP. There was stiff resistance in the southern province capital of Bo Town by SLPP fanatical youth – the military had to be called out in full force to quell the youth resistance. If there were a Charles Taylor in Liberia and not a Rev. William Tolbert as President in Liberia, if guns were easy to acquire in the 1970s as it became in the 1990s, a civil war could have flared up in 1977. Siaka Stevens succeeded in doing what all ‘empire builders’ throughout history would do – use military might against all political opposition, against a foreign enemy, then assimilate the ‘enemy’s’ elite into a cowed system. SLPP leaders like Salia Jusu Sheriff, M.S. Mustapha, Sama Banya, F.M. Minah, etc. caved in to the fait accompli that their political survival meant joining the APC, or, they would be made ‘politically extinct’ – the APC in 1978 made de jure a One Party State that had been de facto.
The TRC on the APC and SLPP’s ”incestuous relationship”
A Limba, Siaka Stevens’ establishment of a One Party State in Sierra Leone, and the relative peace that followed ten years after until he peacefully handed over power to his chosen successor, another Limba, General Joseph Saidu Momoh, marked him out as a highly successful politician. (It could be that part of Steven’s success was that though he was paternally a Limba, he was sociologically more Mende than Limba, and could speak fluent Mende; and he absorbed the elite of the political opposition of the Mende-speaking South/East). Was it a potent ‘inclusive’ strategy of Steven’s APC? This is what the TRC Report says really happened: “Exclusionary politics led to an incestuous relationship between the APC and the SLPP: they merged into one, unprincipled ‘political elite’”. (‘Incest’: sexual incest, or ‘political incest’…. is a universally reprehensible concept).
It can be said that President Momoh swung the ethnic pendulum away from the forced unity that had been created by President Stevens. This is what Prof. Jimmy Kandeh writes of the era: ‘The ethno-politicization of the army, palpably evident under the present Momoh regime (all top officers continue to be northerners), has occurred largely within the context of continued attempts at power consolidation…. (The Limba) ‘Ekutay’: ….. President Momoh…. is a staunch member. So is the chief of police (Bambay Kamara), the minister of trade and industry (Ben Kanu) and the party affairs minister (E.T. Kamara), all of whom are Limbas….’ (Source: ‘Politicization of Ethnic Identities in Sierra Leone’; Author – Jimmy D. Kandeh; Source: African Studies Review, Vol. 35, No. 1 (Apr., 1992), pp. 81-99 – Published by: African Studies Association Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable).
The Tribal Card is a Flawed Game Plan
Let us pore on, but, shift away from, the pedantry of Prof. Kandeh’s Paper; and put this piece into perspective with the journalese of my premise – the Tribal Card should be eschewed by any governing party. SLPP leader, Albert Margai… had about 68% of the military being Mendes; and, the voting pattern of 1967 puts about 50% of the population as Mendes – that did not save his regime. The disproportionate number of Limbas (and Northerners) in President Momoh’s government and military was of little use when the Temne, Foday Sankoh, mobilized largely Mendes to invade Sierra Leone through the Mende-speaking East in 1991; and when military officers staged a coup in against the APC in 1992. The ecstatic response of especially the Freetown populace to the Valentine Strasser-led 1992 NPRC coup absolutely included the majority Temne-speaking (or Northern Province) people who predominate in Freetown. As with the ‘rebel war’ of Foday Sankoh, the NPRC coup manifest that the people of Sierra Leone, ultimately, would almost always coalesce against politicians who play the ‘Tribal Card’.
The APC lost power for fifteen years after 1992; and, the APC’s coming to power in 2007 was more a quirk of political missteps by an overconfident SLPP; to spite the charismatic and strong-willed Charles Margai, the wrong-headed choice of a very-uncharismatic lawyer who was a political novice as presidential candidate (Solomon Berewa) – even then, the presidential election went to a runoff, and the APC only narrowly won. These are telling lessons for the current APC governing elite, and the main opposition, SLPP, who appear inclined to use the ‘Tribal Card’. After the ‘death’ of the ‘First APC’ in 1992, a long-serving ‘First APC’ education/foreign minister, a Northern Province Temne, Dr. A.K. Koroma, wrote a book excoriating the APC government(s) he was part of, doing a ‘post mortem’ – a loyal party man could have better done ‘political surgery’ to prevent the ‘death’ of the First APC!! The now ‘resurrected APC’ should not forget how it got into a ‘political grave’ in the first place….
(TO BE CONTINUED)