By Oswald Hanciles
Sierra Leonean-oriented FACEBOOK cyber pages are lively social media spaces where people post photos of their social and family life (how beautiful or handsome they are; how rich, academically and professionally successful…or widely travelled they are…); but, sometimes, they can be SLPP-vs-APC partisan ‘war zones’. With the Ebola outbreak in Guinea and Liberia recently, and fear that the Ebola virus could filter into Sierra Leone, cyber combatants have become energized – with patriotic zeal; or, ‘partisan guns’ ablaze. One of the ‘friends’ on my FACEBOOK page is Sierra Leonean citizen based in Europe, doing cerebral work at tertiary level – James Edgar Momoh.
James Edgar Momoh’s “Heroic laurel” on Tejan Kabbah questioned
James Edgar Momoh hit out at a piece in this Column, titled, “The Tejan Kabbah Syndrome’ and Ebola”. I excerpt here: “Juxtaposing Pa Kabbah’s heroic laurel with the Ebola pandemic is also faulty parallelism. While Pa Kabba brought respite to a warring nation through his peace initiative, the ebola virus, left unconstrained, can decimate an entire nation. Therefore, comparing the two is like comparing light and darkness, or life and death. …..(Comparing) the war EBK has to fight with what Pa Kabba achieved is simply laughable….”
I have FIFTEEN YEARS experience as a cyber warrior; I fired back: “You spouted your pedantic prose of “faulty parallelism”. This is what I wrote in THE OSWALD HANCILES COLUMN on what you have derided as “faulty parallelism”: “When Tejan Kabbah was told of the March 25, 1997 coup three days before it happened – he did not take prompt action. In 1998, Tejan Kabbah watched as the rebels ‘crept’ into Freetown from Koinadugu – and took little action. Is H.E. President Ernest Bai going to, or not going to, be infected with the ‘Tejan Kabbah Syndrome’?”.
I continued: “….Let me painstakingly show you the ‘apt parallelism’ there. Tejan Kabbah was embroiled in a ‘rebel war’; had to confront an enemy. He FAILED to take preventative measures; he failed to be robust in a timely manner – and the enemy (RUF) had overwhelmed him TWICE in his capital city. The parallel? H.E. Ernest Bai Koroma is faced with an ‘enemy’ today like Tejan Kabbah was; if H.E. Ernest Bai Koroma does not take robust action – which could involve closing the border; involve sending out the army to prevent too much movement of people from border areas; from Guinea and Liberia – and the Ebola virus overwhelms our country, he would be infected with the ‘Tejan Kabbah Syndrome’. Dig? Got? U yeri now!!!?…”
In previous articles I have touched on the concept called ‘Constructive Controversy’. Everybody has been publicly showering praises on the late President Tejan Kabbah during his recent State Funeral ceremonies – except this writer, who has seen this as an opportunity for ALL Sierra Leoneans to dig into the history of our ‘rebel war’ years (1991 to 2002), and sifter the Truth from the Big Lies. If we learn from our recent past we are less likely to repeat them. I plead with others to openly challenge the Big Lies of our ‘rebel war’. Those who have disagreed with my position– like James Edgar James; and the youthful Chernor Bah in the UN – I have tried to help publicize their views. ‘Nor to fet we dae pan; nar for stop lie lie; nar bring the true komot nar doe’!!
What I would never tire of describing as a reprehensible Big Lie that kept on being articulated by apparently learned Sierra Leonean has been this one: “Tejan Kabbah brought peace to Sierra Leone”. Tejan Kabbah did not!! In 1996, President Kabbah continued the ‘peace’ moves initiated by Head of State, Brigadier Maada Bio. He signed the Abidjan Peace Accord with Foday Sankoh’s RUF. A year later, the RUF teamed with elements in the military to kick Kabbah from power, and set up the AFRC junta – an estimated 5,000 people were murdered, raped, amputated, abducted invaluable historic houses burned down. The damage to the image of the country as the rebels held siege on the capital, and pulled out in February 1998 in an orgy of murder, raping, amputation, and arson, was incalculable – our country’s name became etched in global consciousness as one of the most evil places on planet earth. Would that happen if there was compulsory military service for all able-bodied youth?
Mobilization of the Kamajors kept the RUF rebels at bay
When the war was ignited in 1991, the RUF rebels swept through several of the South/East districts in their scorch earth strategy of wanton murder, rape, amputation. In 1994, the people organized themselves into a self defense force, invoking the spirit of their traditional hunters/fighters, the Kamajors. They were very successful. They drove the RUF rebels from their traditional lands, and the RUF feared attacking them. In 1997, even with the AFRC/RUF junta/rebels in control of Freetown, they feared to go to the territory being controlled by the Kamajors – there were no deaths or rape in the South/East compared to what happened in Freetown. In January 6, 1996, the RUF/AFRC rebels hit Freetown harder with their murderous strategy – there was nothing even close like this where the people were ready to fight for their freedom in the South/East. The RUF/AFRC would attack ‘soft’ civilians not ready to fight to defend their territories. This historical reality answers the question of the Big Lie: “There is nothing anyone could have done to prevent January 6, 1999”.
When I returned from Nigeria in 1995, the first article I wrote in George Khoryama’s NEW SIERRA LEONEAN newspaper argued for compulsory military training for all youth. Of course, the ‘governing elite’ seldom would try to ‘pick sense’ from newspaper columnists. In November 1998, as Secretary-General of the All Political Parties Youth Association (APPYA), together with APPYA’s Chairman then, Lansana Koroma, we got the Nigerian-born Chief of Defense Staff of the Sierra Leone military, Brig. Maxwell Khobe, to agree to give military training for Freetown youth to face the RUF/AFRC rebel threat – replicating what the Kamajors were doing in the South/East, the Gbethis in the North; the Donsos in the East. That led to the formation of the Civil Security Movement (CSM). We were too late – forms for this military training were distributed to the ‘ready-for-military-training’ CSM on January 5, 1999; on January 6, 1999 the rebels struck. Tejan Kabbah should have started mobilizing the youth of Freetown for such military training when he was restored to power in March 1998. He should have set up a ubiquitous ‘wartch me ar wartch u’ force in Freetown. The rebels wouldn’t have penetrated Freetown; would’ve been deterred by civilian watchfulness and universal military preparedness – or, if they had attacked, they would have been easily repelled.
Survival mandates man does not appease Great Evil
My argument is that humanity when faced with ‘Great Evil’ must fight – not appease Great Evil!! When Europe and America saw the monstrosity of Adolf Hitler’s Nazi Germany in the Auschwitz concentration camp, they resolved to fight and annihilate Hitler at all cost. Hitler could not have been appeased. Foday Sankoh’s RUF should not have been appeased. Tejan Kabbah’s appeasement of Foday Sankoh costs the nation far more lives than war with Foday Sankoh would have cost. There comes a time in a nation’s life when hard decisions would have to be taken by the governing elite. Like now we are faced with the Ebola Threat….
Some government officials are saying we should not close our borders because the World Health Organization (WHO) is opposed to it. Lesson from history?: the US’s Jesse Jackson had compelled Tejan Kabbah to sign the Lome Peace Agreement; that did not stop Foday Sankoh from wanting to overthrow the Kabbah government by May, 2000. Civil Society did not seek the approval of the UN to stage an about 100,000 person march to Foday Sankoh’s residence in Freetown on May 8, 2000 – which catalyzed the peace. Can we build scenarios to test in the Forge of Truth government’s current Ebola Strategy?
We should do ‘cost-benefit analysis’, and/or develop scenarios, of the Ebola Virus erupting in Sierra Leone. People will get scared to use crowded public transport; go to market places; go to church…..: the Ebola virus is contracted through sweat!! Tourists would fear to come to our country for many years to come. Investors could shy away from here. (Lord forbid!!). So, we must mobilize, and appropriate, necessary financial and human resources!! There should be massive sensitization, especially in ‘Ebola Suspicious Districts’ – with musicians; with not just theatrical skits, but, video dramas; audio dramas on radio; face-to-face engagements with people; educating traditional leaders, etc.
In dawn, noon, afternoon and dusk campaigns all over the country people should be educated to IMMEDIATELY report, and ensure immediate tests for, all visitors from Ebola Suspect Districts or countries. There should be widespread use of surgical gloves, especially by people who are in the service sectors. Sex workers should be subsidized, and encouraged to cease their trade for now. When the US was attacked by the Japanese in Pearl Harbour during the start of the Second World War they ‘imprisoned’ tens of thousands of even American-born Japanese into special camps – because they feared that they may have loyalty to Japan where their parents hailed from. After the Al Qaeda attack on the US on 9/11 in 2001, the US waged direct war on Iraq and Afghanistan; detained suspects in Guantanamo Bay out of US ‘human rights’ jurisdiction; and even the perceived ‘dovish’ President of the Democratic Party, Barrack Obama, sent Special Forces to kill Osama Bin Laden inside Pakistani territory, without the Pakistanis military and intelligence being aware of it. President Ernest Bai Koroma’s ‘Ebola War’ has to be dramatically different from late President Kabbah’s RUF War. It could be that if we sustain the Big Lie on Tejan Kabbah’s war record, we risk encouraging the same thing to happen today as the specter of Ebola looms – and, for the likes of James Edgar James, safely ensconced in Europe, the Ebola War could be another FACEBOOK exercise in semantics, dialectics, pedantic thrusts like “Faulty Parallelism” to prove “laughing matter”. But, a ‘Tejan Kabbah Syndrome’ holding sway today would be suicidal for those within the geographical space in Sierra Leone.