The Omrie Golley Story
First Encounter with the RUF
January 27, 2021
By 1996, it was becoming increasingly clear that ending the war would require tacit diplomacy and a genuine desire by the Sierra Leone Government and its international allies to negotiate with the RUF. A key proponent of this theory was Rupert Davies, A Sierra Leonean career diplomat attached to the Sierra Leone High Commission in London, at the time.
In his Case Study undertaken under the ‘Extended Programme in Peace-Making and Preventive Diplomacy organized by UNITAR (United Nations Institute for Training and Research) and the International Peace Academy in New York, Davies postulated;
*”The de-facto situation on the ground is that neither the Government nor the RUF can attain total victory in this senseless war against the civilian population. The War could go on forever like a swing of the pendulum, each party taking its turn to gain the upper hand.”*
Davies further wrote;
*”It is absolutely unrealistic and over simplistic to imagine that it is possible to achieve sustainable peace without making concessions to the RUF.”*
This situation apparently brought Omrie Golley into the conflict, and events leading to the peace process during the latter part of 1995 and early 1996.
Senseless killing of civilians, torching of homes, amputations had become common features of the war with most of the country overtaken by rebel forces. Government forces could not retake swathes of territory occupied by rebel forces, even with the assistance of the British and other sympathetic governments. In fact, the situation had become so protracted and difficult,
that mercenary fighters from South Africa, Mozambique, and other countries who had no knowledge of the terrain where airlifted in to aid the war effort, with no appreciable benefits to the overall military situation on the ground.
The presence of mercenary intervention was especially galling to Golley, as it was with numerous Sierra Leoneans both in and out of the country.
Writing in the Third World Quarterly ( Vol 20 No 2, pp 319-338, 1999), a Sierra Leonean, David J Francis (now the Chief Minister in the current Julius Maada Bio’s government) wrote a powerful piece, critically assessing the involvement of private military companies like Sandline International, Executive Outcomes, and the Gurkhas in the war in Sierra Leone, arguing that these companies, in the guise of providing national security, were merely lining their own pockets, thereby accentuating international exploitation, calling it the ‘new face of corporate neo- colonialism’.
The situation in the country at this time was desperate, with no end in sight.
Golley was in London in early November 1995 when he decided, against the wishes of his family, to form an organization called the National Convention for Reconstruction and Development ( NCRD ) to look into the causes of the war, how hostilities could be brought to a speedy conclusion, and to start to map out a new dispensation in Sierra Leone to aid the reconstruction of the country in the aftermath of War.
In order to be able to achieve the objectives of the think tank he had formed, he had to engage other Sierra Leoneans both in the diaspora, and in country, to brainstorm and work out policies to aid these objectives.
Central to the principal aim of seeking a cessation of hostilities, and an end to the military conflict, was the need to understand the motives of the RUF. It was essential to find out about this Movement, its leadership, their organizational structures, and most importantly, the reasons why they had taken up arms, with a military conflict unheard of in the history of Sierra Leone.
The next stage of the NCRD plan was to explore avenues with the RUF with a view to having a cessation of hostilities, and a more permanent plan to bringing about a lasting and sustainable peace.
In order to be properly appraised of the situation on the ground and the state of affairs generally in the country, Golley thought it necessary to consult with a number of Sierra Leoneans in the diaspora and inside the country, including journalists, politicians government officials and others. This is how he came into contact with individuals like Lans Gberie, Osman Yansaneh, Oluniyi Robbin-Coker, Abbas Bundu, Abdulai Conteh, former president Tejan Kabbah, and the Late Joseph Momoh, among many others.
Golley wanted to get the views of as many people as possible to ascertain their own views about the state of affairs in the country at this time. He also undertook a copious amount of travel engagements visiting a number of countries in the sub region including the Gambia, Guinea, Liberia and Nigeria in pursuit of this quest for knowledge.
In undertaking these tours and engaging his fellow countrymen in and out of Sierra Leone, it quickly became apparent to him that very little was known about the RUF who, by this time had taken over large swathes of the country with its guerrilla tactics and forced abductions. Very little contact had taken place with the RUF in their main strongholds. It did not take long for Golley to be convinced that one way or another he had find out about the RUF, who they were, and why they had undertaken a ferocious war against their own people.
The RUF assault on Sierra Rutile which took place in late 1995, with its forced abductions was the catalyst that made up Golley’s mind to seek the Movement and look for ways to bring about peace in the country.
BBC reports about rebel advances throughout the country and the destruction they left behind was enough to convince him of the dangerous direction the country was headed.
Golley was also particularly drawn to the writings of a UK based Sierra Leonean journalist, Ambrose Ganda. Ganda, an indigene from Serabu in the Bo District founded or co-founded a number of Sierra Leonean newspapers including the Watchman, the New Patriot, the Sierra Leone Report and SLAM. His editorial policy resonated with a common theme: – the defence for justice and equal rights of ordinary Sierra Leoneans.
Ganda once wrote;
*“The welfare and defence of the ordinary citizens of the country, and the articulation of their views as one saw them, since they themselves did not have the means to do so”*
Like Golley, Ganda was also personally devastated by the escalation of the conflict and was keen on a negotiated settlement rather than violent means to end it at the expense of ordinary Sierra Leoneans.
Ganda died on 10th April 2003 after contracting meningitis.
It was clear that the Tejan Kabbah Government intended to crush the rebellion by any forceful means rather than by a peaceful negotiated settlement.
Apparently, as days, weeks, months and years progressed, it turned out that the war was not going to end through military means and a paradigm shift from a military solution to negotiations started to prevail. This was pretty consistent with Golley’s strategy and proposition.
It came to pass that all parties to the conflict including the international community gradually succumbed to the idea of a negotiated settlement.
*Meeting the RUF with Oluniyi Robin Coker and Ambrose Ganda*
Until 1999 when the Lome Peace Accord was signed, and the subsequent return to Freetown of Corporal Foday Sankoh the Revolutionary United Front (RUF), Omrie Golley’s involvement with the RUF was limited in scope and geography to the UK, Nigeria, Togo and Ivory Coast where he had lobbied regional powers and placed himself as a Sierra Leonean, not connected with the erstwhile Government or the rebels, deeply committed to an end of the conflict.
Golley’s first physical contact with the RUF was in 1995 when he was accompanied by Oluniyi Robin Coker and Ambrose Ganda to meet four representatives of the Movement in Danane – an Ivorian town that borders the Republic of Liberia. The meeting had been negotiated by the UK based peace building organisation, International Alert, which had alongside the International Red Cross established contacts with the RUF since 1992.
The meeting with the RUF’s representatives at Danane, was followed by a request from Corporal Foday Sankoh to talk to Omrie Golley through ‘bush radio’.
“I was obviously very keen to talk to him. In those days they only had bush radio which was a very limited radio communication and they came on only at a certain time and you had to go to one of their safe houses to be able to speak to the bush. I went at the appointed time and that was in early November 1995 to speak to him on the radio for the very first time, and he greeted me very well…”*
Golley further explains:
“He initiated our conversation with an unexpected question. He asked whether I was the nephew of a certain Inspector Golley, a former police officer in the Sierra Leone Police Force. I said didn’t know who this person was. He then went to tell me that at a very low ebb in his life, this Inspector Golley took him under his wings for a number of years, fed him clothed him, and paid his school fees and that he would always remain grateful to the former police officer”*
It wasn’t clear whether Sankoh thought he could make Golley easily relate with him, through this imaginary uncle or whether the reference was just one of his several tricks to test the sincerity of the young lawyer.
To this day, Omrie Golley cannot recall having a relative from his paternal side in the Sierra Leone Police Force. In any case, that first radio conversation in Ivory Coast opened the door to the numerous subsequent engagements he had with the Movement.
Members of the RUF delegation at the Ivory Coast meeting included Philip Palmer, Faiya Musa, Deen Jalloh and one Dr Jalloh who used to work at Sierrarutile. Deen Jalloh was the husband of Agnes Deen Jalloh. Agnes was one of the senior officials in the RUF and a sister of President Julius Maada Bio.
History teaches us that peace is more sustainable when warring parties agree to sit down and talk. From the Second World War that nearly annihilated Europe and the civil or sectarian conflicts of Asia, Africa and the Caribbean, military had never been a completely decisive factor at ending these wars.
The Second World War may have ended after the surrender of the axis powers and the subsequent suicide of Adolf Hitler in May 1945; it however did not take the global powers, Britain, United States, France and German long to recognize the need for a permanent solution to a conflict that literally brought the world to its knees.
The August 1945 Potsdam Agreement that later became the Three Power Conference of Berlin was probably the climax of several conferences held to address the root causes of the war and to sign a deal that would lead to a permanent resolution to the conflict.
The United Nations was subsequently established the same year to expand and operationalize global peace security architecture around the world.
It wasn’t clear whether the United Nations officials deployed to Sierra Leone were oblivious of this historical perspective or had read Omrie Golly’s script. What was clear however was the fact that almost every UN official deployed to Sierra Leone during the civil conflict had tapped on, and invariably benefitted from the diplomatic and negotiation skills of Omrie Golley.
Episode 3 Coming your way Soon!!