By Oswald Hanciles
“Foday Sankoh was power hungry. He was also desperately hungry for diamonds. In his bush war and as head of the nine member Commission for the Management of Strategic Resources, National Reconstruction and Development, his objective was to use the country’s diamonds as a means of acquiring and exercising power….Foday Sankoh misunderstood the functions of his job as Chairman….While we were trying to make the Commission fully operational, he announced that in his capacity as Chairman of the Commission, he was imposing a complete ban on diamond mining and suspension of all mining licenses. He claimed that he had consulted with me before making the announcement….As it turned out, Foday Sankoh had been unilaterally and secretly negotiating with foreign companies to mine the country’s diamonds…His ultimate goal was to continue to use the country’s resources to fulfil his vaulting ambition, namely to seize power despite earlier futile attempts by is RUF rebels….In early May 2000, in the same week that the final ECOMOG contingents left Sierra Leone, the RUF surrounded, disarmed and abducted approximately 500 UNAMSIL troops in the Northern and Eastern provinces, killing several in the process…..”
– Pages 151, 152, 153 of autobiography of Tejan Kabbah, Coming Back from the Brink (EPP Books Services, Ghana, 2010).
Tejan Kabbah was suave; resonant; a gentleman
Late President Tejan Kabbah was a ‘fine man’ – literally and figuratively. Tejan Kabbah was the quintessence of what the English would call a ‘gentleman’. He must have been highly successful clinking champagne glasses among the global elite, eliciting admiring glances from cultured voices that would say….: “Hey Tejan….! How’s Patricia doing….? You look swell in that suit, Tejan….” As the published photograph of the just-from-university Tejan Kabbah shows, he was a stunningly handsome man who was certainly a heartbreaker – hardly a doubt that he won the heart of the majestic and Beauty Queen beautiful late Patricia Kabbah (nee Tucker; niece of the then ‘mighty’ Peter Tucker, head of the civil service in the mid-1960s). Tejan Kabbah as President of the Republic of Sierra Leone would articulate with that inspiring resonance and erudition that would rival….Well, not compared to Barrack Obama; but, he would come close to Obama in his stirring speeches….See, my series of articles excoriating the ‘war time record’ of late President Tejan Kabbah are not personal. It is my hope that those who wield power today, those who will hold the reins of highest power tomorrow, those who collectively give power to really empower national leaders, would learn something from my ‘humble lessons’ here. It is my hope that those who don’t agree with me would argue their case without rancour, without polemics, without engaging in cheap below-the-belt-type language and Goebbels-type propaganda; to try to obfuscate vital national lessons with poisoned barbs. My ‘case’ against late Tejan Kabbah continues.
Tejan Kabbah lacked capacity to handle ‘Intelligence’
Tejan Kabbah was a British-trained economics graduate, and lawyer, with impressive credentials working at higher levels in the UN system; but, clearly, he lacked the capacity to do ‘intelligent thinking’ and harnessing the powers of an ‘Intelligence System’ in a country at war. In previous articles, I have already brought up these points: Tejan Kabbah was TOLD of a coup three days before it happened – he did nothing to prevent it. Tejan Kabbah did not eliminate the RUF/AFRC rebels when he was restored to power in Freetown in 1998, yet, he sat in Freetown, and watched the rebels literally ‘creeping’ – with the local media almost daily chronicling their every tactical advance of the rebels – into the Freetown peninsular over a ten month period, resulting in horrific consequences. Tejan Kabbah was overly dependent on the Nigerian-led ECOMOG forces, without having the capacity to understand the psychology of the Nigerian military, or, Nigerians generally for that matter.
I lived and worked in Nigeria between 1990 and 1995, and was in a position to do considerable research (in 1990, as Deputy Director of the African Center for Science and Development Information in Ijeshetedo, Surelure, Lagos, Nigeria), and interact with some of the military brass in that country. Apart from their ‘brawn’, the Nigerian military has several military strategic schools, and military strategic ‘think tanks’; and some of their officers were (are) highly educated and experienced scientists, psychologists, sociologists, literary giants, accountants…..that can be compared to the best anywhere in the world. It is this military that managed to govern the over 100 million people of Nigeria with their vast petroleum wealth for most of that country’s 60 years of post-independent history. The RUF/AFRC feared the Nigerian-led military – and ran away like frightened children when ECOMOG routed them from Freetown in February of 1998. No way would the RUF/AFRC have dared to attack easy-to-defend mountainous Freetown peninsular knowing the Nigerian-led ECOMOG was in control…!!.
In early December 1998, the Nigerian Commander of the ‘Garrison for the Defence of Freetown’, Brigadier-General Abu Ahmoudu, said during a Press Conference that the Nigerian-led ECOMOG drove the rebels out of Freetown with just about 2,000 troops – and, there were 10,000 troops on the ground. How then did the AFRC/RUF rebels dare to enter Freetown with such formidable troop presence on the ground?
Late Olu Gordon, Editor/Publisher of PEEP magazines (one of the most fearless writers, and best satirist, in our history), would write before his death every anniversary of the cataclysmic January 6, 1999 invasion of Freetown…. that at the time of the AFRC/RUF invasion of January 6, 1999, there were only about 205 ECOMOG troops on the ground, and that included security details for high-ranking government officials. So, at the time Brig. General Ahmadou was bragging about 10,000 troop presence, ECOMOG troops had been pulling out of Freetown – and, President Tejan Kabbah was apparently oblivious of massive troop movement out of the country he was Commander-in-Chief for. Tejan Kabbah was also lost on the much-talked-about personality conflict between Brig-General Abu Ahmadou, and the other Nigerian generals in Freetown: Brig.-General Maxwell Khobe, head of the Sierra Leonean military then; and, Brig.-General Timothy Shelpidi, head of the ECOMOG forces. The lack of ‘coordinated intelligence of Tejan Kabbah’s government meant that he was apparently unaware of what ECOMOG could have done in turning a blind eye as Charles Taylor’s ‘rebel’ forces would hit the capital city of Liberia, Monrovia, until finally Taylor overcame the ‘government’ forces there. As naive as Tejan Kabbah was, he trusted the foreign troops blindly, childishly……
In 2000, I spoke with two Kamajor battle commanders; graduate teachers teaching at Bo School. They told me that hundreds of them were ferried by helicopter to Freetown in December of 1998 when the AFRC/RUF invasion of Freetown became imminent. They were not provided with arms and ammunition. They were ordered by ECOMOG commanders to move out of Hasting in the far East of Freetown to be redeployed to Kent, in the far West of Africa – ordered the Kamajors out of the route the AFRC/RUF rebels would advance. Okay, ‘leh we leff nar wan dae fuss’. Fast forward.
Tejan Kabbah failed to use the ‘propaganda ammunition’ of J-6
January 6, 1999 and the three week AFRC/RUF siege on Freetown – blood and gore, arson, rape, abduction…of nightmarish proportion. A monumental blunder had been made by Tejan Kabbah’s government in making possible the RUF/AFRC invasion. But, the extremity of the rebels’ pogrom had presented ‘propaganda ammunition’ to government. If Tejan Kabbah had the capacity to know the relationship between ‘war and propaganda’ he would have done video documentaries of the rebels’ onslaught, and stimulated speaking tours for his English-accented senior staff to tour US and European capitals, fusing the image of Foday Sankoh with Adolf Hitler/Idi Amin, Pol Pot – so much so that Foday Sankoh would be reviled by all the powerful in the world. No, Tejan Kabbah did not do that.
He ‘waited’ until he was ‘cornered’ by the U.S. Special Envoy for Africa, the resonant but shallow-minded Rev. Jesse Jackson, who labelled Foday Sankoh a Nelson Mandela; and almost ‘handcuffed’ Tejan Kabbah and took him to Togo to sign the Lome Peace Agreement in 2000. Did that result in ‘peace’?
Festus Minah, Alithur Freeman, Arthur Harvey, et all brought peace – not Tejan Kabbah!!!
We need a 600 page book to argue this point, not an article or two. The Lome Peace Agreement (‘Lome’) DID NOT bring peace to Sierra Leone. It was one more of the failed appeasement strategy of Tejan Kabbah when dealing with Foday Sankoh. Once ensconced in Freetown by ‘Lome’ as “equivalent to Vice President”, Foday Sankoh continued to play Tejan Kabbah like a fool. Read the quotation above from Tejan Kabbah’s own biography. The ‘paper tiger’ Foday Sankoh that Tejan Kabbah turned into an Arnold Schwarzenegger was made to crumble by the collective resolve of civil society leaders who confronted Foday Sankoh in his Spur Road residence of Freetown on May 8, 2000; led by civil society leaders like Festus Minah, Davidson Kuyateh, Aviama Caulker, Arthur Harvey, Alithur Freeman…- the real unsung heroes of our war, who catalyzed peace. There are reliable information that the RUF/AFRC were already marching on to attack Freetown in May 2000, and, Tejan Kabbah would have done nothing again until they would have attacked – if civil society had not taken their own fate in their hands.
If we continue to peddle the Big Lie that Tejan Kabbah brought peace because he appeased Foday Sankoh – that which earned Tejan Kabbah his 72% landside electoral victory in 2002 – we are likely to repeat it. The threats that we face in the future may not be human rebels, but, ‘micro-organism’ rebels, like ‘Ebola’….. Stay tuned!!