Global Policy Forum

Is It Peace at Last


By Ano Tempeli

All Africa News Agency
July 26, 1999

Nairobi - The question being asked at this time is "is it peace at last for the people of Sierra Leone or is it merely a semblance of peace? AANA Correspondent Ano Tempeli says the question is as a result of the peace agreement signed by the democratically elected government of Sierra Leone and the rebel movement of the Revolutionary United Front, who have been engaged in an eight year bloody war.

President Kabbah and RUF leader, Corporal Foday Sankoh, signed a peace accord in the Togolese capital, Lome recently after several weeks of talks. But in spite of the agreement, people in Sierra Leone are very sceptical of the peace being offered them. They are weary of war and have lost family members, relatives and friends. Some of them of them have lost legs and limbs due to the brutality of the RUF rebels and their war allies, the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council that temporarily overthrew the government of President Tejan Kabbah in 1997. The people of Sierra Leone celebrated the agreement but with scepticism. They welcomed the "peace" because they were weary of the hostility of the war, but they question the justice of the agreement.

Under the Lome Accord, the RUF will receive four ministerial posts, one of them senior, and four deputy-ministerial positions. Sankoh himself has been offered the post of chairman of a commission in charge of mineral resources and post-war reconstruction, which, according to the negotiators, will be "nearly the equivalent" of the position of vice president. Whatever that means remains to be explained to the people. President Kabbah also signed a warrant, pardoning Sankoh and freeing him and his men from any form of prosecution and also provides a reprieve from prosecution for combatants and exiles that have committed war crimes. Sankoh was convicted and sentenced to death on treason charges last October, and his appeal was still pending before the Appeals Court in Freetown. A reprieve will also mean a pardon from all his previous convictions for which he may have served prison sentences.

The question being asked in Sierra Leone is, "what is there for those who have lost loved ones and those whose arms and limbs have been amputated?" It is as if the rebels are being rewarded for the atrocities they committed and impunity is taking the order of the day. Can the government really forgive those who have violated the people without the participation of those who have been violated - the sinned against? Peace can never be peace without justice and a process of reconciliation that does not take on board justice is flawed and breeds impunity.

In her visit to Sierra Leone, particularly to the camp of amputees, the United Nations Human Rights Commissioner, Mary Robinson was shocked at the level of atrocities committed by the rebels. She noted that the appalling atrocities committed by the rebels during the country's eight-year civil war have been largely ignored in stark contrast to Kosovo. She criticised the double standards of the international community. In welcoming the peace agreement, she warned that while Sierra Leone as a sovereign state may have the right to grant amnesty for violation of its national law, the United Nations will not recognise the amnesty as applying to gross violations of human rights.

Many see the peace agreement as victory of terrorism over democracy. But not so by the African leaders now meeting at the assembly of the Organisation of African Unity OAU. They are using the Togo peace accord signed by rebel leader Sankoh and President Kabbah as a public relations ploy for the organisation. They hailed the cessation of hostility in Sierra Leone as an achievement of peace in that war torn nation. They had hoped to show off Sierra Leone and the Democratic Republic of Congo as their success story. Unfortunately, that of the Congo fell through. They seem to lack the realisation that peace is not merely the absence of war; peace is not peace until the issues of justice are taken on board. But I am reminded that African leaders lack a sense of justice and that's what accounts for the OAU silence on the justice factor.

Only few of our readers need a reminder that the out-going Chairman of the OAU is an alleged supporter of the RUF. If he is, then he ought to take some responsibility for the atrocities and the organisation is discredited and needs to offer an apology to the suffering people of Sierra Leone. President Kabbah made a passionate plea to all Sierra Leoneans to "forgive and forget," and declared that "the civil war in our country is at an end, and we have all resolved never again to take up arms to settle our political differences". That call by the president may be genuine and in place. But will it be an easy thing for the people to do?

Forgiveness is a gift from God. It is a virtue that all people of God should work towards and is an essential of reconciliation. But signs of repentance on the part of the rebels are also needed to make the process of reconciliation complete. The President on behalf of his people offered forgiveness to the rebels. They can only show their willingness to accept the gift of forgiveness from the President by showing signs of repentance.

To forget can be dangerous. If we must resolve never again to take up arms to settle our political differences, we need not forget the pain and suffering caused when we do otherwise. In place of "forgetting" the people of Sierra Leone will do well to rather adopt a posture of "reconciling memory". In reconciling memory you remember and consciously forgive. You remember the events and feelings and resolve to work towards eliminating all that caused it in the first instance.

This posture came out strongly when President Kabbah told the gathering of Heads of States, members of Sierra Leone's Inter-Religious Council and representatives from civil society groups: "I hope we shall all learn from this and try to embrace peace". That learning should be for all times and forgetting would not help the process but reconciling memory will. President Kabbah dedicated the accord to all Sierra Leone's children, whom he referred to as "the most vulnerable victims of war". Before signing, he lifted up three-year-old Memuna Massiray, whose right hand had been hacked off by rebel fighters. In her remaining arm Memuna held a teddy bear. "This," Kabbah said, "is the product of war". That girl can never forget that she is without a right hand. She will surely want to know what happened to her right hand and she will not forget to ask. She deserves the right to be told the truth. No amount of forgetting can help.

As a gesture of goodwill, the President gave the rebel leader a Sierra Leonean passport. There is also a proposal to set up a "truth commission" such as the Desmond Tutu Commission in South Africa to allow victims to "tell their stories" and a "human rights commission" which would strengthen machinery for addressing grievances and alleged violations of basic human rights. May be this will aid the reconciliation process.

More Information on Sierra Leone


FAIR USE NOTICE: This page contains copyrighted material the use of which has not been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. Global Policy Forum distributes this material without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. We believe this constitutes a fair use of any such copyrighted material as provided for in 17 U.S.C § 107. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond fair use, you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.