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Sierra Leone

Top Leaders and Rebel Army Linked?

Karamoh Kabba, June 8, 2007

Sierra Leone Vice President Solomon Berewa arriving at the Jose Marti Airport in Havana, Cube on Sept. 13, 2006 to participate in the Non-Aligned Movement summit. (Photo: Luis Acosta / AFP-Getty Images)

The most widely accepted postulate among scholars on the decade-long civil war in Sierra Leone is its lumpen revolutionary disposition. At least, that has been the explanation by researchers for the infamous "limb-hacking" of war victims, recruiting of child soldiers and the indiscriminate killing of over 50,000 civilians by rebels since Foday Sankoh launched the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) on March 23, 1991 in the Kailahun district village of Bomaru.

But recent research, examining the Alie Kabba-led student union uprising in the mid-80's and the Revolutionary United Front rebel formation, however, pose compelling and disturbing links between current President Tejan Kabbah and Vice President Solomon Berewa, among other high-powered intellectuals.

Describing events related to the civil war in Sierra Leone, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) Final Report (Volume 3b: Chapter 5) said of Kabba: "Then, in 1985, Alie Kabba, a keen member of several radical clubs, was returned unopposed as president of FBC student union on a platform of collective self-advancement that he referred to as 'we-ism.' "

We-ism, according to the same report, is a leftist ideology that Kabba touted for his student union government. The linguistic connotation of the ideology to Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels' proletariat political theory seems to agree with the TRC definition.

The TRC and many other works have linked Kabba's student union government activities with the RUF. The fervent determination to instill revolutionary activities in Africa drew authorities from Libya to figures like Kabba. He was already a firebrand among student leaders in Sierra Leone; an individual whose mercurial oratory and revolutionary political dispensations had led to a student demonstration in 1985 that saw the expulsion of many participants from Fourah Bay College (FBC), including Kabba himself.

Like Ibrahim Abdallah and other top scholars on Sierra Leone's civil war who doubt Kabba's true revolutionary commitment to the RUF, owing to the All People's Congress (APC)'s affinity for one-party system government, I found it hard to believe that he would become such an honest force against the APC. The facts seem to indicate that Kabba, unlike earlier faithful student movements against APC leader Siaka Stevens (former president of Sierra Leone) such as Hindolo Trye and others, was more of an opportunist than a true nationalist seeking to bring about political change. Evidently, he is nowhere to be found of in the present multi-party political mosaic in Sierra Leone

Nonetheless, by virtue of his position, Kabba was deeply involved in a students' uprising against a heavy-handed government that led to his arrest, along with five other students, and a two-month incarceration at the notorious Pademba Road prison. Among those arrested at that time were three lecturers, also accused by the APC of spurring the students' discontent and subsequent demonstration — Cleo Hancilles, Olu Gordon and Jimmy Kandeh. They were all kicked out of the university.

Dr. Kandeh is currently a United States-based, tenured associate professor of political science who has become a strong political activist for democratic change in Sierra Leone. He has recently engaged other scholars who support the present Sierra Leone Peoples Party (SLPP)-led government in fierce debates. Some have alleged that he was refused a job that he wooed SLPP's Kabbah for.

But I called the unassuming and soft-spoken professor on the matter, and he simply stated, "My detractors have not experienced the torment I have endured under APC's one-party system. No right-thinking person will encourage the seemingly single party trend buildup in Sierra Leone by the SLPP if it wins for the third time. Simply, whether written or not, three unbroken five-year terms in a fledgling democracy as in Sierra Leone is unacceptable, especially when the SLPP failed to deliver on the youth problem that fueled the ten years of civil war in the first place."

The TRC Final Report said of Kabba, the main actor in the events that led to the torment of which Dr. Kandeh spoke: "When the college reopened for the third semester in April 1985, forty-one students were declared ineligible to register, among them was Alie Kabba. The student union protested against this decision. The campus demonstration spread to the city center, where shops were looted and vehicles burnt down, apparently by unemployed youths who used the political demonstration of the students as a chance to wreak havoc and enrich themselves. Such opportunism, to many differing degrees, would become a constant feature of the conflict in the 1990's."

This is what sent Kabba, the young unwilling revolutionary and make-believe nationalist, on the road to Tripoli, where the Libyans became very fond of him. He made several visits there, became the self-appointed coordinator of the Libyan "connection," and ultimately served as the recruiter for revolutionary-minded Sierra Leoneans, including Foday Sankoh.

It was also apparent that Kabba had much to do with the Pan-African Union (PANAFU) organization in Sierra Leone. This seems to be by the avenue by which many high-powered revolutionary intellectuals built the SLPP and other parties after being buried by the APC's one-party rigged referendum.

Kabba, it seemed, had a marginal influence among PANAFU intellectual heavyweights. A more intriguing development concerns the financial support he and the students initially involved in the Libyan connection enjoyed from both the United Nations and Libya at a convergence in Ghana under another high-profile revolutionary, Flight Lieutenant Jerry John Rawlings

Ibrahim Abdallah wrote in his work, "Ghana and Libya: The External Connection": "But why did the expelled students, who were allegedly provided with a generous grant ($6,000) by the U.N. to pursue their studies choose Ghana, not Nigeria or Liberia, the two other English-speaking countries in the region? The choice of Ghana may not be unconnected with the strong Libyan presence which allowed for less policing of their 'revolutionary' activities and therefore an ideal place."

What commonality did the United Nations and Libya have that involved students-turned revolutionaries?

One thing that was clear though, is that one of the most senior Sierra Leonean officials in the United Nation then, Tejan Kabbah, by his profile, had worked with many movements around Africa for the organization. Many believe that Kabbah was privy to talks between the students bound for Libya and PANAFU. One account indicated that PANAFU fell out with Kabba because he was unable to pull off a deal for Libya on United State targets in Sierra Leone that he wanted to subcontract with PANAFU, who according to Dr. Abdallah, distanced itself from Kabba.

The TRC Final Report states: "The exiled students raised the idea with PANAFU in Freetown of sending members of their revolutionary 'cells' in the city to undertake training programs in Libya. Four trainees nominated by PANAFU left for Libya during the rainy season of 1987. By the time they returned in 1988, leading members of PANAFU were no longer committed to the revolutionary project, which led to a split in the movement. One group went underground and carried on planning for new batches of trainees, recruiting mainly marginalized youths from the city."

There is a dearth of reliable information on those who went underground, but we know a lot about those who were busy with the resurrection of the SLPP by any means necessary.

A briefing published by research group African Analysis International, written by Ibrahim Bangoura And Nhinson Williams titled, "Sierra Leone: The Pre And Post War Overview; A Combination Of Tragedy, Threat And Insecurity," sheds some light in the subject:

Outstanding opposition figures both in and outside of Sierra Leone then were in for a change of regime in the country at all cost so that they too could participate in the dividend of the aftermath political equation. Obviously, that became real after the NPRC's rule. Current president Ahmed Tejan Kabbah, Lawyer Solomon Berewa, Dr. Joe Demby, Dr. Abass Bundu, Hon. John Kerefa Smart and Chief Hinga Norman were all amongst a long list of those who had this impulse and wished the change so dearly.

The usual predicament was the question of the most appropriate and effective medium to use in obtaining this change. This became an eventually unanswered dilemma for most of them, especially those of them who had links to the international community, current president Kabbah inclusive.

What has really confounded many Sierra Leoneans in the last ten years is the close relationship between Libya's Colonel Ghadaffi and President Kabbah, notwithstanding the fact that it was Libyan influence that made possible such actions as the hacking off of limbs, the creation of child soldiers and the killing of over 50,000 citizens.

Are President Kabbah and Vice President Berewa that forgiving, or do they know more than we do about the Libyan connection and the civil war?

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