Voices From Confinement: Former Warriors Declare Their Support for the P.M.D.C. in Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone's decade-long war is over at last, but the new coalition of detained former members of warring factions says the awkward combination of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and the Special Court for Sierra Leone detracts from the provisions of the Lome Peace Accord of 1999 and the truth commission's imperative recommendations. The Lome Peace Accord, which was ratified by the Parliament grants pardon to all combatants of the civil war, while one of the "10 commandments" (imperative recommendations) of the truth commission reads, "Release of person held in safe custody detention. Never again resort to safe custody detention." Nonetheless, detaining and trying those allegedly bearing "the greatest responsibility" for war crimes and crimes against humanity in Sierra Leone by the special court contradict the aforementioned provision of the Lome Peace Accord and the recommendation of the truth commission.

President Kabbah has denied allegations that he once used mercenaries and trafficked weapons to Sierra Leone's Civil Defense Forces. (Photo: Vincenzo Pinto / AFP-Getty Images)

In January, various members of warring factions in special court detention coalesced in a common interest to participate in the democratic process and jointly support a single political party in Sierra Leone. Chief Sam Hinga Norman, Moinina Fofana, and Alieu Musa Kondewa of the Civil Defense Forces, Issa Hassan Sesay, Augustine Gbow, and Morris Kallon of the Revolutionary United Front, and Tamba Brima, Ibrahim Bazzy Kamara, and Santigie Kanu of the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council, signed a press release denouncing violence, thanking the international community for bringing peace to Sierra Leone, accusing the S.L.P.P. (Sierra Leone People's Party) government of being the dividing force in Sierra Leone, and declaring their joint support for the People's Movement for Democratic Change.

Scholars are divided over the usefulness and counter-productiveness of the truth commission and the special court in Sierra Leone. One argument that stands out the most among many Sierra Leonean scholars supports the detainees' claim that the special court is a distraction especially to the truth commission's recommendations: Would the African National Congress have emerged as an honorable democratic institution if South Africa had chosen a special court over a truth commission? One question that often garnishes the preceding assertion is what would have been the fate of Nelson Mandela? The most egregious war crimes and crimes against humanity were reported out of Sierra Leone during its darkest period in that bleak decade. These crimes were the product of fighting one of the most ruthless civil wars in recent histories. As well, members of the African National Congress and the apartheid government of South Africa committed serious crimes against humanity on the long walk to freedom.

Sierra Leone's war was unique in the sense that unlike many rebel wars in Africa that metamorphose into ethnic cleansing, a fourth angle to the rebel, army, and peacekeepers in Sierra Leone was fomented by ethnic groups against their tormentors in the form of what we know as the Civil Defense Forces, which was headed by then deputy commander in chief of the armed forces, Chief Sam Hinga Norman, who is now one of the special court's detainees. It is a fair to middling assertion that the Civil Defense Forces helped to avert ethnic cleansing in Sierra Leone. The army had been demoralized and its members had fled or were transmuted into various warring factions by force, by default, or by choice. The commander in chief was at the head of the fleet of soldiers that fled. That left the deputy commander in chief with no choice but, together with the courageous members of the Civil Defense Forces that came to his rescue, to represent his commander in chief, President Ahmed Tejan Kabbah, with valor and honor. Norman had the fullest support and backing of President Kabbah, who gave directives from Guinea, until the special court, badly negotiated by Solomon Berewa, then attorney general and now vice president and frontrunner of the S.L.P.P., came into the picture.

What will be the fate of the president after he leaves office when the special court sticks to its guns of going after those bearing the greatest responsibility for war crimes and crimes against humanity? In 1998, President Kabbah wrote an article for the Daily Mirror in London denying an allegation that he used mercenaries provided by Sandline International and trafficked weapons to the Civil Defense Forces through the same source: "My government did not use mercenaries provided by Sandline. It is true that a delivery of light weapons, arranged by a third party, was made by Sandline for the use of our Civil Defense Units. But that only occurred after the removal of the illegal regime." Wayne Madsen, in his well-researched work, Genocide and Covert Operations in Africa 1993-1999 writes, "On Feb. 22, 1998, Sandline, with the approval of Britain's Foreign Office and British High Commissioner in Sierra Leone Peter Penfold, arranged to ship 30 tons of Bulgarian AK-47 riffles to Kabbah's waiting forces in Sierra Leone." The Nigerians of the ECOMOG (Economic Community of West African States Monitoring Group) troops at Lungi Airport seized the cargo of ammunition bound for the Kamajor local militias who were waiting to stage a counter coup against the military regime that had kicked President Kabbah out of office, Madsen explains. Could it be a double coincidence that Sandline ended up becoming the company that mined Sierra Leone's diamonds?

The warring factions that signed the January press release are the major stakeholders in Sierra Leone's civil war and peace process. These united voices from confinement accusing the S.L.P.P. government of being the dividing force empirically debunk the S.L.P.P.'s claim of bringing peace to Sierra Leone. These former warriors who are signatories to the press release surely know who brought peace to Sierra Leone. They write, "We also fully appreciate efforts by the international community to bring peace, stability, and security to Sierra Leone through our various collaboration efforts as former combatants and members of the various warring factions in Sierra Leone." These men know very well that there would have been no peace without their collaborations and continuous admonishment of their followers to remain peaceful despite their status in confinement. That cannot be said of President Kabbah who may have been busy trafficking weapons to the Civil Defense Forces despite the United Nations resolution (1132) that barred the purchase and shipment of weapons to all warring factions. What is more, the detainees know very well that their demise in special court confinement is because of the deceptive Lome Peace Accord that promised them what the government could not deliver.

These men demonstrate a complete commitment to the peace process and stability when they write,

Because we love our country; because we love peace, unity and stability for our country; because we believe in the development of our country and the welfare of our people; and above all, because we believe that the present S.L.P.P. government does not stand for peace, reconciliation, unity, stability, and the development of our country and our people, we hereby unite and state as follows:

That we have put all of our individual differences aside to support a single political party of our choice in the forthcoming elections.

That we know that the only dividing force that bears greatest responsibility for the current problems in our country, Sierra Leone, is the government of the Sierra Leone People's Party (S.L.P.P.)

That like us, we urge our supporters, sympathizers, friends, relations, and well-wishers to support the People's Movement for Democratic Change (P.M.D.C.), which is the only political party we jointly and individually believe in to save our country, Sierra Leone, and bring peace, reconciliation, unity, love, and stability to our nation.

That we are unanimously sending this message to the office of the P.M.D.C. through our wives and next-of-kin, hoping that the party will accept our membership, wishes and desires for our beloved country, Sierra Leone.

We urge the P.M.D.C. to spread this message far and wide within Sierra Leone and beyond to the international community, our friends, well-wishers, sympathizers, relations and supporters.

We are open to any visits, questions, and comments about this united, friendly, and God-inspiring decision we have taken. We thank God for our lives so far and sign accordingly.

Author's Note: Chief Hinga Norman died in the custody of the Special Court on Feb. 22. This article was written before his death.

View the Worldpress Desk’s profile for Karamoh Kabba.