Sierra Leone

The Libyan Connection

Libyan leader Col. Muammar Gaddafi points south from in Syrte, Libya, March 7, 2002 as Sahel-Saharan leaders look on (Photo: AFP). 
Libyan leader Col. Muammar Gaddafi once identified Sierra Leone’s President Ahmed Tejan Kabbah as a pliable fellow Muslim who would be able to achieve his goals—one of which is to erase British influence in Sierra Leone. There is already evidence that Kabbah is easily influenced by Gaddafi. After Sept. 11, at the request of Gaddafi, Kabbah immediately cancelled a solidarity march at the U.S. Embassy in Freetown.

The question on the lips of most Sierra Leoneans is why President Kabbah would enter into a relationship with an individual who provided training ground, finances, and weapons for Revolutionary United Front (RUF) leader Foday Sankoh’s massacre of thousands of innocents. The fear is that their close friendship is fueled by shared religious fanaticism.

According to numerous sources, Gaddafi is giving full financial support to the incumbent Kabbah of the Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP) in the upcoming May 14 election. But Gaddafi may be funding Kabbah’s campaign without thorough knowledge of the reality on the ground.

In 1998, Kabbah announced to journalists that the Libyan leader donated to Sierra Leone the sum of US$500,000, which was put into the treasury. Aside from that donation, President Kabbah has never revealed any other donations, if there have been any, and the purpose of his numerous trips to Libya remains top-secret. Kabbah’s relationship with Gaddafi, though, has not stopped him from making bilateral treaties with countries that have classified Libya as a dangerous state.

The categorization of Libya by Western countries as dangerous came into being as a result of Libya’s manufacturing of weapons of mass destruction and its military assistance to destabilize other nations around the globe. It is speculated that when President Kabbah confidently announced at the National Electoral Commission on April 2 his sure victory in the presidential election, he was able to do so because he knew he had the full backing of Gaddafi. Despite this optimism, detractors still believe there are many odds against him, mainly his inability to lead—blatantly evidenced by the murder of 24 army officers charged with treason for their involvement in the military junta and found guilty in October 1998 and the rebels’ attack on Freetown on Jan. 6, 1999, which Kabbah was unable to stop.

These and other factors not mentioned may count against Kabbah, rendering his financial support from Gaddafi useless. Currently, it is reported that a 50-50 chance exists between President Kabbah of the SLPP and Ernest Koroma of the opposition All-People’s Congress (APC), with the latter having secured massive support from young business tycoons, including the managing director of the National Petroleum Co., Vincent Kanu. These principal financiers of the APC leader’s campaign are pouring money out in order to remove Kabbah—whom they charge as incompetent and unpatriotic—from office. From the look of things, it also appears that the leaders of the six independent political parties will soon shift their allegiance to either the APC or the SLPP when the going gets tough for them.

Philip Neville is editor and founder of Standard Times in Freetown, Sierra Leone. He received WPR’s International Editor of the Year award in October 2000.