Sierra Leone, Part II
When we last left our study of Sierra Leone, it was 1998 and
Revolutionary United Front (RUF) leader Foday Sankoh was
brutalizing the citizens.
But before we pick up the story, it''s necessary to fast-forward to
today, and the fact that the brutal Sankoh has been arrested by
government troops in the capital of Freetown and paraded around
the city, naked, before British troops helped transport Sankoh to
a secure military base where who knows what will happen to
him. Sankoh''s whereabouts had been unknown for the last ten
days since he literally climbed out his back window to escape the
U.N. and rival rebel forces. Evidently, he returned to town with
just one bodyguard and was immediately picked up. But now,
back to our historical review.
Sierra Leone, known as the "white man''s grave" because of its
climate and its tropical diseases, has certainly been the black
man''s grave as well.
By January 1999, Foday Sankoh had been sentenced to death but
his forces attacked Freetown, nonetheless, and came close to
capturing the city. A Nigerian-led Western African force loyal to
President Kabbah was able to drive the rebels back from the city
but not before an estimated 5,000 died in the fighting.
And so it was that instead of executing Sankoh, in July 1999 a
peace agreement was reached between forces loyal to President
Kabbah and the RUF. Signed in Lome, Togo, the treaty became
known as the Lome Accord. It proved to be a total disaster and
one in which the West, and particularly the U.S., is complicit.
For the West, getting a peace agreement with the RUF seemed to
be paramount. What was crazy about the whole deal was the
international community''s treatment of Sankoh and the RUF as a
legitimate political faction when all it was was a band of
"brutalized and confused teenagers."
Foday Sankoh is nothing more than a "psychopathic killer." He
had instituted "Operation No Living Thing" in the early 1990s,
the reign of terror which swept the countryside. Sankoh
recruited many of his young henchmen by making them murder
their parents, then plying them with cocaine. The RUF adopted
the strategy of cutting off hands (as well as other limbs) with
machetes and axes. After the 1997 election, which put Kabbah
in power, Sankoh''s forces cut off the hands because these were
the instruments used to vote!
With the Lome Accord, amazingly, Sankoh and his killers were
granted full amnesty for their past crimes. In addition, Sankoh
became the vice president and his followers received 4
But wait, there''s more. Sankoh''s followers were given
mansions, official cars and other perks. And the coup de grace
was Sankoh being granted control over Sierra Leone''s primary
source of income, the diamond resources.
So while the U.N. and the West treated Foday as a champion of
the rural poor, whose interests he claimed to represent, Sankoh
went about establishing his criminal enterprise, gaining in the
process a base for money laundering and drug smuggling. And,
of course, it was the diamond trade that allowed him to buy more
weapons for his RUF forces.
Back in April 1999, President Clinton had visited Rwanda to
apologize for the West''s inability to stop the 1994 slaughter in
that country. He wanted to now show that the U.S. cared about
human rights in Africa so he engineered the peace accord in
Sierra Leone. Jesse Jackson played a key role in brokering the
deal as did Secretary of State Madeleine Albright.
In a recent op-ed piece in the Wall Street Journal, Ralph Peters
wrote of Albright''s role that she "bullied the elected government
of Sierra Leone into granting amnesty to the ugliest murderer of
our time, Foday Sankoh, whose adult warriors and armed
children had gleefully lopped off the hands, arms, feet, legs and
facial features of their fellow citizens, or simply slaughtered the
lucky, by the tens of thousands."
After the accord, Sankoh went about consolidating his power
around the diamond district. Dennis Jett, former U.S.
ambassador to Mozambique, said of this time, "Instead of
dealing with a guy who obviously committed war crimes, they
cut him a deal and put him in charge of diamonds in the hope
that he''d steal enough to keep himself happy." And as for the
RUF, they became a force like the drug warlords who terrorize
Colombia, only more brutal.
Sankoh has also received aid, and shelter, from Liberia''s
dictator, Charles Taylor, who has been a friend for years.
As analyst Norimitsu Onishi wrote, the two of them follow the
same strategy: "Single out civilians and make their suffering so
great that they will make you president just to stop the
By October 1999, the U.N. had begun to assemble a
peacekeeping force to guarantee the Lome Accord. The initial
group of 6,000 was a motley group from Nigeria, Kenya, Ghana,
India, Guinea, Jordan and Zambia. The U.N. had recently had
failed missions in Rwanda, Angola, and Somalia. Sierra Leone
was to prove to be another failure, peacekeeping done badly.
The most important rule of modern peacekeeping is don''t bluff.
But that''s exactly what the U.N. was doing in assembling a
The Nigerians, the only legitimate power in West Africa, had
helped to repel the RUF in the past but they soon went home,
tired of footing the bill and taking the brunt of the casualties.
The U.N. was left with an army where many of the soldiers
couldn''t drive, were poorly equipped and poorly trained.
Clearly, the only way to stop the thugs that began to once again
rampage throughout Sierra Leone was, in the words of Canadian
Maj. Gen. Lewis MacKenzie, to "take a gun to a knife
fight...and go with more force than you need to pacify the
Which brings us up to the last two weeks. Sankoh had continued
to consolidate his power and his forces were threatening to make
a move on Freetown and its 1 million citizens. Rebel forces
began to filter into the capital and got so brazen that when
protests erupted in the middle of the city ten days ago, rebels
opened fire on those loyal to President Kabbah, killing at least
seven, as U.N. "peacekeepers" stood by, helpless. It was then
that the British felt compelled to act and sent 800 paratroopers to
Freetown, along with a naval force of 8 ships offshore, to ensure
the safety of its citizens as they fled the country. The U.S. began
to perk up, as well, and offered to airlift more U.N. troops to the
country, but not to involve its own forces.
An editorial in the Washington Post proclaimed, "The
Administration has dispatched the Reverend Jesse Jackson as an
envoy, armed with cliches (''We must talk it out, not fight it out'')
and with the suspect notion that ''the voice of the RUF in Sierra
Leone is Foday Sankoh''s voice, and his voice would be a very
positive one.'' This is grotesque. The RUF is a criminal gang,
soaked in the blood of thousands of civilians whose limbs have
been hacked off or who have been killed outright by Mr.
Well, it turns out that Jackson postponed the visit. No reason as
yet has been given but I would suspect that his participation
would only shine the spotlight back on his role in the failed
Lome Accord which precipitated the latest disaster.
In the meantime, leaders of 9 African states now are considering
deploying a West African force known as Ecomog to be led by
the Nigerians. The latter are now set to assume a leading role in
the region. All they ask is that the U.S. pay for their mission. It
would be money well spent. As Michael Ignatief wrote this
week in the New York Times, "There are a few cases when the
international community has to take sides and do so with
Africans see the commitment of Western troops in the Balkans
and understand that the world is serious about peace talks.
Michael Maren adds, "They (then) see the neglect of Africa, and
it leads them to despair."
U.S. Senator Judd Gregg wrote, "Is it nanve to demand justice?
Why is accountability possible in the Balkans but not in Sierra
Leone? Where is the war crimes tribunal for Sierra Leone?"
There is no doubt in my mind that the U.S. and the West have to
set an example in this godforsaken place. By deposing one
single warlord, we might finally set an example that will make
the others think twice.
*As I write this, the British forces on the ground have engaged the
rebels for the first time, killing a number of them while suffering
no casualties themselves. The Brits are spoiling for a fight. We
should let them go at it and destroy Sankoh''s forces. As for
Sankoh himself, hopefully, by the time you have read this, the
monster has been executed.
**And this just in...Jesse''s trip to West Africa is back on. Let
the cliches flow!
Sources: Lewis MacKenzie / National Post
William Reno / New York Times
Ralph Peters / Wall Street Journal
Michael Maren / New York Times
Sen. Judd Gregg / Washington Post
Norimitsu Gnishi / New York Times
Joseph Opala / Washington Post
Michael Ignatief / New York Times
Sebastian Mallaby / Washington Post
Barbara Crossette / New York Times
Steven Mufson / Washington Post
Blaine Harden / New York Times