By Sqn Ldr Winston L T Forde RAF Ret’d
In 1935 our famous activist politician and journalist, Mr I T A Wallace Johnson met Nnamdi Azikwe, the future nationalist President of Nigeria, in Accra. Azikwe tried to dissociate himself from Wallace-Johnson’s ideologies, as he believed that there was no chance that his own ideas were compatible with those of his fellow politician. Both men believed that a renaissance needed to occur in Africa, but they disagreed over the methods of doing so. Each believed his own idea would prevail in the future. In his Autobiography, My Odyssey, dated 1970 Azikwe wrote” We exchanged views and I said that while I thought that it would be practicable for Africans at this stage of development to experience an intellectual revolution, yet an extremist or leftist point of view would be dangerous, in view of the unpreparedness of the masses. He countered by pointing out the fate of Soviet Russia, where the masses were illiterate and impoverished, and yet when Lenin, Stalin, and Trosky sounded the clarion; they rallied round them and a new order emerged. I warned him that his analogy was false, because Russia was unlike West Africa; the political, social and economic situations were different. He told me point blank that if Africans depended upon intellectuals or leaders of thought, they would not get beyond the stage of producing orators and resolution-passers. It was necessary for doers or leaders of action to step on the scene and prove that the African has a revolutionary spirit in him.”
The world has moved on since those days, and lately we have the war against terror championed by President George W Bush supported by Prime Minister Tony Blair. We have seen militant Islam spread from Iran to Afghanistan, to Libya, to Egypt, and recently in Mali. Following the intervention by President Holland of France hotly joined by Prime Minister David Cameron, it was inevitable that Tony Blair should have been interviewed on the BBC One Andrew Marr show on Sunday morning last. He felt it was a generational struggle by the west and acknowledged the terrorist threat presented some stark choices to the West who always want to go in to such countries, and out again with some clear results. However this was not so practicable as they were dealing with an ideology based on a perversion of religion.
Much to my surprise, they then tried to mention Sierra Leone in this context. Blair boasted that he had gone into Kosovo and came out with a victory. He went into Sierra Leone and came out likewise. He stated that in those countries we had a failed state with an element of religion. However, in Sierra Leone one had a local group trying to topple a government, but they were a local group with no outside connections, and Mali is different. I was surprised because it was certainly not like that in the case of Sierra Leone. This is an opportunity to rehearse the facts that led to the ending of our long and brutal civil war by several different force efforts.
Our Civil War began 23 March 1991 when the Revolutionary United Front (RUF), with support from the special forces of Charles Taylor’s National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPLF) intervened in Sierra Leone in an attempt to overthrow the Joseph Momoh government. The resulting civil war lasted 11 years, enveloped the country, and left 50,000 dead. In May 1997 a group of disgruntled SLA officers staged a coup and established the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC) as the new government of Sierra Leone. The RUF joined with the AFRC to capture Freetown with little resistance. The new government, led by Johnny Paul Koroma, declared the war officially over. A wave of looting, rape, and murder followed the announcement. Reflecting international dismay at the overturning of the civilian government, ECOMOG forces intervened and retook Freetown on behalf of the government, but they found the outlying regions more difficult to pacify. Nigerian Commanders of ECOMOG numbered five from 1998 to 2000 including General Maxwell Khobe late, but they lacked logistical support from the West that could have turned their military failures into success on the battlefield.
In January 1999, world leaders intervened diplomatically to promote negotiations between the RUF and the government. The LOME Peace Accord, signed on 27 March 1999, was the result. Lome gave Foday Sankoh, the commander of the RUF, the vice presidency and control of Sierra Leone’s diamond mines in return for a cessation of the fighting and the deployment of a UN peacekeeping force to monitor the disarmament process. RUF compliance with the disarmament process was inconsistent and sluggish, and by May 2000, the rebels were advancing again upon Freetown. The British intervened to save the failing UN mission and the weak government of President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah. With help from a renewed UN mandate and Guinean air support as Operation Khukri, the British Operation Pallister finally defeated the RUF. On 18 January 2002, President Kabbah declared the Sierra Leone Civil War officially over.
The facts are that Muammar al-Gaddafi both trained and supported Charles Taylor.
Gaddafi also helped Fodahy Sankoh, the founder of Revolutionary United Front. It is accepted that the amputation of the arms and legs of men, women, and children as part of a scorched-earth campaign was designed to take over the region’s rich diamond fields and was backed by Gaddafi, who routinely reviewed their progress and supplied weapons. It is also known that the Russian businessman Viktor Bout, who enjoys protection of the Russian state, supplied Charles Taylor with arms for use in Sierra Leone and had meetings with him about the operations. The local groups in our war had outside connections, and influence.
In October 1999 the UN established the United Nations Mission to Sierra Leone (UNAMSIL). The main objective of UNAMSIL was to assist with the disarmament process and enforce the terms established under the Lome Peace Agreement. Unlike other previous neutral peacekeeping forces, UNAMSIL brought serious military power, thanks to Kofi Annan’s efforts as Secretary General. The original multi-national force was commanded by General Vijay Jetley of India who later resigned and was replaced by Lieutenant General Daniel Opande of Kenya in November 2000. UNAMSIL forces began arriving in Sierra Leone in December 1999. At that time the maximum number of troops to be deployed was set at 6,000. Only a few months later, though, in February 2000, a new UN resolution authorized the deployment of 11,000 combatants.
In March 2001 that number was increased to 17,500 troops, making it at the time the largest UN force in existence, and UNAMSIL soldiers were deployed in the RUF-held diamond areas. Despite these numbers, UNAMSIL was frequently rebuffed and humiliated by RUF rebels, being subjected to attacks, obstruction and disarmament. In the most egregious example, in May 2000 over 500 UNAMSIL peacekeepers were captured by the RUF and held hostage. Using the weapons and amored personnel carriers of the captured UNAMSIL troops, the rebels advanced towards Freetown, taking over the town of Lunsar to its northeast.
Operation Khukri was a unique multinational operation launched in the United Nations Assistance Mission in Sierra Leone (UNAMSIL), involving India, Ghana, Britain and Nigeria. The aim of the operation was to break the two month long siege laid by armed cadres of the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) around two companies of 5/8 Gorkha Rifles (GR) Infantry Battalion Group at Kailahun by affecting a fighting break out and redeploying them with the main battalion at Daru. About 120 operators commanded by Major (now Lt. Col.) Harinder Sood were airlifted from New Delhi to spearhead the mission to rescue 223 men of the 5/8 Nepali Goirkha Rifles who were surrounded and held captive by the RUF rebels for over 75 days. The mission was a total success which resulted in safe rescue of all the hostages where Indian and Nepali troops were part of a multinational UN peacekeeping force.
In May 2000, the situation on the ground had deteriorated to such an extent that British Paratroopers were deployed in Operation Palliser to evacuate foreign nationals and establish order. They stabilized the situation, and were the catalyst for a ceasefire that helped end the war. The British forces, under the command of Brigadier David Richards, expanded their original mandate which was limited to evacuating commonwealth citizens and now aimed to save UNAMSIL from the brink of collapse. At the time of the British intervention in May 2000, half of the country remained under the RUF’s control. The 1,200 man British ground force – supported by air from Guinea, and sea power – shifted the balance of power in favor of the government and the rebel forces were easily repelled from the areas beyond Freetown.
As for the claim that he went in and came out after success the actual occurrence was that on 28 July 2002 the British withdrew a 200-strong military contingent that had been in country since the summer of 2000, leaving behind a 140-strong military training team with orders to professionalize the SLA and Navy. It is anybody’s guess how long they intend to stay. In November 2002, UNAMSIL began a gradual reduction from a peak level of 17,800 personnel. Under pressure from the British, the withdrawal slowed, so that by October 2003 the UNAMSIL contingent still stood at 12,000 men. As peaceful conditions continued through 2004, however, UNAMSIL drew down its forces to slightly over 4,100 by December 2004. The UN Security Council extended UNAMSIL’s mandate until June 2005 and again until December 2005. UNAMSIL completed the withdrawal of all troops in December 2005 and was succeeded by the United Nations Integrated Office in Sierra Leone (UNIOSIL).
The responses by the ex Prime Minister during the interview appeared to be at variance with what actually happened and was a weak attempt at including Sierra Leone in a discussion about the battle against militant Islam. Unlike our civil war, the new principle of unauthorised intervention into sovereign countries by the West without UN consultation or Resolutions is worrying. More so because it is selective, and prefers alternative if dubious concepts like the Arab spring. When asked about Syria, and whether the UN should take the lead the view was we’ve got to be very careful not to put all our eggs in that basket. Yes, Russia has proved a difficult member, but do we now dispense with that International body and rely on the Western nations to do as they wish, when and where they decide. Can China join in, as well? And, is Africa being sucked into this new philosophy, including the US AFCOM idea without realising it? Is this how we intend to prove that the African has a revolutionary spirit in him, at last?