NEW MANDATE FOR UN MISSION IN AFRICA
Bombarded with accusations of "double standards" and bias for paying more attention to other non-African crises as Kosovo and Bosnia, the UN waded hesitantly in Sierra Leone with only a perfunctory understanding of the complexities of its crisis and little preparedness. It was a humiliating debacle: four U.N. peacekeepers killed and more than 500 were disarmed, stripped and held hostage by rebels. Post-mortem analyses are only useful when no lessons have been learned from the earlier failed missions in Somalia, Rwanda, and Angola. In fact, some lessons need not be relearned.
First, a wavering, piecemeal attempt at peacekeeping that is readily abandoned when the going gets tough is more cruel than doing nothing at all. The expectations of Somalis and Rwandese were raised to stratospheric levels - only to be dashed truculently. Second, it is pointless to keep peace when the belligerents are not interested in peace. Third, appeasement of brutal warlords, who have committed heinous war crimes, never works.
The U. N. peacekeeping operations in Sierra Leone (UNASIL) got off from a badly flawed July 1999 peace accord signed in Lome, Togo, brokered under the tutelage of Rev. Jesse Jackson. For more than a decade, the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) rebels, led by Foday Sankoh, laid Sierra Leone to waste. Arguably Africa's most vicious and savage rebels, with no apparent motive save power and wealth, they rampaged across the country, killing, raping, and hacking off the arms and legs of innocent people opposed to them and held the world to ransom. In Lome, regional leaders and Rev. Jackson, applying their own strange "double standards," argued that , in the interest of peace, Mr. Sankoh and his blood-stained butchers should not to be prosecuted for war crimes as in Kosovo but instead granted amnesty, a share of Sierra Leone's diamond wealth and positions in government.
Accordingly, Mr. Sankoh became the vice-president and minister of mines, in exchange for a promise for RUF to give up their weapons to U.N. peacekeepers and participate in elections in 2001. U.N. Secretary General, Kofi Annan, convinced a skeptical world of the wisdom in including the rebels in government.
Now, ten months later (May 2000), U.N. peacekeepers sent to disarm the rebels and keep peace had themselves been disarmed and taken hostage. An embarrassed Kofi Annan sought the services of African presidents, such as Charles Taylor of Liberia and Blaise Campoare of Burkina Faso, who support the rebels, to bring pressure to bear on Foday Sankoh to release the hostages. U.N. Special representative, Oluyemi Odeniji, even called Sankoh "my brother."
This senseless rapprochement with rebels will exact a heavy cost: Current U.N. peacekeeping operations in Sierra Leone is estimated to cost $311 million a year. And failure of the mission in Sierra Leone will irredeemably damage the prestige and credibility of the United Nations and elevate those of other warlords elsewhere in Africa. Further, if peacekeeping operations in tiny Sierra Leone can be stymied by one warlord, what hope is there for a successful U.N. mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC)? There, peacekeeping operations would involve the deployment of 5,537 military and civilian personnel in a country the size of western Europe with no functioning infrastructure and estimated to cost $500 million a year.
The humiliating fiasco in Sierra Leone ought to give the United Nations pause and occasion to rethink and revamp its mission. To cut and run from Sierra Leone is out of the question. So is sending in more peacekeeping soldiers when there is no peace to be kept and the mission is fatally flawed. A more powerful force, led by western troops is also a non-starter as there is little appetite in the West for such combat role. Even appeals for humanitarian assistance have been dented by "donor fatigue." The UN consolidated appeal for $60 million to fund humanitarian aid in the DRC for July-December 1999, for example, generated only $12 million in pledges. Similarly, other UN agencies requested $21.4 million for emergency assistance to the DRC but only $3.32 million has been pledged so far. More ominously, the threat by Nigerian soldiers to fire on British paratroopers guarding Freetown airport if they took a more dominant role in Sierra Leone, has eclipsed any combat role western troops might have. But the Nigerian troops, who can speak the same language the rebels understand, can only "hold" the situation for a short while. For the long term, however, an effective solution to the crisis in Sierra Leone requires a new U.N. mandate.
This new mandate must understand the causes and complexities of the crisis, define its purpose and provide its troops with the necessary resources, materiel and logistics to accomplish their goal. None of these criteria was met in its missions in Somalia, Rwanda and Sierra Leone. The troops sent to Sierra Leone under UN auspices, were ill-trained and poorly equipped. Maps they carried were outdated and were easily captured when they got lost in the bush.
Sierra Leone was originally created by Britain in 1787 for freed slaves, after it lost its American colonies. The settlers, 411 ex-slaves and 100 whites, came from London but were subsequently joined by freed slaves from Nova Scotia and Jamaica. Although they intermarried with the local population, the settlers, because of identification with British education and culture, defined themselves as distinct, privileged and separate from the indigenes. An imposition of a Hut Tax in 1898 led to an indigenous rebellion, in which many settlers were killed. Britain declared a protectorate over Sierra Leone and assumed formal administration until independence in 1961. Since then, the country has been run by a phalanx of rabid bandits who stripped government agencies of anything of value.
Sierra Leoneans refer to the regime of President Siaka Stevens, who ruled from 1968 to 1985, as the "17-year plague of locusts." His successor, General Joseph Momoh, was worse than hopeless. Civil Servants, teachers, and police went without pay, as the government often had no money - even to print money. State institutions collapsed and the country's only radio broadcasting tower was carted off and sold by a greedy bureaucrat, depriving the president of the ability to speak to the people.
An involvement in the ECOMOG operations in neighboring Liberia in 1990, to thwart the ambitions of Charles Taylor, a rebel leader and now president, so angered Taylor that, in revenge, he sponsored a ragtag groups of Sierra Leonians called RUF. Led by Sankoh, they rampaged through Sierra Leone, pillaging, raping and murdering people. Momoh's collapsing government could not feed, let alone pay, his soldiers on peacekeeping duties in Liberia. In April 1992, young officers led by Capt. Valentine Strasser overthrew Momoh in a coup and the country continued inexorably in its slide into economic atrophy and anarchy. Strasser's victorious soldiers went on a looting spree, plundering whole cities, factories and mining operations. By then, Sierra Leone had ceased to be a functioning state, as was Zaire under the late Mobutu Sese Seko.
Under intense international pressure, elections were held in 1996 and the civilian, Tejan Kabbah, became president but he quickly proved that he was incapable of restoring the structures of government. About a year into his administration, he was ousted by Lt.-Col. John Paul Koroma, with support from RUF rebels. ECOWAS vowed to reverse the coup and restored Kabbah to power in 1998. But rampant banditry and terrorism by RUF rebels made the country ungovernable. A peace accord was signed in July 1999 to include the rebels in government.
As elsewhere in Africa, the destruction of Sierra Leone stemmed from a ferocious competition among various groups, including rebels, to capture the government - the repository of power. The quest for power is not so much to serve the people but to control and allocate resources to oneself, kinsmen and supporters. Hence, the mad dash to seize the capital, the seat of government. The resultant atmosphere of violence, terror, and wanton destruction of infrastructure, in itself, provides further opportunities for banditry and mayhem. Failure to seize the capital still provides the opportunity to plunder the country's resources - diamonds and gold in the case of Angola, Congo and Sierra Leone - to finance their power-grab campaign. War becomes profitable, supplying its own ethic making the combatants uninterested in peace.
In both Sierra Leone and the Congo, numerous "peace accords" and ceasefires were purportedly signed but they were shredded like confetti even before the ink on them was dry. From Eritrea, a "curtain of fire" meanders through Ethiopia, Sudan, Congo, and Burundi to Angola. At least 6 other African countries are involved in the Congo conflict, which threatens to suck in more African countries into a vortex of chaos and violence. The cost of these conflicts is incalculable: destruction of infrastructure and production of refugees.
Since the task of putting out these fires is enormous, it is imperative that any U.N. mission into Sierra Leone, if it accepts one in the first place, must succeed. Like Somalia, Sierra Leone is a collapsed state. As in other African countries, the institution of government and its agencies have been hijacked by a coterie of elite bandits. The chief bandit is often the head of state himself. "Government" has been turned into a criminal enterprise and, with its functions debauched, no longer serves the interests of the people. But this mafia state does not endure; it eventually implodes. Already, there are several African countries, including Zimbabwe, which are on the brink.
A "get-tough" approach would place Sierra Leone under a UN trusteeship and establish a governing board, made of up Africans from other countries, to govern the country for 5 to 10 years. The Board would operate under a mandate of returning Sierra Leone to its indigenous African roots of free village markets, free trade, free enterprise, participatory democracy and confederacy (decentralization of power). Further, the Board will be subject to periodic performance review.
the specter of neo-colonialism this approach raises - albeit mitigated
with an African board - it has several advantages. First, it attacks the
root causes of the crisis by removing for power out of the equation. For
5 to 10 years there will be no destruction competition for power, enabling
state institutions and infrastructure to be rebuilt. Second, the mineral
wealth of Sierra Leone would be used for the benefit of its people, not
to fill the pockets of warlords. Third, it would be cheaper for the U.N.
in the long run. Revenue from diamond sales may be used to underwrite
the cost of the trusteeship. In 1999, Sierra Leone exported only $31 million
worth of diamonds while Liberia with no significant diamond deposits exported
$298 million. At least, $250 million could be secured under trusteeship
to run Sierra Leone. Fourth, a UN trusteeship over Sierra Leone would
send a powerful message to other warlords running amok on the continent.
Finally, it would establish a model of governance that can be emulated
in a region, notorious for ruthless banditry, kleptocracy and arrant misrule.
Responding, J.A. Dougal Writes:
As a frequent visitor to West Africa, with particular anchoring point in Sierra Leone, I wish to point out that, although most of the historical events that you have mentioned contain a lot of truth, I strongly believe, in a very firm way, that problems in Africa, and in particular in Sierra Leone, should be solved by Sierra Leoneans themselves, with the help of foreign friends and contacts that would provide the expertise and job creation. A point in case is Ghana, which has transformed in a very progressive and positive way. I believe that the days of colonialism is well over.
I am a white European who feels very African indeed. What you have proposed is not a definite equitable solution. I do not know what the solution really is for Sierra Leone. President Tejan Kabbah has tried to condemn the sin and not the sinner. This is in fact a truly Christian principle which has to be encouraged and tried. It is rather unfortunate that at times, failures materialize instead of successes. But then, which system is leak proof and guarantees successes? On the other hand I must thank you for trying to come up with some solution. I strongly recommend that you keep on trying as through dialogue, ideas keep coming, and maybe if God wills, a solution could be eventually found.
I would like to suggest that African countries in conflict should accept
to negotiate peace in European venues. I am sure that the 'rings of interest'
would be 'broken 'when the facts are carried out to the European public
opinions with the European man-in-the-street. This is what I had failed
to persuade warring parties in Sierra Leone to do in the past. Today I
hope that they have learnt the lesson, although the pain is still there.