The Sierra Leone Web


Speech of Mrs. Fatou Sankoh

Johannesburg, 30 May 2000

 Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, thank you very much for attending.

First, I want to express my deep appreciation to FESTAC for its kind invitation to visit your great country and to allow me the opportunity to meet and discuss a range of issues of mutual interest. Among the issues I would like to discuss are those suggested in the invitation, including promotion of a Peace and Reconciliation Mission; promotion of an investment trade mission; and promotion of peace and reconciliation through culture; "Smile Sierra Leone" International Peace Concert".

I am especially pleased that you recognize me as a concerned, affected and involved member of Sierra Leonian society and that you take this opportunity to allow me to visit and discuss in detail the above plans and initiatives. It is also hoped that my visit will afford me the opportunity to communicate and apprise South Africans (government, private sector and public) of developments in Sierra Leone.

I am looking forward with much appreciation to any and all meetings, which will be arranged, on my behalf. To the best my ability I will provide a full and frank discussion of all the relevant issues.

I am also grateful for the opportunity to share with some of you, especially you members of a free press, my deep concerns for the safety and welfare of my husband and also my concerns for the Lome Peace Agreement, which Chairman Sankoh signed last July 1999. I am obliged to speak out because the Sierra Leonian organization has kidnapped my husband, along with several of his key ministers and bodyguards including Minister of Trade and Industry, Hon. Mike Lamin, and Hon. Susan Lahai, Deputy Minister of Transportation.

The organization, after kidnapping him, has hidden my husband and denied him the chance to speak or communicate with his family or legal representatives.

I cannot be silent any longer. On this occasion I would like to reveal some of the root caused of the troubles my husband, Chairman Sankoh has experienced after signing the Lome Agreement. If his kidnappers would allow the Chairman to speak I am confident that he would reveal some of the political treachery, incompet4ence and government bankruptcy presently in Sierra Leone.

I have personally experienced much of this foolishness during my visits to Sierra Leone. Before presenting some of the obstacles to the full implementation of the Lome Agreement, as viewed by my husband Chairman Sankoh, I must put the Lome Agreement in some context. Only then is it remotely possible to achieve a vague understanding of this most complex human African tragedy.

To frame my presentation I must disclose that the informed world understands that all of Sierra Leone’s war and human suffering centers around its vast diamond fields. This same community understands that armies of foreign governments, along with private mercenary armies financed by Great Britain, Nigeria, and various rebel groups – including Chairman Sankoh’s – have fought for control of these valuable diamond mines.

About six months after President Kabbah was elected President of Sierra Leone a group of army officers headed by Johnny Paul Koroma carried out a coup and removed President Kabbah from office. Subsequently the Nigerian dictator Sani Abacha invaded Sierra Leone to overthrow Johnny Paul Koroma’s military government. It was well know that Sani Abacha was both a powerful dictator and was also personally, profoundly corrupt. In the process of occupying Sierra Leone, Nigeria’s troop control of Sierra Leone’s diamond mines. What is less well published is the history of the Nigerian soldiers – both officers and enlisted men – whilst in Sierra Leone.

Little was written about how the Nigerian officers operate the diamond mines after their invasion and subsequent occupation of Sierra Leone. I have read reports of how the war in Sierra Leone create a new breed of millionaire soldiers sent to African country as the peacekeeping forces. Many top Nigerian officers have allegedly made huge fortunes smuggling gold and diamonds. The same reports told of hundreds of Nigerian soldiers being killed with many of the dead being returned to Nigeria and quietly buried in Oju Cemetery without military honors. The exact number of the dead is reportedly about one thousand, however the true number of dead is a military secret.

It is to be noted that the performance of this "liberating army" sent to Sierra Leone by dictator Abacha created a deep distrust and animosity toward the Nigerian soldier in Sierra Leone.

Ask yourselves, "What would reasonable interested politicians think of returning these military mercenaries to Sierra Leone?" The present government of Nigeria reportedly wants to be paid to sacrifice its soldiers again in another country.

The Nigerian army did put Tejan Kabbah back in the office of the President of Sierra Leone. To that his organization is weak would be charitable.

The foreign governments – whether military mercenaries or other- who keep President Kabbah in office (not power) are themselves as guilty of child warfare, killings and rapes as those they accuse. Their ignorance of Sierra Leone – and therefore their incompetence meddling, has greatly exacerbated an already difficult problem in Sierra Leone. I have received and sadly learned more details of the British Sandline Corporation, which are military mercenaries who have recently supplied 10,000 guns to children of their Kabbah regime.

More detail could be given, however, it is hoped that this context, briefly framed, will assist in a better understanding of the current problem with the Lome Peace Agreement.

Signed in July 1999, all parties to the Lome Peace Agreement provided for the Revolutionary United Front/SL, to become part of the unity government. Part of the agreement called for my husband to receive appropriate office space in which to execute his duties as Chairman of Strategic Natural Resources. In addition, the Agreement called for him to appoint one of the senior cabinet ministerial positions, such as Foreign Affairs, Justice, or Finance and three other ministerial positions. In addition my husband was authorized to appoint four posts of Deputy Minister. Finally my husband agreed to appoint members of his RUF/SL to parastatals and also diplomatic positions. The Agreement also called for my husband to transform his RUF/SL military forces into a political party.

President Kabbah appointed Johnny Paul Koroma, - the ex-junta leader who had removed him from office in 1997, as the Chairman for the Consolidation of Peace without consulting my husband in accordance with the Lome Peace Agreement.

Things began to come apart in about January 2000, when it was becoming clear that the Kabbah government could not or would not honor its agreements to provide Chairman Sankoh with the office and funds needed to perform his obligations under the Lome Agreement.

About March or April of this year the UN Peacekeepers began to arrive and replace the Nigerian armed forces that were beginning to leave Sierra Leone. Problems began to develop when the UN Peacekeepers rode into the diamond producing areas, armed and demanding that the RUF rebels give up their weapons and leave the mines. The rebels, remembering the Nigerian army invasion, resisted this demand. In addition many of the rebels didn’t understand how peacekeepers could arrive with weapons and ammunition. Many saw the peacekeepers as an armed threat and my understanding is that they ordered these peacekeepers to lay down their weapons. As we know, all of the peacekeepers have been returned unharmed. The record is clear that the RUF soldiers had no quarrel with the UN peacekeepers.

During this period of confusion with the peacekeepers, the UN spokesman created a panic in the country, again, with his false statement that RUF rebels were launching a new offensive using human shields. The same spokesman asserted that the rebels were near the Hasting Airport around 35km from the city, advancing toward Freetown.

While the UN spokesman was retracting his statement the Kabbah government, and members of parliament voice voted to place my husband under house arrest; to restrict the movement of RUFP ministers and appointees; to suspend some of the privileges accorded to my husband and to forcefully disarm the combatants within 45 days.

Also the ex-junta leader Johnny Paul Koroma called upon Sierra Leone army soldiers to prepare to defend Freetown against a possible RUF attack.

Although the UN spokesman had retracted his false alarm, the government army and pro-government militia including Johnny Paul Koroma’s loyalists proceeded to implement this government plan to kidnap my husband, two of his ministers and arrest 24 key bodyguards before attacking and destroying his government residence.

They claimed that my husband was guilty of resuming hostilities and called it a breach of the Peace Agreement. There was no evidence provided. The real purpose was to have a riot remove and or kill my husband. His bodyguards protected him and he escaped followed by the SLA and pro-government troops. Later the pro-government forces kidnapped my husband and placed him in solitary confinement in a secret location.

Then the UN called for increased UN forces; increased British forces; increased British paramilitary forces; return of Nigerian forces to assist Johnny Paul’s pro-government loyalists. During all of this time the RUFP and my husband in particular were subjected to a steady stream of negative press, which repeated itself over and over again. At no time was my husband given a chance to speak publicly or to give statements to the press presenting the facts from his side.

I suggest to you, members of the free press and others that this confused mess in Sierra Leone is the result of government incompetence, malice, and treachery. I can tell you that my husband is strongly committed to the Lome Peace Agreement. In fact, he was planning to lead a UN Committee to the diamond fields where they were having the trouble referred to previously. However, the day before the planned trip my husband was kidnapped and his residence looted and, sadly people were killed, including some of his bodyguards.

I further suggest to you members of the free press, that battleships cannot replace brains. It would be far better for the British to replace battleship with food and clothes, for the UN to provide medicines in place of peacekeepers that are armed to the teeth.

I suggest that Nigeria not aggressively attempt to send in troops to Sierra Leone, which they cannot afford to do. There is no justification for sending their young men into battle on foreign soil to risk their lives, again, especially given the recent history of Nigeria in Sierra Leone. It is widely reported that Nigeria has its own problems, including religious and ethnic warfare, which has been increasing recent weeks.

I finally suggest that the best way to resolve the problems related to the Lome Peace Agreement is for the government of President Kabbah and their British forces to:

  1. Release my husband, his ministers, bodyguards and supporters; and to make a good faith effort to implement the terms and conditions of the Lome Agreement they signed.
  2. Require the ex-combatants from each faction to be integrated into the national army to create jobs and have the ex-fighters involved in the reconstruction and building of the ravaged country by the nine-year war.
  3. Stop marginalizing the leadership of the RUFP and discontinue demonizing him in the press and elsewhere.

If they have the intelligence and desire to see peace in Sierra Leone they will have to accept this reality.

Thank you very much for your attention.