The Sierra Leone Web


Edward M. Turay
Secretary General and Parliamentary Leader
All People's Congress (APC)
Sierra Leone

Testimony before the Subcommittee on Africa
Senate Foreign Relations Committee
Washington, DC -- June 11, 1998


Good afternoon. Mr. Chairman, thank you for allowing me the opportunity to testify before your concerned subcommittee on the issue of "Reconstructing Sierra Leone" -- my country. Reconstructing Sierra Leone will be an ongoing process for quite some time. Your interest and concern, as demonstrated by convening this Hearing, I believe, is to learn more about the tremendous challenges that we face as a nation, and to determine how best America can support our national efforts.

Mr. Chairman, the first step in the reconstruction of Sierra Leone is the cessation of the ongoing destruction. In this regard, I urge America, the leader of the free world, and fervent advocate for democracy and human rights, to send a message in the strongest terms via the quickest channels to elements of the RUF, renegade soldiers, and other criminal elements. The destruction of innocent lives and property must stop immediately. Too many people are being killed, many are maimed and thousands are fleeing daily into Liberia and Guinea. Reports of war casualties are too horrendous to narrate here, and sadly, the victims are usually unborn babies, children, women, and men who are far removed from the conflict.

Mr. Chairman, the term "civil war" has acquired a peculiar meaning during the past seven years in Sierra Leone. Traditionally, the term is used to denote a situation where one or more factions in a society or country fight each other over disputed issues. However, this is not the case in Sierra Leone. The war in Sierra Leone, was ostensibly started by the RUF to remove the ruling APC party from power. This objective, however, was accomplished in April 1992, by mutinous soldiers , the NPRC, who had in fact been mobilized to stamp out the rebel incursion. Today, Sierra Leone is still gripped by the deadly hand of war and instability.

Reconstructing Sierra Leone must begin with an understanding of key issues that will guide us to develop strategies for permanent peace and security, not only for Sierra Leone, but for the entire sub-region. The current situation in Sierra Leone has an external component that has amply demonstrated that peace or its absence, cannot be isolated or confined to only one country in the sub-region. Instability in one country inevitably spills over into another country and manifests itself in the large number of refugees as now seen, streaming across borders to escape the fighting - first from Liberia and now from Sierra Leone. This occurrence continues to ignite an escalating humanitarian crises, which the world cannot ignore.

Mr. Chairman, my testimony here today, is in the interest of reconstructing Sierra Leone, and not to promote a political platform. This is a view shared by my party - the All Peoples' Congress (APC). The APC views the reconstruction of Sierra Leone as a national responsibility to be accompanied and guided by the rule of law. At the forefront of this responsibility, is the government. I must quickly mention that, my party the, APC is one of five opposition parties in the current parliament, therefore, a part of the Sierra Leone government. The father of democracy, Thomas Jefferson, once said, "The care of human life and happiness, and not its destruction, is the chief and only object of good government."

Today, in Sierra Leone, the eyes of a suffering people are fixed on its government with anxiety for an end to the killing, maiming and total destruction of life and property by the RUF, renegade soldiers and criminals from within and without Sierra Leone. In order to accomplish the object of good government, therefore, we all must suppress our political differences, regional, ethnic, and tribal considerations. We should all lay aside, every attachment, anger, urge for vengeance, and every enmity to pave the road for the reconstruction of Sierra Leone. To successfully effect this, nothing is more wanting than a general concurrence of will by all Sierra Leoneans.

I am not here to rave over the rights and wrongs of the past. Instead, I will focus on how we can move forward for the reconstruction of our country - a lesson I learnt from those Sierra Leoneans who went to the polls in 1996 under a cloud of danger and uncertainty, to demand political reconstruction in Sierra Leone, and saw it fitting to include the APC, under my leadership, in the process. The actions of Sierra Leone's civil society and the circumstances surrounding these elections will be inscribed permanently in the annals of Political Reconstruction in Sierra Leone.

A fact less known by many, is that Sierra Leone is the first country in sub-Saharan Africa that constitutionally changed government through the ballot box. This was in 1967, when the ruling Sierra Leone People's Party (SLPP) at that time, lost nation-wide elections to the opposition party, the APC. The controversy around those elections resulted in the first military coup in Sierra Leone.

Regrettably, in retrospect, the APC administration later transformed the country into a one party form of government, a fashion that was in vogue in virtually all of sub-Saharan Africa. Subsequently, however, realizing the implications of the developing armed struggle, and responsive to the peoples' demand for political change, the APC administration returned the country to multiparty status in 1991, with a new national constitution. This constitution emphasized the strengthening of fundamental rights and freedoms, separation of powers and independence of the judiciary. It was under this dispensation that a group of mutinous soldiers, the NPRC, struck in 1992. This event again capsized the political apple cart in Sierra Leone.

In May 1997, another group of mutinous soldiers, the AFRC, again snatched Sierra Leone's opportunity to celebrate the nascent democracy that was ushered by the elections of March 1996. The whole world condemned this coup. The APC, as well as other political parties went on record and issued a statement condemning the coup and requesting the immediate return of power to President Kabba, the democratically elected president. And civil society, understanding its rights and the benefits of asserting those rights, vehemently demonstrated its disapproval by action or inaction. Sierra Leone sent a message to the coup makers , that the only acceptable change of government is through the ballot box and not by the force, bloodshed, tyranny, and intimidation Sierra Leoneans endured during the nine-month rule of the AFRC.

I am disheartened to note, though, that the climate of continued bloodshed, intimidation and victimization still prevails, even after the ECOMOG expelled the AFRC coup leaders from Freetown, and restored the democratically elected government of President Kabba. On one hand, fleeing AFRC/RUF junta and other criminal elements continue to wreak mayhem on innocent civilians. On the other, those who favor obstruction to reconstruction, have resorted to intimidation and victimization of ordinary civilians, political opponents and perceived "state enemies." Reports and the pattern of recent arrests and detentions, seem to suggest that many are taking advantage of the pervading atmosphere of insecurity and current state of emergency as cover to detain, harass ordinary citizens, cower and muzzle political opponents.

In the spirit of reconstructing Sierra Leone and building the rule of law, it is imperative that we stamp out the setting in hostile array one portion of our citizens against another. I urge President Kabba to act in a firm and decided manner to lay out measures, across the board, on how government will avert the continued evil tactics of intimidating and victimizing citizens who are perceived as "state enemies" or collaborators. This must be done immediately, so that no Sierra Leonean will never again feel alienated and driven by exclusion and frustration to want to wreck the rest of society.

We must move forward with the political reconstruction that was started by the March 1996 elections. We should strive for a vibrant and vigilant parliament that is free to publicly debate critical national issues for the political health of the country. Nothing must be done to intimidate or compromise political parties and political criticism should not be equated with disloyalty to the nation. We need a free and vibrant press, a vital requirement for the nation's political health. A press that is independent and responsibly reports and comments on issues of importance to the country, is a measure not only of the political maturity of the country, but also a necessary safety valve and an indispensable watchdog in the nation's interest. A pressing and vital task that must be addressed to, even as the physical reconstruction is put in train, is the judiciary and the administration of justice. There is ample evidence that Sierra Leone's judiciary has suffered a crushed esprit de corps in the past years. My party will therefore welcome any assistance to Sierra Leone that will ensure the strengthening of the rule of law, independence of the judiciary and the administration of justice. The APC party believes that a truly independent judiciary is without question, the mainstay of fundamental human rights, freedoms and the ballast of any stable society. The rule of law cannot exist in the absence of an independent judiciary. The absence of an independent judiciary erodes confidence not only in public institutions and their administration, but also seriously undermines confidence in the integrity and sanctity of business transactions. This in turn will contribute in stifling the growth of market forces, which in turn stifles the growth of the economy.

Mr. Chairman our economy is in shambles. Notwithstanding that the military option has not succeeded in stopping the war, millions of dollars have been expended by previous and current administrations to support a military solution. Additionally, our natural resources - the base of our economy is still being looted and destroyed by the RUF, renegade soldiers and other criminals. The scale of the destruction is quite formidable - large portions of the countryside bear the scores of burning, and looting. Mindless devastation of schools, roads, bridges, public buildings and private homes have received most of the unsolicited attention of the despoilers. Even productive farmlands, crops and cattle are not exempt from the continued destruction. The resources that will be necessary to rehabilitate these should not be underestimated. As a priority, hospitals, clinics and schools should receive immediate attention. This, I believe, will go some way to restore much needed confidence in the community and give them hope that their shattered lives will soon return to normalcy. Certainly, the goodwill, support and material contribution of the international donor community is very vital in our domestic efforts to reconstruct our country. The timely disbursement of such assistance, both material and financial will help in speeding the process.

As a party that has had experience in the administration of Sierra Leone, during the course of which many mistakes were made, we believe that the single critical element for our country's reconstruction is the domestic contribution that we, as a people both in country and in the Diaspora, are prepared to make.

Also, in order to avert future political crises, while strengthening social cohesiveness for economic reconstruction and development, it is vital to have more equity in society. This way, every Sierra Leonean can be a stakeholder in the country's fortune and progress. An open and accountable administration in Sierra Leone, will enhance this process.

Mr. Chairman, the Liberia factor has always been present in the civil war in Sierra Leone. The seven year war that was being waged by rival elements for power in Liberia was to cast a pall over Sierra Leone, and eventually spilled into Sierra Leone. This is how it happened. As part of the sub-regional organization -- he Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) efforts to stabilize the situation in Liberia, Sierra Leone was designated as the staging post for the West African Community's Peace Keeping Operations (ECOMOG). This was declared by Charles Taylor, then one of the rival war lords, as the casus belli against Sierra Leone and vowed to destabilize the administration of Sierra Leone. He found a common cause in the RUF of Foday Sankoh, and so the first skirmishes of a rebel war ensued in the Liberia boarder area with Sierra Leone in March 1991. It is ironic that while Liberia, with an elected government in place, is seemingly enjoying some respite from fighting and, Sierra Leone is still in the throes of destabilization, even after democratic elections.

It was after the deployment of ECOMOG into Liberia, that Nigeria came to acquire the high visibility and military presence it now has in the sub-region. Nigeria's initial military presence in Sierra Leone was at the behest of former President Momoh, but not to rescue the country from atrocities as we are now experiencing at the hands of the RUF/AFRC, and other criminal elements. Today, Nigeria, the lead and dominant nation in the ECOMOG, is viewed by many as an enigma and a solution provider to the people of Sierra Leone. Nigeria is condemned by the world for restoring a democratically elected government while she does not embrace the principles of democracy. In the absence of an army in Sierra Leone, the Nigerian-lead ECOMOG was widely applauded for its pivotal role in rescuing a country that was rapidly sinking into anarchy during the forced administration of the AFRC/RUF. The APC commends ECOMOG on it efforts to restore the rest of the country back to normalcy. However, as we proceed in reconstructing our country, we believe that the presence of ECOMOG should be limited in scope, with a timetable for departure, and should not be involved in the administration of our country.

Mr. Chairman, a viable solution to the conflict in Sierra Leone requires building on our African tradition of conflict resolution - dialogue - guided by lessons learnt from other conflict countries around the world. The APC party, believes that dialogue is the beginning of the end to the current massacres of civilians, and instability in the country. Yes, the tragedies, traumas, and destruction over the past several years are painful and difficult to forget. We all agree that they must be stopped, and not forgotten so that they will not be repeated. Central to this agreement, though, is the need for reconciliation, tolerance, and the realization that we have only one country to live in, as Sierra Leoneans. Tolerance and accommodation are distinguishing attributes of the Sierra Leonean. These qualities have always enabled us, as a people, to welcome and host those from distance lands. Though difficult, we can do the same for our own kinfolk. In this light, the APC believes that, the dialogue introduced by the Abidjan Peace Agreement of November 30, 1996, for solving the crises in Sierra Leone, must be revisited. Notwithstanding that both signatories to this Accord were still arguing over its implementation, when the AFRC coup of May 25, 1997 occurred, many Sierra Leoneans still believe that this Accord offered an opportunity to secure a lasting peace, not only in Sierra Leone, but stability in the sub-region. The APC believes that a reconstruction that will be serviceable to all of Sierra Leone, is a natural evolution that will occur, only when the current turmoil is ended.

In conclusion, we appeal for your continued support as we strive to reconstruct a Sierra Leone that will sustain the rule of law, and in turn fuel the engines of economic growth, and social development. This way, we will be well equipped to achieve our educational, health and social objectives, as a people.

Mr. Chairman, members of the Africa Subcommittee, thank you for allowing me the opportunity to put on record, some of the views of the APC party on reconstructing Sierra Leone and on the search for ending the current turmoil in my country. Many thanks also to the Africa Subcommittee staff for the superb job they have done in planning this Hearing.



Mr. Edward M. Turay is Secretary General and Parliamentary leader of the All People's Congress Party - the APC. Prior to that, Mr. Turay was Crown Counsel in Jamaica and Senior Magistrate in Sierra Leone.

Mr. Turay obtained a BA(Hons.) Law from the University of Manchester in England and BL from the INNS of Court School of Law in London, England. He was called to the English Bar in 1976.

Between June 1976 and April 1979, Mr. Turay served as a Clerk of Courts and later Crown Counsel in Jamaica, West Indies. Between May 1979 and June 1982 Mr. Turay was Senior Magistrate in Sierra Leone.

Between July 1982 and June 1986, Mr. Turay was a Member of Parliament and served as Parliamentary member in the Constitutional Review Commission that drafted the 1991 Sierra Leone Constitution.

Between May 1992 and February 1996, Mr. Turay was again in private legal practice.

In February 1996, Mr. Turay was the parliamentary and presidential candidate during the 1996 Parliamentary and Presidential elections and won a seat in parliament. In parliament, Mr. Turay was Chairman of the Defense and Presidential Affairs Committee, and a member of the Appropriations Committee (March 1996-May 1997).

Mr. Turay was born on October 24, 1945. He is married and has six children.