Take out the boxing gloves
Awoko editorials had been very critical of the way in which PresidentKabbah’s government was handling the war. Like a lot of other Sierra Leoneans we wanted the hardliner stance with no mercy to the rebels. They were our tormentors and we wanted them to be tormented as well.
I recall that at some point we were so frustrated with the conduct of the war that our editorials always ended with a call for the young men to rise up because the old men had failed the nation. I did not realise the danger until one morning an Aunt called me and asked “Kelvin do you know you could be held for treason because of your editorials?” I was shocked, so I called a lawyer friend, (now late)Alin Burney Nicol. She came to the office and looked at the editorials and said yes a crafty lawyer like Berewa can convict you on this.
I recalled that one day soon after, we were standing on the steps of the law courts, Christo Johnson (Reuters), Winston OjukutuMacauley (BBC) and myself (VOA) when Berewa walked out of the Courts and met us on the Siaka Stevens street steps. He turned to Christo who was our elder and said “Christo are you not warning Ojukutu about what he is doing?” It was practically a week later after reporting about the rebels at Mile 38 and their call for the government to talk peace with them, that Ojukutu was arrested and locked up.
The same scene repeated itself a little while later, but this time with only Christo Johnson and Me. Again on the Siaka Stevens street steps of the Law Courts.Berewa again warned Christo to warn me, and I was certain my date with the cells had been fixed.
Thankfully that did not materialise, we had stopped calling on the young men to rise up against the old political class. But our frustration with the way in which Pa Kabbah was handling FodaySankoh and the rebels was by now very palpable.
I remember the negotiations for the Lome Peace Accord, and when we broke the news that ministerial positions were being offered the rebels. The reaction from Civil Society was very strong. They declared a dead city. They had forwarded a position to the government before they went to Lome demanding that the government would not declare a ceasefire until the rebels had left Kono.
Granting of ministerial positions to the rebels, and above all,the talk then ofFodaySankoh being made a Vice President was to many of us a hateful compromise. The feeling all around was that Pa Kabbah had betrayed us. This view became even more reinforced when later we were told that on a visit to Ghana, President Kabbah had left behind all his advisers and even his Chief Security Officer, and had flown to Lomealmost alone with American Civil Rights leader Reverend Jesse Jackson to sign the Lome Peace Accord.
With this boiling frustration we came up with an editorial saying in short that it appeared as if Pa Kabbah had signed some sort of deal with FodaySankoh and they had a secret pact against the people of Sierra Leone. This was after learning that Kabbah used to call Sankoh at night and chat with him.
But then the Lome Peace Agreement was signed and hailed by the “international community.” Then the UN Secretary General Kofi Annan came on a snap visit. He gave a short press conference at the entrance to the Hill Station Lodge along with Pa Kabbah.
It was after that press conference, while I was packing my microphone and recording equipment at the forecourt of the lodge, that Pa Kabbah came close to me. He held me by the shoulder and called out to the Information Minister then -Dr Julius Spencer I thought he was going to complain about the really offensive editorials we had published about his handling of the war, but no … he drew Spencer aside and said “Julius you have to find some boxing gloves for me and this man (pointing to me) and you will have to referee our fight because he has been saying I have a deal with FodaySankoh.” I smiled and he laughed. He obviously was making a joke of it all. Perhaps the old man had developed a soft spot for me and maybe that is why I was not arrested like my friend Ojukutu and taken to jail.
But in retrospect I look back at the frustrations, and I have come to the conclusion that it was the arrogant, maybe foolish, maybe unthinkable way in which Pa Kabbah doggedly went after FodaySankoh, using the stick and keeping him in detention, then using the carrot by offering a “symbolic” Vice Presidential post, and head of a minerals agency which was never formed, his offer of ministerial positions when we cried for blood … perhaps it was all that his grumpy attitude that finally got us Peace. Today I am grateful.
I know in those heady days while we were going all around the country with FodaySankoh to get him to disarm his rebels, even FodaySankoh had said to us at the airfield in Kenema while waiting for the ECOMOG helicopter to take us back to Freetown, that “Kabbah is a good man, it is unfortunate he did not make this mess but now has to clean it.”
To be continued
Monday March 24, 2014