The Libyan leader, Col Muammar Ghadaffi started a 4-day visit to his “second home” of Sierra Leone on New Year’s Eve. His second home indeed! That’s how he referred to the country whose Truth and Reconciliation Commission report says he helped ravage by training and financing rebels who killed and maimed and pillaged. A report that recommended that he should admit his role in that internecine conflict and pay some form of recompense to the victims of his support to the RUF rebels!
A Ghadaffi second home whose politicians failed yet again by falling head over heels in the last two years jockeying for vantage points to be seen by the man with petrodollars. Even before any form of admittance by the North African country and its leader of any form of negative involvement in our war, never mind an apology, President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah rushed and opened an embassy in Tripoli as if to say “thanks for your involvement in our country’s conflict”. And Tripoli, without any modicum of remorse, also opened an embassy in Freetown.
In 2007 the North African leader visited Sierra Leone. Ahead of his visit, the opposition All People’s Congress party called for all to put on black attire as a sign of mourning the victims of our RUF war, a group our TRC report says received training and other support from Ghadaffi’s Libya. Then the leader of the People’s Movement for Democratic Change, Charles Margai told the BBC, through me, that Ghadaffi was not welcome to Sierra Leone for the same reason of the TRC report and we so abundantly know about. He demanded an apology.
What has changed between then and now – apart from the capture of raw political power – for APC supporters to put on white attire to welcome the same Ghadaffi, and for Charles Margai to show up at Ghadaffi’s press conference looking happy and welcoming of him! Political power, once we have it, it would seem, blurs our thinking and eats up our conscience. How things stay the same especially when they change, especially between our country’s three main political parties.
It is that tripartite hypocrisy that hit rooftop in Parliament on New Year’s Day night. I sat at the press gallery in utter and stunning disbelief watching MPs who had been recalled from their holiday break to meet, praise and give Ghadaffi an honour never before given. Not to Sani Abacha or Olesegun Obasanjo or the symbolic Nigerian soldier killed in defence of a country his country does not even share borders with. An honour not given to Tony Blair whose soldiers proved very decisive in ending our war.
And in Parliament that night, at least one MP, of Charles Margai’s PMDC, was clad in a Ghadaffi-inscribed t-shirt. This, in my view, was not just compromising to the very essence of her being in the House, but an insult to our agony as a nation that was brutalised by rebels our TRC says was aided and abetted by the same Ghadaffi. Where is that MP’s conscience, sleeping or nonexistent? And if you think that is repugnant, then wait for this:
While moving the motion to award Col Ghadaffi the title of Honorary Member of Parliament on the lawns of parliament, the Majority Leader Eddie Turay paid all sorts of undeserving glowing tribute to the Libyan leader. He would even bow before him like a catholic would sometimes do before the cross. All apparently in the name of asking, may be begging, the Libyan leader to assist “the least-resourced” Parliament in West Africa (the quote if courtesy of Eddie Turay). Is this the way to go about it by swallowing our pride as a nation, our decency as a democracy? All for Ghadaffi’s petrodollars, I bet my life! Are we the most priceless nation and one without pride to have condescended so low? If our executive and legislative branches of government are not ashamed of this, then I am. And so are millions of other Sierra Leoneans. Their action can only be akin to denying that apartheid was bad for mankind.
To make a man who was not only implicated in our war but does not believe in our democratic values which brought about our parliament and how our MPs were chosen is a travesty responsibility and a mockery of pluralism. The Israelis who built our Parliament must be having a rethink. Or didn’t someone tell the Libyan leader that the building he was so admirably looking at was built by the Jewish state that he so detests that he has ended his relationship with the Burkinabe leader Blaise Campaore reportedly because he visited Tel Aviv.
In my view, there is little difference between making Ghadaffi an Honorary Member of our Parliament and awarding the late former rebel leader Foday Sankoh an MP for life. Disgusting! Outrageous! Shameful! Unpatriotic! Inconsiderate!
Ghadaffi came to our country on his terms and at his request and pace. He came, he saw and conquered our politicians but certainly not the conscience of the majority of Sierra Leoneans, not least victims of our war and their families. I have been sickened by my fellow Muslims who have celebrated Ghadaffi’s coming simply because of his faith. It is a complete misinterpretation of the Quran (the word of God) and the Hadith (the sayings and deeds of the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him) that a fellow Muslim whatever they do should be defended or supported.
What did Ghadaffi come to do here? He would not tell us at a press conference saying he would at the end of his trip. He left on Saturday, I understand, in the same way and manner that he had come. Unceremoniously! Even if I was shocked, I was not surprised. He is not used to accountable leadership and disapproves of anyone introducing him to it. My sources say that even before Freetown could give Tripoli a no-objection to their official request, the first aircrafts had left with the advance party for Sierra Leone. And we let him and all his armed men and women roam freely; contrary to an answer given by our defence minister, Paolo Conteh when asked at a pres conference if he would “have the guts” to disarm them. He had answered in the most emphatic of affirmatives. But clearly the hundreds of armed Libyan soldiers came in with their weapons and perambulated with them unhindered. Something no country worth its salt would allow. And they were here for almost a week and roamed the country freely. For Ghadaffi? Please!!!!!!!!
In one instance, I am told, President Ernest Bai Koroma was chillingly scared by the military manoeuvre of the Libyan troops at Rogbere. They had taken positions in the bush without the president having been briefed about it. And when they came out, even the Hollywood Schwarzenegger would have blinked severally and swallowed whatever spit in his mouth.
With Ghadaffi having left without any new or concrete accomplishment for Sierra Leone, of course without an I-am-sorry-for-my involvement-in-your war, it would seem all the razzmatazz surrounding could emasculate the niche we are carving for ourselves as a nation of democratic values peppered with an ethical foreign policy as encapsulated by our Government’s position on Robert Mugabe’s Zimbabwe.
Talking about apology, it was shocking how all our institutions concerned either kept quiet or spoke very little if at all, or very late about this the admittance of our dignity. The one voice that came out handy was that of Festus Minah of the Civil Society Movement. The Human Rights Commission, which one would argue is best placed to speak out on TRC issues, kept quiet until the evening before Ghadaffis departure, to send an open letter to the Libyan leader. They wanted him to apologise and pay recompense. The excuse could be that they were on holiday, but so also were ministers and MPs who returned seemingly for their own interest. The HRC should have done so as well, the moment they knew Ghadaffi was coming to make their position clear.
My problem with Ghadaffi and those busy selling him for us to buy without any change whatsoever in his documented role in our carnage is that I love my country too much to appreciate anyone who scorns us as a nation. And that is what Ghadaffi is doing. If he genuinely accepts his role in our war, even without giving us a penny, I will be assuaged even though my love for democracy is such that I detest leaders who deny their people the most basic of that – to freely vote for their leaders. And the Libyan leader is one of them. You are not welcome Col Muammar Ghadaffi, and your merchants will have scars on their conscience for the rest of their lives.
By Umaru Fofana