Situation Analysis: Sierra Leone
|Publisher||International Crisis Group (ICG)|
|Publication Date||7 August 1997|
|Cite as||International Crisis Group (ICG), Situation Analysis: Sierra Leone, 7 August 1997, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3ae6a6d23c.html [accessed 10 December 2013]|
|Disclaimer||This is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.|
Diplomatic effortsThe Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) broke off negotiations with the AFRC July 30, after the junta announced a timetable of four years to restore the country's democracy. On August 6, the UN Security Council appeared ready to impose minimum sanctions on arms and travel to the country, after ECOWAS requested that the UN at last turn its attention to the issue. ECOWAS and the AFRC had two rounds of talks in Abidjan, Côte d'Ivoire. The first round was adjourned after agreeing on a cease-fire with Nigerian peacekeepers from the ECOWAS Monitoring Group (ECOMOG), who are based in Freetown, hopefully to oversee a process for political transition. In the second round of negotiations, last week, the AFRC delegation included a larger RUF contingent. The junta rejected Kabbah's reinstatement, demanded ECOMOG peacekeepers leave Freetown, and insisted that RUF leader Foday Sankoh, in detention in Nigeria, be released to join the talks. The talks collapsed after the AFRC Chairman, Major Johnny Paul Koromah, declared on television that the junta "would not be stampeded into hurrying matters beyond their appointed course," that the suspension of the constitution would continue until 2001, and that the AFRC would fight aggression "internally and externally...to the last drop of blood." ECOWAS Ministers declared the AFRC position wholly unacceptable. On August 1, the AFRC Chairman withdrew his statement, saying that he had overreacted to ECOWAS' demand for his departure. Meanwhile, since the collapse of talks on Thursday, the junta's foreign minister and leader of the delegation, Paulo Bangura took political asylum in Côte d'Ivoire. On Saturday, ECOWAS announced tightened sanctions, with details yet to be worked out, but including an embargo on food supplies. The United States last week reiterated its call for the immediate restoration of Kabbah. The United States Ambassador, John Hirsch, repeated that the junta would not be recognized. Commonwealth Secretary-General, Chief Emeka Anyaoku, denounced the junta's plan to delay the transfer of power for four years as "a setback for the continent of Africa as a whole." Anyaoku urged that ECOWAS "take every necessary step" to restore the legitimate government.
The situation in Sierra LeoneThe situation remains volatile. Tensions between ECOMOG peacekeepers and the junta have risen, with each side accusing the other of violating the cease-fire. Even as a 19-member AFRC cabinet was sworn in on July 14th, there were reports of deepening splits between the RUF and AFRC. Divisions permeate local politics as well. In some areas kamajor rural defense militias have worked with military factions opposed to the AFRC; in other areas the military sides with the AFRC and the RUF. The junta has arrested a number of journalists and shut down four newspapers. Many journalists, including the president of the Sierra Leone Association of Journalists, Frank Kpowsawa, have gone into hiding following threats and raids on their offices. On July 29, the junta ordered the release of those civilians and soldiers who were arrested in June on charges of attempting to overthrow the junta. Many civil servants continue to boycott work, and banks remain closed. Major Koromah warned last week that foreign banks, including Barclays and Standard Chartered, as well as domestically-owned Union Trust, fact liquidation if they do not re-open for work. The humanitarian situation is serious and may grow worse if the economic blockade which ECOWAS has imposed holds. 30,000 people have crossed into Guinea in just two months, an additional 7,000 have registered in Liberia at Bo-Waterside, and internally, there are 22,000 displaced in Kambala district and 25,000 in Kenema. Food stores have been looted, the World Food Program reporting 2,500 tons lost, and CARE 115 tons. Prices of rice and other staples have risen an estimated 100%. However, before the food embargo was announced, one shipment of 6,800 tons of rice arrived last week, which could be rationed over two months. The WFP is now distributing food in Bo, Kambia, Makeni, and Kenema, while CARE is on the ground in Tonkolili and Moyamba districts. WFP has warned that with the food embargo in place, a crisis could begin in one month. That assessment may prove unwarranted for two reasons: crops are to be harvested shortly thereafter, and the embargo may indeed turn out to be permeable. Power cuts have become frequent in Freetown, with the Ministry of Energy and Power directed to preserve power only for key military installations, main government offices, and state hospitals.
ImplicationsThe breakdown in negotiations on July 31 suggests the crisis may be reaching a critical stage. Unless the AFRC returns to the table soon with a serious proposal for their exit, ECOWAS will have to decide between continuing indefinitely with an embargo and diplomatic isolation, and using force to remove the junta from power. While the Ghanaian and Ivoirean governments prefer a peaceful resolution to the crisis, the Nigerian military command appears prepared to intervene. The Nigerian-led force will need full ECOWAS backing. A continued standoff would take a toll on the civilian population, yet there is the potential that a military assault to remove the junta could also risk becoming drawn out. While widespread frustration and fear among the military during the aborted transition motivated the May coup, the recent broadcasted statement and immediate retraction by Koroma himself, as well as the sudden defection of the junta's foreign minister, indicate the junta may be divided or unstable. ECOWAS has had no adequate "carrots or sticks" to introduce into the negotiations. The OAU, UN, EU, UK, and US have cut diplomatic ties and aid to Sierra Leone and called for the reinstatement of the duly elected government. The Commonwealth has suspended Sierra Leone, and the OAU has declared its support of "all appropriate measures" taken by ECOWAS. But the UK, the US, and the UN Security Council, rather than fully endorsing the ECOWAS strategy of return to civilian rule through dialogue, embargo, or force, have pronounced their unwillingness to support an ECOMOG force. In hesitating to lend full support, they have weakened ECOWAS' negotiating effort to bring about either a forceful or non-forceful removal of the coup leaders. No alternative proposals have been put forth which might move dialogue forward. Western expectations seem to be that an embargo and isolation will inevitably cause the junta to seriously negotiate its removal.
RecommendationsGiven the uncertainties of the humanitarian situation and of the impact of isolation on the junta's cohesion or its resistance to beginning serious negotiations:
The US, UK, and UN should finally endorse and lend their resources to support ECOWAS' strategy.
The UN should devise a concrete package of incentives for military personnel to disarm and relinquish power.
The UN Security Council should declare that it is prepared to support and provide guidance for a removal of the junta by the ECOWAS force if all else fails.The international community should not simply drift into accepting the inevitable entrenchment or deterioration of the coup. It recently invested enormous effort and financial resources into terminating the six-year conflict, and by all accounts was highly successful in inaugurating the country's democratic re-birth. Sierra Leone should not again be permitted to descend into chaos.