Cablegate: Sierra Leone: Daily Concerns Outweigh


DE RUEHFN #0049/01 0351443
R 041443Z FEB 10



E.O. 12958: N/A

1. Summary: There are no government reprisals in Sierra
Leone against former combatants, and reprisals at the
individual or communal level appear to be minimal, if any.
The populace is focused on surviving in the present, not
settling old scores. End Summary.

2. For Sierra Leoneans today, the decade of brutality
1991-2001 (which Sierra Leoneans simply call "the war") is an
ever-present memory, since so many Sierra Leoneans lost
members of their family and bear severe physical and
psychological scars. One of the remarkable things about
Sierra Leone, however, is the relative absence of an urge to
retribution. Poloff took the occasion of a long discussion
February 3 with senior opposition figure Al-Haji Kanjesesay
to explore this surprising phenomenon. Kanjesesay, who
presided over Disarmament and Demobilization (DDR) activities
for the decade prior to the change of government in 2007,
agreed that the memory of the war is a key factor for
present-day stability in the face of grinding poverty, the
sagging economy, and widespread dissatisfaction with the
government, as if Sierra Leoneans, from every political
persuasion and region and ethnic group and religion, share a
common cry from the heart, that anything is better than
returning to those bad days of violence. He cautioned that
this is not a shared motive that will last forever, if
economic and governance trends continue downward, but it is a
key restraining factor among people who went through the war
(i.e., not the very young), and it is important in
understanding why there is so little retribution against
former combatants. Sierra Leoneans today are focused on
survival in the present and do not give much thought to the
past, however brutal it was.

3. There are other factors that account for the absence of
retribution. The war affected the whole country but had
severest impact in the south, from whence came both the most
violent rebel group RUF and the political party of President
Tejan Kabbah, who emerged in control, and who made a sincere
and concerted effort, with considerable outside assistance,
to promote reconciliation (including establishing a Truth and
Reconciliation Commission), and succeeded in restraining
retributive tendencies within his party. If retribution had
been the order of the day, it would have been wrought also
against a large swathe of the army, which had mounted coups
against the elected government and, at one juncture,
cooperated with the RUF, and against the numerous local
militias that had also participated in violence and
brutality. There were fingers to point in every direction
and there would have been no end to it.

4. It was important that RUF leader Foday Sankoy was
eventually captured and removed from the scene, and his
removal was key in lancing the scourge. Moreover, some of
the former combatants were teenagers and younger children,
and there is a widespread recognition in Sierra Leone that
they, in particular, cannot be held responsible. Another
factor was the burgeoning of the population of Freetown after
the war and the mixing up of ethnicities therein. Most of
the villages of the country spilled population into the
capital city, where there is no pattern of segregation along
regional or ethnic lines, so the city's population explosion
has also helped in leveling animosities.

5. At the election of 2007, Kabbah stepped down, and his
southern-based party (Sierra Leone People's Party, SLPP) some
of whose die-hards might with his departure have wanted to
turn the screws of retribution, was voted out of power. The
northern-based All People's Congress (APC), which ruled the
country for over two decades prior to the war, returned to
power and has less motive to dredge up the violent past than
the SLPP.

6. In the years after the war, there was some grumbling
about the process of disarmament and reintegration that took
place after the war, as packets of cash and tools were handed
out to former combatants being enticed to settle down to a
peaceful life. To some Sierra Leoneans, it seemed that
killers and murderers and mutilators were being rewarded
while everyday people got little. However, as Kanjesesay
recounted, as early as 1998 the system for handling
combatants and victims was separated, yet there was always a
parallel focus on both, and an emphasis on total community
development as a way to restart the lives of both combatants
and victims. Religious leaders and reconciliation
organizations were extremely active. By 2004, the Truth and
Reconciliation Commission disbanded and there were no more
officially-designated internally displaced people.
Reparations have continued to be paid to victims through the
National Commission for Social Action. Large numbers of
people remain "displaced" in the sense of coming to the
capital city and remaining. But, as Kanjesesay (an

opposition figure with motive to paint the present government
in the worst light) points out, with all of Sierra Leone's
problems, retribution against ex-combatants simply "is not

7. Embassy is aware of no exactions taken by the present
government against former combatants. At the social or
village level, the situation is more complex and difficult to
fathom, and we hear of shunning, but the instance of physical
retribution against former combatants appears to be
infrequent, and increasingly so. For the handful of
ex-combatants still residing overseas, should they return,
they would face the same economic challenges as the general
population, but likely would not be subject to repression or
retribution based on their previous activities during the war.

© Scoop Media

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