The tribal dimension of the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) rebel war in Sierra Leone (1991–2002)

 Episode 1:

By Lt. Colonel (Rtd) Sim Turay, HCBS (Business Studies), BA Combined Hons. (Politics and Geography), MA (Law, Development and Globalisation), LLM (International Law and the World Political Economy) – Former Head of Military Intelligence

Intelligence on the eleven-year (1991-2002) Revolutionary United Front (RUF) tribal rebel war in Sierra Leone first surfaced in early 1989, over two years before the war actually started.  As Head of Sierra Leone’s Military Intelligence during this period, including the first twelve months of the RUF tribal rebel war, I was privy to reliable and credible intelligence reports relating to the rebel war.  My exposition in this article therefore stems from my unique position as Intelligence Chief up to April 1992 and the wealth of invaluable and highly sensitive intelligence that crossed my desk.  It also covers the entire duration of the RUF war which became a continuous narrative of escalating regional violence and horrific brutality wrecked primarily on the civilian population that also engulfed part of the capital, Freetown.


Between 1991 and 1999, the war claimed over 75,000 lives, caused half-a-million Sierra Leoneans to become refugees, and displaced half of the country’s 4.5 million inhabitants (Smillie et al, Jan 2000).  However, ten years after the end of the rebel conflict Sierra Leoneans have still not been able to understand the underlying motives which prompted a group of Sierra Leonean politicians, together with an ex-army corporal to wage a devastating tribal rebel war on the people of Sierra Leone, which plunged the country into total anarchy and economic collapse.


In their analyses of the RUF war a plethora of writers, including historians and political analysts have reinforced the perception that economic motivations, especially the control of the diamond trade have played a major role in the rebel conflict.  Indeed, since the early years of the 20th century, diamonds have often been associated with violence and misery, and the economic power of diamonds has been a major source of conflict, especially in Africa.  In many ways, the rebel war in Sierra Leone offers a prime example of an internal armed conflict where economic aspirations for the control of diamonds have been seen to be largely responsible for its inception and protracted duration.  But the connection between diamonds and conflicts goes far beyond rebel groups seizing control of diamond-rich areas and selling the precious gems for arms and war supplies.


It is difficult to deny that the eleven-year rebel war between the RUF and three successive governments raged against the backdrop of three decades of a weak state plagued by corruption and mismanagement, and characterised by the profound gap between the few wealthy and powerful elite at the top and the impoverished, underprivileged and uneducated majority.  This has been the result of manipulative and greedy politicians who benefited from Sierra Leone’s natural resources, particularly diamonds by exploiting the geographically based ethnic or political divide between the Mendes in the south and east and the Temnes and Limbas in the north.


The diamond industry was therefore greatly influenced by local politics as diamond money and control of the eastern region of the country became interlaced with the broader political agendas of the day.  It was no surprise that politicians who benefited from it became key players in the rivalry between the Sierra Leone Peoples Party (SLPP) and the All Peoples Congress (APC), the two dominant political parties.  Thus, one school of thought has viewed the rebel war as a crisis of modernity caused by rampant corruption, despotism and the failed patrimonial systems of successive SLPP and APC governments, a development which exposed the deeply embedded political sensitivities of a highly polarised and divided society.  However, for the ordinary citizens of Sierra Leone the eleven-year brutal war still remains complex and shrouded in mystery.


To a large extent, the difficulties in understanding the motives behind the RUF war could be attributed to media accounts of the war, which have almost always focused on the wanton destruction of lives and property and the consequences of the ensuing violence, rather than on the real causes of the war.  This unfortunate media approach has come about from attempts to fit contemporary conflicts into a traditional model of warfare as a contest between two sides with civilians caught in the middle.


However, in the Clausewitzian analysis of inter-state wars, the rebel war could be rightly seen as a continuation of politics by other means.  But this ‘old-fashioned’ analysis of conflict simply conceals more than it reveals.  Indeed, the renewed popular emphasis of war as chaos, anarchy, irrationality, mindless violence, collapse and breakdown, a discourse which has emerged as a result of the shortcomings of the Clausewitzian model, has led to the failure in understanding the diverse reasons why a variety of people orchestrate, fund and implement violent conflicts.


Although there was disenchantment with the weak and underdeveloped state, similar situations elsewhere have not led to years of brutality by forces devoid of ideology and support from the indigenous population.  According to Collier and Hoeffler (Collier and Hoeffler 1999; Collier 2000), two highly respected World Bank researchers, grievances stemming from poverty, poor education, and so on, are very widespread in Africa and much of the wider world, but do not necessarily spill over into civil war.  Sierra Leone’s RUF war was therefore neither a rebellion, in the sense of it being an internal uprising, nor civil, in the sense of it being about clearly understandable and achievable political goals.


What then were the causes of the RUF war?  Why did the conflict lead to such extreme brutality and barbarity unprecedented in human history?  Why has the country been plagued by a geographically based ethnic or political divide which has been ruthlessly exploited by greedy and unscrupulous politicians to the detriment of the state?  Is it because of deep-seated tribal struggles rooted in history, which assumed a heinous and inhuman dimension during the rebel conflict, perpetrated by those who wanted to gain political control and ethnic domination?  Were these politicians involved in the RUF plot that overthrew the previous APC government?  If so, is this why they have remained totally indifferent over a tribal rebel war which cost the lives of hundreds of thousands of our people for the sake of gaining political power?  Is their present political attitude which could result in history repeating itself a reflection of their unforgivable support for those who committed atrocities against the people of this country?  From the perspective of the geo-politics of the sub-region, why did Presidents Gaddafi of Libya, Blaise Compaore of Burkina Faso and Houppert Boigny of the Ivory Coast support the rebel alliance between the RUF and the National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL) to overthrow Presidents Joseph Momoh of Sierra Leone and Samuel Doe of Liberia?


In order to answer these and other questions, the article lays out a framework for examining the various issues surrounding the rebel conflict and seeks to engage the minds of its readers on a healthy and constructive political and legal discourse.  In my own contribution to unravel the complexity and mystery of the RUF tribal rebel war, I have deliberately decided to choose the vexed question of tribal politics as my leitmotiv as it lies at the very heart of the country’s polarisation on tribal or regional lines and is the root cause of Sierra Leone’s political instability.


It is significant to point out at this very early stage of my exposition that in the African context, political control and ethnic domination guarantees unlimited access to scarce economic resources and the accumulation of wealth.  As I endeavour to present my analysis of the historical and factual events surrounding the issues, I trust the knowledge and experience that I gained throughout my 27-year military career, which was rudely cut short by the illegal National Provisional Ruling Council (NPRC) military coup on 29 April 1992 would help to shed light on the darkest period of our country’s short but turbulent history.  This I hope to do with objective fidelity.


Perhaps, the most challenging issue facing post-colonial countries as they embrace democratic structures is the establishment of institutional arrangements that can effectively deal with ethnic diversity and allow population groups to coexist peacefully.  One major historical problem has been the imposition by European imperialists of state structures on diverse ethno-political communities that lacked inter-communal coherence, resulting in a crisis of culture, social and political identity.  This colonial heritage adversely affected newly independent African states as the process of decolonization and the delimitation of political boundaries in Africa took no account of the social and ethnic groupings of the local inhabitants.


The key reason for the above approach was that the European colonial powers went about the partition of Africa in the late 19th century with a view to reducing armed conflicts among themselves.  They also regarded extant boundary lines as the most feasible way of achieving speedy independence.  Thus, when state boundaries were established, geometric lines predominated even though the colonialists had little knowledge of the local geography.  This was in spite of strong opposition from the Pan-Africanist Movement which advocated for the wholesale restructuring of borders in order to rectify past injustices.


In any event, the process prevented the independence and stability of new African states being endangered by the fratricidal struggles provoked by the challenging of frontiers following the withdrawal of the colonial powers.  However, it meant that the principle of territorial integrity or the maintenance of the territorial status quo was given pre-eminence over the principle of the right of peoples to self-determination because of the need for stability.  Thus, the resultant cohabitation within unchanged borders gave rise to potential ethnic conflicts, especially in states with heterogeneous populations, as significant populations were either left dissatisfied with their new status and uncertain over their political participation, or minority populations ended up on the ‘wrong side’ of the border and ripe for ethnic cleansing.  It also gave rise to the temptation for ethnic separatists to further divide African states along ethnic or geographical lines.


Some African countries with heterogeneous populations such as, Ghana, Tanzania, Gabon, Senegal, Zambia, and several others have somehow managed to contain the ethnic problems associated with decolonization.  But in other countries like Rwanda, Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Ivory Coast, Angola, Nigeria, Zaire, and the former Yugoslavia, and so on, such problems exploded into bloody civil wars that shocked the world.  Much closer to home, Liberia is a classic example of a country plunged into a terrible rebel war in the name of tribalism.  Needless to say, other African countries with diverse ethnic populations like Kenya, Zimbabwe, Burundi and neighbouring Guinea have been experiencing bloody ethnic clashes for political control and ethnic domination.  We should therefore not fail to recognise the fact that the ethnic problem is generic in post-colonial Africa, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa, and that it does exist in Sierra Leone.


In the majority of post-colonial sub-Saharan African countries with ethnic diversities, including Sierra Leone, the legacy of decolonization was exacerbated by underdeveloped economies with totally mismanaged resource bases and insufficient employment and income opportunities for large segments of the population, resulting in widespread poverty, social degradation and low literacy levels.  This problem was compounded in Sierra Leone by the desire of the United Kingdom, the former colonial power to transplant what were essentially highly developed western democratic structures and ideals without due regard for Sierra Leone’s political institutions, social and economic realities, and ethnic diversity.  As a consequence, ethnic and or class politics involving competition among the politically favoured elite for limited state positions of political and economic power became prevalent.  This competition further widened the ethnic or political divide between the majority Mendes in the south and east and the majority Temnes and Limbas in the north, as political leaders tended to provide jobs for members of their own ethnic group and other ethnic groups that form their political base.


Not surprisingly, politics became a business of tribal alliances as the major ethnic groups wrestled for political power, resulting in a political environment in which the two major political parties, the SLPP and the APC, were perceived as being regionally based.  General elections essentially became a feature of tribal head count as individuals started to identify strongly with a particular region or ethnic group rather than the state, and always largely tended to vote a government into power with which they felt secured and comfortable.  The result was political polarisation and the emergence of a new system of patronage and nepotism, a reflection of how ethnic groups compete to control the political machinery and once in power adopt policies that favour their own ethnic groups at the expense of others.  This divide has been ruthlessly exploited by heartless and unscrupulous politicians who revived and fermented deep-seated ethnic struggles rooted in history in order to gain political control and tribal domination.


The struggle for political control and tribal domination should therefore be looked at from this perspective as it lies at the very heart of Sierra Leone’s political instability since it guarantees unlimited access to scarce economic resources and the accumulation of wealth.  Undoubtedly, it is the root cause of the country’s RUF tribal rebel war with its attendant atrocities.  Successive regimes have also violated economic, civil and political rights on the pretext of ‘national security’, often without tolerance for the independent judiciary.  Thus, an environment emerged in which there has been little or no trust in the justice system because of the perception that both the judiciary and the police force are corrupt institutions.  There has also been a profound failure to inculcate in the military, the police and the security community their proper role in society.


Since independence in 1961 and the advent of indigenous politics, Sierra Leoneans have always traditionally refused to acknowledge that tribalism has been a very serious and contentious issue and is deeply embedded in Sierra Leonean society.  There was clear and unmistakable evidence that the country was plagued by a deeply entrenched political or regional divide on ethnic lines, which was the undercurrent of the country’s political instability and the failure of its politicians to firmly establish democratic constitutional governance and the rule of law.  But political analysts underplayed the seriousness of the divide and failed to see the ominous tribal shadow that was cast across the political landscape of Sierra Leone.  Ordinary citizens who went about with the daily business of survival and the struggle to make ends meet hardly realised that the divide would nurture itself into a political time bomb with the potential to tear the country apart and plunge it into a devastating tribal rebel conflict.


As earlier mentioned, intelligence on the 11-year tribal rebel war plot first surfaced in early 1989 to the effect that a rebel war pact had been contrived in Liberia in the late 1980s when Foday Sankoh, an ex-army corporal in the then Republic of Sierra Leone Military Forces and Charles Taylor, a Liberian national, together with a number of top SLPP politicians decided to form a rebel alliance for the purpose of violently overthrowing the governments of Liberia and Sierra Leone.  The rebel front comprising the RUF and the NPFL was to firstly, topple the Liberian government of President Samuel Doe and thereafter topple the APC government of Joseph Saidu Momoh by violent means.


I came to know Foday Sankoh extremely well during my various postings to Daru barracks in the eastern region of Sierra Leone as an infantry training officer in the late 1960s and early 1970s.  He was then a signals corporal and was also engaged in vocational photography.  With his Mende paternal background and Temne maternal background, Foday Sankoh spoke fluent Mende and Temne but had a strong attachment to Segbwema, his father’s hometown in the eastern district of Kailahun.


In spite of his calm disposition, I soon came to realise that Foday Sankoh had nurtured a political ambition of his own and had shown an open dislike for the one-party APC government of Siaka Stevens.  Later in life, he became an embittered man when the APC government of Siaka Stevens sent him to prison for seven years for his part in the abortive Colonel John Bangura military coup.  Foday Sankoh never forgave the APC for locking him up in jail.  This was, perhaps, the key reason that drove him to join forces with Charles Taylor and the defunct SLPP so that he could seek revenge against the political party that had incarcerated him.  His dying ambition for political power also made him into a tormented man whose only recourse for inner peace was to wage a tribal rebel war against his most hated adversary, but unfortunately against his own people as well.  But Foday Sankoh was not a man of sentiment and cared only about his own self-parochial interest.

History will recall his years as Sierra Leone’s most notorious rebel warlord as a period which painted a terrifying portrait of one man’s descent into hell.  However, in spite of his notoriety in the RUF conflict, it should be noted that Foday Sankoh was the No. 8 man in the RUF hierarchy.  For his part, Charles Taylor who was a Kongor (Americo-Liberian) saw the rebel alliance as a continuation of the abortive Kwuwompa plot to overthrow the tribal Khran government of Samuel Doe several years back.


It would be recalled that the failed Kwuwompa plot in which countless Special Security Division (SSD) personnel of the Sierra Leone Police Force lost their lives received the blessing and full support of President Momoh, who at the time displayed poor political judgment that would come back to haunt him in the future when he allowed ECOMOG forces to use Sierra Leone as their base to launch their military campaign against Charles Taylor.  As far as Charles Taylor was concerned, this was a betrayal by someone he had regarded as a friend and an ally, for which the people of Sierra Leone would pay a heavy price.  And Taylor made no bones about it.


When the 1991 National Constitution formally reverted Sierra Leone to multiparty political status on 1st October 1991 after a period of thirteen years (1978–1991) of continuous APC one-party rule, the RUF rebel plot had been solidly set in concrete.  So as far as the RUF plotters were concerned, the move to political pluralism was meaningless.  However, the country was able to peacefully go through the transition process, which set the stage for political liberalization and a fairer participation of all the citizens of Sierra Leone in the change to multiparty political governance.


Public opinion overwhelmingly endorsed the desirability of returning the country back to political pluralism.  Nonetheless, as the country moved towards multiparty general elections which were scheduled for late 1992, the loyalty of SLPP politicians together with Foday Sankoh, and a small group of eastern and southern junior military officers to the idea of the south eastern ‘emancipation’ from a northern dominated APC government violently put a stop to the process.  This became the central feature in the genesis of the eleven-year RUF tribal rebel conflict and the illegal seizure of power by the National Provisional Ruling Council (NPRC) on 29 April 1992.


For the purpose of this article, I have decided to term this idea ‘the Mende agenda’, which gathered momentum in the late 1980s when the SLPP decided that the only plausible way to end the much detested APC one-party rule was by the use of force.  Even though the previous APC government of Joseph Saidu Momoh had set a timetable for multi party elections in December 1992, the SLPP rightly or wrongly had no faith in the electoral process and firmly believed the incumbent APC party would do everything to return back to power.  So the SLPP which had not walked the corridors of power for over two decades still opted to wage a bloody rebel campaign of unprecedented barbarity and human suffering to topple the party they could no longer bear to live with.


In order to ensure success, the SLPP also decided to infiltrate the military and establish an alternative option to illegally seize political power by implementing a military coup.  This development was against the backdrop of a weak state structure and a military which had become intermeshed with domestic politics, thus blurring our understanding of how recent contemporary developments in Africa have influenced the historical patterns of civil-military relations and the need for effective democratic control of the military.


In spite of the efforts and resources, with western assistance, to inculcate in the military its proper role in society as stipulated in the 1991 Constitution, there is still a dangerous political undercurrent in the army, especially among the officer corps regarding its proper political ethos and relationship with the institutions of political power.  In this context, the idea of democratic control of the military is based on the core normative assumption that the army should not be involved in domestic politics and should therefore remain the apolitical servant of the legitimate government in power.


Thus, achieving democratic control of the army is usually conceived of in terms of securing the disengagement of the army from politics.  But in Sierra Leone, the picture is complicated because of the inherent political or ethnic divide, which has given rise to an environment where individual military officers owe their loyalty to and identify strongly with a particular region or ethnic group rather than the democratically elected government of the day.  This situation is very prevalent in the army today despite strenuous efforts to eradicate it, to the extent that certain senior officers from the south and east are doing everything possible to ensure that members of their own ethnic group are strategically placed in sensitive positions with a view to achieving tribal and political control.  This development should not be underestimated. To be continued



The tribal dimension of the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) rebel war in Sierra Leone (1991-2002)


Episode 3. – By Lt. Colonel (Rtd) Sim Turay, HCBS (Business Studies), BA Combined Hons. (Politics and Geography), MA (Law, Development and Globalisation), LLM (International Law and the World Political Economy) – Former Head of Military Intelligence


Among the majority of sub-Saharan Africans, Gaddafi was a true and genuine friend and a philanthropist who provided generous economic assistance to impoverished African countries while at the same time propagating Islam.  However, his burning ambition for a dominant Libyan political sphere of influence in sub-Saharan Africa under his leadership resulted in widespread devastation and the untimely deaths of millions of Africans who simply lived a day-to-day existence.


From the standpoint of international law, Gaddafi’s undue interference and military endeavours in the West African sub-region clearly amounted to serious violations of humanitarian law as well as breaches of several provisions of the United Nations Charter regarding the sovereignty and territorial integrity of nation states.  In this regard, there is abundant evidence to have had Gaddafi investigated by the Chief Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) so that history could have judged him correctly.  But gruesomely killed by his countrymen, Africa will remember Gaddafi as a controversial political leader who ended up on the wrong side of history.


Although Nigeria, the sub-region’s dominant military power became concerned over the growing influence of Libya in West Africa, it had become a weak state, both economically and politically and was increasingly losing its reputation as a regional power.  In other words, Nigeria was simply unable to perform the role of a regional hegemon.  However, by bringing the political weight of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) into play, Nigeria was eventually able to restore some semblance of regional military leadership when the regional peace-keeping force ECOMOG, spearheaded by Nigerian troops succeeded in counter-balancing Gaddafi’s grand geo-political design in the West African sub-region.


This resulted in the eventual removal of President Taylor from power, followed by the demise of Foday Sankoh and the end of the rebel wars in both Liberia and Sierra Leone.  Undoubtedly, the dramatic change of US military policy towards Africa, which has seen the United States take a leading role in the region’s security needs, played a major part in dampening Colonel Gaddafi’s geo-political ambition.


Apart from Gaddafi’s political and military pursuits, President Felix Houppert Boigny of the Ivory Coast also played a vital role in both rebel wars by readily offering sanctuary and support to the RUF and NPFL leaderships.  Boigny had a very strong reason to topple President Samuel Doe of Liberia.  He never forgave Doe for illegally seizing power in the impoverished West African state by violently overthrowing President Tolbert, his close friend and political ally in a bloody military coup in 1980.  The military leader also subsequently summarily executed Tolbert together with his son Tolbert Jnr, who was the husband of Boigny’s daughter.


Although Nigeria later championed ECOMOG’s military campaign to remove Charles Taylor from power in Liberia as earlier explained, it is interesting to point out that the Nigerian leader, Sani Abacha was also involved in the original plot to topple President Doe.  The reason for Abacha’s involvement was that Doe on seizing power in Liberia confiscated his huge investment in the Liberian rubber industry, which he had established during the Presidency of Tolbert.  Abacha was therefore more than willing to see the back of Doe.


Thus, the stage was set for an unprecedented rebel enterprise involving four African Heads of State, namely, President Gaddafi of Liberia, President Compaore of Burkina Faso, President Boigny of the Ivory Coast and President Abacha of Nigeria to violently overthrow President Doe of Liberia for various diverse and unconnected reasons, and thereafter President Momoh of Sierra Leone.  The point should, however, be made that in the case of Sierra Leone, Presidents Gaddafi and Compaore were the principal foreign sponsors behind the overthrow of President Momoh.  It could be recalled that it was ECOMOG peace-keeping forces spearheaded by Nigerian troops which contrived the capture of Doe by Taylor’s NPFL rebels right inside the main ECOMOG base in Monrovia.  Doe was subsequently brutally killed by his captors.


It was quite clear that Charles Taylor was the senior warlord in the rebel alliance, so the NPFL plot took precedence over the RUF plot.  The first phase of the rebel plot was therefore the violent overthrow of President Doe by Charles Taylor’s NPFL rebels, supported by Foday Sankoh and RUF rebels.  The second phase was the violent overthrow of President Momoh by the SLPP and RUF rebels with Foday Sankoh as the military commander and No. 8 on the RUF hierarchy, supported by Taylor’s NPFL rebels.


Thus the NPFL/RUF alliance revealed a carefully orchestrated rebel plot involving four African Heads of State; a Liberian warlord; a Sierra Leonean warlord; and top SLPP politicians.  It also revealed a bigger picture with regard to the involvement of Colonel Gaddafi of Libya in the geo-politics of West Africa as part of his ultimate dream to achieve a sphere of political influence in sub-Saharan Africa under Libyan control.


The SLPP plotters encouraged many Sierra Leoneans to join the RUF, especially those from the Mende ethnic group who predominantly comprised the RUF rank and file, together with Liberian nationals.  Kissis and konos were also recruited from within Sierra Leone, although members of these ethnic groups were in the minority.  As far as the Mende ethnic group was concerned, this was their war of “emancipation” against the predominantly northern APC one-party rule.


Potential rebels of all backgrounds, including university graduates and students from Fourah Bay College, the University of Sierra Leone were recruited locally and flown to Libya, in most cases via Ghana.  Of course, Sierra Leoneans in employment and self-employment in other West African countries, and the United Kingdom and the United States also joined the steady flow of potential rebels bound for Libya and Burkina Faso.  Apart from these two countries, the Ivory Coast also became a key sanctuary for the RUF hierarchy.



With regard to the recruitment of Other Ranks, the notorious ‘card system’ became the order of the day.  This brought the wrong men into the army as there was a mad rush to swell the rank and file of the army once the President finally believed the country was gripped in a rebel war and that more men were needed in the front line.  However, to the shock and bewilderment of experienced senior officers, Major General Tarawalli (Koranko) appointed Major Kelly Conteh (Koranko) to be in charge of recruitment.  Kelly Conteh was a relatively junior officer in terms of seniority, who had little or no field experience and had not even been an infantry training officer or a staff officer.  He simply did not have the experience or the eye for a potential good soldier.


This unforgivable development would never have come about if the Force Commander General Tarawalli had accepted intelligence reports two years earlier that because of the rebel threat the strength of the army should be increased to at least three thousand officers and men as a matter of urgency.  He also refused to undertake a general upgrade of weapons and equipment and the relevant training of officers and men with a view to complementing an efficient infantry fighting brigade, and turned down suggestions for the establishment of a motorised battalion.


By then, the army was poorly equipped, ill-trained and unprepared for war.  In terms of infantry soldiers available for combat, the military was less than five hundred strong.  This meant that the army could only operate on one front, and with a considerable amount of constraints at that.  As for President Momoh, he simply was in another world.


General Tarawalli also rejected suggestions that a reasonable number of troops be deployed in the eastern and southern regions of Sierra Leone in order to counter the rebel threat.  Incredibly, he succeeded in convincing Momoh that there was no rebel threat.  He used this as an excuse to allow soldiers to continue proceeding on retirement, a situation which continued unabated right up to the outbreak of the rebel war.  Thus, when the war started in March 1991, there was a serious shortage of “old” and experienced soldiers, and training instructors were hard to come by.  In essence, the army was totally unprepared for war in spite of the abundant intelligence relating to the rebel threat.


As a result of the machinations of General Tarawalli, there was a serious rupture in the army as the senior military officer corps was divided into two camps.  There was the pro-Momoh camp, on the one hand, which was loyal to the APC government and wanted progress in the army and peace and stability in the country; while on the other hand, the pro-Tarawalli camp was seriously undermining such progress and plotting a military coup to violently overthrow the APC government.  This split was also apparent among the wives of the senior military officers who knew about the coup plot and gave their husbands their full support.


As for Brigadier Ahmed Toronka (Koranko), he was the army’s second-in-command and so wielded considerable power and influence.  Besides, he was a Momoh ‘strong man’.  But that was all on paper as Toronka’s ability to properly assess military situations was highly questionable.  Like Momoh, he became impotent to stem the tide of the RUF plot or the NPRC military coup.  In essence, Toronka’s blind loyalty to Tarawalli had overwhelmed his sense of judgment and reduced him into a ‘yes man’, even though he knew that the RUF and the NPRC plots were real and not a figment of anyone’s imagination.  This meant that Tarawalli was able to easily manipulate both Momoh and Toronka.  Dishearteningly, Momoh had also left all decision-making relating to the rebel threat in the hands of General Tarawalli.  Frustratingly as well, Sierra Leone’s security architecture had been deliberately rendered dysfunctional by those who sought to overthrow the government.


In the case of Brigadier Jusu Gottor a Mende of eastern origin, as the War Front commander, he held a powerful and influential position.  But for a long time, Brigadier Gottor had been under suspicion of being sympathetic to the rebel cause.  In spite of several intelligence reports and other reports from Guinean troops fighting alongside our forces, confirming Brigadier Gottor was indeed involved in both the RUF rebel plot and NPRC coup plot and was, in fact, sabotaging the rebel war effort, the Force Commander General Tarawalli ensured that Brigadier Gottor remained in his command.  General Tarawalli was determined to see to it that Gottor executed his coup plot, which he did although not to his benefit as Gottor had a completely different coup agenda.


With regard to the Inspector General of Police Bambay Kamara, his views on the rebel threat or the NPRC coup plot were either ignored or, he simply failed to make an impression.  In any event, the chance of anyone in his position playing any meaningful role in the country’s security apparatus during those years preceding the war was made impossible because the entire security set-up, if one ever existed in reality, was being deliberately sabotaged.


No sooner had Charles Taylor installed himself in power in Liberia than he masterminded the targeted mass tribal killings of ethnic Khrans, Madingoes, and other ethnic groups sympathetic to Doe.  This was the policy of ethnic cleansing carried out by Taylor’s NPFL rebels comprising mainly ethnic Manos, Gios and members of Taylor’s minority Kongors (Americo-Liberians).  A similar scenario was to later repeat itself in Sierra Leone’s RUF rebel war where ethnic Mendes, Kissis and Konos carried out the slaughter of northern ethnic groups.  However, Taylor’s brutal ethnocentric solution to the tribal problem in Liberia soon caught the attention of the outside world and greatly disturbed other West Afican leaders.  But Taylor was unperturbed and went on to turn Liberia into a pariah state.


Once fully in control of Liberia, Taylor then turned his attention to Sierra Leone in fulfilment of the NPFL/RUF rebel pact.  His NPFL rebels, together with Burkinabi fighters, some of whom were regular soldiers in the Burkinabi army, and RUF rebels launched a devastating tribal rebel war on neighbouring Sierra Leone, the first cross-border attack of which took place in March 1991.


Upcountry, as the rebel war found its way into the history books of unheard of cruelty and barbarity, hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians were mercilessly slaughtered.  Bets were placed on pregnant women as their stomachs were slit open to find out the sex of unborn babies.  Boiling oil was poured into the sexual parts of women as mindless RUF and NPFL rebels stood by and took pleasure in seeing them scream to death.


Given the direct nexus or connection between the RUF tribal rebel war and the 1992 National Provisional Ruling Council (NPRC) military coup, there is compelling and reliable evidence that it was the SLPP that formed and masterminded the RUF, which subsequently deposited the devastating and barbaric tribal rebel war on the people of this country; and a faction of the RUF which became the NPRC following the military coup.  Thus the second option or Plan B of the RUF rebel plot to illegally overthrow the previous APC government was the NPRC military coup, and in order to facilitate this option, it became necessary for the RUF to infiltrate the army.


So during the second-half of 1991 when it became apparent that the RUF war was going to be a long and bitter struggle, the NPRC military coup, that is, Plan B gained preference over the RUF war effort.  Dr AK Turay, Momoh’s Personal Assistant willingly obliged the SLPP when Momoh appointed him to put together a team of lecturers from Fourah Bay College (FBC), University of Sierra Leone to conduct the examination for the purpose of recruiting Officer Cadets into the army.  Dr AK Turay cleverly recruited Mende lecturers sympathetic to the SLPP, and ethnic Mendes, Kissis and Konos were encouraged to join the army as Officer Cadets.  The then Army Commander, Major General Tarawalli fully supported the scheme and turned down intelligence reports that Dr Turay was covertly facilitating a coup plot.  Momoh also stubbornly refused to heed to intelligence reports that Dr Turay was covertly SLPP and was facilitating a military coup.


To cut a long story short, this was how many ethnic Mende, Kissi and Kono officers of low intellect were able to successfully join the army.  Once recruited, the Officer Cadets were hurriedly trained over a period of three months, instead of the usual period of fifteen to twenty one months.  The stage was thus set for the SLPP to overthrow Momoh’s APC government by means of a military coup.


It is an indisputable fact that it was during NPRC rule (1992–1996) that the RUF tribal rebel war escalated to the northern region of Sierra Leone.  Members of the NPRC hierarchy, particularly (self-promoted) senior military officers and other senior military officers of southern and eastern origin colluded with RUF and NPFL rebels, and SLPP politicians and embarked on a ruthless campaign of terror and intimidation against the civilian population.  This campaign was directed against APC supporters and sympathisers and peoples from northern ethnic groups, particularly Limbas, Temnes, Yalunkas and Korankos; and Creoles who bore the brunt of NPRC rule.


In general, the NPRC fermented a feeling of hate and distrust for the APC party and persons of northern origin throughout the country, the vast majority of whom took no active part in the hostilities.  While in power for four years, the regime exclusively governed by the threat and the use of force to seek compliance from the people of this country, during which period it committed blatant human rights abuses and other violations of the laws of Sierra Leone such as, summary executions, murder, torture, arbitrary arrests and detentions, and the protection from deprivation of property.


The campaign therefore assumed political and ethnic dimensions and upcountry, the killings of APC supporters and sympathisers, and persons from northern ethnic groups were widespread and systematic.  There is compelling evidence of certain (self-promoted) senior military officers of the NPRC hierarchy and other senior military officers of southern and eastern origin who supplied weapons, ammunition and equipment to the RUF, the same RUF the junta had vowed to defeat.  In addition, for the first time in the rebel conflict, northern military officers and soldiers in combat were being shot in the back and killed.  This signalled the beginning of a new chapter of murderous tribal killings in the army initiated by the NPRC.


It is significant for history to recall that immediately following the illegal overthrow of the previous APC government on 29th April 1992 by the National Provisional Ruling Council (NPRC), there was a brief lull in the rebel fighting.  But the token truce came to nothing once the NPRC realised that the SLPP and Foday Sankoh with whom they had all struggled for power during APC rule no longer mattered.  This resulted in a major rift in the RUF as Foday Sankoh broke away from the original RUF to head his own rebel group and tenaciously hold on to the RUF identity.


Foday Sankoh took with him the small band of RUF rebels whose rank and file had no political agenda.  In the main, this group joined Foday Sankoh as a show of loyalty.  The majority of them were ignorant about the RUF agenda, although they later realised there was financial reward to be gained as the rebel war dragged on.  However, Foday Sankoh’s new hierarchy which comprised his Battle Group Commander Sam ‘Maskita’ Bockarie, a former diamond digger and others knew exactly what the rebel war was all about.


The bulk of the NPFL rebels also decided to throw their lot behind Foday Sankoh.  They had been fighting in Sierra Leone under his direct command since the incursion in 1991 and had over the period developed a close personal relationship with him, even though Charles Taylor was the senior partner in the rebel alliance.


Foday Sankoh’s decision to break away from the original RUF was a big blow to the SLPP.  For the first time, the RUF Mendes felt betrayed by someone they had trusted and regarded as one of their own.  As the RUF rebel front commander, Foday Sankoh had a personal score to settle with the APC so he was highly motivated and pursued the rebel war with tenacious cruelty.  But the dynamics of the rebel war had changed once the NPRC decided to have it their own way.  Foday Sankoh too felt let down and as a result lost confidence in the Mende clique.  Moreover, the seasoned NPFL rebels provided him with the numbers he needed, and counting on the support of his own small group of loyal maternal tribesmen decided to seize the opportunity to fight his way to the highest seat of power.


The second faction of RUF emerged from Mende ethnic rebels, who were in the majority in the original RUF front.  This faction decided to identify with the SLPP, and by so doing, swelled the ranks of the Kamajors during SLPP rule.  In the main, these rebels were from Kenema and Bo districts, although ethnic Mende and Kissis rebels from Kailahun and Pujehun districts also decided to join this faction.  The rift also saw the emergence of a third faction of RUF.  This again mainly comprised rebels from the Mende ethnic group, but who were predominantly from Kailahun and Pujehun districts, together with a mix of Kissi rebels from Kailahun district, and Kono rebels from Kono district.  This faction owed its loyalty to the NPRC and its formation was orchestrated by John Benjamin and Dr John Karimu, who had become prominent NPRC members.  Major Lymon though not a member of the NPRC was instrumental in its formation.


So once fighting resumed after the brief truce, the rebel war reached a new height of unimaginable ferocity and cruelty.  All factions of the RUF, of which Foday Sankoh’s faction was the most embittered, transformed themselves into barbaric killing machines and unleashed a tribal rebel war of renewed ferocity unprecedented human cruelty.  Foday Sankoh’s field commander, Sam Bockarie, alias “Maskita” became one of the most evil men on earth.


The break up of the original RUF introduced a new and unexpected political tribal struggle within the SLPP camp as it signalled the beginning of a serious fracture within the once cohesive SLPP Mende front, which also included the Sherbro, Kissi and Kono ethnic groups.  By and large, the Sherbros had not been involved in the RUF tribal rebel war, although their sympathy lay with the SLPP.  But the sudden struggle for political power within the SLPP camp, which would have seen the emergence of another powerful Mende and Kissi faction from Pujehun and Kailahun districts must have alarmed the Sherbros who were seeing themselves being sidelined.


The sherbros had always played second fiddle in the leadership of the SLPP since the demise of the Margais.  But this relatively unknown but ambitious breed of new politicians from Kailahun and Pujehun districts who had gained a strong foothold in the NPRC must have troubled them a lot.  Needless to say, core SLPP Mende politicians from Kenema and Bo were also deeply troubled.  John Benjamin and Dr John Karimu, the two strongest emerging politicians could not be underestimated as they were capable of manipulating the young and inexperienced NPRC military leadership to gravitate the new focus of the SLPP political leadership to Pujehun and Kailahun.  And once the NPRC was gone, these two men would automatically assume the leadership of the SLPP.


No doubt, the future leadership of the SLPP must have played on the minds of top SLPP politicians like Tejan Kabbah and others when they decided to make themselves available for office under NPRC rule.  Besides, they were not prepared to take any chances as they wanted to ensure that in the grand scheme of things, the NPRC would pave the way for the SLPP to assume office come the next general multi party elections.  They did everything in their power to convince the international community that the NPRC should remain in power, at least for the time being.  They needed time to consolidate their political strategy so were quite willing to bear with the unbearable.  By all account, the APC which was their main threat had to be completely politically ostracised; who best to do the dirty job than the repressive NPRC junta.


Although the NPRC nearly gave SLPP politicians the scare of their lives by wanting to stay in power indefinitely, after four years of illegal and unconstitutional rule, which was accompanied by tribal repression, summary executions and cold-blooded murders, the junta was finally forced to vacate power.


It is essential to note that Julius Maada Bio’s lust for an out and out Mende NPRC leadership drove him to see Valentine Strasser (Creole) as an impediment to SLPP rule, the same way Colonel Charles Blake the National Reformation Council (NRC) military junta’s No. 2 man had regarded Andrew Juxon-Smith (Creole) as an impediment to APC rule.  So Colonel Blake, a staunch APC supporter masterminded the overthrow of the NRC through Imadu Rogers, a senior non-commissioned officer, whose short-lived military junta subsequently restored the APC government of Siaka Stevens to power in 1968.  Thus Maada Bio and his clique of southern and eastern officers on belatedly realising the appointment of Strasser as Head of State was a costly mistake organised a palace coup and simply removed him from power.  Of course, the Creoles are a minority ethnic group and have no power base in the army, so Strasser’s fall from power was easily accomplished.


It is also significant to point out that it was under NPRC and SLPP rule that the country witnessed the emergence of a sinister phenomenon as NPFL and RUF rebels, together with Kamajor militias disguised as RUF rebels started to amputate the limbs of countless civilians upcountry, and that it was particularly Temnes and Limbas who accounted for nearly all the amputations during the 11-year tribal rebel war.  Of course, no survey has to date been conducted to determine the identity of the thousands more who died from their wounds, especially babies and children with little chance of survival.


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