Alpha, my piece was really a light-hearted response to Mariatu's two questions: "What went wrong?" And "What are they fighting for?" Unfortunately, I do not agree with you that Sierra Leone was ruled by "philosopher-kings" in the manner Plato used the term. Even when intellectuals joined politics, the desire to accumulate robbed them of both their intellectual powers and commonsense. If this were not so, how could our Ph.D. ministers settle for the glamourization of a Jeep (or is it Pajeros?) in a land where the mighty Benz was once king? What sense did it make to steal to buy Benzes only to find out that they could no longer enjoy them because the money they stole had been earmarked for resurfacing the roads, thus leaving the roads riddled with potholes? Had they been real "philosopher-kings," they would have reasoned that stealing as much as they did was going to leave everyone (including themselves) poorer. Thus, they would have left some for refurbishing the roads, for maintaining the hospitals, etc., etc.
The story I told was not really meant to highlight the war as a class struggle, although it seemed to lend such an interpretation to it. On the contrary, I meant to explain that the war has occured because many Sierra Leoneans all of a sudden realized that they had no stake in the system. Having nothing to lose, these Sierra Leoneans became easy prey for the RUF to manipulate. (It is often said that a drowning person would grab a sharp blade with his/her bare hands just to save himself/herself.) Given the thievery that had been endemic in Sierra Leonean public life throughtout the lifespans of most of our compatroits, I believe that they felt that anyone who had anything in Sierra Leone must have stolen it from someone else. Because there is no honor among thieves, looting such (stolen) property was morally right, they must have reasoned.
This, I think, is the reason why no one could have nipped the RUF rebellion in the bud. The entire social fabric of Sierra Leone had degenerated to the point that our institutions no longer functioned properly. To join the army, one had to bribe and be nominated by a minister. Is there any doubt then in anyone's mind why our army was unprepared for war? They were all so very busy trying to recoup their "investments" that military preparedness was put on the back-burner. Therefore, even if the APC government had sent the entire army to the border, they would have been beaten very badly by the RUF for this simple reason. Therefore, I do not believe that the war would have been nipped in the bud had it started in even Binkolo, as Alpha's earlier response to Mariatu seems to indicate.
Why is the RUF successfully closing in on Freetown? I believe it's because there is nothing left to steal in Kenema, Bo, Kono, Moyamba, etc. My younger brother visited Freetown in December last year. (I say Freetown, not Sierra Leone, because the security situation in the country did not allow him to go beyond Freetown.) On his return, he told me about an incident that he occured in Freetown regarding the sale of stolen property from the provinces being sold by "soja" wives in Freetown. The story goes thus: A "soja" wife was trying to sell a bed his husband had looted in Kono to its original owner who had fled Kono. When the man recognized his bed, he reported the matter to some soldiers. He was then asked to produce a receipt, which he did not have, of course. But he had keys that fitted the locks on the drawers on the bed, which he opened. At this point, the soldiers let him have his bed.
When my brother told me this story, I told him that the war will eventually come to Freetown because everyone is going to know at some point that all the looted property would eventually get there. And since the war was motivated by only greed (not tribalism, political ideology, and the like), I reasoned that it would go whereever there was wealth to be looted. (Weren't our soldiers initially fencing looted goods from the Liberian rebels when the war was confined to Liberia? Didn't the rebels shift the war to Sierra Leone when there was nothing else to steal in Liberia? Why would this natural progression stop when the cycle is not complete?)
So, is the war closing in on Freetown because Freetonians did not care about what was going on "upline", as Alpha suggests? I don't think so. I think that it is closing in on Freetown because some Freetonians greedily gobbled up stuff that they knew were stolen from others in the provinces. Because only they have anything left to steal, plus the fact that there are now more people who are desperate enough to steal, we will all have to pray very hard to keep the rebels and their new recruits from entering Freetown. God help us....
Kelfala M. Kallon
Department of Economics
University of Northern Colorado
Greeley, Co 80631