Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
December 6, 1999
The unwinnable war in Sierra Leone
As NATO was self-righteously bombing Belgrade, some Canadians wondered why the West would not intervene in the eight-year war in Sierra Leone. Our failure to act in Rwanda was often cited as a reason to take a stand in Yugoslavia.
By now more and more Canadians are discovering, as was reported in this column in March, that the International Monetary Fund had sown the seeds of the Balkan conflict.
Ottawa professor Michel Chossudovsky made that clear in his 1997 book Globalization of Poverty. In a recent study Why Kosovo? Anatomy of a Needless War, Prof. Bob Allen of UBC also traces the roots of the violent outbreak directly to the IMF.
That does not explain why there seemed to be a hands-off policy in Sierra Leone.
The sordid facts are that the West was deeply involved, with Canada one of the major players. Since 1991, over 70,000 Sierra Leonans have been killed and 2.5 million displaced, before a peace agreement was finally signed between the government of Admad Tejan Kabbah and the Revolutionary United Front.
A similar agreement, reached in 1996 between the same forces, failed. Real peace is years away.
Sierra Leone has no army of its own to speak of since most of its soldiers defected to the rebel forces who controlled the diamond mining area and thus were able to purchase weapons in the international arms market.
The government side was defended by ECOMOG, a Nigerian-led force of 15,000 soldiers supported by Canada, U.S. and Britain. This was no doubt a compelling reason why Nigeria was recently allowed back into the fold of the Commonwealth.
Admad Kabbah, elected in 1996, was ousted from power in 1998 and reinstated nine months later by a British arms supply mission under U.S. military directions financed by the Anglo-Canadian company Diamond Works. The firm paid for the weapons and hired the mercenaries.
The intervention violated the UN embargo against provision of weapons to either side of the conflict and resulted in an escalation of violence, rendering thousands more homeless, maimed or killed.
Since January this year Canada, Britain and the U.S. have supplied another $30 million in support of ECOMOG. A report commissioned in April by Lloyd Axworthy includes a long shopping list of military hardware. Our involvement contributed to prolonging an unwinnable war.
Aside from the usual humanitarian considerations offered as the official line for engaging in this conflict, the U.S., Britain and Canada all have vital economic interests in Sierra Leone, such as diamonds, gold, bauxite and rutile. The latter two are used in aircraft construction.
Sierra Leone, rich in minerals but among the poorest nations in the world, has had its natural wealth systematically expropriated under unequal conditions of trade imposed by the West.
Exacerbating this injustice are the demands of the IMF and the World Bank regarding debt service charges and currency devaluation, making the outbreak of conflict almost inevitable.
Admad Kabbah is kept in power because he supports the neo-colonial globalization efforts dominated by Western capitalist interests. In return for restoring him to power, Canada's Diamond Works was offered huge mining concessions and a 25-year lease on 30 per cent of Sierra Leone's landmass. All the while Canadian citizens have been under the impression that Canada was not involved.
Perhaps we're not involved in the way we want to be. For instance, while we received with great fanfare 5,000 refugees from Kosovo, only two or three dozen refugees were accepted from Sierra Leone in 1997 and 1998.
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