An Uneasy Peace
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GWEN IFILL: Late today, there were reports of new fighting in the northern part of the country, with perhaps as many as 100 soldiers killed. For more on Sierra Leone we turn to Ezekiel Pajibo, a policy analyst at the Africa Faith and Justice Network, a nonprofit organization– he is a Liberian citizen– and William Reno, professor at Northwestern University and author of “Corruption and State Politics in Sierra Leone.” Gentlemen, welcome.
Mr. Pajibo, the U.N. is on the ground. There’s a peace agreement in place. It’s lasted now for three months. What are the chances that it’s going to last any longer?
EZEKIEL PAJIBO: Well, the Sierra Leone peace accord provides an opportunity for international community to make right by Africa. We know that in the past, 1994 Rwanda incident, that did not happen. We also know that in Liberia it is a similar war situation; it did not happen. So we are hoping that this time around the international community — especially the United States of America — has an opportunity to do right by Africa. What needs to happen right now as we speak is the whole question of demobilization, disarmament, and the reintegration of former combatants. That has not happened. There is a fund for this to happen, and right now we understand that at least $1 million has been committed to that fund. Those who have made significant contributions include Great Britain, Canada, and the World Bank, but the United States has not made any contribution to those fundings. The Security Council approved last Friday the deployment of 6,000 troops for Sierra Leone. We hope that the process of deployment can be expedited. We understand a few days ago from the U.S. special military presence in Sierra Leone that of the 6,000 troops, 4,000 will be Nigerians. They are already on the ground. So we hope that the U.N. bureaucracy can be speeded up so that they can begin to do the work.
GWEN IFILL: Are you saying with this kind of international aid, the kind of fighting we’re hearing which is still going on in northern Sierra Leone would stop?
EZEKIEL PAJIBO: Well, the part of the matter is once the peace agreement was first announced and some people began to have confidence in the process, over 300 former soldiers willingly surrendered themselves to the authorities….
GWEN IFILL: Being the Western African governments who have been taking part in the peace keeping.
EZEKIEL PAJIBO: That’s correct. Over 300 of them were prepared to turn in the weapons but there were no mechanics in place to accommodate them because the program has not been put into place. Certainly, if we are genuinely interested in seeing peace come to Sierra Leone, the major issue has to be the question of disarmament of these people and demobilization, and the reintegration. And this has not happened.
GWEN IFILL: Mr. Reno, what is your thought on this? Do you think there’s any chance that a peace agreement like this one that has been hammered out is going to be anything more than a ceasefire or even ever a peace?
WILLIAM RENO: Well, I’m a bit more skeptical about the capacity of the agreement to be able to last very long. Certainly I’ve got high hopes and I wish that it would, but I think a couple things that you have to look at in this situation. First of all, Sierra Leone is in a very rough neighborhood. Just Saturday before last, the front page of the Washington Post carried a story about continuing diamond mining deals and timber operations and things like this based in places like Liberia that continue to contribute resources to this conflict or at least make renewed conflict a much higher possibility. And then the second thing is the nature of the rebel organization itself or I would say organizations because it seems that once the agreement is signed, there are all sorts of other groups that say, “hey, wait a minute, we’ve been left out of it” – and particularly when the agreement seems to be cemented together not by some sort of agreement on politics or ideology but rather this cutting up of the pie, of cutting up the resources of Sierra Leone and then saying to one rebel leader, okay, well, this guy gets to decide who is going to be in line to get opportunity to mine diamonds in the country.
GWEN IFILL: Mr. Reno, can I just follow up on that?
WILLIAM RENO: Sure.
GWEN IFILL: Can it work for these rebel factions that you just referred to? They now have seats in government. Can that work?
WILLIAM RENO: I think as long as the United Nations’ forces are there that probably there will be a high degree of order at least compared to what the country has had in the recent past, but part of my fear is that a similar type of agreement that was concluded in Angola in the early 1990s fell apart. And we see a lot of the same patterns that the rebel leader was promised — a cut of resources and so forth — but what this did was this allowed the rebel forces to rearm and eventually as they concluded that they were in a good position to go back to war, we saw the peace agreement in Angola fall apart and then return to war.
GWEN IFILL: And you can see the same thing possibly happening here?
WILLIAM RENO: I can see it possibly happening. I hope that it does not, but I think we have ample precedent particularly in the case of Angola.
GWEN IFILL: Mr. Pajibo, this is not only a case in which the rebel leaders were given a place in government but the people who actually committed some of these war atrocities which we saw in the taped peace were also given amnesty. They’re not going to be prosecuted for their crimes. At least it doesn’t look that way.
EZEKIEL PAJIBO: Yeah, importantly – I mean, interestingly, the war crimes are not… there is not a statute of limitations on war crimes so they can be prosecuted any time down the line. Additionally they may not be prosecuted in Sierra Leone but if they left Sierra Leone one could take them on. We know the case of Pinochet of Chile. That is happening in London right now — and then also the United Nations itself has said that it did not want to be respectful of that element of the agreement. And when Mary Robinson, the head of the U.N. Commission for Human Rights, visited Sierra Leone she stated quite clearly that crimes against humanity were committed in Sierra Leone, so somebody will be held accountable. But right now what we are interested in seeing is the whole question of implementing the part of the peace accord, the course for demobilization and disarmament of the various warring factions in the country. I think that all of this is in place because when it comes to Africa, it is the neglected continent, and these people are expendable but at the same time we begin to see that the concern of several to have this nightmare behind them has been amplified in certain quarters, and we hope that those who have the necessary authority will begin to find some common ground and make the necessary commitment and provide the necessary logistics and the necessary money that is required so that peace can come to Sierra Leone. It is not an impossibility. It is actually the lack of political will on the part of the international community, specifically the United States and other countries that is responsible for the lack of the implementation of the accord.
GWEN IFILL: Mr. Reno, Mr. Pajibo obviously believes that the bulk of the responsibility here lies on the international community. And it’s only with that kind of intervention that this can hold. Do you agree with that?
WILLIAM RENO: Yes, I agree. Insofar as that’s correct, I agree with a lot of what the other guest has said. I think there’s also a problem of international involvement here too. And it’s one of principle that… I mean, really I’m quite baffled as to how one justifies politically an agreement that leaves open the possibility that some members of this coalition government can be prosecuted for war crimes later on down the line yet the agreement provides them with critical places inside the government itself. I mean, in my view, looking at Sierra Leone in the long term, the primary problem is a lack of the rule of law. This is really what the country needs is to rebuild government institutions, to give people what most people on the street I believe want, which is some kind of long-term order and stability in their lives. And I think that the best way to do that is through the rule of law. On the other hand, inviting in rebel leaders who seem to make a profession out of enriching themselves and involving themselves in all of these mineral trades and….
GWEN IFILL: I’m not sure how you accomplish this idea of getting the rule of law in place when the people who were considered to be lawless, Mr. Pajibo, are the ones who are often now in power.
EZEKIEL PAJIBO: Yeah, but at the same time we have to recognize that the rule of law does not fall from the sky. It has to be built. We have to have a beginning point. For the most part, the question of government is a question of politics, which is actively possible. So I think that what is required is peace where people are able to know that tomorrow they can wake up from their bed without any kind of firing over the head. And I think once that is done and we can move on the whole question of disarmament, demobilization and the reintegration of ex-combatants, then we move on step by step. I think that I agree with Professor Reno that the whole question of the air of impunity being created here will force a climate of injustice but at the same time we have to recognize that we have had a ceasefire that has been in place for three months. Without that, perhaps the war would have been ongoing, more people would have died than has been reported –
GWEN IFILL: So this was as good as you could have gotten right now and then you move on.
EZEKIEL PAJIBO: In the scheme of things, yes, because like I said Africa is not one of those places in the world people are most concerned about. So that does not mean it is justified but at the same time what it means is that the situation in Africa just as important as everywhere else. But since that is not the case we have to ensure that whatever peace is on the table gets implemented that the necessary logistics are put into place to speed up the process so that the nightmare of Sierra Leone can be behind them.
GWEN IFILL: Mr. Reno, who does it fall on, the international community or the government of Sierra Leone?
WILLIAM RENO: Ultimately it falls on Sierra Leonians themselves. I think that my colleague is correct in that, you know, certainly there’s the old saying, there’s no liberty without order. And the first requirement is to get people to stop shooting at each other. And in that regard, I think that the agreement is critical. On the other hand– and this may be where we differ– I really question the extent to which what I see as an essentially at this point economically motivated, private sort of association or a set of associations can really be organized into being a government and to adopt the kind of viewpoints that would require.
GWEN IFILL: Thank you very much, Mr. Reno and thank you, Mr. Pajibo.
WILLIAM RENO: Thank you.
EZEKIEL PAJIBO: Thank you.