Sierra Leone’s national security imperatives

Mohamed Kutubu Koroma

25 January 2012

Today, the civilized world unfortunately has to contend with merchants of hate and parasites of passion, motivated by the twin axis of terrorism and territorial expansionist designs, such as Guinea’s illegal occupation of what is clearly a sovereign property of Sierra Leone – Yenga.

So, how prepared is Sierra Leone’s army in the context of combat capabilities in discharging its sworn constitutional oath to defend the territorial integrity of the nation?

 

Because of the professionalism and combat readiness of the Nigerian armed forces – under the command of Major General Muhamadu Buhari, Nigeria was able to repel Cameroon’s naked aggression, as the Nigerians mounted a decisive counter attack that finally freed an illegally occupied piece of land, thereby restoring Nigeria’s honor and dignity.

Incidentally, it was on account of his leadership role in that conflict that Major General Muhamadu Buhari won recognition, which precipitated his selection as the new military leader of Nigeria, following the overthrow of president Shehu Shagari’s administration on December 31st,1983.

In the case of Sierra Leone’s Yenga that was forcibly seized by the occupation forces of Guinea, it should be noted that successive Guinean authorities have always had secret grand designs for Sierra Leone’s diamond producing Kono.

So it was of no surprise that they ultimately decided to annex Yenga under the cover of the Sierra Leone’s ten year civil year, using the pretext of protecting Guinea’s borders.

Sierra Leone’s army has never been able to militarily reclaim Yenga, because of the poor quality of its fighting capability and the lack of armory and equipment. For the Guineans, this is seen as a major weakness, especially Sierra Leone’s lack of fighting spirit after the civil war.

But to many Sierra Leoneans, the loss of Yenga to the Guineans has dealt a blow to their national pride, subjecting the country to ridicule and contempt in the eyes of the international community.

It is no accident therefore that this issue has become a major source of concern in the context of national security imperatives.

Again like in the foreign policy domain discussed last week, I am forced to revisit what the leaders of Ghana and Nigeria did immediately after independence to prepare their armed forces for the task of protecting and defending the national integrity of their respective nations.

Nigeria and Ghana saw the wisdom in putting together an armed force, with all its components in the true sense of militarism, capable of defending the state from the air, sea, and land. They went about doing so by establishing defense academies to help train their men and women who will bear arms for country.

It is no accident therefore, that the armed forces of both nations have been summoned to hot spots around the globe and also given staff and command responsibilities in those theatres – from Congo to Lebanon.

Ghana has been represented abroad by highly decorated officers in the persons of Joseph Ankarah, Akwasi Afrifa, Emanuel Kotoka, Emanuel Erskine, and Arnold Quanoo, to cite a few.

Nigeria’s military has been proudly led by Aguyi-Ironsi, Babafemi Ogundepe, Mohamed Murtala, Muhamadu Buhari, Ibrahim Babangida, Victor Malu, Maxwell Kobe, and Olusegun Obasanjo.

This therefore begs the fundamental question as to where Sierra Leone fits in the scheme of warfare.

The integrity of Sierra Leone’s combat capabilities was gravely undermined by president Siaka Stevens, long before he became leader of Sierra Leone.

It should be recalled that the independence constitutional conference held at Lancaster House, London, in 1960, to pave the way for Sierra Leone’s independence, was dominated by the political antics of Siaka Stevens who was a member of the united delegation that accompanied Sir Milton Margai to the talks, along with H.R.S. Bultman from the APC.

Siaka Stevens with penchant for political mischief, left the conference before key agreements were reached, when he failed to get the Colonial Secretary – Ian McLeod and Sir Milton Margai to agree to his outlandish proposal to have ‘elections before independence’.

When he failed to have his way, he returned to Sierra Leone only to embark on a carefully orchestrated campaign of misinformation and disinformation, calculated and designed to create mistrust and inflame the embers of social unrest.

Stevens claimed that Sir Milton Margai was bent on turning over the King Tom water ways over to the British government for the purpose of establishing a naval base.

But, assuming that what Stevens said had an iota of credibility, one has to be left wondering, as to what was so pernicious about the presence of a naval facility established and run by Britain – known for her superiority at sea?

In any case, such was vintage Stevens – master of deception and practitioner of Machiavellian politics.

Sadly, today, because Sierra Leone does not have the other components of a defense force, that is; a Navy, Air force, and Marines, we cannot in the context of true militarism talk of armed forces, such as that which can be found in Ghana or Nigeria.

Sir Milton Margai should equally shoulder some of the blame for the crucibles of chaos and disorder, that have been visited upon the combat readiness of Sierra Leone’s fledging post independence army.

As in foreign affairs where he displayed total lack of vision, so did he preside over an army that only excelled in ceremonial parades, referred to as ‘Red Soldiering’ because of their tunics.

By capitulating to Stevens’ politics of black mail, Sir Milton failed to substantially invest in laying down the foundation for the development of Sierra Leone’s military capability.

He failed to follow the examples set by both Ghana and Nigeria after independence, to build professional and combat ready armed forces that are capable of responding to the challenges posed by those seeking to promote terrorism and territorial expansionist ambitions.

The pressing question now therefore, is whether it is too late for Sierra Leone to develop an armed force, with combat capabilities to defend the territorial integrity of the country from all fronts: air, sea, and land.

Sierra Leone potentially has considerable financial as well as human resources to be able to afford a professional and combat ready armed forces akin to Nigeria and Ghana. What is fundamentally missing however, are political will and resolve by the country’s body politic.

I honestly believe that the current political leadership can set the motion into machinery to accomplish this objective, with appeals to western nations for technical assistance in that regard.

Since there is this pervasive talk about president Koroma’s special relationship with US president Barrack Obama, perhaps the USA may oblige.

A national Naval base can be established in the Bonthe locality; a US NORAD type air command established in Yonnie Banna; Marines in the entire western area and its environs; and the existing army depot in Daru upgraded with modern facilities – with rapid combat readiness and capability to address security concerns in the entire eastern region and the boundaries.

National security like dispensation of justice, is priceless. No government with integrity can afford to play ‘the penny saved and pound foolish mentality’ with national territorial protection.

Without adequate security, a nation will itself become vulnerable to all sorts of intimidation and possible attack, by those with territorial expansionist designs.

Politicians in Sierra Leone have always abused and misused the national army for the wrong reasons, and no government is guiltier of that than the APC, which has used the army for everything, else except the national security of the nation.

A well trained, adequately equipped and professional armed forces is an integral part of prosecuting a nation’s foreign policy.

Had the leaders of Sierra Leone seen it fit since independence to have an armed services with full capability, perhaps 250,000 innocent lives lost during the rebel war would have been saved. Perhaps there would never have been a rebel war.

The Guinean authorities also would not have felt  so self-confident, as to illegally occupy Sierra Leone’s sovereign land with impunity, had Sierra Leone had a military force to reckon with.

The violation of the country’s air space by a plane loaded with cocaine and weapons, or the prevalence of sea piracy by foreign trawlers that sneaks in undetected and unchallenged to steal the nation’s natural resources, and left without being apprehended, must be blamed on the nation’s inability to protect its territory.

More can be done and should be done by the country’s leaders, to develop its military capability to meet the demands and challenges of the twenty-first century.

 

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