Former RUF Rebel Legal Advisor – Omrie Golley speaks

The Sierra Leone Telegraph: 4 December 2013

SL rebel war victims6The appointment into any democratically elected government, of anyone, directly involved in Sierra Leone’s ten year brutal civil war is bound to be controversial.

And last week’s appointment of the former rebel leader – Foday Sankoh’s most senior adviser – Omrie Golley, has sent shivers down the spine of many Sierra Leoneans. (Photo: Sierra Leone’s rebel war victim).

Omrie Golley was no ordinary member of the Revolutionary United Front (RUF).

He has been accused of playing a pivotal role in perpetuating the war, by using his home in Macedonia to purchase and supply weapons to the rebels, as well as being on the payroll of the RUF.

He was also, by far the most intelligent and intellectually capable amongst the RUF senior executives, providing political, as well as legal and constitutional advice to RUF leader Foday Sankoh.

Just months ago, the former Liberian warlord – Charles Taylor was found guilty of crimes against humanity, after supplying logistics, material and intelligence support to the RUF in Sierra Leone, which caused the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people in that country.

Several RUF officials deemed to have borne the greatest responsibility for the war have been indicted and are now serving jail terms.

But questions remain as to how and why Omrie Golley – ‘the legal brain’ behind Foday Sankoh, could have avoided – though some would say evaded – justice.

Golley is now a senior public servant in the Koroma government. But should he be trusted?

Since the return of peace to Sierra Leone, successive governments have embraced the ‘realpolitik’ principle of rapprochement or positive engagement, with former war officials, across the political divide.

Omrie GolleyIn the last five years, since the coming to power of president Koroma, much overtures and behind closed door dealings have been made by the government, to integrate Golley (Photo) and others into mainstream politics, to help rebuild a nation broken by the very war many believe was perpetuated through intransigence and greed.

There are those who also believe that the integration of Golley into Koroma’s government, would serve as a precursor to the official return of former rebel leader – wanted for indictment by the international court – Johnny Paul Koroma – a cousin of the president.

So what should Sierra Leoneans and the world make of Golley’s appointment as Sierra Leone’s Ambassador to South Korea?

John Baimba Sesay in China has conducted an interview with Omrie Golley. This is his report:

Sierra Leone’s President Dr Ernest Bai Koroma is marking the second term of his presidency, with just one year served in his second innings. And on the 29th of November, 2013, a number of diplomatic postings were announced by the President.

Amongst the nominees, Omrie Golley has been appointed to serve as Sierra Leone’s envoy to South Korea, which previously was amongst several countries in the south-east pacific region accredited to the Sierra Leone Embassy in the People’s Republic of China.

SL rebel war victims4Following the signing of the Lome Peace Accord, the then Government of Tejan Kabba appointed Foday Sankoh – Leader of the Revolutionary United Front and Johnny Paul Koroma of the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council, into positions of trust.

Foday Sankoh was appointed to the position of Vice President and Chairman of the Commission for minerals, whilst Johnny Paul Koroma was made Chairman – Commission for the Consolidation of Peace (CCP).

Another prominent figure during that civil war was Omrie Golley, believed to have played a crucial role in getting Foday Sankoh agreeing to enter into a number of negotiations.

Some Sierra Leoneans however think differently about him, given the nature of the country’s decade long civil war.

In this interview granted from London, Omrie Golley spoke on a range of issues; his plans to utilize his skills in lobbying South Korea for more development support to Sierra Leone, and lifting the bars of cooperation ties between the two countries.

Omrie Golley also answered questions relating to his role in Sierra Leone’s civil war, which, in his words, “was to help in tangible, pragmatic and practical ways to bring peace to our people.”

Golley was first asked about his reaction to the nomination for the top diplomatic job by His Excellency President Koroma:

OG: I was very pleasantly surprised to receive this news at home in London with my family, last Friday evening -29th November 2013. In fact I was called by one of our Senior Ministers at around 21.30 pm who promptly congratulated me after he had heard news of my appointment on local radio.  His call was the start of many others that kept me up all Friday night.

JBS: How do you intend lifting the bars of cooperation ties between the two countries?

OG: Well, my relationship with Korea and countries around the pacific rim have been ongoing since 2008, when in February of that year I brought into Sierra Leone a  large delegation of  Korean industrialists and introduced them to President  Ernest Bai Koroma and other Senior Government officials as well as major players in the private sector.

This visit proved fruitful because representatives of one of these companies have since returned and concluded MOU’s with the Government covering projects in  Finance and Economic Development, Energy, Internal affairs, and Information technology.

I have also helped with the swift realization of a financial package from the Korean Government covering the Construction of the proposed new Freetown City Hall Complex.

As you know the Framework Agreement was signed in Freetown a few weeks ago, and in fact on the 13th December, His Worship the Mayor of Freetown will be proceeding to Seoul to conclude the signing arrangements for this particular project.

Of course, I believe that there is much more to be done, and I will use the opportunities that HE the President has accorded me to increase the economic relationship between the two countries with renewed vigour. I will be looking to attract Korean investment support in the areas of Energy revitalization, Water supply improvement, and road construction.

JBS:  South Korea happens to be a major player in the Asian pacific region. What will Sierra Leone gain from that country towards her development efforts given President Koroma’s determination to move the country to the apex of development?

OG:  South Korea is unique in so far as our Country’s infrastructural development programme under the Agenda for Prosperity is concerned. In 50 years the Republic of Korea has transformed itself from a poor backward country with limited resources, to one of the largest developed economies in the world.

This has been achieved through investments in Education and the development of a super charged work ethic. It is now one of the leading economic success stories in the world today, in which some of their county’s brand names like Samsung, Hyundai, LG, are all household names today.

They had no mineral resources like we do, to aid their recovery and development efforts, but as stated earlier they developed their country through sheer hard work with their Government investing in priority areas such as in Education.

They are also looking for friends who are prepared to respect them for who they are, and their economic accomplishments. Our Government is also developing south -south co operation on the economic front.

So Korea is a worthy springboard for our Government to advance and practically subscribe to the Agenda for Prosperity which it has enunciated.

SL rebel war victims2JBS:   Let us briefly look at Sierra Leone’s civil conflict in which you featured prominently. What role did you play?

OG: My main role in the civil conflict was to help in tangible, pragmatic and practical ways to bring peace to our people. That was why I formed The National Convention for Reconstruction and Development (NCRD) in 1994, as a think tank to propagate tangible ways to end the conflict which even at that time had already wreaked devastation on our country.

At a time when the focus for ending the war was its continuing prosecution, I was the one of the few Sierra Leoneans who advocated dialogue as a way of ending the war.

It was this heartfelt view that made me leave my comfortable life here in London in November 1995, aided by an international NGO to go into the bush to meet Foday Sankoh and his followers.

I was one of very few Sierra Leoneans who ventured to perform this task to bring peace to our country.

What I saw when I went into the bush, on that occasion, convinced me that we had a serious problem which would most certainly not be properly dealt with and concluded in a military way.

SL rebel war victims5I readily associated with the RUF in 1998 – because of my continuing heartfelt conviction that I wanted to contribute to end the War. At a time when no one wanted to talk to the RUF, I decided that someone had to talk to them to assist in bringing them to the negotiating table.

I was supported financially with 10,000 dollars  disbursement  by the ECOWAS secretariat headed by Lansana Kouyate in 2000/2001. And  following that, after a meeting in a North African restaurant in Paris France with the then Special Representative of the UN Secretary General Kofi Annan – Mr. Oluyemi Adeniji, who assured me of my safety in Freetown and actively encouraging me to continue with my dialogue and relationship with the RUF,  I continued to work with them until the conclusion of disarmament in 2002.

The conclusion of the War in 2002 brought with it documented praise from the UN and even the then Kabbah Government for the role that I had played. It did not bring Special Court prosecution or indeed any negative impact on me personally from any other tribunal, not even the TRC.

JBS: What was your relationship like as an outsider with the Revolutionary United Front High Command and vanguard?

OG: In answering this question I would again like to restate my reasons for associating with the RUF at that time. Let us go back in time again. My main reason as I stated before, was to bring everlasting peace to our country. In pragmatic and practical terms, in order to do this I had to talk to the RUF.

SL rebel war victims3From the onset, many of their rank and file members knew me to be an outsider – i.e. not one of them.  In reality, that meant that some of them treated me with some suspicion.

The relationship between me and some of these vanguard members and commanders were as a result sometimes difficult.

I had one purpose – to try to influence them to lay down their arms and dialogue with the Government of that time in the interest of peace.

In order to influence them, I had to associate with them.

I couldn’t have been effective in my ultimate goal otherwise. They readily saw in me a person who could articulate their views and position. I was used for that purpose.

In return I was able to exert some influence and encourage dialogue to bring peace.  I articulated their position but never defended acts of wanton violence.

If I had defended violence and atrocities in any way, I doubt whether I would have been in a position to grant this interview to you today.

Whilst I am fully aware of the fact that some of our brethren will never change their position in relation to what they perceived then of my position, I am fully aware and thankful that the majority of Sierra Leoneans appreciated this position and continually thank me today for it.

SL rebel war victims1JBS:   You spoke of “documented praise from the UN and even the then Kabbah Government for the role” you had played in bringing an end to the war. Can you elaborate on that?

OG:  I was referring to the closing statements from the UN sponsored Committee on Disarmament Demobilisation and Reintegration in Freetown at the end of 2001/2.

You will remember that this Committee was formed after the successful conclusion of the Ceasefire Agreement in Abuja at the beginning of 2001, between the Government Defence Forces, headed by the late Chief Hinga Norman and the RUF delegation headed by myself.

In many ways this Ceasefire Agreement signalled the conclusion of hostilities between the main warring factions in the conflict and the commencement of peace.

This Committee was Chaired by the erstwhile UN Special Envoy Oluyemi Adeniji, and comprised members of the then Kabbah Government headed by Solomon Berewa, and the RUF then headed by myself as Chairman of the Peace Council.

JBS:   What would you then say to those “brothers and sisters” who still see your role then as an adverse one at the time?

OG:  They did not, and in limited circumstances still do not today fully appreciate my role. They clung to the main accusation that an educated man living in London had decided to leave his life there and join the RUF – giving them ‘a better face’.

They didn’t stop to think that with the war as it had developed at that time – with limited contact with a group that had taken control of 70% of the country, it was necessary to engage the RUF to find ways to end the conflict.

They couldn’t understand my motives. They felt that it had to be for selfish reasons rather than a selfless one – a genuine and unconditional desire to end the war.

I felt and feel to this day that I was doing the right thing and fervently believe that my acts in engaging and associating with the then RUF brought peace to this country.

The RUF successfully transformed into a political party, playing its own role today in the political life of our country. God be praised.

RUF warlord - Foday sankoh
RUF warlord – Foday sankoh

JBS: Did you in anyway regret the role you played?

OG:  No I did not, or do not regret the part that I played to bring peace to my country.

I am continually thanked even today because of the role I played.

In the end it was through effective dialogue that we were able to help take the guns away from the RUF, the Kamajors and bring peace to our country. I believe that History in the end will be kind to me.

Having said this Pa Baimba Sesay, at my age now, I am not certain whether the resolve will be there, if God forbid, there was a similar situation, in the future, requiring my personal intervention, because of the love I have for my country.

I also suffered a lot of abuse by some of our brothers and sisters, particularly in the diaspora who were, and still to an extent remain misguided, regarding my role.

A lot of these abusers do not even know me, and when you ask them to provide tangible proof – positive that my role was other than a peace making one, they are hard pressed to find answers to support their negative feelings.

JBS: Who is Omrie Golley?

OG:  Omrie Golley is a 55 year old pragmatist with a deep abiding love for his country. He wants to see Mama Salone develop fervently and he is absolutely determined to make his own contribution to achieve this.

He wants all of us to embrace each other with full determination to work together to develop our country.

He is human with the capacity for error and mistakes. He is a firm believer, venerating God in all his glory.

He is a very private man with a public persona. He is happily married with five beautiful children and he prays every day for the success of Sierra Leone.

Photos: Courtesy of The Washington Post – God bless