Guinea’s persistent bullying of Sierra Leone in Yenga calls for rethink of priorities

Kabs Kanu: Sierra Leone Telegraph: 26 January 2021:

First of all, it should be clear to all by now that Guinea has adopted a CRY-BABY attitude over Yenga. Though it is a known fact from African History and the geographical studies of the Mano River basin that Yenga belongs to Sierra Leone, Guinea appears to be adopting an aggressive policy of always using Yenga to articulate their dissatisfaction with Sierra Leone. And whenever they encroach on Yenga, we appease them by crawling under their feet in the name of diplomatic imperatives to coax them to leave.

From my observation, unless the issue of Yenga is resolved diplomatically or through other options and prerogatives, the problem will always resurface like a sore thumb. Whenever the baby cries and he is given a pacifier, he keeps quiet, but only for a while. After some time, the baby will cry again, and it will need another form of pacifier. We cannot go on like that.

Today, Guinea has renewed their aggression because President Alpha Conde is unhappy with perceived roles played by the present government during his acrimonious power struggles with opposition leader, Cellou Diallo, which culminated in a violent and controversial elections that Professor Conde was accused of rigging.

To my mind, since this will be a recurring problem depending on geopolitical issues that may arise between the two countries or the state of goodwill between the presidents of both nations, I think the best option we have now is international arbitration. The Mano River Union, ECOWAS , AU and possibly the UN need to intervene decisively and resolve for once who owns Yenga.

Despite our political differences in Sierra Leone, we need to adopt an open mind on this issue, forgetting all partisan, tribal and regional sentiments. And in this respect, I want to postulate that Sierra Leone has done a great job in the past to exercise restraint while seeking bilateral prerogatives.

Both the late President Ahmad Tejan Kabba of the SLPP and the just-retired President Ernest Bai Koroma did a marvelous job in the past to negotiate the Yenga issue from a diplomatic and family perspective. taking in mind the traditional family and cultural affinities between the two nations. Sierra Leone, through these two leaders, has bent over backwards to remind Guinea that the two countries have treasured relations that must not be fractured by dispute over a small parcel of land like Yenga. It seemed like their bilateral approach worked as Guinea found sense to withdraw completely from Yenga.

It is probably based on the facts above that President Maada Bio decided to bypass bilateral imperatives and invite a multilateral diplomatic option when Guinea forgot past commitments and invaded Yenga once again. Opinions will vary whether it was the right approach adopted by President Bio, but in all frankness, what else must he have done?

By now, Guinea should have been working with Sierra Leone to build upon previous bilateral agreements on Yenga. They should not have been seen invading the country all over again. Though I am not a fan of President Bio, I want to make bold to say here that he was not amiss in the diplomatic option he has decided upon—to go multilateral. Let ECOWAS arbitrate on this Yenga issue for once, though many more people would think that he should involve the Mano River Union too.

But even this had been done before. It was one of the agenda items during the 22nd summit of the Heads of State and Government of the Mano River Union (MRU), which took place yesterday 1 May 2013, in Liberia, attended by President Ernest Bai Koroma of Sierra Leone; Alassane Ouattara of Côte d’Ivoire; Alpha Condé of Guinea; and Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia.

A communique signed by the leaders at the end of the summit read: “The Heads of State commended Prof. Alhaji Alpha CONDE, President of the Republic of Guinea, for his will, courage and maturity in resolving the Yenga issue…”

The last resort – THE MILITARY OPTION – is definitely inconceivable and out of the question at the moment because of the ancient fraternal and sisterly relations between Sierra Leone and Guinea. Families live on both sides of the borders, divided only by artificial boundaries and nobody can ever see blood being shed by both countries for any reason. We have to protect the lives and properties of our people in Sierra Leone and Guinea.

When that has been said, I am sure that any right-thinking Sierra Leonean would agree with me that it is high time that Sierra Leone ceased to be the punchbag of countries in the Mano River Union. Idrissa Salaam Conteh rightly put the issue in a more painfully truthful perspective when he writes: “In effect, Sierra Leone is the weakest of the Mano River Union states which both Liberia and Guinea capitalize on to bully the country. Liberia, under the leadership of Charles Taylor, took advantage of the fragility of Sierra Leone and waged an unprovoked war that claimed the lives of tens of thousands of people in cold blood. Liberia was never asked to pay reparations to Sierra Leone for the massive damage it cause in the country.”

In my mind, the only way Sierra Leone can bring to an end the tendency of being bullied is to build a very strong, fully-equipped and battle-ready army with an air force and navy to boot. Let us face it, the crazy and unpredictable world we live in today makes it an imperative to add a very robust military to diplomatic options.

We know that regional organizations like the MRU. ECOWAS AU and the international umbrella organization, the UN stress peaceful coexistence among nations and peaceful resolution of conflicts , but in today’s world of dysfunctional geopolitical realities, rivalries, suspicions and hostilities, no nation can feel a sense of doing itself and its citizens a favor by continuing to have a weak army.

Very strong militaries across borders serve as a deterrent to bullying and violations of the territorial rights and integrity of other countries.

Rwanda is a smaller nation, that could be virtually swallowed up ten times by the larger Democratic Republic of the Congo but successive Congolese presidents know the strength of the Rwandan military forces, without which they could have annexed much of Rwandan territory. This is where the question of strong or weak military comes into the equation.

7 Comments

  1. An excellent piece – your latest intervention on the issue of Yenga is, Mr Jalloh. In particular, I love your brilliantly succinct recap regarding Sierra Leone’s and Guinea’s interconnected geographies, histories, cultures and ethnicities. Also, I read with a heavy heart the sad and tragic end of the likes of the brilliant Boubacar Telli Diallo, who were subjected to the most inhumane treatments imaginable by their jailers in Sekou Toure’s infamous Camp Boiro and similar death camps that passed for prisons at the time. May their souls rest undisturbed in Allah’s eternal embrace. There is yet another point in the piece that I feel compelled to address as it concerns directly the issue of Guinean presence at Yenga. You state that Conde’s avoidance of military confrontations with Liberia, Mali, Senegal and, one might add, Cote d’Ivoire, which all, like Sierra Leone, share physical borders with his country, has to do with American support for Liberia and France’s visible and active presence in the other countries.

    This brings me to an inescapable conclusion: Sierra Leone with no similar strong foreign backing or presence, is the weakest military link in its immediate West African neighborhood. Hence the need for the country to beef up its capability as best it can to ensure that its frontiers are kept intact, not subjected to the whim and caprice of a hawkish political leader from across the border. Of course, I agree that the border in question is an imposition: it is not of our own making, it being the handiwork of the two countries’ erstwhile European colonial overlords. However, it is there – an inescapable reality, having become since independence part and parcel of who we are: our respective sovereign identities as Guineans and Sierra Leoneans over and beyond the affinities we share.

    Most certainly, peaceful and harmonious coexistence should be at the front and centre of our interactions, and dialogue the mechanism for conflict resolution between our two peoples. However, the recalcitrant neighbour who opts first and foremost for a muscular showdown whenever he feels aggrieved should be be left in no doubt that violent confrontation will not wash, and that there is a deterrent to hold it in check if and when it chooses to rear its ugly head.

  2. Look Mr Yillah, Guinea and Sierra Leone share almost the same ethnic mix per population. When things get messy in Sierra Leone, the first port of call for our political leadership is Guinea, Conakry. Siaka Stevens in 1968, Momoh in 1992, Kabbah in 1997, Strasser, after he was pushed out by Bio and ordinary citizens of Sierra Leone, took refuge there during the RUF war. It is not a one-way traffic. More recently the three military personnel, two men and one woman, who made an attempt on the life of Moise Dadis Camara, the former military strong man of Guinea, were arrested and executed as they tried to flee to Sierra Leone. Just before Sheku Turay died in 1984, six people were scheduled for execution. Five were executed on false charges in planning to overthrow his government.

    One of them, a relative of ours escaped and was sheltered in my home town of Kabala. Few weeks later, Sheku Turay died. Suffice to say he had a lucky escape. Not so for Boubacar Diallo Telle, the first Secretary-General of the Organisation of African Unity, was executed on the orders Sheku Turay. Conde is starting to behave like him. Going after Fulanis everywhere. Our vice president Juldeh Jalloh is in his cross airs. He won’t pick a fight with Liberia, because of American support. Nor will he pick a fight with Mali or Senegal because they have French troops in those two countries. Look Conde is desperate because he does not have any friends in the ECOWAS region. He has 45,000 people he can summon to fight on his behalf.

    No doubt, the military is well-equipped than ours. But these Yenga issues have been there for years. Why now? Military solutions is not the answer. Dialogue is the only way forward. Lest we forgot, these artificial boundaries were drawn by European powers at the Berlin conference of 1885. They literally just drew lines dividing up the African Continent for their own selfish ends without taking any due consideration to the tribal make up of the newly created colonies. Just take a look at the map of Senegal and The Gambia. The British were not prepared to cede a groundnut producing region to the French. Suffice to say, there were no African Kings or Chiefs present in that conference hall. As a result of this massive dislocation of families and communities that have lived side by side peacefully, found themselves on the other side of the border.

  3. Mr Thomas – Thank you ever so much for your indulgence. It is a delight and an honour to give to and take from the wonderful forum that is The Sierra Leone Telegraph; a forum teeming with talented polemicists, possessed of eloquence and relishing controversy on an unending flow of information relating to our beautiful homeland. Indeed let controversy rage – the more of it, the better. Rest assured that in my future comments, I will adhere strictly to the prescribed word limit.

  4. MSSRS JALLOH, STARGAZER AND MATTURI – I just wanted to thank you all for your differing but no less enjoyable and stimulating reactions to my recent comments on the vexing question of Guinea’s recurring infringement on our national territory. Let me say from the start that I have no party political and ideological axe to grind over the issue. I am an affiliate of neither the party currently in opposition nor the one that holds the reins of power at the moment. My position is that of a party politically neutral but no less patriotic and concerned citizen, who is trying to understand and articulate why it is that Guinea seems to choose to bring war to our country and what we can do about it. One may love or loathe Bio and his administration. The fact remains that he and his party did win the last general elections. All we need to do is to wait until 2023 to decide whether to keep them in power or vote them out.

    For now though we need to wish them well for love of country as they navigate the choppy waters of geopolitics in their search for a solution that will keep our country safe and secure and at peace with Guinea, which after all, is a sisterly nation that did so much for us by welcoming thousands of our brothers and sisters fleeing the ravages of war at home. My insistence on the coupling of diplomacy and military means as a way forward in dealing with the issue of Yenga has nothing to do with my love of war for war’s sake. Rather, it is borne out of the fact while Conde’s Guinea has closed it doors to several of its neighbours, it has to my knowledge intervened militarily in only one. Is it because it thinks it can do so with impunity? If so, does it follow that Senegal for instance is, unlike Sierra Leone, a militarily no go area? And were Sierra Leone perceived to be militarily a capable nation, would Guinea think twice before daring to encroach on its territory?

    Both Messrs Stargazer and Matturi seem to hold our current crop of fighting men and their leadership with utter contempt. In his inimitable, irreverent and highly delicious style of putting things, Mr Stargazer pours scorn on their incompetence believing they cannot be counted on to defend our nation. Mr Matturi is no less scathing thinking they are no match for Guinean forces. I beg to differ here, however. Some rebuilding of our forces has indeed taken place from Tejan Kabba’s time in office, through Koroma’s to the present. With time and with more investment – within our means of course – this solid base can be strengthened further. I simply don’t share your pessimism that when it comes to the crunch Guinean soldiers will just blow our men to smithereens. As to the question of whether it is the rational and ethical thing to do to divert the country’s limited resources for military purposes away from such core areas as education, health, poverty alleviation and so on, all of which are critical to our national development and well-being, I would say that safety and security are equally critical, if not more. Only on a safe and secure national territorial foundation can anything lasting be built.

    In our discussions, we should not sweep under the carpet the internal political dynamics of the invading country. Ethnicity and its deliberate politicisation by Conde is at the heart of his action relating to Yenga. The point being that it is not the people of Guinea that are at war the people of Sierra Leone. Rather, it is Conde’s single-minded desire to hold on to power that has led him to ignite the powder keg of ethnic antagonisms and violence, and this, without a care for their sub regional repercussions. As Mr Jalloh rightly puts it, while Conde may take delight in throwing his weight about, he may be in for a surprise as to the consequences of his recklessness. Lastly, all three of you favour diplomacy, dialogue, negotiations. I fully endorse these approaches, methods and strategies, but with a caveat. Military means should not be ruled out. In the event that the preferred approaches fail, there should be something to fall back on. In a dangerous and uncertain world such as ours, events may take us by surprise, and we need to be flexible enough to handle such eventualities.

    • My Yillah – please note that on this occasion we have published your comment that has breached our word limit of three paragraphs – each paragraph should contain no more than 5-7 lines. We strongly advice that you keep to this rule in future, to prevent your comment from being partly deleted.

  5. Leave it to the African he will advocate going to war with his brother for something that can be easily ironed out via diplomatic measures, but let a foreign entity decides to come and colonize our economy, him and the rest of the community will be celebrating like it’s the second coming…. We have got to find a way to get rid of these self-loathing, anti Africans with skin bleaching wives and girlfriends out of our beloved continent. If not, I promise you that it will be the end of us as a people.

  6. Sincerest thanks Mr Abraham Amadu Jalloh for your thought provoking response; I totally agree,if Alpha Oonde has the “GOODS” on the Criminal SLPP Cabal that clearly shows some inappropriate,questionable behavior in matters relating to security sovereignty,and stability of his country he must get the ECOWAS and AU involved as soon as possible before things get out of control.Our corrupt President claims to be an Ex military officer and yet cannot show some form of spine even in an atmosphere of mutual dialogue with our Guinean brothers and sisters.This right here needs to be a laughing chicken contest – a Red Rooster should laugh and laugh in front of millions of eligible voters crowing,saying intermittently;”People of Sierra Leone..cluck,cluck,cluck there is a Spineless cowardly dictator now in State House.” (lol)

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