Real causes of civil wars – Have we learnt our lesson? A tale of two countries – Op ed

Abdulai Mansaray: Sierra Leone Telegraph: 20 June 2022:

Sierra Leone and Rwanda may be diametrically placed on the globe but share an unenviable common history that many would like to forget – brutal civil war in which, both countries achieved the gold standard for personifying humankind’s propensity and penchant for barbarity.

The Rwanda war lasted for four years (1990-1994), took 100 days to kill 800, 000(Eight hundred thousand) people and achieved the notorious tag of genocide.  Sierra Leone’s civil war lasted for 11 years (1991-2002), and left over an estimated 70, 000 people dead.

The Rwandan war was largely tribal in make up; while many saw the war in Sierra Leone as a “resource curse” and a revolt against a long-standing dictatorship. Some elements tried to lace the war in Sierra Leone with tribal sentiments but failed. The UN declared Rwanda a “never again” lesson, while Sierra Leone settled for the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC).

That is where the similarities fade out. Among its numerous mandates, the TRC in Sierra Leone was tasked with the root cause analysis, outcomes and more importantly, lessons on how to prevent a repeat occurrence; our own version of “never again”. Millions of dollars rained into Sierra Leone, to rebuild the infrastructure, provide support systems and promote the rule of law and democracy.

Words and phrases like capacity-building, stakeholders; NGOs, etc. became part of the local parlance in both community and government circles. Sierra Leone, like many other countries including Cambodia, Vietnam, Liberia, etc., was expected to be a phoenix, to rise from its ashes, just like Rwanda.

Has Sierra Leone recovered from its ashes?

There is no doubt that Rwanda has successfully recovered from its ashes. Here is a cursory report card for your reading pleasure. The average life expectancy in Sierra Leone is 60 years and 65 in Rwanda. GDP per capita is $1,600 vs $2,100, 70% vs 39.1%  living below the poverty line, 43% vs 73.2 % literate, 20% vs 43% with access to electricity in Sierra Leone and Rwanda respectively. The list goes on and it is disheartening.

It is obvious that despite the common denominator of war between these two nations, one of them has moved on, and it is not Sierra Leone. Rwanda has moved so fast, that Britain ironically likens it to Europe for refugees and asylum seekers.

Nevertheless, to summarily condemn Sierra Leone as stagnated will be dishonest. There have been some visible strides made in certain areas including education, road construction, electricity and agriculture, etc. Some of these development projects might be in their embryonic stages for now, and only time will tell. It is a start.

However, have we learnt our lessons from the civil war? Is our country at risk of making the same mistakes that led to the civil war? Are we witnessing another breakdown of law and order? As a nation, what is our relationship with the rule of law and democracy as political concepts? Have we weaned ourselves from the barbarity of the civil war, or are we experiencing withdrawal symptoms from it? Is there a risk that our nation is slowing exhibiting our craving and penchant to attract chaos?

If truth were told, our country has enjoyed a relatively peaceful period since the end of the war. Our democracy remains embryonic, constantly tested and desperately pulled at the seams by old habits. Despite the constraints, recent SLPP and APC governments under late President Kabba and Ernest Koroma have presided over “relatively peaceful” elections. Those familiar with the reign of the late Pa Sheki would testify that our democratic atmosphere have in comparison, been freer, fairer and more peaceful. Nevertheless, if recent events are anything to go by, we cannot deny that our country is now at risk of erasing all those positive strides we have made as a nation.

Our nation’s political bloodstream is afflicted by a new political phenomenon called “negative partisanship”; the tendency to support a political party or candidate primarily based on one’s dislike for the opposition. That is our new political disease.

It would be dishonest to assume that this negative partisanship is a recent outbreak, but there is no question that it is slowly becoming an endemic, if not a pandemic. Our country and communities are slowly being defined along tribal and regional lines.

I once saw someone shamelessly describing himself as an “SLPP Imam” on social media. I can hear you say, “There are APC Imams as well”. Let us hope that their political credentials will stand them in good stead when they meet their maker.

Our country’s political canvass has largely always been a North and South affair, with the East and West periodically oscillating between the two polarised Regions. It has always been an affair between Santigie and Vandi. The divisions have been subtle and insidiously demonstrated over the years. However, since President Bio took over in 2018, these divisions have taken a more dramatic, visible and more sinister potential for our country.

Who is to blame for the divisions in our country today?

When President Bio took over in 2018, he initiated the Commission of Inquiry (COI). His administration charged the outgoing APC with corruption and that the coffers he inherited were empty. Like any political leader, the Ernest Bai Koroma’s (EBK) administration was loaded with party leaning and card-carrying loyalists.

If politics had any logic, it was therefore logically plausible that the target of the COI would largely be members of the outgoing APC administration. The APC saw this as a witch-hunt and a politics of revenge. APC declared a policy of non-participation and non-cooperation with the COI. SLPP described this as the APC’s agenda to make the country ungovernable under President Bio.

When President Bio launched the mid-term census recently, not only did APC members refuse to participate, but also rallied their supporters not to do so. But did EBK not conduct a mid-term census in 2015? Did the SLPP boycott or told their members to boycott? Nations conduct censuses to provide information for governments to develop policies, allocate funding to plan and run services. However, it looks like Sierra Leone is one of the few countries that conduct censuses primarily for political advantage: delimitation of boundaries. In simple English, that means giving the ruling party a numerical voting edge.

Interestingly, and after canvassing its members not to participate in the census, the APC has just rediscovered its knack for statistics, calling the provisional results of the census a fraud and misrepresentation. So, when the APC gave up the right to be counted, did they forfeit the right to comment on the result?

Recent events in the country have put our law enforcement agencies, and especially our police; a “force for good”, left, right and centre of all political controversies. We have seen opposition members, journalists, teachers, “celebrities” and even “madmen” invited to CID headquarters and Pademba Road.

We have also seen political campaigns by the opposition party halted for “safety” and “security” reasons.  Party political campaign days were scheduled and relatively carnival in atmosphere. If we cannot campaign peacefully, can we vote peacefully?

As the APC and SLPP continue to blame each other, what is the price at stake? In addition to the negative antagonism, we have now added the politics of revenge to the menu. The APC and SLPP have been the only participants in our political musical chairs.  If these parties should continue with the toxicity of negative partisanship and revenge politics, who stands to lose out here? If the SLPP should win the next election, does this mean that our country will continue to be polarised further? Is the APC waiting in the wings to wreak revenge in “turn det” politics?

In a press release dated 7th march, 2019, the APC catalogued a list of grievances against the SLPP, ranging from the imposition of the Speaker of Parliament, setting up the COI, the appointment of the NEC Commissioner (South), killings at Mile 91, Tonko Limba etc. You can bet your bottom dollar that the SLPP also has a report card on the APC.

So, have we learn anything from the civil war?

The war in Rwanda may have been tribal in DNA, but divisive nonetheless. The SLPP’s mantra is, “One Country, One people”.  But are we “one country, one people” today? The APC is an acronym for All People’s Congress. Is it a congress for or of all peoples? It is sad that the founding convictions of these parties have become quite narrow in comparison. As a nation, did we learn anything from our decade long war?

We only hope that our politicians would remember that we are of one land and one national family. We hope they remember that we voted for them to serve the people, not a party or ideology. With their political differences, the least we expect from them are healthy debates.

Interestingly, did you notice that in spite of their negative partisanship, their revenge politics, their perceived hatred for one another, they all agreed on one thing. THE WELFARE BILL = SALARY INCREASE and other benefits for MPs. Now you know that our politicians belong to a society for self-preservation. Sadly, the ordinary voter is ready to fight, stab, or even kill his neighbour, because he belongs to the party opposite.

Before you fight, insult vote or quarrel for your political party, remember that the cost of fuel, rice, school fees etc. are neither APC nor SLPP. All Salone life matter, when it comes to how our country is faring.

What madness! When will the people learn?


  1. I personally believe that the main reason why our country experienced civil war was because of the late President Stevens decision to introduce political killings in our country. He created the monster Foday Sankoh , who was used by former President Charles Taylor, who promised late President Saidu Momoh that we will taste the bitterness of war for allowing our country to be used as a base by ECOMOG to destabilize his country. Thankfully, the international community took the right action based on the fact that Foday Sankoh died in jail and former President Charles Taylor will spend the rest of his life behind bars.
    Despite all the noises from the alarmists, who promised to “ make our country ungovernable” and “ Cause all types of problems” if they lose an election. Fortunately, most Sierra Leoneans and the international are optimistic about our country despite our challenges, and we are rated as on of the most peaceful country in Africa.
    In 2023 elections, our resilient citizens will once again prove the alarmist and pessimists wrong, based on the fact that tribalism will never have no place in our political dispensation which is the recipe for Genocide.
    Finally, the Freedom and democracy our country has enjoyed since late Foday Sankoh and former President Charles Taylor have been punished cannot be compared to Rwanda. “Life without liberty and freedom is like a body without spirit” and “Patriotism is a conviction that your country is the best in the world because you were born in it”.

  2. Totally in agreement with what my fellow Sierra Leoneans said about Mr Mansaray , and how he presented his well researched piece on this respectable on line newspaper, The Sierra Leone Telegraph.If you are a Sierra leonean or a foreign observer interested in the past , the present and the future of our country ,with out any spin this is your home. Here on this noble forum ,facts matters and we don’t take any prisoners..And it matters because we Sierra Leoneans growing up in the 70s and 80s have never experienced this phenomenon of speaking truth to authorities with out risking life or limb. Just like Bio’s one directionless government ,the closest newspaper that came to report on the mismanagement of our country’s resources , abuse of state power and suppression of free press, and individual rights under the APC one party state Stevens government was the “TABLET NEWSPAPER” back in the 80s .The reason why The Sierra Leone Telegraph under the Editorial Board of Directors, has continued to attract large readership and the attention of Sierra leoneans that wants good things to happen to their country both home and abroad is because over time we Sierra Leoeans that were searching for the truth the whole truth, but nothing but the truth ,and most importantly can express our true feelings about real issues that are happening in our country with out government censorship, is a breath of fresh air. An oasis of facts that were lacking in the Sierra leoenan media landscape where Sierra Leoeans can come and recharge their mental batteries surrounded by a dessert of misinformation and governments machine propaganda. “WE YOUNE”.

    The story of Rwanda ,soon to host the Commonwealth heads of states and governments ,and Sierra leone a country that is still struggling to finds it’s feet on the international arena, shares one thing in common, the history of the civil wars that were raging in both countries in 90s in which countless number of their fellow countrymen and women including children and the unborn were murdered in cold blood in the most appalling and evil circumstances man is capable of inflicting against each other..One was called the genocide a stain on the conscience of the world .And the other was Blood diamonds..Or the cheapest way to compare it was the MAD MAX MOVIE .Where the poor rise up against the rich ..Until Foday Sankoh and his band of desperate men and rebels with out a cause turned their guns on the very people they claimed to liberate from corruption and hunger . .Power corrupt power corrupts absolutely.That is where the comparison ends .Whislt the political leadership in Rwanda under their current President Paul Kegema from the minority Tutusie tribe, not everyone’s cup of tea have managed to govern his country over the majority Hutu tribes, and smaller tribes and brought his people together and made clear never again should corrupt politicians used the ethnic card to divide communities and make them turned on each other , which is reflected on Rwanda’s international acclamation including the United Nations and international financial institutions including the Paris club of five and transparency international on good governancee , and other initiatives like his anti corruption crusader stan , which by the way is zero tolerance , and most importantly strategic investment on people , women and girls education and the Rwandan Parliament one of only few in the world that can boast of having 50% women representations speaks volumes about Rwanda and their government , as their country strides to the 21st century information age technology.Unfortunately that can’t be said about our country.

    First we need to acknowledge the RUF civil war and to greater extent it’s impact on our lives and our countrry’s national development agenda. We were already a developing country before the war and after that senseless and heinous war by Foday Sankoh and his henchmen , it sets our country ‘s development clock back by decades .Governments should study the causes of the civil war , and tailor all their policies towards avoiding the mistakes namely the huge disparity between the haves and have nots. At moment some of the same policies that brought us the civil war has been repeated again .When are we going to learn from our past mistakes ?

  3. This is one of the most viable respectable platform I’ve ever joined to be educate from others, and to understand, what I never get from my previous class room. I thanked to everyone who contributed fairly in this noble forum. Sometimes I urged, we learn how to respect our educators and we gat to understand not only the Sierra Leoneans reading the articles in this “Sierra Leone telegraph” but most foreigners from all diversities do. Most of our brothers and sisters when they post comments, you don’t need to use dictionary finding words to understand, I personally honored all of you.
    Let me say this to Sierra Leoneans home and abroad, do I am asking you in the name of God, do not pray or trying to trigger for another war in this country, don’t even joke with it. The man in power today, your Pres. H.E. RET. BRG. DR. J.M.Bio, knows the consequence of war, brothers; it is totally ugly to see.
    Mr. Abdulai Mansaray brought a very compelling memory to us, it gives more knowledge to unborn.
    What he said was right folks, let’s have a look at some of the neighboring countries that being in hardship before Guinea Conakry is an example. I myself do really admired” Rwanda” H.E. Paul Kagame, the President of the Republic of Rwanda, may he lives for longer than expected indeed he’s a real leader. He promised his people with true heart and love for his country, and he delivered. After the civil war in our country, the late Pres. H.E. Alhaji Ahmed Tejan Kaba, negotiated and brought peace. We don’t need to criticize, attack someone when the truth comes from that persons.

  4. Bob, Kotor Abdulai wrote with tremendous honesty. He had to work the tight rope to give his views a balancing report. In a nutshell., he did his best as he has always done. Indeed, like the APC Ekutay sebenten Bambay-led fraternity, where even the original APC were discriminated against, the PAOPA group led by our current leader is the SLPP Ekutay. I’m mende from the Southeast, and I’ve lost any hope I have had for our country. The Bio I knew then is a completely different man, completely lost in the awful noise of his paopa sustainable. Tribalism is now at its zenith; unless a miracle happens, the next general elections are set for disaster. The toxic level of intolerance with the paopa block of the SLPP is dangerous. I mean, even the diehard SLPP members are not only ostracized but marginalized and maligned for not towing the paopa line. Paopa’s quest for power has far exceeded any other regime since the 1960s, probably competing with the late pa Sheki’s Pas-ah- die slogan.

  5. Abdulai Mansaray, i enjoy reading your brilliant pieces but one thing i am not impressed with is your knack of trying to walk very tight ropes in your commentaries. You know more than most readers here the enabling conditions and environment under another former soldier Big-waist Joseph Saidu Momoh that triggered the troubles of the early 90s are slowly but surely re-emerging. I am sure you remember the tribalism symbolised by the Ekutay tag, you breathed that awful teargas at Mount Aureol, you witnessed the Bambay Kamara-led police brutality against students and the general population, you experienced the exorbitant cost of living (remember Lobba at Third World eh?, you followed the stories of the rampant corruption and the list goes on and on. Go on and tell me there are no parallels to be drawn here. If anything, the demographic faultines have never been so gaping with even the konos in the East and the Susus in the North having their own political parties. The cost of living crisis has never been so stark. Don’t mention global please as a lame excuse,

    I just believe our country is heading in the wrong direction and the signals of another conflagration in the offing could easily be processed. Have a think and compare the security situation in West Africa now and the prevailing conditions during the genesis or seminal moment of the RUF/NPFL in the late 80s. The sub-continent is awash with arms and disgruntled combatants from the Sahel to the Cameroons. It will take little effort to find comrades- in-arms to lure in a joint enterprise to cause havoc in any West African country – most with porous borders and all but defenceless. A recent story of a cocaine-haul in a Sierra Leone-registered vehicle in one of the trouble spots in West Africa is more than a fading story to me.

    It is imperative that we keep the peace as a prerequisite for national development. With the APC and SLPP – one of the oldest political parties in Africa – still around, calling the shots and up to no good, such a wish is a pipe dream – a mirage if you like. The violence will not stop any time soon. Our perrenial position in the last ten of the least developed countries in the world will be constant as the northern star contrary to all the bogus slogans, political rhetoric and propaganda spouted by the two parties for their sheep to follow in a herd mentality and their sea-gulls to feast on hook, line and sinker.

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