Noellie Marionette-Chambertin: Sierra Leone Telegraph: 9 October 2021:
Ambassador Omrie Golley needed all his skills as a British trained Barrister and a committed peace activist, to navigate the heady waters of the renewed peace process that followed the dark days of January 1999, right up until the signing of the Lome Peace Accord in July 1999.
He had accepted the request to act as a legal adviser and spokesman of the RUF, knowing fully well that the Movement had a particularly brutal and negative reputation in the eyes of his fellow countrymen, and the world at large. He had to get to know the military commanders and civilians of the RUF organization, all with their own different personalities, phobias, and idiosyncracies, which did not always complement each other.
He also needed to gain the trust of the RUF Organisation, as well as to steer the sometimes very difficult position, of articulating their position, and advising them of, and on, the wider picture of Sierra Leone at peace, which was his crystal clear and unequivocal objective. Within the RUF itself, there were those who eyed Ambassador Golley with suspicion, and who did not readily welcome a stranger or outsider within their midst, and those who were very appreciative of having someone of note, who would propagate their position, and also assist them hatch a Peace Agreement for the benefit of all.
Within the wider International Community in the sub-region and the World at large, many saw in Ambassador Golley, someone who could act as an acceptable interlocutor of an organization that they needed to deal with, if there was to be any chance of peace at all.
Preparations for the Lome Peace talks were detailed, difficult, and time consuming. Ambassador Golley was tasked, first and foremost, with soliciting and acquiring the support of the main international players of the peace process, including the United Nations (UN), the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), the Mano River Union (MRU), together with the Governments of the United States, the United Kingdom, and Heads of State, including the Presidents of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Togo, Liberia, Ivory Coast, Ghana, and Mali.
Ambassador Golley undertook travelling engagements to most of those countries, to confer with their leaders, from the standpoint of representing the RUF, and to underscore their commitment to the peace process.
In these tasks, Ambassador Golley was supported by the invaluable efforts of International Alert, the renowned peace building and conflict resolution institution, through one of their main executives, Dr Addai Sebo, a Ghanaian Pan Africanist, who had been instrumental in securing the whereabouts of the RUF at the earlier stages of the conflict, and had infact facilitated the initial contacts between Ambassador Golley, and his earlier organization, the National Convention for Reconstruction and Development (NCRD) with the RUF body.
Ambassador Golley was also supported in these efforts by the United Nations through their Special Representative of the Secretary-General, Ambassador Francis Okelo. Ambassador Golley met with Okelo on the 22nd February 1999, in Abidjan Ivory Coast. This initial meeting between Okelo and Ambassador Golley was instrumental, in that it signaled the very first occasion that the United Nations, as the world community of nations, had engaged the RUF as an organization, in the search for a peaceful resolution of the conflict.
Meanwhile, Ambassador Golley also met with the Special Envoy of the Commonwealth Secretary General, Dr Moses Anafu, in Abidjan, during this period.
During subsequent trips to the sub region in March 1999, the RUF Legal Representative and Spokesman engaged sub-regional leaders in advocating a rapid commencement of peace talks between the Government of Sierra Leone and the RUF.
However, before peace talks could commence, three issues had to be properly looked into an addressed. This included actioning the release of the RUF Leader, Corporal Foday Sankoh, who had been lingering in detention in Freetown on treason charges, to lead his movement in any subsequent peace conference, also to agree upon a location for the commencement of peace talks, and finally to assist the RUF, with deciding upon the composition of their delegates, that would participate in these envisaged peace talks.
The continued detention of the RUF Leader Corporal Foday Sankoh in Freetown proved one of the thornier issues relating to the convening or commencement of any peace talks with the Government of Ahmad Tejan Kabbah, in early 1999. Initially the Government of Kabbah preferred to hold Sankoh in Freetown and peace talks continuing between the Government and the RUF without the RUF Leader. It became subsequently clear to the Kabbah Government, that this idea was untenable.
Indeed, Ambassador Golley, representing the RUF then, as their Legal Representative and Spokesperson publicly admonished the Kabbah Government to free Foday Sankoh so that he could, as a free person attend the consultation meeting with his commanders and representatives, in advance of proposed peace talks. The stance of the Kabbah Government subsequently changed, to allowing Sankoh to meet his Movement only on the proviso, or condition, that he returned to Freetown after this consultation, to continue with his appeal against the treason and related charges meted out against him, which had kept him in prison in Freetown. The position of the Kabbah Government regarding the return of Sankoh to prison only changed after the signing of the Lome Peace Accord in July 1999.
There were also difficulties, in agreeing upon a suitable location for the consultation process between the RUF Movement in advance of the proposed peace talks between the RUF and the Government of Sierra Leone. Kabbah had proposed that the consultation process and subsequent peace talks, be held in a British naval war ship, the HMS Norfolk, which had been visiting Sierra Leone undertaking military exercises during this period.
The RUF leadership swiftly rejected this proposal, proposing in return, that the talks be held in Libya, Liberia, Burkina Faso or Togo. Togo was subsequently agreed upon by both sides to the upcoming RUF consultation process and peace talks as the preferred location.
In February 1999, Ambassador Golley was requested by the RUF leadership to proceed to Buedu in Eastern Sierra Leone to meet with the entire RUF body for the very first time, for the main purpose of assisting in putting together the Delegation that was to travel out of Sierra Leone to Togo, to attend the RUF consultation process, with Corporal Foday Sankoh, and thereafter the substantive peace talks.
Meeting the RUF leadership as a body and inside Sierra Leone, for the very first time, filled Ambassador Golley with trepidation and hope. He believed that his personal quest to bring peace to his motherland, was entering a decisive phase. He felt that this desire for peace and his recognition by both the RUF, the local population and the international community as a worthy interlocutor for the attainment of what he hoped would, on this occasion, be a lasting and sustainable peace, was very real and that his role was critical.
The trip to Buedu to meet with the RUF body in early March 1999, for the very first time, was preceded by a visit to Liberia to meet with erstwhile President Charles Taylor, to brief him, and to seek his approval and support for the peace process emerging, as Golley had done with other sub regional leaders at the time.
Meeting with Charles Taylor was also important, because travelling through Liberia into Sierra Leone, offered Ambassador Golley a safer and secure route to meet with the RUF body in Buedu a small town in eastern Sierra Leone, on the Liberia-Sierra Leone border.
Furthermore, Ambassador Golley found Charles Taylor supportive of the ongoing peace process generally, and he Taylor, also provided Golley with adequate security, as well as encourage officials from the United Nations, stationed in Liberia, together with officials of the United States Government and ECOWAS, who accompanied Golley to the Liberia-Sierra Leone border for his meeting with the RUF. On the 11th of March 1999, Taylor was later to provide Ambassador Golley with an aircraft, to convey him to Lome, to engage with Togo’s former President Eyadema in advance of the RUF consultation talks.
The meeting between Ambassador Golley and the RUF body of officials, which was the very first time that Ambassador Golley met Sam Bockarie alias Mosquito, in person, was short, but very successful in achieving the purpose for which it had been arranged. The delegates chosen to represent the RUF were agreed upon swiftly, and he left for Monrovia at the conclusion of that meeting to continue with preparations for Lome.
The Trials and Tribulations of Lome – The Role of Ambassador Omrie Golley in the Lome Peace Talks
The countdown to the commencement of the Lome Peace Talks started in mid-March 1999 with the arrival in Lome, capital city of the Republic of Togo of the initial RUF Delegation comprising Ambassador Omrie Golley and erstwhile senior military adviser of the RUF, Ibrahim Balde.
Ambassador Golley had been introduced to Balde in Monrovia, Liberia, in early March 1999. Balde accompanied Golley to the RUF meeting in Buedu, eastern Sierra Leone, referred to in the last episode. Balde had assisted in advancing the peace process emerging during this period, and had accompanied Golley during his meetings with sub regional leaders, prior to their arrival in Lome Togo, for the intra RUF consultations, and later the substantive Lome Peace Talks.
Ambassador Golley remembers his interaction with Balde during this time: ‘Balde was soft spoken, a gentleman with an almost encyclopedic knowledge of most of the leaders of the sub-region at that time, most of whom also knew him personally. He looked forward to seeing Sierra Leone free from conflict’.
Upon arrival in Lome, Ambassador Golley proceeded to a meeting with former President of Togo, the Late Gnassingbe Eyadema, who had agreed to mediate and host peace talks between the Government of Sierra Leone and the RUF.
Following this meeting, Ambassador Golley proceeded to Burkina Faso with Balde, where he briefed erstwhile President Blaise Campaore on the arrangements being concluded for discussions in Lome between RUF officials, as well as on the pending peace talks between the Government of Sierra Leone and the RUF.
Ambassador Golley also undertook visits to Ghana and Ivory Coast, returning to Lome on the 17th April 1999, on the eve of the arrival of the RUF Leader, Corporal Foday Sankoh.
On the 18th of April 1999, Foday Sankoh arrived in Lome, for the commencement of discussions with his commanders, as well as to lead the RUF delegation into peace talks.
For Ambassador Golley, who had not seen the RUF Leader since their initial meeting in Yamoussoukro, Republic of Ivory Coast three years earlier in 1996, this was a defining moment in the quest for a process that he fervently hoped, would lead to a lasting peace in his motherland.
Ambassador Golley was, however, under no illusion, that whilst the release of Sankoh offered a great opportunity for peace to return, the impending discussions and meetings ahead between the Tejan Kabbah Government and the RUF, would be difficult for both sides in the coming weeks.
Ambassador Golley’s initial meeting with Sankoh on his arrival in Lome was pleasant enough. Sankoh thanked Golley for all he had done to advocate for his release to attend the talks, and went on to inform of his time in detention in both Nigeria and Sierra Leone. Sankoh also spoke of conversations that he had had with President Tejan Kabbah, and indicated that if Kabbah was serious for peace, then it could be attainable.
For Ambassador Golley however, that encounter left him slightly troubled.
Ambassador Golley states: “Whilst it was pleasing to see Sankoh in person and seemingly in good health, I couldn’t but notice a change in his overall behaviour, since our last meeting in the Republic of Ivory Coast. I found Sankoh more aggressive generally, convinced of his own divine destiny, scathing of individuals within the Government, and more surprisingly, of military commanders and officials from his own Movement, that he had not even seen in recent times.”
Sankoh also appeared concerned about his own place within the movement he created, wondering whether his senior commanders would still accept his authority and command.
This general attitude and behaviour of Foday Sankoh created a pervasive atmosphere for the entire duration of the peace talks.
Meanwhile the delegation of RUF officials chosen for the intra RUF discussions arrived in Lome and the meetings began. In addition the final delegation to lead the RUF into talks with the Government was chosen, and on the 26th May 1999, the Lome Peace Talks commenced with much fanfare, after the arrival of the delegation representing the Government of Sierra Leone, and headed by their erstwhile Attorney-General and Minister of Justice, Solomon Berewa.
The Lome Peace Talks began with cordiality and informality emanating from both sides, but soon became bogged down on the issue of the legal position of the RUF Leader Foday Sankoh, given that Sankoh was still facing treason charges in Freetown, with the Government of Tejan Kabbah insisting that Sankoh continue with legal proceedings upon the conclusion of the peace talks that were already underway.
For Ambassador Golley, the position of the Government of Sierra Leone on this particular issue was untenable. He believed that it was particularly important, not only for the success of the peace talks, but also for prospect of lasting peace, that the RUF leader was free to lead his Movement into deliberations with the Government at that time.
As Golley stated in a BBC ‘Focus on Africa’ interview on the 27th May 1999: ‘You cannot expect the man (Sankoh) to negotiate with his jailers while he is shackled and chained.’
This thorny issue of the legal position of the RUF Leader nearly led to the complete breakdown of the talks. Additionally senior commanders of the RUF remaining in Sierra Leone while talks were being held, were threatening to commence military offensives generally, and not complying with any directives from their Leader regarding cessation of hostilities.
This matter was resolved, with a subsequent statement by the Government Delegation, in a briefing paper they subsequently prepared and released, intimating that President Kabbah was prepared to release Sankoh as the price for lasting peace in Sierra Leone.
The second thorny issue which both sides to the talks had to deal with, revolved around the inclusion of the RUF into the political and social landscape in Sierra Leone generally, with the transformation of the RUF into a political party, and more particularly, regarding the inclusion of RUF members into a future Government after the peace talks had concluded.
Ambassador Golley remained very closely involved with the direction and progress of the Lome talks during this period. The Leader of the Movement, Foday Sankoh, had decided against leading the RUF into peace negotiations, with the Chairman of the War Council of the RUF, the late SYB Rogers, leading the delegation at the talks.
As Legal Representative and Spokesman however, Ambassador Golley, as a member of the negotiating team, had to face the brunt of conveying the position of the RUF to the international media when necessary, but more importantly, was expected to advise on aspects of law and international practice when called upon. Golley also had to interact on a daily basis with RUF Leader Foday Sankoh, who was feared by his own commanders and his entourage, with a mercurial psychotic temperament. This made the whole peace process even more difficult, and at times debilitating.
Ambassador Golley found the whole experience at Lome at times overwhelming. He remembers the experience: ‘Both delegations were lodged by the Togolese authorities, in the same hotel in Lome, the Deux Fevrier, within close proximity to each other. In addition to both delegations, the hotel also housed during this period, delegations from the United Nations, ECOWAS, the OAU, together with Government delegations from the US, UK, Libya, and other countries. My room was allocated just next door to the Suite of the RUF Leader, which did not help my desire for privacy on occasion. There were a constant stream of people clamoring to see Sankoh, many of whom would come round to my room to engage me initially. At times I was even used as a barometer, by people enquiring about the mood of Sankoh, prior to seeing him’.
Ambassador Golley also remembers his interactions with Sankoh: ‘Foday Sankoh was a complicated man with a multiplicity of emotions. Privately he was deeply insecure, with an overwhelming distrust of people around him. He eschewed intellectuals and educated people, but at the same recognized the importance of their role within the Movement. Sankoh had decided earlier on in the process, not to be directly involved with the peace meetings. That did not however stop him from convening meetings with the RUF delegates every evening whilst talks progressed, to enquire into every facet of the discussions previously held, and also directing the delegates as to negotiating positions to be used, the next day. ‘
Ambassador Golley also remembers the relationship between Sankoh and the Government of Sierra Leone during this period in Lome: ‘Foday Sankoh spoke to Tejan Kabbah directly on the phone on many occasions for the duration of our sojourn in Lome. His relationship with members of the Government of Sierra Leone Delegation also appeared quite cordial. ‘
Meanwhile at the Peace Talks proper, negotiations were difficult, often tortuous, at times hostile, and difficult for both sides. The issue of the inclusion of the RUF into governance was, understandably, a very difficult and protracted issue for the Kabbah Government to accept and agree to.
Although this matter had been aired in briefing and position papers by both sides to the talks prior to the Lome meeting, in reality, it was very difficult to accept on the peace table.
The issue of an Amnesty for those directly involved in the war was another difficult issue, and the difficulties encountered in discussing and reaching an agreement on this matter, can be seen with the subsequent amendments at the conclusion of the peace talks, of the earlier provisions agreed upon, and the subsequent clarifications on the position of the United Nations, regarding the Amnesty provisions, during the signing of the Accord proper in July 1999.
For Ambassador Omrie Golley however, the convening of the Lome talks, offered his country a real opportunity for a cessation of hostilities and the chance of lasting peace. He fervently believed that whatever the outcome of the Lome talks, that excellent opportunities existed for a genuine and lasting peace. To that extent, as the talks progressed Golley started thinking of his own exit from the peace talks.
He decided to do this in stages. The first step was occasioned by him departing from the Hotel Deux Fevrier, where the RUF and Sierra Leone delegations were being housed, and moving to another hotel, a few kilometres away. He also arranged for members of his family to join him there.
This development irked the RUF Leader, who wanted Ambassador Golley to remain at the hotel, where the rest of his delegations were residing. Golley however wanted more privacy, and in any event, felt that the time was fast approaching, for a quiet exit from the peace talks that he had worked hard to convene.
The second issue, related to the question of his name being included in the list of officials from the RUF, who were to join the Government of Tejan Kabbah, after the signing of the Lome Peace Accord, as part of its provisions. In fact Ambassador Golley was informed by the RUF Leader that he (Sankoh) wanted Golley to be included in the RUF list of proposed Cabinet to be submitted. This happened on two occasions.
However, for Golley, joining the Tejan Kabbah Government as an RUF Cabinet Minister, was not something he was prepared to accept or join. For him, the most important prize was a lasting and sustainable peace in his motherland, after Lome.
After weeks of deliberations, a Peace Accord was agreed upon and signed in July 1999.
Ambassador Golley however, one of the driving forces behind the convening of the meeting at Lome, and one of the main architects of the peace process generally, did not attend the signing ceremony. For him, his mission, up to this point in time, had been accomplished.
Ambassador Golley left Lome quietly a fortnight before the signing ceremony, and proceeded to Europe, again to his law practice and his family.
In the penultimate chapter of the series of articles about the Omry Golley story, we will discuss: The aftermath of Lome – the role of Ambassador Omrie Golley in the peace process.