Hopes of renaissance fade as flirtation with democracy ends in tears

For a while, it had seemed that good news was a possibility for Sierra Leone. In February last year, elections took place successfully, despite a continuing civil war. A democratic parliament was elected, led by President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah's People's Party. The military regime, headed until shortly before the elections by Captain Valentine Strasser (now, controversially, a student at Warwick University) bowed out. The army-backed party was roundly defeated.

Nine months later, a five-year civil war formally ended with a peace agreement which wassigned in Abidjan, in neighbouring Cote d'Ivoire. Full demobilisation was agreed bet- ween the new government and Foday Sankoh's Revolutionary United Front. The RUF had suffered partly at the hands of the South Africa-based Executive Outcomes, a private security force - in effect, mercenaries - who were brought in to help crush the rebels. Under the terms of the agreement, organisations like Executive Outcomes were banned: "Foreign troops, private armies, mercenaries and irregular troops" were to withdraw, as a concession to the rebels.

It quickly became clear, however, that the promised peace was a little more than a will o'the wisp. Mr Sankoh's rebels were unwilling to disarm. Mr Sankoh seemed ready to stoke the offensive once more, and complained there was "no trust and confidence" between the two sides. There were international pledges of aid, but these were dependent on peace becoming real - in other words, unlikely.

Last week's coup brought gunfire to the streets of the capital, Freetown, and plunged the country back into chaos. A little-known army major, Johnny Paul Koromah, was sprung from jail in an armed assault on Freetown's central prison, and was proclaimed the new leader. President Ahmed Kabbah was forced to flee to neighbouring Guinea. Nigerian troops, part of the West African regional peacekeeping force, gained themselves much-needed international brownie points by seeking to crush the coup.

Yesterday, clashes were continuing between supporters of the coup and the Kamajor militia loyal to President Kabbah. But the dramas of the last week make it even more difficult to imagine a return to normality in the foreseeable future than it was before the latest violence.

The former British colony was given a version of its present name by Pedro de Cintra, the Portuguese explorer who first visited Freetown harbour in the 15th century. The Serra Lyoa, or Lion Mountains, referred to the hills around the harbour. Both in colonial times and today, diamonds have been one of the country's most important exports. Control of diamond-mining has frequently been fought over. There was even speculation that Executive Outcomes was partly paid with access to valuable diamond concessions. The country's rich mineral resources should be a valuable asset. In practice, they have sometimes merely seemed a reason for war.

President Nelson Mandela spoke recently of an African "renaissance" just around the corner. The events in Sierra Leone in recent days have served as a reminder that there are strong-er reasons for pessimism than for optimism in some parts of the continent.

Africa: The bloodbaths and the opportunities, page 19

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Day In a Page

Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine
Letterman's final Late Show: Laughter, but no tears, as David takes his bow after 33 years

Laughter, but no tears, as Letterman takes his bow after 33 years

Veteran talkshow host steps down to plaudits from four presidents
Ivor Novello Awards 2015: Hozier wins with anti-Catholic song 'Take Me To Church' as John Whittingdale leads praise for Black Sabbath

Hozier's 'blasphemous' song takes Novello award

Singer joins Ed Sheeran and Clean Bandit in celebration of the best in British and Irish music
Tequila gold rush: The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product

Join the tequila gold rush

The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product
12 best statement wallpapers

12 best statement wallpapers

Make an impact and transform a room with a conversation-starting pattern
Paul Scholes column: Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?

Paul Scholes column

Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?