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
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
News
Sarah Silverman (middle) with sister Reform Rabbi Susan Silverman (right) and sister actress Laura Silverman (left) at Jerusalem's Western Wall for feminist Hanuka candle-lighting ceremony
peopleControversial comedian stages pro-equality Hanukkah lighting during a protest at Jerusalem's Wailing Wall
Sport
After another poor series in Sri Lanka, Alastair Cook claimed all players go through a lean period
cricket
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
The Bach Choir has been crowned the inaugural winner of Sky Arts’ show The Great Culture Quiz
arts + ents140-year-old choir declared winner of Sky Arts' 'The Great Culture Quiz'
Life and Style
food + drink
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

Recruitment Genius: Finance Director

£65000 - £80000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Finance Director required to jo...

Recruitment Genius: Medico-Legal Assistant

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a unique opportunity fo...

Ashdown Group: (PHP / Python) - Global Media firm

£50000 per annum + 26 days holiday,pension: Ashdown Group: A highly successful...

The Jenrick Group: Quality Inspector

£27000 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: A Quality Technician...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

The Interview movie review

You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

How podcasts became mainstream

People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

A memorable year for science – if not for mice

The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

Christmas cocktails to make you merry

Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
5 best activity trackers

Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

Paul Scholes column

It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas