KAPS Forum: Lessons learnt from two former Presidents in Liberia, Sierra Leone

BY: Vincent Amenuveve

For the first time in my journalism career I had the rare opportunity of listening to arguably two of some of finest former Presidents on the African Continent narrating their experiences of how they managed to turn what seemed like a helpless situation in their respective countries to restore hope.

This was at the two-day Kofi Annan Peace and Security (KAPS) Forum that ended on Thursday, December 9, 2021 at the Kofi Annan International Peacekeeping Training Centre (KAIPTC) in Accra.

The former Presidents, Ernest Bai Koroma and Miss Ellen Sirleaf Johnson of Sierra Leone and Liberia, respectively, both took their audiences through very painful and challenging situations they both faced during their tenure between the periods 2006 and 2018.

Koroma, born on October 2, 1953, is a Sierra Leonean politician who served as the fourth President of Sierra Leone from September 17, 2007 to April 4, 2018.
Sirleaf, on the other hand, was born Ellen Eugenia Johnson, on October 29, 1938.

She is a Liberian politician who served as the 24th President of Liberia from 2006 to 2018.

Sirleaf was the first elected female Head of State in Africa.

Sharing their respective experiences at one of the plenary sessions on the topic: Democratic consolidation: War-to-Peace and Democratic Transitions in West Africa, these two former Presidents had some similarities in the respective difficulties they encountered during their tenure.

However, what perhaps kept them forging ahead despite the discouraging circumstances around them was their purposefulness, tenacity, resilience and the determination to change the narrative for both countries and for that matter the African continent.

Civil wars

Both countries experienced civil wars. While Sierra Leone had theirs for 11 years, Liberia went through 14 years of a similar situation.

The Sierra Leone Civil War was an armed conflict that occurred from 1991 to 2002.

The war began on March 23, 1991, when the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) under Foday Sankoh, with support from Liberian rebel leader Charles Taylor and his group, the National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL), attempted to overthrow the government of Sierra Leonean President Joseph Momoh.

The Sierra Leone Civil War was one of the bloodiest in Africa, resulting in more than 50,000 people dead and half a million displaced in a nation of four million people.

The conflict was particularly violent and long because both the RUF and the Sierra Leone government were funded by “blood diamonds” mined with slave labour.

Liberia, on the other hand, had its first Civil War, an internal conflict, occurring from 1989 until 1997.

The conflict killed about 200,000 people and eventually led to the involvement of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and the United Nations. The peace did not last long, and in 1999 the second Liberian Civil War broke out.

The second Liberian Civil War began in 1999 and ended in October 2003, when ECOWAS intervened to stop the rebel siege on Monrovia and exiled Charles Taylor to Nigeria until he was arrested in 2006 and taken to The Hague for his trial.

By the conclusion of the final war, more than 250,000 people had been killed and nearly one million displaced. Half that number remained to be repatriated in 2005 at the election of Liberia's first democratic President since the initial 1980 coup d'état of Samuel Doe.

Economy

The economic situation in both countries was so bad after the war that it affected the people living in the two countries.

Dr Koroma recounted that “11 years of civil war destroyed the whole country and every aspect of it and every Sierra Leonean was affected directly or indirectly by the war".

The economy of Sierra Leone is that of a least developed country with a Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of approximately $1.9 billion US in 2009. Since the end of the Sierra Leone Civil War in 2002, the economy is gradually recovering with a GDP growth rate of between four and seven per cent.

Sierra Leone's economic development has always been hampered by an overdependence on mineral exploitation.

Ms Sirleaf also recalled that “our institutions collapsed while infrastructure was destroyed, and we had an unserviced debt amounting to $4.9 billion”.

Polarisation

Mr Koroma said Sierra Leone was polarised as the people seemed to be divided along two political parties lines: the Sierra Leone People's Party (SLPP) and its main political rival, the All People's Congress (APC). Mr Koroma stood on the ticket of the APC to win the 2007 presidential election.

Bridges

It is worthy to mention that Mr Koroma was able to build bridges between the APC and the SLPP to the displeasure of sympathisers of both parties. Koroma’s thinking was one of uniting the country for development.

Lessons learnt

These two former Presidents have been able to demonstrate the fact that some African leaders can change the narrative for Africa if given the opportunity.

Documentation of achievements

Heartwarmingly, on Tuesday, December 14, 2021, former First Lady, Nana Konadu Agyeman-Rawlings, made an important remark during the launch of a book titled “J. J. RAWLINGS: MEMORIES AND MEMENTOS”, authored by the Pan-African Writers Association (PAWA).

Nana Agyeman-Rawlings observed that one of the weaknesses of the African continent is the failure to adequately document the positive achievements of illustrious and formidable personalities on the continent.

If the former First Lady's observation is anything to go by, then former Presidents Koroma and Ms Johnson both should be among the African leaders whose achievements need to be adequately documented so they could become some of the African leaders who should be immortalised.

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