Comment at end
18th July, 2009
“Therefore, as Sierra Leone takes a new path towards socio-economic recovery today this nation will always live to remember the significant contribution of a British Prime Minister who had a unique vision to better the lives of the forgotten people of Africa .”
A quick reminder for those who decry Tony Blair as a warmonger and worse. This was written as Blair was leaving office just over two years ago.
It’s as true and as vitally important now as it was then in understanding Blair’s moral compass. Not that it’ll make the slightest difference to those who are seemingly born to see “evil” where only good exists.
TONY BLAIR SIERRA LEONE LEGACY (source here)
As the British Prime Minister Tony Blair prepares to leave office, it is important to note that for the foreseeable future to come Sierra Leoneans will always live to remember the lasting legacy of Tony Blair on Sierra Leone . Once more, Sierra Leone was on the verge of another imminent disaster; the situation was so bleak that the United Nations had already given orders for the evacuation of hundreds of non-essential staffs. The RUF rebels were only about ten miles away from the capital, Freetown . For a city that had already endured the bestiality of a barbaric and pointless rebel forces on January 6, the defenceless civilian population were contemplating in trepidation on the imminent arrival of yet another deadly predicament.
As hundreds of United Nations peace keepers were being held hostage, the UN was visibly shaken and demoralized. Surely there was nothing the UN could have done except to take the dialogue route which they were frantically exploiting through Charles Taylor in Monrovia . In a move that gave the rebels a boost, the UN made it clear that they were not in Sierra Leone to fight – a mandate they claim not to have.
Very few would have ever thought of the dramatic events that followed May 8 2000 ; as Sierra Leoneans rued from the knock-on effect of the dramatic demonstrations against Corporal Foday Sankoh at his Spur Road residence. Good news was to come, one that many Sierra Leoneans will never forget. The British Defence Secretary Geoff Hoen announced that about 800 troops were heading for Sierra Leone . Mindful about the controversy and political risk of the deployment, Prime Minister Blair addressing the British public late May 2000, stated that: “I should emphasise our forces are not there as combat troops. They are not there to fight a civil war. Their task is to get British citizens out – and those UN reinforcements in… But our troops do, of course, have the right and equipment to defend themselves robustly if anyone attacks them. It’s a right they have already used – and will use again if necessary. It is an uncertain situation there. There are, of course, risks. But what is certain is that, as I record this, the presence of the red berets has already made a real difference. They’ve helped hundreds of British and other nationals fly to safety. Raised morale among the UN forces and the troops of the Sierra Leone Government. ”
Surely in the eyes of many British and foreign military analyst this was not just an evacuation mission, rather it was a salvage mission. The British were clearly here to enhance the morale of the UN and government forces in securing strategic locations and putting in place a deterrent to stop further rebel incursion into the city. As later events turn out to be there were clear manifestations that this was not an evacuation mission as the British later secured the environs of Aberdeen where the UN headquarter was located. More importantly, the British troops did undertake patrol missions in the city with other security forces and there were reports that the British undertook reconnaissance mission and provided military support in the fighting to repel the rebels to where they were before the crisis.
The UN Secretary General could not hide his feelings about the positive nature of the timely British intervention in Sierra Leone . Kofi Annan was clearly upbeat and grateful to Mr. Blair for such a pivotal effort in restoring sanity to Sierra Leone . More importantly for the UN Secretary General, UN pride was once more at stake, the UN was once more on the verge of facing embarrassing situation as was the case in Srebinica and Rwanda . But Mr. Blair timely intervention meant that the UN was salvaged from a tricky and potentially disastrous situation.
In convincing a rather surprised and sceptical British public, about the necessity of the British deployment in Sierra Leone, the British PM tends to reflect on the bestiality of the rebels and also the need to restore sanity to a poor and defenceless civilian population in a far away country; as Blair himself told the British public that: “This isn’t war as we understand it. It is an appalling savagery inflicted upon the civilian population in which rape and slavery and mutilation are the everyday weapons”.
Perhaps one of the most important aspect of British military involvement in Sierra Leone is that it was the start of a concerted effort by the British government to ensure that Sierra Leone don’t only have peace but more importantly that its get back to its development track. The British finding a way forward used their political capital in the international diplomatic scene to ensure that peace comes to Sierra Leone . Through the efforts of Sir Jeremy Greenstock, the British permanent representative to the UN, the British ensured that the UN approved a new diamond regime for Sierra Leone which ensured that diamond from Sierra Leone are certified by the government and the UN before they are sold abroad. This was to ensure that the rebels and their supporters are starved of diamond funds which most believed was the driving force behind their continued intransigence.
Mr. Blair also put more pressure on Charles Taylor to force the RUF to free UN hostages and cooperate with the UN. Therefore British diplomatic capital was another important factor in ensuring stability.
Also, under Mr. Blair British aid was increased and the activity of DFID in enhancing good governance, major reforms and economic recovery are all worthy of commendation. The level of British commitment in Sierra Leone was manifested during the visit of Tony Blair in Freetown; the two men flanking President Kabbah when he matched towards Blair at the Lungi airport were Brigadier Patrick Davidson-Housten, President Kabbah’s British security adviser, and Keith Biddle, the then British Inspector General of the Sierra Leonean Police. The attendance of both British citizens – remunerated for by Britain – in such elevated positions in the Sierra Leone Government, exemplified the dedication of the UK to our country.
More importantly, for Sierra Leoneans Mr Blair’s message in speeches and statements during his visit to Sierra Leone was that if the international community can achieve peace in Sierra Leone – when the sceptics said it was not possible – it can also achieve the economic rebuilding the country now so desperately needs. Therefore, as Sierra Leone takes a new path towards socio-economic recovery today this nation will always live to remember the significant contribution of a British Prime Minister who had a unique vision to better the lives of the forgotten people of Africa . One only hopes that Gordon Brown or whosoever succeeds the Blair tenure continues with his vision of a better and prosperous Africa.