by Greg Buckley
Sierra Leone Independence Day
Hello from Sunny Sierra Leone. There is a distinct lack of model shops out here, so all of you suffering from terminal cases of AMS, it’s the perfect place to live!
Note from Steve Bamford ARC webmaster: In the pictures further below Greg mentions "Kabala Hospital".....I've marked Kabala with a red "X" in the map above. Also....my daughters school is linked up with a 450 student school in a small village near the 'town' of Bo. I've marked this with a Yellow "X" in the map above. Our school does fund raising to provide building materials to rebuild the school buildings that were destroyed in the fighting in Sierra Leone. We also sent care packages of used clothing etc. The project is going slow, but it is successful. All the students at the school in Sierra Leone spend time growing vegetables in the school garden to help feed the students a hot lunch that is cooked by some Mom's in a big pot over an open fire in the school yard. The people of Sierra Leone have been through amazing horrors, yet they remain friendly and positive. This country has experienced child soldiers, civil war and civilian abuse in a way that is very hard for us to imagine. My daughter has a 8 year old female penpal in Sierra Leone and they send letters and drawings back and forth....usually they can only get one letter out per year due to the poor conditions due to the civil war and the destruction of the infrastructure. Keep Sierra Leone in your thoughts.....it is a country that is struggling very badly. I commend the UN soldiers and especially the British Troops that went in and ended the violence against the civilian population......this was using a military force for the ultimate good....to protect civilians. Last I heard, there are 70,000 UN soldiers in Sierra Leone keeping the peace.
Thank-you....now back to Greg's article... Steve B
Sierra Leone is situated on the south-western coast of the bulge of west Africa facing the Atlantic Ocean.
first inhabitants of Sierra Leone were the Mende and Temne peoples who had
relocated there in the 15th century.
Next to arrive were the Portuguese who seeing the mountains of the
peninsula named them Sierra Lyoa, meaning Lion Mountains.
From this the country took its name.
In 1787 Freetown was established by British Philanthropists as a homeland
for freed and runaway black African slaves, whose countries of origin were
unknown. The Sierra Leone Company
originally governed the settlement but with increasing financial problems the
British Government assumed control in 1808.
the next 60 years, the original settlers were joined by tribes people migrating
from the African interior and by approximately 70,000 West African slaves freed
from slave ships by the Royal Navy.
As a result of this Freetown emerged as a large city, having a diverse population, divided by race, religion, language, tradition and economic status. Not surprisingly separate ethnic communities formed having their own leaders and structures. The groups co-existed peacefully enough until 1808 when the colonial authorities imposed a ht tax on the indigenous population. This action incurred a serious uprising during which many of the settlers were killed.
1961 independence was given to Sierra Leone from the UK. With Milton Margai
becoming the first Prime Minister, 2 parties had emerged, the Sierra Leone’s
Peoples Party (SLPP) mostly Krio (Pidgin English) backed southern Mende tribe,
beat the All Peoples Congress who represented the Northern Temne.
Of course with “Africanisation” the seeds were sown.
1967, two coups within 3 days heralded the beginning of political instability, which would trouble the nation for years to come. A military Junta ruled for a year before another coup left the APC in control with Siaka Stevens as Prime Minister. Peace was not forthcoming, due to inter tribal rivalries. 1971 saw Sierra Leone declared a republic and in 1978 it became a 1 party state with Siaka Stevens as the president (one of his famous acts was to declare one morning that as the country was no longer a colonial nation, they would no longer drive on the left, and from the next morning the country would drive on the right!!!!).
rule lasted for 18 years with declining popularity, before the commander of the
Armed Forces replaced him. Corruption,
non-payment of salaries, rapid decline in living standards and a runaway
inflation rate all took their toll.
the government found itself at war with the Revolutionary United Front (RUF), in
1992 Junior Army officers overthrew the APC, this government, whilst banning all
political activity promised to end corruption and mismanagement of all the
various regimes. The National
Provisional Ruling Council (NPRC) assumed command under Capt Valentine Strasser
(aged 24). Brutal War continued and
the RUF targeted civilians, their hall mark was crude with mass amputations
is unfortunately what Sierra Leone has become famous for, one of the political
parties slogans for a due election was “The future is in your Hands”, the
RUF took this literally and hacked hundreds of hands of people, paying special
attention to women and children. However
the amputation of lips, eyelids, feet, buttocks and ears were also commonplace
with individual RUF units “Specialising” in certain body parts.
Coup followed coup before the intervention of the Economic Community of West African States Cease Fire Monitoring Group (ECOMOG), this stabilised the country again, but soon it was sliding towards the Abyss. UN troops were deployed finally in 1999, where the country enjoyed another all too brief period of reasonable stability.
peace broke again in 1 May 2000 with RUF rebels attacking disarmament camps and
killing UN troops. This was
followed by the deployment of a British Parachute Battalion and a Royal Marine
Commando and all their supporting Arms on Op Palliser, to stabilise the
situation for the evacuation of Foreign Nationals.
During this time a group of British soldiers were captured by the “West
Side Boys” a Quasi Criminal gang and held hostage, this resulted in Op Barras,
where the SAS and a Company of Paras affected a rescue mission “Op Barras”.
This was followed by Op Silkman, which started the retraining of the
Republic of Sierra Leone Armed Forces (RSLAF) to demonstrate the British
Governments support to the legal government of Sierra Leone.
During this, the International Military Advisory and Training Team was formed (IMATT) of which I am now part of. This unit advises the RSLAF on all military matters, some personnel holding executive posts within the RSLAF. IMATT has 114 personnel, 100 British, 6 Canadian, 3 US, 1 Bermudan, 1 Senegalese and 3 Nigerian. The Commander IMATT acts as an advisor to President Kabbah, we are embedded deeply within the community, enjoy large amounts of trust and respect and are committed here until the time we are no longer deemed necessary. IMATT is also the biggest single employer within the country!
I am a Staff Sergeant in the RSLAF Engineer Regiment, which is unique in having IMATT in executive posts. My job out here is as a consultant engineer on the electrical side of the fence; however electrical tasks are few and far between so I am now on a steep learning curve on the construction side of life! Major tasks include the construction of new married quarters for the RSLAF in forward locations and the repair of existing estate and infrastructure. It is a never ending task due to lack of funds and the general disrepair caused by years of neglect and conflict.
Anyway, what you really want to read about, the Air Wing. The RSLAF air wing currently operates 1 x Hind, 1 x Allouette and 1 x Westland Commando fitted out in the VIP role. The Hind is in Deep repair at the moment but was used with great success during the war; the Allouette is used for liaison, evac, and troop insertion. The Commando is outfitted as the Presidents personal aircraft; it was a gift from the Qatar government and is the plushest Sea-King that I have ever seen! A Puma is due to be delivered soon to give extra lift capacity here. With the state of the road network and the size of the country it will be a needed bit of kit.
As for the country, I think that it’s fantastic; the people have been through it all. But are resilient, forgiving and have a reputation for being the friendliest in Africa. I can well believe it and vouch for it. All of IMATT rapidly become fluent in Krio. The way things get done here is “Small Small” one step at a time. It will be a while before IMATT is “Dun Dun”. All meetings here begin with a prayer, both Muslims and Christians Praying quite happily together, even knowing each others prayers. There is a lesson in there for all of us! The country has the capability to do so well, with a wealth of natural resources. Unfortunately only time will tell.
you want to find out more, there are a number of good books that will give you a
better run down of the country than this muppet could ever give
such as “Op Barras”, “Once a Pilgrim”, “The devil that danced
on water” and “Blood Diamonds”. “Cry
Freetown” is an impressive documentary filmed by a local cameraman which
although disturbing, gives a picture of what it was like here during the worst
of the conflict.
anyone wants any further shots of the Helicopters, I have plenty of detail shots
available and will be getting access to the Hind and Allouette internals when I
come off R and R. Contact me and I
can always get a CD to you as Email here is erratic to say the least!
As for me, well its here until at least January 2005, although when you
read this I will be in San Francisco on R and R, so if any of you are in the bay
area and see a tanned scruffy bugger looking for the nearest Hooters bar, its
Photos and text © by Greg Buckley