On Sunday 24th March 1996, a Red Cross helicopter on board which was Ivory Coast Foreign Minister Amara Essy, as safety guarantor, landed in the Eastern Sierra Leone headquarters of the rebel RUF to pick up rebel leader Foday Sankoh and fly him to Yamoussoukro for peace talks with Julius Maada Bio slated for the next day. According to numerous media reports at that time, it was “Sankoh’s first trip outside of Sierra Leone since the rebels took up arms in 1991".
FODAY SANKOH IN THE BUSH
Now, it is a FACT that since Sankoh left Kailahun, Sierra Leone on that fateful day, he never returned back to the rebel bush headquarters until he died. So, if Sankoh spent time with any man or woman “in the bush”, it would have to have been between the years 1991 and March 24th 1996.
MARIAMA, SANKOH’S MENDE WIFE
Indeed, it was sometime in 1991 that Foday Sankoh entered South-Eastern Sierra Leone by road from Liberia to a very glorious green Palm Fronds ‘torkpoi’ welcome with his then wife, a Mende woman named Mariama by his side. There was a video of that welcome ceremony available at military headquarters for many years during the nineties. The video was retrieved from Sankoh’s Southern Pujehun headquarters by gallant soldiers who had captured Pujehun back from the RUF.
In that video, both Foday and Mariama Sankoh were dressed in matching green attire and waved green palm fronds to a cheering crowd. This was few weeks after the actual invasion itself. Sankoh did not enter Sierra Leone on March 23rd 1991 but much later. Sankoh’s then wife, Mariama, a Mende woman, alongside the throng of South-Easterners who had formed the vanguard of entry all helped to convince the South Easterners that they were “freedom fighters”.
By the end of the conflict, Sankoh had long since separated from Mariama (who subsequently fled RUF held territory into exile in Ivory Coast). I extensively interviewed Mariama, Sankoh’s first wife in Abidjan in August 1999 during my extensive research into the origins and processes of the Sierra Leone war.
SANKOH’S OTHER WIVES
By the signing of the Lome Peace Accord in 1999, Sankoh had traditionally married another South-Eastern woman named Josephine Tengbeh (I also extensively interviewed Josephine). By the time he was captured in May 2000, Sankoh was now officially married to a lady of Senegalese descent, Mrs. Fatou Mbaye Sankoh. Highly educated and well groomed with a Western cultured upbringing, she was an epitome of a lady. Foday Sankoh was very proud of Fatou.
THE RUF WEBSITE
Fatou Mbaye Sankoh was the one who set up a website for RUF with absolutely no input from Sylvia Blyden, (yours truly). I first learnt of the existence of the website like everyone else - from media reports. It was created in year 2000 and could then be seen at www.rufpsl.org
THE SLBS WEBSITE
I created, alongside Gipu Felix George in December 1997, a website for the SLBS. The SLBS website which could then be seen at www.slbs.net was a means of ensuring the world could have access to information from the country during the illegal AFRC regime. My intention and the essence of my volunteer work for SLBS was to neutralise the warmongers propaganda that Peace Talks were not possible between the Government in exile and the AFRC. Here is how news of the SLBS website was announced on Peter Andersen’s Sierra Leone Web news archives for 9th December 1997:
9th December 1997: Sierra Leone Broadcasting Service (SLBS) officially announced the formation of its internet website on Tuesday. “The site is still very much in its infant stages,” Director-General of the Mass Media Gipu Felix-George said in a statement. “However, we are doing a test run based on the events of November 27th 1997, the date the international community sent the first fact-finding mission to Sierra Leone since the events of May 25th 1997.” The web site, which was set up by Dr. Olayinka Blyden, operates from Freetown via a server located in the United States. Word of the SLBS site, which is not yet fully operational, was circulated on the internet last week in advance of the official announcement.
MAY 25TH SIGNIFICANCE
Few people might realise it but by a remarkable co-incidence in dates, tomorrow May 25th 2012 will mark the 15th anniversary of the AFRC coup and it will also mark the 13th anniversary of the commencement of the Lome Peace Talks which were primarily nurtured by President Bill Clinton of USA and President Obasanjo of Nigeria.
FUELLING THE PEACE
Many people have spoken of role of Jesse Jackson forgetting Jackson was just an envoy. It was U.S. President, Bill Clinton who sent Jackson alongside satellite phones for use by Foday Sankoh’s delegation to Lome. It was Clinton who, through Jackson, spoke from his (Air Force 1) presidential jet in mid-air to both Sankoh and President Kabbah to gently steer them towards the path of peace to Sierra Leoneans.
SYLVIA BLYDEN MEETS FODAY SANKOH
It was in May 1999 that Revd Jesse Jackson flew over to Lome, Togo at the urging of President Bill Clinton to basically enjoin peace talks. I also flew over to Lome at that same time from America. That was my very first time of ever meeting Foday Sankoh. I went as an advocate for peace in my country. Prior to that, by divine providence, I had arranged the first phone conversation between Sankoh and President Obasanjo using a three way line from my residence in America. That my strategic placement of being at the right place at the right time, amongst others, all helped to ensured the Lome Peace Talks went underway. It fuelled the peace process like jet fuel fires up a jet.
TIMELINES & SIMPLE LOGIC
From the time Sankoh was flown out of Sierra Leone in March 1996 until he died, he never went back to the bush. I was a full time student from 1989 until late 1996 when I received my second medical degree and left for America to take my U.S. Medical Board Exams.
AN OUTSTANDING PUBLIC FIGURE
I was not an ordinary college student. As the first woman to make History in Sierra Leone as the first female University Students President, I was an outstanding female citizen even as a college student. I was quite prominent and I got to be regularly quoted in local and international media. The video clip of my speech on behalf of Female Youths of Africa at UN’s Beijing Conference for Women in 1995 was the signature clip to start SLBS TV Programme on Women’s Issues. How could I have been “in the bush” during this period?
BORN TO BE GREAT
I have said it before and I will say it again, I am very, very proud of all I have ever done for my country, Sierra Leone. I have absolutely NO REGRETS for anything I have ever done concerning Sierra Leone. I was born great with a great destiny. I will continue to remain a walking living legend. I deserve every single honour that has been bestowed upon me in this land. And knowing how faithfully I have served my country over the years, I know this is just the beginning. More honours and laurels are mine to receive by the grace of God. Mark my words.
ONLY GOD CAN SILENCE ME
Meanwhile, I will continue to inform those who do not know much about the Sierra Leone civil war about the true origins and processes of our war – it is of high importance. I will so it for as long as I have breath in me. No amount of intimidation or browbeating or nasty lies have been able to distract me thus far and by the grace of God, such will NEVER succeed. Look at how far I have come even as all kinds of lies have been manufactured about me? I will not be silenced by any scumbag – old scumbag or young. Only God can silence me and for now, I am still serving His purpose on this earth. Thank you.
© Copyright by Awareness Times
Newspaper in Freetown, Sierra Leone.