From Awareness Times Newspaper in Freetown

Leather Boots, March 23 & A Need for Another TRC in Sierra Leone
By Sylvia Olayinka Blyden
Mar 23, 2009, 10:19

Today marks the 18th anniversary of the date the first bullet was fired in what was to become an eleven year pogrom that left every facet of Sierra Leonean life destroyed. There is probably no adult Sierra Leonean living right now who has not been affected in one way or the other by the senseless destruction that ravaged the land.

Not only have lives of compatriots including military officers and soldiers been lost but even our way of life as we used to know it, has all but disappeared. Morality and ethics are now very expensive commodities that are hard to find.

Sometimes I look at the country and I almost feel like giving up. I see devils being packaged as saints and I see saints being vilified for standing up for what are right. I see a lack of promoting a culture of truth and I see us sliding back towards March 23rd 1991 as a result of such dishonesty. The senseless brutality of those who invaded the opposition headquarters last week with the accompanying emerging reports of rapes and the seeming nonchalance of the Government to the violence was mind-boggling.

Frankly, I see that the current leadership is yet to learn from what caused the war to start exactly 18 years ago on March 23rd 1991. They are yet to do what they can to ensure it never happens again especially not under their watch. The APC Leadership is acting as if the recommendations and findings of the Truth & Reconciliation Commission of Bishop J.C. Humper are of inconsequential insignificance! But maybe, to some people in this dispensation, the TRC Report is of no consequence because they did not freely participate in those processes either because they were incarcerated at the time or they did not trust the regime in power to really say what was on their minds.

I have carefully studied the volatile situation and I have come to the conclusion that indeed the TRC Report with all is much touted findings might not have addressed some of the seething anger running as undercurrents in present day Sierra Leone. Several spontaneous outbursts from people like State House Press Secretary Sheka Tarawalie, indicates clearly that certain people now in positions of power are carrying with them intense anger just lying underneath their system waiting to explode. The man known as Leather Boot is another of such persons.

The abhorrent March 16th 2009 actions of Leather Boots, (Constable Idrissa Kamara) of the State House Presidential Police Guards are simply a product of 23rd March 1991. Idrissa Kamara, a Sierra Leonean brother represents a glaring reminder of how the 23rd March 1991 incursion changed lives for ever.

It is a fact that the man now known as Leather Boots, before the war, was reported by his superiors to be one of the most respectful and obedient soldiers in the Sierra Leone Military. Those who have interacted with him report that he is of high intellect. So, why will a young man who had a bright future as an intelligent, brave and obedient soldier now stand as one of those most abhorred by a significant section of present day Sierra Leone?

On 23rd March 1991, Leather Boot was simply known as Idrissa Kamara, an ordinary soldier in the army under the then APC led Joseph Momoh Government. Due to his reported bravery, he was amongst the very first set of soldiers sent on that fateful date to combat those behind the incursion into Buedu, Kailahun from Liberia.

The war, which led to the birth of the NPRC military junta that overthrew Momoh’s APC, led to a certain Army Captain named Reginald Glover to be put in charge of the NPRC military junta’s Ministry of Mines. Mines Minister Glover took the young Idrissa Kamara as his personal driver and in the process, the wealth that accompanies Mines Ministers filtered through to Glover’s driver so much so that Idrissa Kamara now reportedly started wearing expensive designer leather boots where his colleague soldiers wore ordinary boots. That was how he earned the name Leather Boots. Leather Boots, as a close aide to the powerful NPRC junta figure, himself became powerful and like many NPRC junior functionaries, a lot of impunity was his way of life. He was catapulted fast into a powerful limelight in a manner that he would never have gone through had it not been for the March 23rd war and the resultant NPRC.

Then the NPRC handed over power to the SLPP and these young soldiers could no longer afford the exotic lifestyles and the memories of the sweetness of those days when new leather boots were the way of life. To cut a long story short, Leather Boot skirted with the possibility of going back to those days and he got caught up in a series of events which saw him see the inside of Pademba Road as an alleged coup plotter and later took active part in a military junta known as the AFRC that brutally removed the elected SLPP within just over one year of the SLPP’s existence.

The AFRC of Leather Boot and Co. were themselves booted out forcibly from Freetown only for the soldiers to team up with the RUF rebels with an even more hardened mindset; They now had a laundry list of grievances cited to justify why they were rampaging the country. Whilst other soldiers found a hard time behind rebel lines, it was easy for Leather Boot, with his higher intellect, to win the confidence of the RUF’s General Maskita Bockarie and become one of his trusted men behind rebel lines.

Leather Boot was one of those sent by General Maskita to the Lome Peace Talks where he reportedly played no small part in negotiating the Lome Peace Accord following which he was rewarded by President Kabbah with the same position currently occupied by Moijueh Kaikai (Deputy Minister of Labour, Social Security and Employment). The ministerial position was short lived and he soon found himself once again behind bars at the Pademba Road Prisons when the RUF rebels seemingly reneged on the Lome Peace Agreement and tried to over-run Freetown. Leather Boot was first placed in protective custody and later charged to court for what were later seen to be charges without merit. Despite this, he was to spend a good six years behind bars at the Pademba Road Prisons cooling his heels and building up anger against what he saw as injustice against him by the SLPP. Several times, he was supposed to be released from prison but each time, his name would allegedly mysteriously disappear from those due to be released. Several newspaper publications came out on his behalf for him to be set free but for various proffered reasons, he was kept in jail without being convicted of anything for six years.

Leather Boot was released in 2006 after six years of his life wasted in prison. He has been brought on board by President Ernest Koroma who it is believed, wishes to have the young man rehabilitated back into the society. However, from his actions of March 16th 2009, it is clear that Leather Boot is an angry man whose anger at the SLPP needs urgent counseling especially as he is currently legitimately armed as a uniformed police officer.

Leather Boot is an angry man who is back in the corridors of power not as the driver to NPRC’s Glover; not as the AFRC Minister; not as Kabbah’s Deputy Minister of Labour but as the Close Protection and highly trusted, well armed Bodyguard to His Excellency the President.

However, Leather Boot is an angry man. His angry actions are abhorrent but from the way I read Leather Boot, his actions are a symptom of an even more dangerous disease eating into the fabric of this society. This is the danger of unfulfilled and badly managed seething anger at a system that certain people believe victimized them unduly.

Leather Boot is an angry man who needs counseling and very fast. The problem is that it is not only Leather Boot who needs counseling. Certain recent utterances by the Minister of Information & Communication Alhaji I.B. Kargbo and the Minister of Defense Major (rtd) Palor Conteh point to an even more widespread affliction of the society of this latent anger.

I have been speaking to many people over the last one week since the brutal invasion of the SLPP Party Offices. I have held discussions with people of all shades of colour and one thing I have realized is that many people in Sierra Leone are violently angry right now because of bitter grudges they hold. Leather Boot is just one of them. The sooner we look into this seething anger in this society, the better for this country.

March 23rd 1991 brought many problems into our lives. Maybe without that event, the young Idrissa Kamara might have lived out his life much differently and might today have been in different circumstances. March 23rd 1991 and its spiraling wake of events affected every single Sierra Leonean. What we need now are counselors who will help us get out of the afflictions we now face.

I propose we have another Truth & Reconciliation Session so those who were not opportune to freely say the Truth and let steam out the last time, can have a chance to do so quickly and reconcile here. If not, we might continue to see the kind of senseless anger and wickedness that was let loose at the SLPP’s Party Headquarters last Monday.

This Nation still yet needs to heal from the carnage that March 23rd 1991 wrought. The Truth & Reconciliation Commission of Bishop J.C. Humper was commendable; They did a yeoman’s job but there are still a lot of unsaid truths that need to aired out so some people can let go of their latent seething anger and we can all move this country forward as a true democracy where we tolerate each other without reverting to violence borne out of needless misunderstandings of each other.

Let us have another round of Truth & Reconciliation.

© Copyright 2005, Freetown, Sierra Leone.