news analysis advocacy
tips on searching

Search AfricaFocus and 9 Partner Sites



Visit the AfricaFocus
Country Pages

Burkina Faso
Cape Verde
Central Afr. Rep.
Congo (Brazzaville)
Congo (Kinshasa)
Côte d'Ivoire
Equatorial Guinea
São Tomé
Sierra Leone
South Africa
South Sudan
Western Sahara

Get AfricaFocus Bulletin by e-mail!

Print this page

Note: This document is from the archive of the Africa Policy E-Journal, published by the Africa Policy Information Center (APIC) from 1995 to 2001 and by Africa Action from 2001 to 2003. APIC was merged into Africa Action in 2001. Please note that many outdated links in this archived document may not work.

Sierra Leone: Documents on Coup

Sierra Leone: Documents on Coup
Date distributed (ymd): 970526
Document reposted by APIC

This posting contains two articles concerning world and African reaction to the coup from the Panafrican News Agency, and excepts from news coverage on Sierra Leone Web, which has ongoing news coverage as well as other information about Sierra Leone.

Panafrican News Agency. B.P. 4056, Dakar, Senegal;
Tel: (221) 24-13-95; Fax: (221) 24-13-90;

Note: These articles reposted, with permission, from the Web site of Africa News Service, which features among other material news bulletins several times daily from the Panafrican News Agency. PANA has 36 correspondents across the continent and working relationships with national news agencies in 48 African countries.
The Africa News home page is
The PANA news feed is found at

Africa News Service
Box 3851 Durham, North Carolina 27702 USA
Telephone: 919-286-0747 Fax: 919-286-2614
Washington, D.C. Office (202) 546-3675 (phone/fax)

Kofi Annan Distressed By Coup In Sierra Leone

May 26, 1997

NEW YORK, United Nations (PANA) - United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan has said that he was "distressed" to learn of the coup d'etat in Sierra Leone Sunday.

In a statement issued by his office, Annan said that the UN and the international community attached the greatest importance to "a democratic order " in Sierra Leone.

"The UN and the international community firmly uphold the principle that the will of the people shall be the basis of the authority of governments, and that governments, democratically-elected, shall not be overthrown by force," the statement said.

Annan condemned the "taking into custody" of Sierra Leonean UN staffers in the country.

The Secretary-General promised continued UN support for the people of Sierra Leone "in their quest for a society grounded in democracy and the rule of law, respect for human rights and the pursuit of peace and national reconciliation."

The UN played a major role in the elections that returned Sierra Leone to a democratic rule in 1996 after years of military rule.

Meanwhile, in a radio broadcast from Freetwon, coup leader Johnny Paul Koroma, an army major, announced that he had assumed control of the country and that he would invite rebel leader Foday Sankoh, currently in Nigeria, to join his government.

Sankoh led the rebel Revolutionary United Front (RUF) in a five-year civil war against the country's government forces. The war officially ended last year when the warring parties signed a peace accord, mediated by Cote d'Ivoire.

Africa Deplores Coup In Sierra Leone

May 26, 1997

HARARE, Zimbabwe (PANA) - Organisation of African Unity (OAU) Secretary General Salim Ahmed Salim has described Sunday's coup d'etat in Sierra Leone as "a setback for Africa."

Salim told a reception in Harare to commemorate Africa day on Sunday that events in the West African state were taking place at a time when Africans were determined to pursue change and let people decide who their leaders should be.

"It is lamentable that some soldiers should decide to challenge the legitimate position of the people," Salim told guests at the reception, including delegates to the OAU foreign ministers' conference, which opens in the Zimbabwean capital on Monday.

He noted that the latest events had come at a time when international organisations such as the OAU, the United Nations and the Commonwealth had been in the forefront of trying to find a peaceful solutions to the conflict in Sierra Leone.

"This development," the OAU chief said, "is a loss for Africa. This development will not be welcome in Africa."

Salim's views were shared by Zimbabwean foreign minister, Stan Mudenge, who said in his welcome address that the government of Zimbabwe had learnt with revulsion and dismay that the legitimate government of president Ahmad Tejan Kabbah in Sierra Leone had been overthrown in a military coup.

"This anti-democratic act," said Mudenge, "is a serious setback for the people of sierra leone and the entire continent (who) only last year celebrated the return to democracy in Sierra Leone.

"The people of that country had demonstrated beyond doubt their yearning and commitment to democracy by conducting peaceful, free and fair elections in the most difficult circumstances with the assistance and support of the West African neighbours, the UN, the OAU and the Commonwealth."

Mudenge added: "the government of Zimbabwe condemns in the strongest terms the perpetrators of this betrayal of the will of the people of Sierra Leone and calls upon the international community to urgently render all the necessary support to help the people of Sierra Leone regain their inalienable right to democracy and the rule of the law."

Reports from Freetown, the capital of Sierra Leone said Sunday that soldiers who ousted the legal government clashed with Nigerian troops protecting President Kabbah, who later fled into exile in neighbouring Guinea.

Witnesses were quoted as saying the coup soldiers exchanged sustained fire with Nigerians around the presidential complex in Freetown.

In his speech, Salim emphasized that Africa was moving towards economic recovery so that the continent can become an important player in international affairs.

This year's Africa Day came on the eve of the ministerial meeting which will prepare the agenda of the 33rd OAU summit, to be held in Harare from June 2-4.

Mudenge said Africa Day gave the opportunity for the continental body to reflect on its achievements on unity and a time to share past and future aspirations.

"But," he said, "besides celebrating past achievements, it is also an occasion to set sights on new goals or new means to old goals."

Sierra Leone Web:

Current News on Sierra Leone Web:

Sierra Leone Web
News coverage May 25, 26, 1997:

26 May:

The coup leaders have now named their government the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC). Captain Paul Thomas, who has replaced Corporal Gborie as their spokesman, told the nation that all of Sierra Leone's air, land, and sea borders are closed until further notice. He repeated calls for army and police officers to report to military headquarters and for foreign troops to return to their bases. He also called upon the international community to show restraint. "A designated head of state would brief them in due course," he said.

Looting soldiers in stolen vehicles roamed the streets of Freetown for a second day following a coup which overthrew the government of President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah. The center of the city has been gutted by fighting, looting, and arson. The Treasury building has been burned and the Bank of Sierra Leone is reported to be on fire. One report says all the shops in Kissy Street have been looted. At least 15 persons are confirmed dead and 40 injured. Freetown remains under a 6:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. (dawn to dusk) curfew. The situation is reportedly somewhat calmer than Sunday, and people have begun to venture out.

ECOMOG forces were reported to have begun landing shortly after midnight at Hastings Lungi Airports, which were secured by the Nigerian and Guinean forces respectively. ECOMOG was tipped off to the coup a day in advance by a former detainee at Pademba Road Prison, according to ECOMOG officers, and had moved heavy military equipment into place to counteract the coup attempt. ECOMOG now states that they are in Sierra Leone only to support Nigerian troops in the country under a military cooperation agreement. The Nigerians, who clashed with coup leaders earlier in the day, are now reportedly cooperating with coup leaders and have returned to their barracks.

Hundreds of inmates released from Pademba Road Prison have been issued military uniforms and weapons, and now claim they are the army "as the army should have been." Reports from Freetown say that no officers have yet reported to military headquarters as ordered by the coup leaders.

Reaction: French Foreign Ministry Spokesman Jacques Rummelhardt: "France deplores that a group of military officers has seized power by force...France calls for the quick restoration of constitutional legality in Freetown." OAU Secretary General Secretary-General Salim Ahmed Salim: "The United Nations and the international community firmly uphold the principle that the will of the people shall be the basis of the authority of governments, and that governments, democratically elected, shall not be overthrown by force...It is lamentable that some soldiers who have no mandate to rule at all should decide to challenge the legitimate position of the people. It is a setback for Africa's transition to democracy...This development is a loss for Africa. This development will not be welcome in Africa." Zimbabwean Foreign Minister, Stan Mudenge: "The government of Zimbabwe condemns in the strongest terms the perpetrators of this betrayal of the will of the people of Sierra Leone and calls upon the international community to urgently render all the necessary support to help the people of Sierra Leone regain their inalienable right to democracy and the rule of the law."

25 May:

Soldiers this morning overthrew the civilian government of President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah. The coup was led by Major Johnny Paul Koromah, who announced Sunday that he had taken control of the country. "As custodians of state security and defenders of the constitution (we) have today decided to overthrow the Sierra Leone Peoples Party government because of their failure to consolidate the claims achieved by the brokers of peace," Koromah told the nation. He accused Kabbah's government of being "nurtured on tribal and sectional conflict." Koroma said he has invited RUF leader Foday Sankoh to join his government. "In this regard we appeal to the international community and the Nigerian government in particular to release Corporal Foday Sankoh," he said. Gunfire continued into the evening hours as looting soldiers moved around the city in vehicles commandeered from civilians, NGO's, and the government; soldiers also burned down the Treasury building. Freetown is under a dusk-to-dawn curfew, and coup leaders have said that looters, military or civilian, will be shot on sight. The country's borders have been sealed and Lungi Airport and the seaports have been closed. President Kabbah has fled to Conakry, Guinea. Connaught Hospital reported 5 dead--including 2 civilians--and 21 injured by midday, but said more casualties were expected.

Heavy shooting was reported in Freetown some time after 4:00 a.m. Sunday from the direction of State House and military headquarters, and continued for several hours. Witnesses reported fighting near the national assembly between soldiers and Nigerian troops who are in Sierra Leone under a military cooperation agreement. A spokesman for the coup leaders, Corporal Gborie, made a statement Sunday morning over SLBS (state radio): "The Tejan Kabbah government has been removed from power following the successful coup today," he said. "I will inform the nation of further developments. I am just an ordinary man and also the spokesman for the coup." Gborie said the Nigerian forces were now cooperating with the coup leaders, and he called on the Nigerian and Guinean troops assisting the army to keep out of the fighting, saying it was an internal matter. He condemned the Tejan Kabbah government, saying "We want democracy but not this democracy...Enough is enough, we have to build our nation. We want a democracy but...the government has introduced tribalism." A second reason for the coup, he said, was the poor wages soldiers receive, particularly when compared to the compensation received by the kamajors, a militia comprised of traditional hunters. He said the activities of the kamajors would be banned. "We are the national army," he said. "They are not, any more." He accused Kabbah of "crying down" the army. All ministers, politicians, and senior officers in the armed forces above the rank of lieutenant colonel were ordered to report to Cockerill Barracks in Freetown. Gborie said that the rebel war is over, implying an RUF connection to the coup. He said that the coup leaders will appeal to Nigeria for the release of RUF leader Foday Sankoh, who is being detained by the Nigerians in Abuja.

The coup began early Sunday morning when three or four pickup trucks carrying about 20 heavily armed soldiers in civilian clothing drove up to Pademba Road Prison. An explosion followed, evidently from grenades used to blast open the steel gates. The soldiers freed hundreds of prisoners, including 9 soldiers on trial for previous coup attempts against President Tejan Kabbah. Nigerian troops who were guarding a nearby broadcasting station approached the station, but withdrew. Truckloads of soldiers then drove up in their ceremonial uniforms, firing in the air around the prison, then withdrew toward the center of Freetown.

In their first decree since assuming power, the coup leaders abolished the kamajors, a civilian militia of traditional hunters. They have also called for the return to Sierra Leone of Captain Solomon Musa, who was linked to coup allegations in 1993, and General Julius Maada Bio, the leader of the NPRC until the military handed over power to the civilian government last year. An unconfirmed report from Freetown says the coup leaders have called upon United National People's Party (UNPP) leader John Karefa Smart to join them, a suggestion strongly rejected by a family member.

Update: Shooting continued in Freetown Sunday evening as soldiers went on a looting spree. The soldiers have been seen in Sierra Leone government vehicles, as well as vehicles "commandeered" from the United Nations, religious missions, the Red Cross, ASSP, Farmco, North Central Agricultural Project (NCAP), and those belonging to civil servants and members of parliament. In the wake of the coup, a number of unconfirmed rumors have been circulated. One unconfirmed report says that soldiers have broken into the World Food Programme warehouse in Kissi and looted the rice stores. Another claims that President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah and his wife Patricia fled to Guinea with a 62 carat diamond which was in Kabbah's possession pending the resolution of a dispute over its ownership.

Reaction: Ambassdor to the United States John Leigh: "This is totally surprising and totally uncalled for. There is no need for a coup in Sierra Leone today. Now Sierra Leone is going to be in a difficult condition...All the aid and all the job I have been doing over here to bring economic development to Sierra Leone are now on hold until this matter is resolved...These people are out to line their pockets...It's going to bring more hardship and difficulty to the country, and that is not the way to make change." United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan: "The United Nations and the international community firmly uphold the principle that the will of the people shall be the basis of the authority of governments, and that governments, democratically elected, shall not be overthrown by force...The United Nations and the international community attach the greatest importance to a democratic order for Sierra Leone...The United Nations continues to stand ready to assist the people of Sierra Leone in their quest for a society grounded in democracy, the rule of law, respect for human rights, and the pursuit of peace and national reconciliation." Annan expressed concern about the safety of the civilian population, and said he "strongly condemns taking into custody" Sierra Leonean U.N. staff and the looting of U.N. offices, vehicles, and equipment.

This material is being reposted for wider distribution by the Africa Policy Information Center (APIC), the educational affiliate of the Washington Office on Africa. APIC's primary objective is to widen the policy debate in the United States around African issues and the U.S. role in Africa, by concentrating on providing accessible policy-relevant information and analysis usable by a wide range of groups and individuals.

URL for this file: