Sierra Leone keeps fingers crossed on Libyan crisis By KEMO CHAM in Freetown | Tuesday, August 30   2011 at  16:43

Mahmoud Jibril, number two in the Libyan rebels' National Transitional Council (NTC) speaks during a press conference on August 26, 2011 in Istanbul. The new flag of the victorious Libyan rebels has not been hoisted in Sierra Leone. FILE|AFRICA REVIEW 

Reflecting the uncertainty in many African countries over the unfolding events in Libya, the country’s flag is visibly absent from Libya’s embassy – the Peoples Bureau – in Freetown, having been pulled down.

But neither has the new flag of the victorious Libyan rebels been hoisted up, suggesting the mission is keeping its fingers crossed.

At the embassy, the massive green gates are only open to local staff and not even to other Libyans.

Sources disclosed that the head of the mission has not been reporting to work for quite some time since the unrest in Libya escalated.

An official who spoke to Africa Review on the phone from inside the compound said the embassy was “not prepared to make any statement.”

The situation at ‘The Peoples Bureau’ appears to reflect the policy propagated by the host country, Sierra Leone. The government has made it clear it is sticking with the African Union position, which remains highly ambivalent toward the Libyan rebels.

One political observer in Freetown says the Libyan embassy officials “are being careful not to contradict the host government” by openly embracing the National Transitional Council (NTC) of the Libyan rebels.

“The position of this government on the Libyan situation is that of the African Union….as a member of the African Union, this government upholds and stands by any decision that the AU takes,” Silvester Swareh, the deputy government spokesperson, said last week.

'Praying for him'

Coverage of the crisis in the local media has been largely low key. But in the streets, the debate is intense, with opinions sharply divided.

Most Sierra Leoneans clearly sympathise with Col. Gaddafi, and they are many who have resigned to praying for him.

“The truth shall prevail,” one of Sierra Leone`s best known religious leaders last told a congregation of worshippers last Friday as he discussed the situation in Libya.

The general view here is that the involvement of the West through Nato is all about Libya`s oil wealth.

Though the government has studiously avoided comment about Libya, the media director at the State House, while speaking during a television discussion, described NATO as ‘invaders’, adding that they should clear “the mess” they created in Libya.

He was however quick to add that he wasn`t speaking in his capacity as a State House official.

Vocal supporters

Sierra Leoneans credit Gaddafi for supporting the country in various fields, especially the transportation industry.

Libya was also on course to invest in the mining sector in Sierra Leone, and there were other plans afoot to construct of a five-star hotel to boost tourism in the West African state, as is the case in neighbouring Gambia, Mali and elsewhere on the continent.

Just as Gaddafi has very vocal supporters in Sierra Leone, he has vigorous critics too.

He is especially criticised for his alleged support for the brutal RUF rebels during Sierra Leone`s civil war in the 90s.

Indeed, Liberia’s President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf was among the first African leaders who, way back in June, backed support for the Libyan rebels.

The RUF were backed by one of Mrs Johnson-Sirleaf’s predecessors, Charles Taylor, who is awaiting sentencing on war crimes charges at the UN Special Court for Sierra Leone sitting in the Netherlands.
Taylor, together with RUF leader Foday Sankoh, received guerrilla training in Libya.