Remembering March 23rd, Bomaru, and the civil war

By Osman Benk Sankoh

I do not quite remember where I was. What I vividly recall is that I was just a boy at the time. On March 23, some three decades ago, a ricochet of gunshots, probably from the Russian-made AK47 Kalashnikovs and explosions from Rocket Propelled Grenades (RPGs) jolted the tranquility of a small border town of Bomaru in Kailahun, eastern Sierra Leone. The insanity that started in Bomaru would later engulf the whole country as lives were wasted as horror enveloped the land.

For slightly more than a decade, that cacophony, as the nation was plunged into civil war, was to become the new undesirable way of describing Sierra Leone amid over two decades of one-party rule (the vogue then in the many African States and even beyond).

On that day of the first gunshot, we were made to believe that a deal had gone wrong between rebels fighting from within Liberia and soldiers on our side over the sale of some looted goods, including cars. They had been hoodwinked, it was alleged, and after the dust had settled, the rebels had crossed over to settle scores.

True or not, a few days later, it was headline news on the BBC Focus on Africa. Rebels of the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) led by a former photographer and an angry ex-corporal in the Sierra Leone army, Foday Saybana Sankoh, was heard on the programme claiming that he had somewhat started the “father of all battles” to remove the government of the then All People’s Congress (APC) led by a retired Major General -President Joseph Saidu Momoh from power.