Let us reject violence and selfishness that could destroy Sierra Leone’s unity – Op ed – Welcome to the Sierra Leone Telegraph
Abdulai Mansaray: Sierra Leone Telegraph:11. July 2022:
Like many countries around the world, Sierra Leone is experiencing social, political and economic speed bumps after tough challenges of late. As the saying goes, “A man who has never traveled thinks his mother is the best cook”. However, Sierra Leone does not have a monopoly on the hardship that threatens world stability. The situation in the UK is described as a ‘living crisis’, in Sierra Leone as ‘de gron dry and de game don big’ and for others it is a ‘recession’. It just goes to show that not all lizards that crawl on their stomachs suffer from abdominal pain.
As the economic crisis deepens, fueled by man-made self-harm and external forces beyond national control, it becomes inevitable that the ramifications could spill over into other areas, particularly the political sphere. The increasing political conflicts between the ruling SLPP and the opposition parties are not surprising, although regrettable. Like any other country, we face a national crisis; a time when we should use all of our collective resources to lead our country through this near-catastrophe. Unfortunately this is not the case.
Recently, “Femi Claudius-Cole and Dennis Bright were arrested last Sunday for allegedly inciting several women in Freetown to take part in street protests against the rising cost of living and growing poverty in the country” (thesierraleone telegraph.com, 6/07/2022 ). Sierra Leone Police released a statement on June 22, 2020 that based on social media posts reportedly “larded with threats to kill drivers, motorcyclists, police officers and soldiers,” their release “stated clearly that no person or group has been given permission to begin demonstrations on the date mentioned” (sic July 4th) (the sierraleonetelegraph.com).
According to the police, and citing the Public Order Act 1965, the aim included “maintaining the safety of their (sic-the) protesters; as it was likely that crooks and scoundrels could have infiltrated and hijacked the demonstrations, given that serious threats of killing people in relation to the same had already been made on social media.”
The police further quoted Dr. Dennis Bright as the cheerleader of an outlaw group in the run-up to Ward 156 Koya’s bye-election. According to police, Madam Femi C. Cole was reportedly spotted on social media posts “preparing placards, rehearsing songs and making threats against the police and military if they did not authorize their demonstrations planned for July 4th don’t allow.”
Section 26(1) of the 1991 Constitution provides the following: Except with their own consent, no one may be prevented from exercising their freedom of assembly. (2) Nothing contained in or done under the authority of any statute shall be deemed inconsistent with or contrary to this Section to the extent that the statute in question contains provisions which are reasonably necessary to:
-1-in the interests of defence, public security, public order, public morals, public health or public utilities to maintain supplies and services essential to the life of the community, or
-2-imposed restrictions on public officials and members of the defense forces, or
-3-imposes restrictions on the establishment of political parties or regulates the organisation, registration and functioning of political parties and the behavior of their members; and except to the extent that such provision, or, where applicable, the matter carried out under its authority, proves unreasonably justifiable in a democratic society.
It would be disingenuous to suggest that some of us are legal scholars, but this snippet of our Constitution guarantees our undistorted and inalienable right to freedom of association. However, like any right that comes with duties, we have the right to exercise these freedoms “unless that provision, or, where applicable, the act done under its authority, proves reasonably unjustifiable in a democratic society. So if the police press release was the background to the arrests, has it been shown that the requested and planned demonstrations “cannot be reasonably justified in a democratic society”?
Considering the threats reported by the police on social media, were the reasons given by the police for rejecting the demonstrations justified? Were there perceived threats to national security and security?
Let us remember that Sierra Leone does not have a monopoly on strikes and protests. The world is awash with protests and strikes, which, unfortunately, rightly or wrongly, is becoming a dangerous past. Protesters in Sri Lanka set fire to the prime minister’s house, forcing him and the president to resign on Saturday. This is not intended to normalize such behavior, but only shows the latent emotional shells that are bubbling up in societies thanks to the economic crises.
Still, it shows more than anger that even with the best of intentions, peacefully demonstrate how things can spiral out of control with unintended results. Did these protesters go out on purpose to set the house on fire or just to protest peacefully? Others would say that violence is the language of the unheard.
Regardless of the political party in power, we know that “peaceful protests” and “Sierra Leone” have been odd bedfellows over the years. Unfortunately, whether under APC or SLPP rule, we are all too familiar with the results of protests and demonstrations in our country.
Does this mean, despite the unintended and regrettable results of past demonstrations, that we should not exercise our rights “to enjoy freedom of assembly”?
So, given the reported threats on social media, were the police right to ban the demonstrations? Despite the police ban, were the protesters right to carry out their planned demonstrations?
Unfortunately, it’s becoming all too familiar to see social media posts that “incite” others to boycotts, civil disobedience, protests, demonstrations, etc. While these actions are unfortunate, they have their political, social and legal merits. The irony is that most of them are from Sierra Leone in the diaspora. Unfortunately, they do so from the comfort of their leather chairs while tucking into KFC and Macdonald burgers. Meanwhile, the man being herded into the street may not even know where his next meal will come from.
It is one thing to exercise our rights, to demonstrate our rights and to criticize our governments of any political persuasion. However, is it morally right to persuade, incite, cajole, and direct others to engage in such activities while safely munching on a KFC or MacDonald burger in Brixton or Maryland? Is it right to ask Santigie or Vandi to hit the streets while you’re “chill out, work out, chill, all cool” like the Fresh Fresh Prince of Bel Air?
Our country is a democracy. We conduct our elections according to democratic principles. The value of our democracy cannot be fully appreciated until we calibrate it against the one-party system of the 1980s.
We cannot fully appreciate our embryonic democracy until we measure it against the status quo that produced our decades-long rebel war. We cannot fully understand the value of peace and security if we deliberately try to bury the memories of the atrocities of war.
As Sierra Leone, have we forgotten so quickly? Is there justification for putting the party interest above the national interest? Is it worth promoting party interests in exchange for a peaceful Sierra Leone? Should our politicians mortgage every citizen’s life and property as a price worth paying for a five-year cycle at the top? I used to think politics was too important to take seriously.
In another development, Hon. Abdul Kargbo tweeted: “Sierra Leone’s parliament is currently unsafe for opposition MPs. SLPP party bureau thugs are all over the tribune using maternal slurs against opposition MPs and our leader. We have withdrawn from meetings for our safety” (thesierraleonetelegraph.com – July 6, 2022). According to reports, “there was chaos and violence in the country’s parliament after a five-day debate over the controversial public election law. An opposition APC MP – Alieu Conteh – suffered a head injury after being stoned and rendered unconscious.” (thesierraleonetelegraph.com). Is this really happening in Sierra Leone? how did we get here We can learn and emulate much from American politics, but storming our legislature is not one of them.
Every country faces terrorism from within and without. Dealing with such universal threats is a Herculean task in itself. However, when such a threat turns into domestic terrorism, and hence political terrorism, one begins to wonder whether our country will once again demonstrate its propensity to attract chaos or be ready to press the self-destruct button. It goes right through the heart of our democracy and practically through the very essence of our political bloodstream. Is this desperation, hatred, intolerance or a nationally engineered suicide attempt?
So what is the legacy our politicians want to leave for the next generation? Lest they forget, our politicians owe it to all those who lost their lives during the rebel war. The least they can do is ensure there is peace and stability, and there can be no greater, and they deserve tribute for the sacrifices and losses we have suffered as a nation.
Are we using violence as an excuse to avoid a peaceful resolution of our political difference? Let us not disguise violence under the cloak of tradition, national honor and national security.
We implore our politicians to find political solutions, find peace and restore tolerance so that some refugees can return home. Homecoming is at least the dearest wish of most refugees.
Don’t forget to turn off the lights when you leave the room.