By Abdulai Mansaray
Sierra Leone’s modern day history will never be complete without a mention of our passing acquaintance with violence. But this is not to give the impression that we are a violent nation or people. This is not aimed at minimising the effect of the war in loss of lives and property. Call it avoidance behaviour. Nevertheless, we must admit that our flirty relationship with this phenomenon is fast becoming a normalcy than the exception in our country today. There has been an upsurge in violence recently. What makes such the situation daunting is the fact that our regrettable experience of violence does not seem to give us a learning point in our society. If our treasury gets a thousand Leones each time the rebel war is mentioned, our GDP and overall economy would have been in a healthier situation by now. Sadly, though historical, we are sometimes forced to use such a regrettable event as a reference point, to highlight certain issues that seem to plague our present day communities.
It is an irrefutable fact, that Sierra Leoneans are one of the most hospitable and tolerant people in the world. Our population may be small, but when you look at the intra diversity of our people, you can see where my non research friendly conclusion is coming from; just don’t accuse me of jingoism. And if you look at our tolerance level, which has seen the prevalence of inter religious and inter tribal marriages, co-existence, and the rest, I am sure that the temptation to agree with my assertion becomes irresistible.
During the war, a lot of war lords tried to use tribalism to fuel a North- South feud, factors that other war Lords in places like Somalia, Uganda, Rwanda and etc. had successfully used/misused to fuel their respective wars. Some people used myths about “Ndorgborwusu”, “Kamajor”, secret societies and many others with regional or tribal flavours to stoke up the violence but failed. In recent times, our nation’s tolerance level was tested along religious lines, with the Pastor Ajisafe – Mufti Ismail Mink debacle. In any other country in especially Africa, such an unfortunate event would have set the country alight. Thankfully, our nation displayed all the inner beauty of its people and the rest is history.
But if the recent events like the Bye elections in Constituency 110-Hamilton, the skirmishes that took place on the eve of the Leone Stars VS Lone Stars 2nd leg match, and the ensuing attack on team captain Umaru “Zaingalay” Bangura’s house are anything to go by, violence in our society now seems to be the rule rather than the exception. But should this be allowed in our communities? But why should we live in a community where people think that they can wreak mob violence at will? In the midst of all these reported incidences of mob violence, where does that leave our law enforcement officers?
Talking about law enforcement, a female journalist was allegedly molested and beaten by officers who some say were attached to Presidential duties during the Leone Stars match. Video clips showing law enforcement officers standing by, while party supporters destroyed ballot boxes during the Hamilton bye elections have done the rounds on social media. Such images could be interpreted by others as either a tacit approval of the behaviour, or the inadequate provision of security. But if the latter was the reason, you would wonder why adequate security was not provided, considering the recent events that took place prior to the elections in this constituency were nothing to be proud of. Why would a Presidential guard, allegedly see the need to brutalise a journalist, and a female for that matter, when she was no reported risk to the President at the time.
These incidents might sound trivial to some people, but they may be indicative of a growing trend that is mushrooming in our community. But before we go further, let me make one thing clear here. The issue of violence in our community did not start yesterday, nor is the monopoly of the current government. But it is the frequency of such occurrences that leaves you feeling whether it is the rule than the exception. When you look at the picture above, what is becoming clearer is that, those who have even a passing relationship with and are expected to uphold the law tend to act as judge and jury. And those who are supposed to abide by the law tend to break it, as an attempt to mete out justice. Recently, the ACC Commissioner masterminded an excellent job in catching alleged exam fraudsters. The expectation was for the Commissioner to hand the evidence over to the judiciary, and for the law to take its course. Instead, it became a matter of spectator justice. Some may say that the level of corruption in our country has affected every sinew of our psyche and therefore required desperate measures. You be the judge. The ACC has recently arrested a further five for allegedly similar offence; for good measure.
This piece is in no way a psychoanalysis of the situation. Without attributing any iota of merit to such behaviours, we should be looking at reasons or factors, why taking the law into one’s hands is now in vogue. Do people do so because they have lost trust in the law enforcement and justice system? Crime and punishment are first cousins that are inextricably linked by the concept of deterrence. So when people break the law or self dispense justice by brute force, is that because they have the firm belief that it will be “buff case? “Is it because the law has actually become an ass? It is a common sight on our TV screens, to see people in position of trust displaying anger; just because they have alternative opinions. Recently, there were growing calls for the Finance Minister to resign; which was a reflection of the frustration of the populace. The Minister may have gone out of his way to explain the difficulties facing the economy. Unfortunately, he marinated his response with some flippancy that many saw as a total disregard for the genuine concerns of the citizens he was appointed to serve. That could be a recipe for angst.
Musa Tombo returned from Sweden to play for his country. While some teased him that he returned because Sweden was too cold for him, many acknowledged his ultimate patriotic sacrifice. He was joined by other compatriots in representing our country. The result of the match is history, but is their any justification for the mob to attack the house of the captain? No one is denying how painful the result was; but was the wanton violence justified? And has anyone been arrested and punished; to send a message that such behaviours would not be tolerated? You wonder if Mercury International Lotto/Betting had anything to do with that; when you imagine the number of punters who were on the losing end of the result.
In response to resuscitate our ailing economy, the government has signed MOUs, grants, loans etc., with international partners recently. President Bio has been toting the air miles to international donors and partner alike. The government tweaked its immigration policies as well; all aimed at attracting investors and visitors alike. It goes without question that we need the foreign investment and currency. Tourism is a big earner for any country. Our cousins in the Gambia cannot boast of the resources we have in Sierra Leone. Even the groundnut which used to be their premium cash crop has lost value in the world market. Instead, they improved their tourism potential as the alternative. While The Gambia is in the Champions League of holiday destinations in Africa, Sierra Leone is languishing in the doldrums of division 2. But why is that?
You would never find tourist rushing to buy tickets to places that are marked as unstable in your travel guide. The Gambia has been relatively stable in comparison. Sierra Leone and The Gambia had their independence in 1961 and 1965. Adama Barrow is their 3 head of state in history. How many can Sierra Leone boast of? Bad governance, corruption and violence have plagued our country for too long. It is in our collective interest to promote and uphold peace. If we believe that by being at each other’s throat only affects our opponents, we need to think again. Every level of violence and its effect is reflected in every facet of our lives. If violence is allowed to fester in our country, investors would be reluctant to take the risks associated with unstable country.
In a excerpt from Lonely Planet, a travel guide for tourists, this was the introduction “For the traveller, Sierra Leone is still West Africa’s secret beach destination. Sweet sands rise from the soft waters of the Atlantic, with the backdrop dressed in sun-stained hues, rainforest green and the red, red roads of the north. You can’t ask for a better review. But why is Sierra Leone still a “secret” and why are tourists not stampeding their way to our country?
In order for our country to develop, we need partners. In order for us to attract partners, we need to portray a stable, credible and safe environment. It is in the interest of every Sierra Leonean to make Sierra Leone a place to be, visit and invest. We cannot do so if we can’t guarantee our partners the security and stability required as foundation stones for development and progress. The SLPP government had an entente cordial with the opposition APC party last week. Some people will see this as a master stroke by President Bio. But there is no doubt that the meeting had the finger prints of our International partners. There have been serious concerns from the international front about the level of violence permeating our country.
Our country has come a long way; from one party statehood to democracy via a rebel war. If we are to redeem our country from our current quagmire, it is the duty of all citizens to aspire to uphold and promote good governance, human rights, peace and stability. The value of the dollar does not know whether you are a Temne or Mende. The price of petrol is not dependent on your political persuasion. And for those praying, wishing, and hoping for the government to fail, let us remember that we all stand and fall together. As head of his government, President Bio has the responsibility to lead in ensuring that we all live in peace. And that will have a lot to do with how he presides over the state of affairs. Any victory that is achieved by violence is temporary and equal to a defeat. As a nation, we should not accept a norm of violence or celebrate aggression. If we do, we would be making celebrities of the same people who would destroy our society.
Don’t forget to turn the light off when you leave the room.