Titus Boye-Thompson, Communications Expert
The mere mention of riots in Kabala is a serious matter for contention, the area being wedged in the Norther most tip of Sierra Leone, bordering with Guinea and with a community mixed with indigenes of both countries, Kabala evokes a seeming remoteness and a sense of inaccessibility on account of the lofty hills and impressive mountains of the “Wara wara.” It is also emotive of a place where the ancient spirits of the traditional African society hold sway over a people so peaceful and demure that the mere sensibilities that a riot evokes may seem out of place. Kabala is a romantic town, alluringly beautiful in landscape and full of vitality that its people of proud ancestry have always revered. Yet the mere semblance of unease has now raised a cloud over the behaviour of its young people, the reactions of government officials and the exuberance or as some may see it, the wanton aggressiveness with which the Police force exercised their mandate to protect life and property and to restore order at the threat of a breach of the public peace.
The announcement by the Vice President over the weekend past at the celebrations of International Youth Day was not intended to be so corrosive as to cause or otherwise ignite such mayhem. Vice President Foh was recounting the various Government policies that are being contemplated for the benefit of young people across the country and even recanted that owing to some errant behavior sometimes experienced by wayward elements, these initiatives are being put in place but admonished the youths to hold them in veneration, not despoil or destroy what would be a formidable array of Government support to build their capacity and make them viable citizens in general. The announcement was clear that Government is considering the location of the youth village in Tonkolili but like so many Government initiatives, it is very clear that were this location to become a source of dis-benefit to Kabala or any other region for that matter, a public demonstration with the potential to cause mayhem is the very last thing that young people should have contemplated.
Vice President Victor Foh was clear in his discussions with young people over the weekend that he was in fact appreciative of the efforts that are already being made by young people to get engaged in national life. He was supportive of the majority of young people who are law abiding but chose the opportunity, in his own inimitable way to scold those he deems would be wayward, lawless and disparaged among their number. To reiterate, Vice President Foh would never have imagined that his statement would cause any such harm but rather would have been well pleased about the announcement to move ahead with the Youth Village as a good thing for young people everywhere. After all, it is immaterial where the youth village is built in the long term because when issues of multi-laterality are taken into account, Mile 91 may have come out as a more centralized location, affording easy access to young people from all parts of the country with a range of services and logistics infrastructure to support such a project.
There are in the main, other ways that the issue about the location of the youth village would have been handled – hindsight as always being a greater teacher. It is possible that government would have considered the arguments of the young people of Kabala and in that process provided an alternative project that would be more attractive and beneficial to young people of that District and region. It is now more than likely that government would consider this option seriously now, in a bid to allay the fears of the young people in the North that the commitment to enhancing their prospects are not being taken lightly.
The response by government was decisive. It was meant to restore peace in a troubled society while at the same time sending a message that the doors are open for the youths of Kabala to engage at a very high level to decide on more practical ways of solving their problems.
There are those however who seek to make political capital out of this imbroglio but it was demonstrated at a very high level that the APC Party would resist that allure to manipulate issues of national development for party political purposes. This is an issue that has ordinarily come out of a disjoint in communication with young people. Their actions may have been escalated to a level that is now regrettable but government has shown that it has the situation under control. The efforts being made by high ranking officials especially by those who have the confidence of the Kabala youths such as the Bank Governor, Dr Kelfala Marah, NATCOM Director General Momoh Konte, Deputy Minister 1, Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Food Security Madam Marie Jalloh, the National Youth Council Chairman, Ibrahim Tholley, the Kabala Youth Chairman and Vice President Foh is being seen as demonstrative of an effort to restore calm and order within the shortest possible time.
The Sierra Leone Police has also moved its command chain to swift action, leveraging resources to handle the matter in a professional manner by operationalizing the incident, scaling up the security threat response level to invoke MAC-P and the institution of a local curfew to reduce the prospect of further escalation. It has also launched an immediate investigation into the initial Police response which will look at the veracity of front line police response and the weight of decision making that caused officers to use live rounds on the ground. All of these measures speak to a Government apparatus that is firmly in control and the burden is now on everyone engaged in this dispute to be resolute in seeking a settlement, that our young people would be assured of their interests in the matter not to be trampled upon and for the country to mourn those who have been unfortunate victims of senseless violence and disorder.
In such situations, it is always better if we seek to learn from the decisions taken on the ground, identify the gaps in training of our personnel be them in the Police or other Government agencies, and to ensure that the lines of communication between state institutions and local communities are always properly channeled and open. That these lines of communication should be used often to keep information flow concurrent with events as they unfold and for our communities and society to become more institutionalized in the way we respond to issues as they occur.