Sierra Leone Police facing a difficult decision

Titus Boye-Thompson, Communications Consultant

When faced at times with the difficulties of acting decisively in certain situations, the saying that one finds oneself between a rock and a hard place is an apt description of the inconsistencies in thought that provokes action. The situation that exists in Sierra Leone at this time can best be described as precarious and likened to being on tenterhooks. The Sierra Leone Police is struggling to keep the lid on what would become an explosive situation degenerating to mayhem.

The threats of violence is becoming louder as the political calendar draws near but at such speed that the Sierra Leone Police stands the risk of becoming overwhelmed by the backlash.


Post conflict environments are typically loaded with violence and the threat of further war or conflict by agitators who tend to see violence as rent-seeking, the prescription for undermining the state’s absolute control over force and the use of force. In the event, a breakdown of police authority is identified as one of the key characteristics of state fragility. In their discourse on the topic of State fragility and the consequences of institutions in building secure social orders, North, Wallis and Weingast (2009) argued that failed States are lower ordered environments with “limited access orders” as opposed to the more advanced Western societies with “closed access orders.”

According to Levy (2003) their argument is centred around establishing “a new framework for interpreting the evolution and performance of political and economic institutions.” In such societies, the Police fail to function as the principal institution that is authorized to invoke violence in the name of the State as activism and other interests form what they term as “dominant coalitions” which challenge the Police in operationalizing its mandate.

Acemoglu (2003) looked at the disparity in incomes and standards of living between rich and poor countries as a problematic in economic development policy discourse, citing that “poor countries such as those in sub-Saharan Africa, Central America, or South Asia, often lack functioning markets, their populations are poorly educated, and their machinery and technology are outdated or non-existent,” he contends that such characteristics are only “proximate causes of poverty.”

Within this environment, the paucity of information flows and the emergence of demagoguery placates the minds of the ordinary people to such an extent that the actions of legal authority aimed at curtailing such excesses of lawlessness and impunity are confused and misinterpreted as heavy handed or repressive policing regimes. Consequently, the Sierra Leone Police is constrained by any move or intention to act swiftly in the face of unlawful activity for fear of upsetting the sensibilities of political activists. In the event, the duty to act is restrained even in the face of open and defiant lawlessness and confrontation.

Lahai Lawrence Leema is showing signs of having been conditioned by the doctrine of Paopaism as he epitomizes the lawlessness and aggressiveness that is characteristic of that ideology. They believe that events must be defined by their own design and fashion. The expectations that they cannot be challenged is upstaged only by their misplaced self-assurance and abject arrogance. The thrust of their political gimmickery is underpinned by a dysfunctional claim to a right to power on the basis of having languished in opposition for some time, it is now a matter of power to be handed to them as if the essence of the power dynamic is played out as a relay race.

Some political observers are beginning to suggest that there is a cynical ploy to invoke violence during the upcoming elections in March 2018 in such a way so as to downgrade the legitimacy of the elections and to cause a call for a government of national Unity as the only way to avoid further weakening of the democratic environment. In the event, for an election that would be difficult for the SLPP to win the likes of Lawrence Leema and the wider “Paopa” brigade hope that power sharing would provide for them a de facto route to power.

While it is feasible that scope for any such arrangements would be supported as an alternative to all-out war, it is rather condescending for opposition elements to restrict the free flow of the democratic process because they are running scared or alternatively unsure of their chances of success at the polls. There cannot be a change of government under a circumstance of insecurity or threats to upset the established order. In such instances, the condition of poverty that compels the ordinary man to join up with every political masquerade that come by is symptomatic of the level at which people now approach political engagements nowadays.

There is a growing call for the Police to engage with the wider public on their strategies for policing the forthcoming elections. The call for police action now is predicated by the need for an open communications and messaging strategy to prepare the public on the necessity of Police action. Many who make this call point to the experience of other countries in Africa where election violence had reared its ugly head and the tactics that had been used to significantly reduce the incidence of harsh police action.

The difficulty of a Police that turns its arsenal against its own people has always been a troublesome concept to contemplate. However, the simplest of actions has been known to escalate within the charged political environment that exists here. Not too long ago, just last week in fact, riotous conduct was displayed by supporters of the SLPP as they went on the rampage destroying property and looting the wares of ordinary traders. It had to take a contingent of Anti-riot police armed with teargas to dispel the rioting mobs and they were chased down to the SLPP Headquarters.

As the events unfolded, no word of caution was given to the SLPP rioters nor did any attempt made since then to dissociate the Party from such acts of reckless destruction. All in all, the Police action was not accepted as reasonable force even though there were no arrests or casualties. It was rather unfortunate that some from within the SLPP Headquarters insisted on accusing the Police of heavy handedness and vented out their complaints of Police brutality and abuse of their human rights.

The commotion that resulted from that fracas caused many to suffer from the fumes of tear gas and the precocious nature of a city tensed up with the threat of force and civil unrest. That such stressful events would tend to stretch the police resources and cause the force to be very much constrained from performing their duties to the best of their ability. It is therefore suggested that the Police strategy to manage the process should be better enhanced by clear and concise communications and a messaging centred around the indivisibility of justice and the shared responsibility of the general public and other bodies to work towards a peaceful and well-ordered elections.

The Sierra Leone Police has already built up a network of citizen panels and engagement strategies such as the Local Policing Partnership Boards where civilians and other stakeholders within a local Policing Unit would engage with the local Unit Commander and his staff to determine ways of delivering on the Community Policing functions of each Local Unit Command. In this way, policing across large urban areas are not uniform as local needs policing seeks to prioritize those issues relevant to their individual circumstances. In the same way, the Police must engage with its local policing Units and determine appropriate messaging and communication streams to reach out to the public and to ensure that policing needs are determined well in advance of the coming elections.

Also, it is clear that proper communication and iterative frameworks must underpin the Police engagement and help to assist the Police in meeting the needs of each local unit command. The end product of these engagements would secure a getter public relationship and result in a robust and effective policing of the coming elections in March 2018.

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