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Cry, My Beloved Country

Cry, My Beloved Country

It is barely a week since the whole nation observed in various ways, by prayers, silence, meditation and reflection on the January 6 anniversary that saw one of the bloodiest events that ever tainted our country’s history. Prayers were said in all shades of faith for the departed, the injured, amputated, raped and decapitated. The displaced, misplaced and replaced were all etched on the minds of survivors on this fateful day. January 6 will always mark a momentous time piece on the nation’s psyche. It will always bring back painful memories, regrets, sorrows, recriminations and all sorts. But above all, it will symbolise the ability of Sierra Leoneans to survive in the face of adversity, and the ability to forgive, reconcile and move on. It was only proper that on this day, a collective tribute was paid to all those who innocently paid the price of such barbarity.  (Photo: Abdulai Mansaray, author)

It is common knowledge that the war that lasted for 11 years claimed the lives of over 50,000 people. The causes of the war have been varied but paramount among them has been the “resource curse”, the phenomenon whereby countries with an abundance of natural resources tend to nonetheless be characterised by lower levels of economic development. It has always been the continuing pattern of corruption and personal aggrandisement at the expense of public needed services, infrastructure and institutions that have always formed the bedrock for angst among the people. The war in Sierra Leone was used to serve many vested interests at home and abroad; principally the late Muammar al-Gaddaffi who trained and supported Charles Taylor and helped Foday Sankoh as well. Victor Bout, the Russian “merchant of death” supplied Charles Taylor with the weapons for use in Sierra Leone. It is ironical that Gaddaffi became a major “benefactor and friend” of Sierra Leone after all the atrocities. Unknown to many Sierra Leoneans, his death was mourned by those who saw him as a saviour. Enough of the history lesson.

The inter-party violence that marred the Fourah Bay bye –election on Saturday has not left a bitter taste in the mouth, but has generated accusations and counter accusations across the political canvas of the country. It might come as a surprise to some people but some of us had expressed concerns in past articles about the potential for such scenarios long ago. In my article, “The youths of today have a lot to say”, I implied that the theatre for such atrocities have been prefaced by the events in Kono and Bo, which came in rapid succession. I also intimated that such tendencies needed to be nipped in the bud with zero tolerance. In spite of the sitting governments achievements, there is no running away from the fact that a large part of the populace, especially the youths feel disgruntled, left out and destitute. The current economic climate, which has not been helped by the global recession, has not been kind to the economic recovery that was reportedly dawning in the country. While belt tightening and austerity measures are fast becoming the financial fashion statements trending the developed world, countries like Sierra Leone have recycled these measures umpteenth times over, to be a permanent feature.

The question that may be confronting every well meaning Sierra Leonean is “have we not learnt from the past?” You will be forgiven to think that with an 11 year war history and a recently held memorial of January 6 massacre, such reminders will be so raw that the citizens, or better still survivors will be constipated with anything to do with war and violence. Of course the violence seen on Saturday may have been carried out by a few, but the effects can be far reaching. If these events are anything to go by, one would shudder to think of what the future holds come November. This is no attempt to masquerade as a political soothsayer or merchant of doom. However, there are certain hall marks that can be used in an attempt to offer a diagnosis of the cankerworm that is threatening not only our recovery but the hard earned peace that is the envy of countries like Somalia, Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, and Libya, to name a few.

There is an easy temptation to attribute the violence to the youth. The uneasy atmosphere between the major parties has been generated by a triumvirate that includes the thugs, the politicians and the media. The youths remain largely disaffected because of the lack of unemployment and the lack of opportunities. Poverty is the worst form of violence (Ghandi).The high predominance of illiteracy does little to promote their employability. Against this background are the historical stretch marks of war. Many served as or were born into an era of political and social upheaval. Some were active participants of the horror that was meted to our country and its people. The end of the war, a welcome relief had bequeathed a generation of seriously psychologically traumatised young adults and kidult. Some grew up as orphans, some with broken families and others with nowhere to go; resulting in abandonment as street children. With no role models to steer their lives, the psychological and social shipwreck becomes predictable. As children, they were exploited by the world of adults, drafted as child soldiers during their innocence and forced to carry out the evil deeds of their masters. All violence consists of some people forcing others, under threat of suffering or death, to do what they do not want to do (Leo Tolstoy).

As if that was enough and for the second time in their lives, politicians who symbolise the adult world take a second helping in capitalising on the disaffected youths to carry out their nefarious activities. These youths are exploited again by the political masters for their own gain. With that level of despondence, it is easy to see how these vulnerable youths can be manipulated to carry out such violence. Considering that the image of violence, death and bloodshed had been the only language they were exposed to during their innocent and formative lives, it is obvious to see how they can be easily persuaded to revert to type.

This is not intended to give a carte blanche to violence from the youths, and should not be seen as a professional opinion to diagnose our problem; just a bystander’s thinking aloud. Social injustice cannot be attained by acts of violence; as violence tends to destroy what it tends to create in the first place. It is a widely held belief that many of the youths who ride the “Okada” are “war veterans” in terms. One needs to just look at the death defying manner of their handling of these machines to get an idea of how much fear of death is coursing through their veins. Their adherence to traffic rules is suicidal by all accounts. This might be reckless to say, but death appears to have little fear for them.

My primary school teacher once told me that you need fuel, heat and oxygen to make a fire. In this scenario, we have the thugs as the fuel and the politicians as the heat. To complete the triumvirate, we have the media as the oxygen. The term media has been loosely used here to refer to those who have misused, abused and refused the right to freedom of expression. A free press is not a privilege but an organic necessity in a great society.  There is no doubt that media is the most powerful entity on earth. Unfortunately, this noble and God given right has been reduced to a begging bowl. Some have used it to promote their personal interests and at the same time become celebrated political griots.  People have been so cleverly manipulated and influenced by the media that truth has become hopelessly lost in semantics. The default position of the media is to remain neutral and objective, with the triple duty to educate, inform and entertain the public. We know that this is not possible in the real world, as he who pays the piper calls the tune. Unfortunately, some have gone to town with their blind allegiances; so much so that personal vendettas, accusations and political rivalries have been reduced to insults, threats and downright organised gossip.

It is common place to see writers trading insults or attacking personalities instead of arguing their points on a matter of principle or issues. Politicians (heat) incite the thugs (fuel) and get the media (oxygen) to propagate their rhetoric to the masses. It is this kind of literary thugery that can easily permeate onto the psyche of the man on the street. As we know, political histories involve mass violence, and it is this heroism on command and senseless violence that is been perpetuated in the name of patriotism. The mouth of a righteous man is a well of life, but violence covereth the mouth of the wicked (Proverbs 10:11).

It will be very difficult to see how the media can exonerate itself from the violence that seems to pervade our country today. Prior to the bye-election violence, there was an imitation of the American style East Coast-West Coast drive by shooting gangland deaths among rival musicians. As for this group, they would be best advised to drop the act because “E nor fit una sef”.  Sadly, there is some glorification of such immoral violence in the reporting.

Some people may be addicted to violence but the main goal of the future will be to stop It.; for the most important element of a free society, where individual rights are held in the highest esteem, is the rejection of the initiation of violence. This is what Ron Paul, a presidential nominee is telling the hawks in America, who are preparing to widen their knowledge in geography by attacking Iran. If the recent violence surrounding the bye elections is anything to go by, then the hope of a free and fair election this year remains questionable.

According to local media, the SLPP is alleged to have initiated the violence. This seems to be a departure from the accustomed African political scene. It is usually the incumbent party that perpetuates violence in order to hold on to power. Laurent Gbagbo and Robert Mugabe are co-authors of “an idiots guide to clinging to power”. In most cases, it is the challenging party that cries foul; not that the change is laudable or welcome in any way. The reported 14% voter turnout is either indicative of the fear or threat of violence or just voter apathy. Either way, such a percentage is not representative of a democratic process in action. If the margin is representative, then we are in for a close call election; hope it’s minus the violence though.

As for the youths, remember that politicians can promise to build bridges even where there are no rivers. Is it worth dying for?  As the election is coming, universal peace will be declared and the foxes will declare their sincerest interest in prolonging the lives and welfare of poultry. Better still, they will ask turkeys to vote for Christmas.

Don’t forget to turn off the lights, when you leave the room.

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  • “According to local media, the SLPP is alleged to have initiated the violence. This seems to be a departure from the accustomed African political scene. It is usually the incumbent party that perpetuates violence in order to hold on to power. Laurent Gbagbo and Robert Mugabe are co-authors of “an idiots guide to clinging to power”. In most cases, it is the challenging party that cries foul; not that the change is laudable or welcome in any way. The reported 14% voter turnout is either indicative of the fear or threat of violence or just voter apathy. Either way, such a percentage is not representative of a democratic process in action. If the margin is representative, then we are in for a close call election; hope it’s minus the violence though”-Abdulai Mansaray

    Bra thanks for your nice write-up. However if the media in Sierra Leone is your source of information , you will forever remain in the dark of the true nature of happenings in Sierra Leone as the media that we know in other countries is not what it is in Sierra Leone where the quest for material gains , money and power had put dark clouds over the eys of our media practitionners who themselves do not believe in what they write any longer but write they have to to get what they wants.
    Below is the true story of whay happend from the PPRC which mounted an investigations.
    “Political Parties Registration Commission –Interim Monitoring Report of the Ward 369 Constituency 104 Bye-election

    1. Introduction

    Following the death of former Councilor Abdul Salaam Ade Lewally of Ward 369 in Constituency 104 in Freetown, the National Electoral Commission (NEC) declared the seat vacant and slated Saturday 14th January 2012 as the date for a by-election to replace the former Councilor.

    On Saturday 14th January, 2012, the Political Parties Registration Commission (PPRC) deployed six staff to monitor the conduct of political parties during the voting process in Ward 369, Constituency 104 in Freetown. This was in pursuance of the Commission’s mandate which relates to monitor the conduct of political parties in Sierra Leone.

    Four political Parties filed in candidates for the by-elections in ward 369. They are as follows:

    a. All Peoples Congress (APC) Party – Abdul Tarawally;

    b. National Democratic Alliance (NDA) – Ousman Kanu

    c. Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP) – Mohamed Kanu Mansaray

    d. United Democratic Movement (UDM) – Mohamed I. N. King

    2. Goal and specific objectives for monitoring of the by-election

    The broad goal of the monitoring exercise was to monitor the conduct of political party operatives in the voting process in Ward 369.

    The indicators which guided the monitoring of the conduct of political parties are as follows:

    a. Level of political tolerance between and among political parties;

    b. Accessibility to polling centers by political parties

    c. Level of movement by party members or supporters from one center to the other within the Ward;

    d. The enabling environment for all contesting candidates & voters to cast their votes;

    e. Level of security provided to political party;

    f. Level of pluralism in the electoral process

    g. Conduct of party agents and supporters at the polling centres and the vicinity.

    3. General observations and findings

    a. Voting started at 7:20am and ended on time. This was due to argument between Party agents and NEC Staff as to the number of party agent in each polling station;

    b. Voter apathy was noted. Out of 6,000 registered voters in Ward 369 according to NEC sources, less than 1500 votes were registered. Low turnout of female voters was easily noticeable;

    c. A number of halts were noted during the voting period occasioned by disturbances by party supporters in and around polling centers;

    d. It was observed that some of the voters had their names on the list of registered voters produced by NEC but their identity card numbers did not correspond with that on the voter register;

    e. According to NEC and Political Party Officials, there was an agreement that police clearance taken between the 1st to the 9th January 2012 will be accepted on polling day. However, it was noted that some voters had police clearance issued after the 9th January, 2012. These cohorts of voters were not allowed to vote but a member of the APC insisted that they should vote and this was a source of tension in all centres.

    3.1. P0olitical Party members and operatives

    a. It was observed that members and supporters of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) and the United Democratic Movement (UDM) were peaceful;

    b. The Commission noted a high presence of SLPP stalwarts in and around the Laura Dove polling centre. The presence of Manso Dumbuya, Ambassador Allie Bangura and Hindolo Ngevao Esq. of the SLPP prompted other party agents to rally their own members to converge on the Laura Dove polling centre.

    c. The SLPP Councilor elect made a number of visit in the voting center;

    d. Party stalwarts of the APC who were seen in and around the Laura Dove Polling Centre were Alhaji Unisa Alim Sesay (Awoko), Alhaji M.S. Kargbo, and Hon. Nuru – Deen Sankoh Yillah;

    e. The arrival of Lansana Fadika of APC in a company of a group of young men at the Laura Dove polling centre provoked verbal exchanges between supporters of the APC and the SLPP. The Sierra Leone Police however was pro active in quelling the tension and Mr. Fadika was asked to leave.

    f. According to NEC and Political Party Officials, they had agreed that police clearance taken between the 1st – 9th January 2012 will be accepted on polling day. Contrary to this, Hon Nuru – Deen Sankoh Yillah was seen and heard announce publicly that those with police clearance dated after the 9th January should be allowed to vote. This announcement led to an uncontrolled rush at the gate of the polling centre at Laura Dove. The voters with dates after the 12th January wanted to vote but were prevented from doing so.

    g. Hon Tunde Lewally was seen in the company of a group of youth arrive at the Laura Dove Polling centre to cast his vote. He was told by Police Officers at the gate that he will not be accompanied by his entourage to cast his vote. His youth insisted that he should be accompanied and the SLPP Councilor elect, Mohamed Kanu Mansaray objected to. This confrontation led to violent clash between supporters of Hon Tunde Lewally and Councilor elect Mohamed Kanu Mansaray. In the circumstance, the police officers were over ran by supporters of the APC and SLPP. School benches and chairs were broken and used as weapons by both parties. It was reported later that the Councilor elect, allegedly suffered from a hand fracture.

    Other Political Party stalwarts present at the Laura Dove Polling centre were:

    1. Banja Tejan Sie – National Secretary General SLPP

    2. Hon Musa Tamba Sam – Publicity Secretary & Member of Parliament SLPP

    3. Harriet Turay – Deputy Women’s Leader SLPP

    4. Mohamed Bangura – Interim Chairman/ Leader UDM

    5. Mohamed Jalloh – National Secretary General NDA

    6. Albert Abou – senior member NDA

    However, the commission observed that some SLPP supporters wore T- Shirt with party logo whiles some APC supporters were also clad in red colours.

    3.2. The Sierra Leone Police Force

    a. The Commission observed that the Sierra Leone Police acted responsively and professionally in controlling the riotous crowd. At the start of the polls, there was deployment of armed and General Duty Police personnel at all three polling centres. This largely contributed to the end of the polling

    process.

    b. At some point, the police were overwhelmed and over stretched by the riotous crowd and had to send for reinforcement. The presence of the Inspector General of Police and senior police officers helped to boost the confidence of the police deployed at the polling centres. However, the SLP should desist from issuing police clearance after the stipulated date.

    3.3. Overall polling management by NEC

    a. The overall management of the electoral process by the NEC is commendable. The process was free, fair and transparent.

    b. NEC provided all contesting candidates, a level playing field which made the electoral process credible;

    c. Polling centers monitored at Laura Dove opened twenty minute late and Polling Officers and auxiliary staff were all punctual.

    4. APPYA

    The Commission notes with satisfaction the effort by the All Political Parties Youth Association (APPYA) in preaching Political Tolerance and Non Violence during the entire voting process.

    5. Party Agents

    · Party Agents of the APC & SLPP behaved in a disorderly manner.

    · The SLP arrested an SLPP Party agent seen with a knife.

    · The Party agents interfered in the process which led to heated argument between themselves and NEC Staff.

    · The Party agents of the APC & SLPP gave false information to their party members about the process.

    · The Centres were overcrowded with party agents.

    · Party agents were not well informed about their roles and responsibilities and the polling process.

    6. Recommendations

    6.1. High profile Political Party operatives who are not voters in constituencies and Wards should not be allowed in and around polling stations.

    6.2. Political Parties should sensitise their supporters who are not eligible voters in a constituency or ward that they should avoid being around / polling centre.

    6.3. The Sierra Leone Police should continue to be professional in the performance of their duties and should be supported by the government of Sierra Leone with logistical support to enhance electoral security.

    6.4. Electoral Management Bodies (PPRC & NEC) in collaboration with International Federation for Electoral System (IFES), the UN Family, Civil Society Organisations should provide training for Party Agents on Elections observation

    7. Conclusion

    The electoral process for the election of the Councilor for Ward 369 Constituency 104 slated for 14th January 2012 could be described as free, fair, transparent and well managed. However, the elections were marred with violence and the youth were at the centre.

    The Commission wishes to state that this report is therefore truly independent and has not been directed by any authority, persons or institution.”

    For more information please contact: 078823955/078290611/078201770 or email us at pprcsierraleone@yahoo.com

    19th January 2012
  • to the writer.
    hi,
    thank for re-informing us with this fascinating piece of work,well done. I just want to reflect on how absurd it is that the people of sierra leone observe January 6 as the only memorial days after a devastating 10 year war in the nation. what about the other innocent people that lost their lives and those that suffered the entire conflict,are they not considered eligible for any remembrance? it is just unfair to play the January 6 card, at least people suffered severely during the carnage in Freetown,but likewise in other place the atrocities was just unimaginable, and don’t you think those places need recompense since the general conflict was centered in there flander field? with that being said, journalism is all about fact and what you could contribute to spread positive conscientiousness, and acknowledge people regarding the most forgotten issues that has being seal and placed in the dump as if it was never in existence. Somehow i believe, when explaining the reason for celebrating January 6 to kids in the mere future ,the concept will not only be limited to that day, but what happened during a ten year period of ruthless conflict in our beloved soil,with out innocent families that was shown on every media screen,in homes and in offices abroad, just think about it, ignorant sierra leoneans still celebrate the act of Independence, why make it impossible to rejuvenate to recent ideas that hunted us precisely more than they way it was before the declaration of independence? we need to commemorate every faithful citizen whose blood was split in the rebuilding of our great nation, ask God to forgive them, and most necessarily let them be remembered like everyone else.Once again thank for the article, and continue educating our masses.

    19th January 2012

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