Sierra Leone Police will keep the peace during elections
One of Africa’s oldest police forces – Sierra Leone Police – is under the watchful eyes of the international community to see if they can keep the peace, maintain law and order, while ensuring the safety and security of voters during the election in November 17, 2012. Can Inspector General Munu’s police force stand up to the test? Will he uphold the police’s principal doctrine and motto of: “a force for good” or will he merely reduce a struggling institution into a play ground for overzealous politicians to manipulate at their own political advantage? (Photo: Mohamed C Bah, author)
Indeed, the relationship between the police and the citizenry of Sierra Leone has been troubling least to say fragile in nature. With the recent shooting death of a motor biker in the Eastern part of Freetown to the police brutality of striking workers in Bumbuna earlier in April 19, 2012 and the lack of security progress in curbing the rampant arm robbery in the city have increasingly been seen as a credibility problem with the Sierra Leone Police force.
Will the Inspector General repair the bleeding and damage of his police force by becoming consistently neutral in the application of the electoral laws during and after the election? Will those who are mandated to protect the integrity of the election process be transparent in their action by co-operating with authorities established to oversee the election? Can I.G. Francis Allieu Munu demonstrate the ability and foresight in planning events that will ensure public safety?
These are some of the moral and constitutional obligations the Inspector General and his 12,500 forces have to answer to the people of Sierra Leone. He must develop a strong information sharing network where all the police force- central command, local commander and frontline officers have sufficient and accurate information about their expected roles and responsibilities. Police officers at polling stations must respond to complaints from citizens and ensure that the appropriate authorities are engaged in their resolutions.
Furthermore, Mr. Francis Allieu Munu must prepare his force with training and information about the election laws and its specific application on the criminal and public order laws. Such resource-based knowledge will help them to be non-politicized, professionally oriented with adequate understanding about how to execute the security and public order act of Sierra Leone. Additionally, the Sierra Leone police must be part of the planning process at the local level, able to engage political parties and determine issues around political campaigning and demonstrations that would impinge upon public safety.
The post election strategy must not only focus on quelling disturbances or violent incidents, it must ensure that any security requirements at closed polling are met in accordance with the requests of the National Electoral Commission (NEC) and the free movement of electoral officials. And it is crucial that they exhibit and maintain the highest level of neutrality towards contending parties (Political Parties) and act promptly to investigate complaints at polling stations.
These multi-phased approaches to police planning, execution of the electoral laws and maintaining an independent role are central towards the overall success of a credible and peaceful election this year. In emerging democracies like Sierra Leone, the accountability threshold of the police force is an important issue as the voting process itself because they can either be the perpetrators of violence or the custodians of peace and security. Poverty and corruption have long exposed the police force to the whims and caprices of political dictators who used them as an arm of oppression against innocent citizens.
Nonetheless, Sierra Leone still has one of the finest police force in the West African region. This noble Institution has been victimized by coward politicians who play the blame-game with unfounded allegations that are without justifications. Others have worked to preserve the heritage and foundation of the police force under the adverse circumstances of low wages, low morale and inadequate resources to carry out their mandated duties.
Today, some Sierra Leoneans think that the Police force has lost its relevancy and credibility. But the election of 2012 will be a turning point and a watershed moment for them to once again rebound and prove itself that they are: “a force for good.” As a well-meaningful Sierra Leonean, I still have faith and confidence in the Police force. Its best days are ahead and as citizens, we must respect and not undermine an institution that has served us since 1894.
Source: Queen’s university Kingston, Ontario Canada- Andrew Graham-preparing police service in Democratic regimes.
By Mohamed C. Bah- Atlanta, GA (USA)
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