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Meeting Sierra Leone’s police chief

Meeting Sierra Leone’s police chief

National security is a crucial element in sustaining good governance. A nation that effectively sustains her national security stands the chances of making gains in terms of socio-economic development.  For instance, when you have dozens of foreign and national investment opportunities, it is only when national security is guaranteed that such investments can flourish. Countries like China, Japan and even the world power, the United States, have all tended to reach their apex of development due to a number of reasons, amongst them their ability to maintain their internal security. But sustaining and maintaining state security involves the collective role of citizens. And it is only when we respect the law by abiding to what law enforcement agencies say that we can achieve what we wish to. I would prefer a country without a participatory form of democracy that one with a force police.  (Photo: I G Munu)

Progress and development:

Sierra Leone continues to make tremendous progress in the area of maintaining internal security, just as it is with external security. Both the police and the armed forces have all kept excelling in their various constitutional mandates. This is notwithstanding the numerous challenges they are faced with in present day policing. The fact remains the police force has continued to stand the test of time since the return of Sierra Leone to multiparty democracy, especially following an end to the country’s decade long civil war.

By 2007 when President Koroma was elected into governance, the police force under the leadership’s of Brima Acha Kamara had series of challenges. But the facts must be stated that the change in government from a running party to an effective and robust opposition came at a time when people were clamoring for change and when they had realized the development plans of the incoming government, as was contained in President Koroma‘s ‘change agenda’ were as rich and promising as the leadership itself.  So,  one was not surprised, that even the police force were literally happy that an opposition party leader could win an election in post war Sierra Leone. But again, forget not the fact that, that was not the first time for the APC to have won elections when in opposition.

Say what you may, the force has gone through a lot of transformation, both in terms of crime management, collaborating with the justice sector and in working with the public in curbing crime rate across the country.  Francis Munu may not have satisfied all, but I am of the fervent view, that an encouraging percentage of the populace are in support of his leadership. Upon my arrival in Sierra Leone over a week ago, I found time to have a talk with the police chief, after two years of his stay as Inspector-General of Police. From robust screening checks (even AIGs included) right at the doors leading into the building, to my observation of regional commanders, meeting his office to the apparent coordination I saw, I was impressed that things continue to change on a daily routine.

Public support:

Francis Alieu Munu is slightly above two years in office and since he assumed office, a lot has occurred; from “capacity building through trainings for police officers”, curbing political violence, to working toward an effective crime management.  “A lot has been happening in the last couple of years in terms of capacity building through training”, IG Munu told me. And as a result of such capacity building the force has been able to reduce crime in the country.

Of great relevance in police operations is the need for general support from stakeholders like the public, and especially from political parties especially given our post war history. In fact it was out of the value that the force had for community participation in their daily work that we saw the establishment of Local Policing Partnership Boards across the regions as a way of involving communities in crime management and a host of other issues.

Political parties must also be seen working in tandem with the strong desire to ensure security and working towards encouraging their supporters to abide by the law. Anything below this means, they are undermining the national interest. For IG Munu, the police force has “not been getting that great support from most of them, since most time, when we try to curb political crime, political parties, especially the opposition would think we are against them” But has party color been of relevance to them when it comes to curbing crime?   “The party you belong to is not relevant to us, as the crime you commit”, Munu told me.

Government support/peacekeeping:

Working under the executive arm of government, most of what they do depends on how government supports them. The Presidency has always worked towards ensuring state institutions especially the security sector are given the needed support. President Koroma knows, a state that caters for her security is one that cares for its people. But for a period when a given government had to disband our national army, the country has always ensured, our security sector are supported.

And Munu thinks, such support, especially from the executive army of government, has been very encouraging. “We are getting such support from the government. We get our salaries on time; get our regular subventions which we are now using; we now talk about an increase in our mobility; also with an increase in the number of recruitments, from 8,500 in 2007 to about 12,000 at present. We continue to get a lot of investments in the country and with such there is the need to get the needed security to be able to secure such investments across the country”. And it was as a result of the continuous support they keep getting from the government that we have seen some sort of international confidence built upon our police force for which we all should be proud of. Today, the police force continues to contribute to international peace and stability as seen in their deployment in countries like Sudan, Somalia and Hati amongst other areas.

Police/ politicians and the law:

Let us be practical here; when supporters of the main opposition SLPP went berserk during the petition hearing over a change taken to court by then flagbearer, Julius Bio, the force had to ensure the maintenance of law and order around the precinct of the law court, especially following the display of acts and behaviors country t0o societal expectations and contrary to what the law allows. This eventually led to a number of them being put into police custody and subsequently charged to court. This caught media headlines, both local and international. This is when a political dimension was given to the issue by the opposition, which was a rather unfortunate decision on their part.   But it should be noted, the force is there to maintain law and order and until political parties, especially those in the opposition know this simple fact, it becomes a serious challenge for the work of our law enforcement agencies. And encouragingly Munu said “what we (SLP) do in maintaining law and order cuts across all political, parties. Be you APC, SLPP or PMDC, we look at the crime committed and when you fall foul of the law, we don’t look at your party but the crime you commit”

Take for instance, the recent pronouncement by a leading opposition figure in the country in the person of Charles Margai Esq. For years; he has always remained controversial in Sierra Leone’s political landscape. He had an issue with the law, following his threat against state security and promising to “see the back “of the President and also claiming the President may not see the end of his second term in office and even boasting of having thousands of ex-militia men under his control (by the way, why did he not get thousands of vote in the recent elections?)  His outburst emanated from a land issue he had with the first lady.

He failed to realize his legal background that should have cautioned him to know what to say .Or perhaps; he was looking for cheap propaganda and a way of getting the attention of the President. Who knows? Rather than using the courts of law he chose the court of public opinion-the media to seek the attention he needed. He told it, but with about 66 hours in police detention and perhaps, with charges coming soon after his back. The police “took the threat against the state by Charles Margai seriously. The constitution prevents one from raising any form of army. The Kamajors were a set of militia men that were disband and he claimed to have control over 20,000 and that he has the power to marshal them  as they were only waiting on his command,” IG Munu said.

The police would therefore want to know “how he intends stopping the President from ending his second term in office and how he would want to see his back”… he should give accounts of his statement.” Besides, Munu assured, the force will “try to separate his involvement with the police from the land issue. He made an oral complaint to me about the land issue and I gave him an oral advice. We do not determine ownership of land as it is not our responsibility and that is why I even asked him to see how we first determine ownership of the said land. He never made a statement to the Criminal Investigations Department upon which we will act”, Munu said  and given the seriousness of his threat against the state and the Presidency, the law officers department will be asked to advise the police as “the case file will be sent to them for legal advice, we hope to charge him.  We will send the case file to the Law Officers Department for legal advice.”

General impression:

My general impression about the force has been one of hope and a brighter future. The country’s drive to prosperity cannot be achieved when the security of the state is not guaranteed. We have seen how law enforcers in other countries execute their duties. In our case, room has always been provided where people are allowed great liberty even where they should spend days behind bars. We have seen how some politicians have always tried to provoke state security but with the professionalism of our forces, coupled with the support that the government has been giving them, we have always tried as a country to move with international trends.

Francis Munu and his men should be commended. They have a long way to go, but where they have reached, they should be appreciated and government should obviously be commended for always providing the political support to them. And it is with that I will say kudus to the political ministry in charge of internal security.

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