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COMMENTS & OPINIONS  

ďAWARENESSĒ Once Again
By Kelfala Kallon
Apr 3, 2009, 17:28
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In 1977 when the APC sent thugs to Fourah Bay College (FBC) to put down a student demonstration, female students were raped in broad daylight and nothing was done about it. And during the war, women were raped at will by the RUF rebels. Indeed, rape became such an instrument-of-choice in the RUFís arsenal that women in the war zones devised what became known as "Awareness" (a pair of jean shorts that they wore under their outer garments) in order to make it difficult for rebels to rape them following attacks on their towns or villages. Eventually, the efficacy of "Awareness" as a protection against rape was such that women wore it even as they slept so that they could also easily run away in case of a rebel attack.

Disappointed, Angry & Sad

Obviously, Freetown women, most of whom had not suffered the same fate as their up-country sisters, had not learned about "Awareness." Thus, when the AFRC/RUF cabal invaded the city on January 6, 1999, women and young girls were again raped in broad daylightómostly in front of their family members even as bullets were flying all over the city. After the SLPP came to power and tirelessly worked to end the war, Sierra Leonean women were again spared of the horror of rape. No longer targets of rape at the hands of drug-crazed thugs, they gladly retired their "Awareness" and became free again from the sexual violence that had been their lot during the war. That the rape the rape victims in the SLPP building might not have been wearing "Awareness" can perhaps explain why they were so easily violated on March 16, 2009, allegedly by Leatherboot and his gang.

There is an obvious pattern in this history of politically-motivated sexual violence against women in the country. In each case, the perpetrators were never punished. For instance, in the case of the 1977 rapes, President Stevens lavished praise on the thugs for having dealt with "disgruntled elements" that wanted to destabilize our national security. During the war also, the rebel commanders allowed their thugs to wantonly rape women. To complete the circle that was started by the first APC president of the country, President Koroma, who now blames the current upsurge in political violence on "unscrupulous elements," has been eerily silent on the alleged rape of women at the SLPP headquarters by a gang headed by his chief bodyguardóin broad daylight. We have only heard from his surrogates, such as the Minister for Mineral Resources, Alhaji Alpha Kanu, who has reportedly claimed that the President is so concerned about the alleged rape that he authorized him to take a video camera to the clinic where the victims were being treated and get video evidence.

I must admit that I do not know anything about Alhaji Kanuís experience in investigating cases of alleged rape. However, I think that nothing in the Mineral Resources portfolio qualifies him as the person most fit to investigate alleged cases of rape. What really baffles me about Minister Kanuís new assignment is that the Sierra Leone Police has a Criminal Investigation Division (CID) that should logically be at the forefront of such an investigation. That the President assigned a task that requires expertise in criminal forensics to a political loyalist suggests to me that he is either not really interested in the truth or he does not trust the Police to cover-up anything that might be damaging to his boys. And, for Godís sake, why was it necessary for Alhaji Kanu to take a video recorder along with him as he "investigated" the alleged rapes? Was this to reveal the identity of the rape victims so as to either compromise their safety or intimidate them into changing their testimony?

Because the alleged rapists are State House personnel, one is left to wonder whether they had orders from above to go to the SLPP headquarters, since the Police claim that Leatherboot and his gang were not officially deployed at the SLPP headquarters that day. And if orders were given to them, what were they? Who gave them?

I pose these questions because I am amazed at the lengths to which the entire APC edifice went in order to deny the rapes. When this was no longer tenable as they were confronted with the physical evidence of women (who were at the SLPP building when the alleged rapes occurred) being treated for rape-related injuries, the APCĎs official newspaper, We Yone, decided to demonize the victims by claiming that they (We Yone) were privy to medical evidence to the effect that the rape victims were prostitutesóas if it is legal to rape prostitutes. Thus, We Yone went on to conclude that any evidence of sexual activity taken from the victims should be ascribed to their having allegedly slept with several men within 48 hours of March 16, 2009.

Perhaps the lamest defense that has been put up against the rape allegation is that Leatherboot and his gang could not have raped people while the building was ablaze and being pelted with stones and other missiles. Didnít APC thugs rape students in 1977 even as bullets were flying? Didnít the RUF and AFRC thugs do likewise during the war, even as bullets were flying and villages were set ablaze? I, therefore do not understand why the APCís spin-masters find it difficult to believe that Leatherboot and his gang (who were probably affiliated with the AFRC-RUF cabal) could have similarly raped the women even as the building was being pelted with stones.

In my opinion, if the APC are so sure of their various hypotheses about the alleged rapes, they could easily put the matter to rest by conducting DNA tests of semen samples from the alleged rapists for possible matches with the evidence found at the crime scene. And if our CID personnel are not equipped to conduct such tests, I am sure that our indefatigable Foreign Minister would arrange to have Scotland Yard and the FBI provide the same sort of assistance they gave us during their joint investigation of the Great Cocaine Plane Landing.

Clearly, it is palpably obvious that President Koromaís seemingly benign neglect of this odious development is a glaring dereliction of his sworn duty to protect the lives and properties of all Sierra Leoneans regardless of political affiliation. Hopefully, he will soon listen to the message that the women of Sierra Leone, including his wife, have been trumpeting since the alleged rapes occurredóthat sexual violence against women for any reason is despicable and unacceptable in our country. However, given the Presidentís revealed preference for doing nothing about anti-SLPP political violence, Sierra Leonean women should not expect him to protect them from anti-SLPP-inspired sexual violence in the future. And after the threat by Mr. Mohamed Aziz Nabe, who is reportedly a close confidant of President Koroma, to tear the United States ambassadorís mini-skirt and tie her face with it, it appears that all women in Sierra Leone, including female members of the diplomatic corps, are at risk of being sexually humiliated if they do not cow-tow to the APCís whims and caprices. Therefore, it behooves all women in Sierra Leone, especially those who frequent areas that are in close proximity to SLPP buildings and gatherings, to start wearing "Awareness" once again.


© Copyright by Awareness Times Newspaper in Freetown, Sierra Leone.

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