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Political Violence Could Destroy Sierra Leone, Yet Again.
By Sankara S. Kamara {USA}
Sep 21, 2011, 17:02
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The recent clashes in Bo Town between the opposition and supporters of the ruling APC government do not bode well for peace and security in Sierra Leone. Under normal circumstances, the irrational behaviour which led to the disturbances in Bo Town could be dismissed as an isolated incident that simply mutated into chaos.


Politically speaking, however, Sierra Leone is not a normal country. The institutions needed to insure a country against anarchya professional police force, an apolitical army, an independent judiciary, and an accountable executiveare so lacking in Sierra Leone that even the mildest political violence could lead to orgiastic scenes of lawlessness.


Although the Sierra Leone Police Force appears to have reasserted its authority in the strife-stricken town, the fierce nature of the Bo Town incident came as a mordant reminder of the threats posed to Sierra Leone by political violence. Regardless of ones political party leanings in Sierra Leone, it cannot be denied that reports of an alleged attack on an opposition leader amounted to a breach of the peace that could have narrowed the countrys path to democracy.


As Freetown bestirs itself with party politics, the Bo Town incident continues to spawn numerous analyses, with both government and the opposition claiming victimhood while hurling charges of impropriety at each other. 


The creation of a commission of inquiry to probe into the Bo Town incident may look like an astute political move made by the president, but an unvarnished observation of our politics would reveal otherwise. Since coming to power four years ago, the ruling APC has not done anything to either strengthen the rule of law, or reclaim Sierra Leone from the banditry that stokes political violence.

When some APC hotheads burnt down the official car of an SLPP official in the foregrounds of the oppositions headquarters after ransacking it in 2009, for example, the government condoned that outrage by failing to prosecute those who attacked the symbols of democracy in broad daylight!


The evidence against the car-burners not withstanding, the government threw that fiery incident into oblivion by failing to take the prosecutorial steps normally taken against those who communicate via violence. After that violent incident, it became clear that Sierra Leone remains a recidivist State, claiming to rebrand itself while reverting to crude forms of governance.


A Nation Haunted By Its Dictatorial Past?


Born and raised in Siaka Stevens autocratic Sierra Leone, my perception of Sierra Leonean politics has always been affected by the villainy with which our country was destroyed during the years of one-party rule. As a law unto itself, Siaka Stevens patriarchal system encouraged political violence by rewarding those who pursued, and ultimately grabbed power, through acts of domestic terrorism.


From the violent desires of the late Thaimu Bangura to the so-called Ndorgbowusu brutes in Pujehun, Siaka Stevens era was marked by patterns of violence that stymied every bid to introduce law and order in Sierra Leone. A whole generation of Sierra Leoneans grew up under Siaka Stevens, seeing nothing but the use of brutality to grab and keep power. When Sierra Leone ultimately succumbed to the pulls of anarchy, the conflict was fought with an animalistic ferocity that defies common sense.


Without the requisite institutions for self-correction, post-Siaka Stevens Sierra Leone remains a visionless Leviathan, ready to actualize its violent instincts each time democracy becomes a vogue word.


Although the president has reportedly instructed the police to protect SLPP offices all over the country, the Bo Town melee was too scary to pass without leaving vexed questions in its wake. Why did it take a security scare involving the main opposition presidential candidate in Bo Town before President Koroma could realize that political decency obliges the State to protect the opposition?


As a democratically-elected leader, President Koroma certainly knows that the opposition needs to be protected from the crudities of political violence.  The need to protect the opposition is made even more urgent by the fact that Sierra Leone lacks a politically-awakened electorate, a truism that explains why some Sierra Leoneans are ready to spill blood over issues that could be resolved through debates.


Although the 2007 elections which brought the president to power were occasioned by acts of violence committed by both parties, Ernest Koromas success in winning the presidency, gave him the task of improving the imperfect democratic system that brought him to power.  The strength  of a young, agrarian democracy is measured, in part, by the States ability to hold relatively peaceful elections.


Ernest Koroma, or future leaders of Sierra Leone, cannot claim legitimacy if the nation they govern cannot hold peaceful elections. The holding of peaceful elections is only a rudiment of democracy, and political leaders who fail to perform that basic function should never be credited with successful stewardship.   

Almost a decade after extinguishing the fires of civil war, Sierra Leone must either pacify itself via democratic means, or choose to incinerate itself anew. The clearest lesson learned from the civil war is that while political violence is easy to start, controlling it is an exceedingly difficult task. In a number of empirical, African cases, the initiators of political violence either got consumed by the crises they started, or simply lost power to the unintended consequences of anarchy.


President Koroma may have set up a commission of inquiry to probe into the Bo Town incident, but the seriousness of the situation requires more than the formation of commissions. After all, commissions of inquiry are NOT known for solving problems in Sierra Leone.


If the rule of law is to prevail in Sierra Leone, President Koroma, or whoever rules the country, must boldly depoliticize the police and army, free the judiciary from political enslavement, and allow the legal system to prosecute political thugs without fear of retribution from State House. These are the main prerequisites for nation-building, and they entail so many complexities that success should not be expected overnight.


However, a determined national leader can take the first step towards normalcy by tackling the lawlessness that permeates every institution, from the police force to the two main political parties vying for the presidency. Like any broken entity, Sierra Leone can be reformed if we decide to outgrow our ugly past.

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

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