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Sylvia Blyden Dot Com

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Sierra Leone.
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The Public Apology from Sierra Leone Peoples Party Newspaper
By Dr. Sylvia Olayinka Blyden
Sep 23, 2011, 16:16
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My attention has been drawn to yesterdays September 22nd 2011 front page apology issued to my humble self by the opposition SLPPs mouthpiece, the Unity newspaper.


Let me state upfront that I accept the apology BUT whilst I am well known as a very forgiving person, I must also question why the apology to Sylvia Blyden was made on the front page and in today editorial, my newspaper was maligned so wrongly by Unity editors. Awareness Times was listed higher than APC We Yone, For Di People and Torchlight in the SLPPs most disliked newspapers currently. Interesting ehn?


Anyway, the SLPPs apology, whether genuine or not, is accepted by me. Who am I not to forgive my fellow human beings?


However, many of us former friends of the SLPP are now looking askance at the real ideology behind the SLPP. It appears the 2002-2007 Tejan Kabbah SLPP which many of us admired from afar, no longer exists.


All the same, I wish the SLPP well in its democratic and legal pursuits.


Meanwhile, as a sign of goodwill, we are carrying SLPPs Kalilu Totangis opinion piece today. See below for it.

Long live our democratic culture! Long live responsible freedom of speech. Amen

Who is Behind the Political Violence in Sierra Leone?


An Opinion by Kalilu I. Totangi of the SLPP


Sierra Leone has often been lauded as an example of a post-conflict nation that has strived to consolidate peace and democracy. But the increase in political violence in the country only a year before crucial national elections for President, Parliament, Chairmen, Mayors and Councillors of District and City Councils, Sierra Leoneans and our international partners are concerned that if not nipped in the bud, the violence may well return the country to fresh conflicts.

A Checkered History of Political Violence

Sierra Leone
has had a chequered history of political violence. If one were to search All Peoples Congress (APC) on Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia, a picture will emerge of APC supporters harassing Sierra Leone Peoples Party (SLPP) supporters in Kabala, in the Koinadugu district in 1967.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) set up to investigate the causes and conduct of the civil war in the country, revealed that maladministration, characterized by authoritarianism, corruption and political violence prepared a bed for the civil war that ravaged this nation for more than a decade. The violence with which the war was conducted painted a picture of a savage nation tittering on the brink of self-destruction. The war in Sierra Leone, by the share ugliness of its atrocities, is said to have been in its lonely category, fitting no prevailing stereotype.

It took but for the goodwill of our neighbors in West Africa, the United Nations and other bi-lateral partners, especially the United Kingdom, for us to return to sanity and stop hacking our neighbors limbs off and to spare our cousins children. Our nation is deeply scared by the fruits of the violence that was sowed in 1967.

What happened to Never Again?


When President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah declared the war in Sierra Leone over on January 18, 2002, there was renewed determination to depart from the path of violence as a means of political dispensation. In addition to ensuring complete demobilisation, disarmament and reintegration of the ex-combatants, effort was made to return internally displaced persons and refugees back to their communities.

Perhaps jolted by the horrors of war and the troubles of displacement, the people of Sierra Leone, marshalled by committed national leadership, and encouraged by our friends in the sub-region and across the globe; made a solemn vow to forgive their trespasses and lead the nation on a non-violent and democratic path to sustainable development.


Since that declaration, institutions have been established and others reformed, in an effort to prevent the mishaps of yesteryears that have been found to have paved the path to war in the first place. Such institutions, including the police and the army have benefited from the goodwill of the nation so as they will transform into independent and professional institutions whose only loyalty is to the state. To ensure this, standards were set and discipline maintained within both forces. In the immediate aftermath, Sierra Leone once again saw reason to be proud of their security forces.

Signs of the Times?

That all was to change on September 17, 2007, when the Chair of the National Electoral Commission, Dr. Christiana Thorpe, announced the APC leader, Ernest Bai Koroma, winner of the Presidential Elections. Within minutes, supporters of the APC raided the SLPP Secretariat and vandalized the building beyond recognition. International news houses broadcast pictures of some policemen and military personnel in uniform awash in alcohol, brandishing their weapons in celebration with the APC.


In the months following, there were reported incidents of subterranean violence against opposition members, especially in the North of the country. There were reports of destruction of farms and whole communities remotely suspected to be sympathetic with the SLPP.


By the time Local Council elections were held in 2008, it was almost apparent that the country was headed in an APCic (excuse my French) direction. Unopposed had return; Kono became a no-go for opposition supporters and you know what. In several by-elections later, it became obvious that violence like an albatross was to hang in our democratic space.


Things were to come to a head in March 2009, when in a series of seemingly coordinated events, scores of people were wounded in the Sorogbeima chiefdom in Pujehun district during a by-election for the seat of a deceased Councillor. Scores of people were gashed with machetes, while others fled across the border to neighboring Liberia; leading to the postponement of the election.

On or about the same time, the Resident Minister South, a start-up named Musa Tarawali, is said to have orchestrated the vandalisation of the SLPP Bo office; if only to intimidate supporters with brutal force. In that incident, as in several others thereafter, a Police Officer infamously called Yete-Yete is said to have supervised that act.


There were several other reported incidents of political violence directed at SLPP supporters in numerous places across the country. When efforts were made to make a formal complaint to the President about the growing harassment and intimidation of SLPP supporters, senior members of the party who had been invited to State House to discuss a way out of the cycle of violence were greeted by urine throwing Presidential Guards. Again, buff case.


Perhaps emboldened by the tacit endorsement of their actions by senior party officials, APC supporters, glaringly led by the Mayor of Freetown, attacked, looted and set fire to the SLPP headquarters in the full view of police officers in the same month of March. That was on a Friday. The President returned home from a visit to India over that weekend. No one knows what the President may have said to his supporters, but they returned to the scene of their earlier crime with a vengeance, looting, burning, beating and even raping women.


The President, under pressure from our international partners, set up a Commission of Enquiry of eminent persons to look into the spate of violence and to bring those responsible to book. Our international partners also facilitated a joint communiqu between the ruling APC and opposition SLPP, in which they did not only eschew violence as a means of settling political scores, but also laid down markers for confidence building between the parties.


Meanwhile, the Commission set out on its investigations. They reviewed video footages of the incident and interviewed several witnesses. It has now emerged that the Commission concluded its work in 2010 and submitted its report, complete with recommendations to His Excellency. The question that many observers are now asking is: What action has the President taken on the report that his own Commission delivered to him way back in 2010?


Inaction is Action


From excerpts of the report that has leaked to the press, we now know that the Commission found the Mayor of Freetown, Herbert George-Williams, Musa Tarawallie, Mohamed Turay aka Yete-Yete, and Idrissa Kamara aka Leatherboot, all culpable of having stoked the violence. The Commission also recommended that the foursome be dismissed from their positions as a deterrent to anyone who may decide to foment such political violence in future. Regrettably, the President has sat on the report since 2010, even refusing to make the findings of that Commission public, let alone come up with a White Paper implementing its recommendations.

In the week before news broke of the shooting incident in Kono, a reputable local tabloid, Awoko newspaper, opined in its Editorial that the way Musa Tarawallie, who had been promoted to Minister of Internal Affairs, was going around the country with truckloads of armed police officers for his personal protection was a ticking time bomb. Almost prophetically, events were to manifest themselves that same week, when police opened fire on unarmed civilians under the alleged orders of Minister Tarawallie.

Barely a week later, opposition Sierra Leone Peoples Party (SLPP) was to allege that suspected APC thugs had made an attempt on the life of their Presidential Nominee Julius Maada Bio and accused the Police of doing nothing to prevent the alleged attempt on the life of Mr. Bio. In the ensuing violence, one young man was killed and scores others received multiple gunshot wounds. They are now recuperating in hospitals in Bo and Freetown.


Now, it must be acknowledged that the President has set up another investing panel to look into the Bo incident, and I am being careful here not to prejudice the outcome of that investigation. But let us imagine for a moment that the President had made the Shears-Moses panel report public and had issued a White Paper implementing the recommendations of the report; it is very likely that the young man who lost his life may have still been alive and the 19 others who received multiple gunshot wounds would still be around going about their normal routines. It is also entirely reasonable to conclude that had the President taken action on the report, the Kono episode would not have happened.

Who Benefits from the Political Violence?

In a commentary in the Positive Change newspaper, the mouthpiece of the opposition Peoples Movement for Democratic Change (PMDC), it raised issues with the premise on which President Koroma appointed Musa Tarawallie as Resident Minister Southern Province and later promoted him to Minister of Internal Affairs. The commentary noted that Musa has marginal education and no work experience or meaningful political following anywhere in the country. It wondered what impression the President was sending about himself and his response to political violence; which has broader implications for his oath to protect lives and property in the country.


These questions have no doubt become extremely relevant since it emerged from the leaked report that the Shears-Moses panel had since 2010 recommended to the President that some of the same names that have had unfavorable mention in the repeated incidents of political violence should be punished in an effort to discourage any recurrence of political violence in the country.


Now, this conclusion may not be that conclusive. But does it interest my readers that these named perpetuators of political violence are pampered members of the Presidents team? Does anyone care to know why the President failed to make the panel report public, let alone implement its recommendations? Does it bother anyone that a lowly fella like Musa Tarawallie was promoted to Minister of Internal Affairs after he had visited savage violence on the people of Sorogbeima chiefdom in an effort to win a Council seat in Pujehun district for the APC?


So who is benefitting from the reckless actions of Musa Tarawallie? He now has responsibility over the police. If he can order police to open fire on unarmed civilians in Kono due to an alleged infighting with the sitting Vice President over who should become the Running Mate to the President in 2012, what is stopping him from taking more dastardly action on other perceived enemies in future?


Is there a grown-up in charge? I hope this President is awake and alert. He should know that the country his mentor, Siaka Stevens, ruled in the 70s and 80s is not the same today. So for him to be tempted that allowing neophytes like Musa Tarawallie to perpetuate violence on unsuspecting civilians, will win him a second term, is a no-brainer, to say the least.


In any eventuality, does Ernest Koroma understand that his willing operatives are already booking his flight to The Hague? I hope not; because that will be an ignoble end of a Presidency, however much divisive it has been.


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

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