From Awareness Times Newspaper in Freetown

As SLPP Clinches Tongo Elections, Political Violence Re-Erupts in Sierra Leone
By Sylvia Olayinka Blyden
Feb 15, 2010, 14:12

Preliminary results from the polls conducted to replace the late ruling party APC Local Councillor of Ward 42, in Constituency 14, Tongo Town, Kenema District, Eastern Sierra Leone shows that the opposition SLPP candidate has beaten the APC candidate hands down thus allowing the SLPP to retake the only seat they had lost in the entire Kenema district during the 2008 Local Government Elections. Unfortunately in the wake of this victory, an alarming political violence with a tinge of tribal and regional tones erupted in the town with all sides blaming the other as having started the fracas. Whatever the catalyst, opposition SLPP is  now celebrating a joyful win whilst ruling APC is now in a very mad mood.

According to SLPP Chairman John Benjamin, SLPP Secretary-General J.J. Saffa and Hon. Bernadette Lahai, the MP covering the Tongo environs, it was the realization of the victory of the opposition SLPP in retaking the seat that resulted in “a maddening reaction” from APC partisans who “imported notorious thugs from the neighbouring Kono district into Tongo to unleash hell” on the residents there. They allege that scores of SLPP supporters have been ravaged and their homes destroyed whilst leading SLPP figures report they had to flee for their lives from pistol wielding  thugs hired by the APC leadership.

The SLPP also alleges that Sierra Leone Police officers inside Tongo, instead of protecting their SLPP supporters, engaged in teaming up with APC supporters to harass and intimidate SLPP supporters leading to the complete burning down of leading SLPP figures houses and the ransacking of the homes of others.

None of the APC functionaries could be contacted for their comments yesterday but independent eye witnesses in Tongo accuse the APC Publicity Secretary and Mines & Political Affairs Minister Hon. Alpha Kanu alongside his Permanent Secretary Umaru Bonn Wurie of haven allegedly imported cash, inducements and armed persons into the town last Friday a day before the actual Saturday voting. The APC’s Editor Cornelius Deveaux however told Awareness Times that Kanu and his team had been there not for politicking but to hold a Miner’s Meeting in the Mining Town and that they left on that same Friday without even holding the slated meeting.

“The persons who caused the problems were the SLPP who said they were going to wipe out a virus and in the process burnt down the stalls of traders who hail from the Northern province,” Deveaux angrily asserted.

In support of Deveaux’s position, the chairman of the ruling party aligned PMDC, Mr. Mohamed Bangura alleges SLPP supporters first started the violence by burning down the market stalls of pro-ruling party traders. Bangura also insists that it was the SLPP who first imported thugs into the town. He alleges that most affected traders were of Temne and Northern tribes whilst most of SLPP supporters hailed from Southeastern Mende tribe.

“I am afraid a tribal war will break out if we do not work fast to cool the situation down,” Mohamed Bangura lamented over the phone to Awareness Times as he fled Tongo last Saturday.

As at press time yesterday, some of the country’s senior journalists like BBC correspondent Umaru Fofana had managed to enter the town and reported that the military and police had quelled the situation down although many residents were still hiding out in the bushes in fear for their lives from the political violence that erupted. Houses belonging to the SLPP and APC leadership in the town had been burnt down or ravaged whilst scores of people had been arrested.

SLPP Chairman John Benjamin however complains that no APC supporter was arrested but only “innocent SLPP members”.

It could be recalled that the SLPP won the seat in the first Local Government Election of 2004. They were however bulldozed out of the seat by APC in the 2007 elections; a time when the APC swept all the seats in Kono (a place very close to Tongo). Despite loud boasts from ruling party APC that they would re-clinch the seat, the opposition John Benjamin led SLPP had strongly vowed to retake the seat again and indeed they have now so done but with the attendant violence erupting with tinge of tribal overtones.

© Copyright 2005, Freetown, Sierra Leone.