Salone News

A Look at the Mile 91 Riot

By  | 12 June 2013 at 05:22 | 1142 views


I read today in Sierra Express Media, one of the Sierra Leonean online newspapers, that there was some kind of riot in the town of Mile 91, north of Sierra Leone, where angry residents reportedly burnt the portrait of President Ernest Bai Koroma.

This piece of news saddens me because I am from the area although I do not know any of the main players dancing in this imbroglio. I have been away for too long and have no idea who some of these new politicians are; they seem to be a very tough breed, prepared to embrace and handcuff power by ANY means possible, as Malcolm X would say.

You know, the people of Mile 91 and Yoni chiefdom in general are usually peaceful and respectful to each other and to visitors or "strangers" (the Liberians would say Aliens) among them. They are not timid though. They are quite capable of flaring up into militant agitation at the drop of a hat (they have a militant past going back to pre-colonial and colonialdays).

However, they must have been really furious to go to the extent of publicly burning the portrait of His Excellency President Ernest Bai Koroma, a man who is said to have ancestral links to the area.

I understand from the Sierra Express news story that some people (presumably young men and women) did not want party heavyweights in Freetown to decide for them who should replace former APC parliamentarian Mathew Teambo. Cheambo has been appointed Labour Minister by President Koroma.

The protesters want one John Gbla, described as a very popular community builder and not his opponent, a fellow called Aaron Koroma who is favoured by the former parliamentarian and the party heavyweights or Agbagbas in Freetown. In fact he has already received the symbol from Freetown. That situation, it seems to me, may lead to a Witches’ Sabbath if not quickly neutralized. No kidding.

Let me guess what is currently happening in that sometimes sleepy, sometimes noisily busy town:

Point Number 1: The former MP, the Paramount Chief and the elders in that constituency want Aaron Koroma (lucky guy) because he probably is what is called in Sierra Leone a "son of the soil", somebody who, together with his family, are well known in the community, having lived there for decades or even centuries. Gbla probably came from somewhere else but has lived and done great things in the community. But they say blood is thicker than water, right? Right. But again, Gbla might just be another son of the soil too.

Having said that (suppositions and speculations coming from far away Canada), I think the most important issue is that the new MP has to be somebody the former MP, Chief Teambo (my coinage) would be able to work with, somebody close to him. I don’t need to be a nuclear scientist to see such a person in Aaron Koroma.

Point Number 2: Aaron Koroma might be a real party man, well known to most of the party leaders, somebody whose loyalty is not in doubt while Gbla may be a newcomer, a Johnny-Just-Come, conjuring development projects, waving dollar bills (not miserable Leones). Now let me try to be a little fair to the man in this speculative journey: Gbla probably has little money of his own but has access to people in and out of the country with tons of money who are ready to help him in his development projects. Oh my, I can hear Aaron’s camp say those development projects are being used as bait to capture the hearts of the Mile 91 suffering masses. This may not be true either. We are talking about Salone politics here, remember?

So what’s the way out of this mess? I have snatched three solutions right off the air while you were scratching your head. Here they are:

1. Both men, Koroma and Gbla, should be invited to Freetown, far from the madding crowd, for serious negotiations during which the party leaders would put across all they have got, I mean everything they have got, to reach an amicable solution. Translation: Pacify Gbla gently. Warning: The opposition SLPP will put in ALL they have got to maintain the heat and then come from behind to get the seat. Do not under-estimate the SLPP heavyweights in Yoni: People like former SLPP Foreign Minister and Vice-Presidential candidate Momodu Koroma and the quiet but powerful Joe Conteh, a former SLPP Ambassador. Bobson Sesay, a former SLPP Lands Minister might even come from nearby Gbonkolenken chiefdom to help "shake di gron" in Mile 91 a little bit more.

2. Send a high-powered delegation from Freetown while the negotiations were going on, to Mile 91 to talk to to the youths. Let’s face it, only young people would burn a President’s portrait, something some of them may have regretted already. And don’t forget the Paramount Chief and chiefdom elders. They have a role to play, if you consult them. If you don’t, they will just ignore you, chew their tobacco and eat their snuff while enjoying the sunrise and sunset in their hammocks.

I have to go. Talk to you later.

Photo: The town of Mile 91 (dated photo), 91 miles from Freetown, Sierra Leone’s capital.