From the Editor’s Keyboard

Freetown: Clampdown on armed robbers

By  | 24 November 2009 at 04:05 | 290 views

By Roland Bankole-Marke, Florida, USA.

President of Sierra Leone Ernest Bai Koroma, employing the powers vested in him as commander in chief of the armed forces, recently issued an executive order authorizing a joint contingent of military and police forces to patrol the streets of Freetown and the major provincial towns, to fight a brazen upsurge in armed robberies in the capital city, Freetown, Sierra Leone.

Freetown is a target because of its economic activities and influx of foreign businessmen and visiting nationals. Sierra Leoneans are nervous due to this wave of violent robberies, shaking them to the core. It seems like a macabre rehearsal of the recently terminated brutal rebel war.

The United States Consular Affairs division in Freetown, on October 9 issued a warden advisory to all U.S. citizens in Sierra Leone, including those wishing to travel there, of a heightened possibility of armed robbery in Freetown. Americans who wish to travel to this West African nation should register online before traveling or do so at the embassy in Freetown. This measure will make it easier for the Embassy or State Department officials to contact them for security briefings in case of an emergency. In addition business fraud schemes are increasingly becoming rampant and the perpetrators often target foreigners, including Americans.

Sierra Leoneans believe that historically armed robberies took place mostly in wealthy, industrialized nations, where guns are abundant and easy to purchase. Guns are not sold freely in Sierra Leone, in the market. There’s evidence that not all the guns were recovered from society after the rebel insurrection. With the nation’s porous borders, a rise in weapons smuggling cannot be ruled out to ferment another crisis. In the west the freedom to broadcast violent movies showcasing armed robberies might have resulted in copycat behavior by professional criminals.

The poor stress that this crime should not happen in their poor communities, where it is a daily challenge, trying to make ends meet. Recent sporadic cases of audacious armed robberies have been reported by the media and police. Citizens have actually witnessed the execution of such criminal operations right in their own backyard or neighborhood. Critics say that this measure to put armed security on the streets did not materialize fast enough to beat the criminals at their heinous game. An international critic suggested that another Somalia might result if the necessary strategic calibration is not implemented in an organized manner.

Just arrived transnational nicknamed JCs, are admired, at the same time resented, probably because of a lifestyle of perceived prosperity. A few JCs have reported being victims of armed robberies in Freetown as well. In some cases these turn out to be inside jobs masterminded by relatives or members of the same household. But we cannot divorce the abject poverty predominant here, and a dearth of social amenities from the recent developments of armed robberies. While minorities connected to the status quo, seemingly are living flamboyant lifestyles with prosperity abounding all around the poor. Where are the sharks getting their sudden wealth from, while the masses are barely guaranteed a day’s meal? The economic and social disparity is incongruently disproportionate here, if not blatantly diverse and glaringly apparent.

Security forces now patrol the nation’s cities and towns from 7 pm to 7 am with vehicle check points or road blocks manned at strategic locations. If this measure does not yield the required dividend, a draconian measure of capital punishment to thwart armed robberies might result. It should not be completely ruled out that criminals would not be shot on sight. The president’s stance puts to rest numerous accusations made by whistle blowers and pundits alike from various camps, who think that he’s weak and needs to weird an iron fist in effectively steering the nation’s ship of state. In a nation that is painfully and tenaciously trying to heal its deep wounds from a brutal decade long civil war. And chart its course towards economic and socio-political recovery and prosperity. Positive change is what the people voted for. Voters could run out of patience if the sacred promises made during the past elections by this government are not kept. Sierra Leoneans are capable of evaluating the progress report card of their government making sure that it delivers on its promises. And previously, the people had united to boot out a previous government from office for poor performance. But the Koroma led APC government is making some progress to redeem the country from darkness by providing electricity in some areas, and promoting some economic development. The bar is now set high in executing the people’s business.

But Koroma’s task is Herculean in nature and structure, with enigma within his own inner circle. Ministers and leaders are heaped with titles like Honorable, inflating their arrogance. What is honorable in a minister who squanders public funds and treats his people like trash? He has no place in any position of leadership. Choice is the people’s political capital which they should spend judiciously. Recently, two of the nation’s ministers were found inefficient or involved in endemic corruption and contract-gate. This attempt would fleece this impoverished nation of its scarce resources, which fuel the engine of transformation that Koroma passionately oversees to a final destination. These culprits have been fired, indicted or both. The psychology for survival seems to be playing out too, attempting to balance out this equation of the haves versus the havenots that is as multifaceted as it’s complicated.

Crime prevention can become effective starting at the local community level, where everyone serves as a watchdog. For internal vigilance is the price we all must pay for freedom, peace and sustained security. It’s collective effort that produces favorable results. Employing an innovative measure the Police chief Chris Charley is dividing the country into 860 zones, with 10 youth volunteers in every zone to help police the streets and neighborhoods. There’s a 70% perennial unemployment among the youth. These idle hands can be put to work to ease the threat they might otherwise pose to security and peace in the nation. They would love to utilize their creative, dynamic minds to produce positive results. But they should receive remuneration for their services. The restoration of their dignity would make all the difference. And would help the police fight anti-social behavior and armed robberies.

To calm the anxiety of the nation that ex-child soldiers and former combatants might infiltrate the volunteers, background checks are done to exclude those with prior criminal backgrounds. Mr. Charley said that “The volunteers must be 18 years old or above, must be a member of the community where they reside, must not have a criminal record, he said. They must be physically and mentally fit and they must not be alcoholics or drug addicts." This auxiliary group would "complement" the police rather than replacing them he added. In a fragile democracy, anarchists, rogues, vandals and miscreants masquerade as politicians or business owners to exploit the vulnerable nation. There are too many wolves attired in sheep’s clothing to wreck untold havoc and pandemonium on society. They must be identified and weeded out among law abiding and peaceful citizens. The tremendous gain made so far since the advent of peace cannot be squandered by an array of outcasts. The United Nations and the rest of the international community, including the United States would not sit comfortably and tolerate a band of ill-motivated, disoriented minority to prevail. Their assault on democracy is never the prescription for peace, good governance and prosperity.

Roland Bankole Marke is a Florida based writer, poet and author, with 3 books under his belt. He’s originally from Sierra Leone. Visit his website