From the Editor’s Keyboard

In memory of the heroes of August 18

24 August 2006 at 12:01 | 390 views

"What however makes the August 18 anniversary tormenting is the fact that the promises made by the Kabbah government to erect a bust in memory of those fallen students and other pro-democracy demonstrators killed at the hands of the nefarious junta have not been fulfilled. This is not a novelty though as the SLPP government is notorious for making empty promises..."

By Abdulai Bayraytay in Washington DC, USA

August 18 2006 marked the 9th anniversary of the famous nation-wide protests organised by the National Union of Sierra Leone Students (NUSS) with the active support of progressive social movements and civil society groups to stoutly protest against the usurpation of power by the tyrannical, repressive and brutal military junta of the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC) and their Revolutionary United Front (RUF) rebel allies who had overthrown the legitimate Sierra Leone Peoples’ Party (SLPP) government on May 25th, 1997.

In what was immaturedly perceived by the innocent and unsuspecting students and othe pro-democracy protesters to be a peaceful demonstration turned out to be a bloody one as the mercurial junta and their rebel cohorts lived up to their notoriety of brutality by unleashing dastardly acts of violence on the defenceless and peaceful protesters whose crime was for vociferously calling on the criminal AFRC junta and its allies to relinquish power and restore constitutional order in the name of the people of Sierra Leone whilst at the same time canvassing international support for the restoration of democracy in Sierra Leone.

During that fateful day, two symbolic front-runners of the demonstration, Vaffie Konneh and Morrie Momoh of N’jala University College and the National School of Nursing respectively were brutally killed by heartless, drugged rebels, whilst scores of others were beaten up, arrested and jailed. The climax of this depravity was the broad daylight rape of students at the female hostels of the National School of Nursing.

As this sordid drama was unfolding, the exiled government in Guinea was jubilating with excitement and even sent messages of encouragement to NUSS as the protests surely resonated with its hope-the restoration of a very inept governemnt to power. Whilst some cynics at the time had bashed students to be naive and that the leadership of NUSS was playing into the hands of the government, little did such detractors piece up the nationalistic approach of students when it comes to national issues.

Indeed, was it not the very government that unleashed its Special Security Thugs (SSD personnel) few months earlier in March 1997, before the infamous coup, on students at Parade Grounds for protesting against President Kabbah’s proposal of paying pension to late president Momoh in spite of the fact that the latter was overthrown in a coup d’etat?

What however makes the August 18 anniversary tormenting is the fact that the promises made by the Kabbah government to erect a monument in memory of those fallen students and other pro-democracy demonstrators killed at the hands of the nefarious junta have not been fulfilled. This is not a novelty though as the SLPP government is notorious for making empty promises to the sad extent that the citizenry have lost faith in glorious dreams like the construction of a bridge linking Lungi and Tagrin, overhead roads to ease traffic congestion in the city, among others.

Sadly though, NUSS, an organization with the moral authority to always pressure the government to live up to its political promises to the people of Sierra Leone is said to be in disarray with the infamous nomenclatures like "blackman" (the leftists) and "whiteman" (the rightwingers) eating into the very fabric that once epitomised students’ solidarity and politics.

Although it is not expected that all students should hold similar political views, such divergent views should not eclipse the united front of reminding the government to address social malaises like the provision of drinkable water, an uninterrupted flow of electricity, and the curbing of official graft. The government’s seeming lack of political will and foresight in providing these basic amenities seem to have an inextricable symbolic link to the permeating filth in the city of Freetown and the government’s inability to clean up in order to provide at least a healthy environment as the people continue to cope with daily poverty.

Efforts by progressive individuals and civil society groups should be lauded for trying to bridge the cancerous differences between and among NUSS and sister organizations since it is only a united front that could tell the government to its face that indeed the killers of Editor Harry Yansaneh should be brought to book, that indeed the government should actively reclaim Yenga from the colonising Guineans thereby maintaining the sovereignty of the state ( in spite of our absolute dependency on foreign aid), that the National Electoral Commission should be allowed to be independent and so on.

As students, especially NUSS commemorate the 9th Anniversary of the August 18th demonstrations, one would only hope that the families of our colleagues and friends Vaffie Konneh and Morie Momoh and all those who lost their lives on that day will take solace and comfort in the fact that indeed their kith and kin died for a just cause: the fight for democracy...and that we the living will ever continue to relentlessly fight for true democracy, freedom, human rights, gender equality and social justice in Sierra Leone and anywhere else in the world, wherever those values are threatened. This, undoubtedly, will be in honour of all those fallen heroes of the August 18 pro-democracy protests.

Abdulai Bayraytay(photo) is the Patriotic Vanguard’s Toronto-based Deputy Editor.He was NUSS Secretary-General from 1996 to 1998. He is currently on vacation in the US.

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