Post-election violence in Sierra Leone

7 March 2008 at 22:57 | 1312 views

By Sarjoh Aziz Kamara,UK.

Six months on since the Sept 8th 2007 (run-off) elections in Sierra Leone, the atmosphere in various parts of the country has been characterised by sporadic incidents of violence and human rights abuses. Let us for a second forget about who the perpetrators, or the victims, have been. Isn’t it the duty of the government of the day to ensure peace and security for all its citizens without discrimination, irrespective of their political affiliation, ethnicity or region of origin/abode?

A very responsible government would have taken immediate and practical measures to put a stop to the widespread cases of violence and attacks if only to demonstrate that it is in control of state security and governance and for the equally important reason that these unsavoury developments radiate a rather damaging image of the Government and the country as a whole, rendering it less attractive to would be investors and tourists.

But nay, these attacks, abuses and vandalism have continued unabated, often targeted at supporters of the main opposition party and directed at the Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP) offices. And they have gone on throughout the six months after the elections that saw the All People’s Congress (APC) and Ernest Bai Koroma assume the mantle of power.

The integrity of the elections itself was seen by many as far from sacrosanct, even if Solomon Berewa(pictured) was quick to concede defeat - a move for which the erstwhile VP (and SLPP flag bearer) has earned commendation from some political analysts and observers, who suggest that by that singular action Mr Berewa had saved Sierra Leone from the kind of carnage that reigned in Kenya for a couple of months following that country’s hotly disputed national elections.

It has to be said, however, that no one could determine with any degree of certainty what would have happened had Solomon Berewa and the SLPP refused to accept the outcome of the elections at that material point in time, and so this issue can at best remain a matter of conjecture.

What is clear, though, from the ensuing legal battles with the National Elections Commission (NEC) over the election results is that the SLPP is convinced that it did not genuinely lose the Elections to the APC. Various other commentators have questioned the rectitude of NEC’s decision, as well as the overtly hasty and non-transparent manner, in cancelling 477 polling stations results from mostly SLPP strong holds in the South-East on grounds of over-voting; and not much could be added on this particular issue.

Suffice it to say that whatever the verdict from the court proceedings the SLPP will not be reversing the outcome of the September 8th presidential elections and, dare I say, this is not its motive for seeking legal redress, but rather setting the records straight and - if they can prove that the process was flawed or anomalous - making sure that there is no recurrence in future elections. Equally, this would have been a huge test for the current legal system in this ‘new’ APC era.

And whether our courts system passes this acid test, whether the truth of the matter relating to those nullified 477 polling stations results is known, only time and history will tell. Regarding the spate of violence so far there is not a glimmer of doubt that history is already being unfolded: how softly or harshly history judges President Ernest Koroma and his ‘new’ APC largely depends on how speedily they ensure that peace, security and sanity become the order of the day, and not lawlessness and violent attacks on peaceful Sierra Leoneans and their properties as well as those of the main opposition party.

President Koroma would not be unaware about the numerous instances in which groups of individuals have perpetrated attacks and violence against the SLPP party and its supporters, certainly not of reports relating to these incidents. His Excellency would not be uninformed about the acts of vandalism, hooliganism and looting which were targeted at the SLPP Party headquarters in Freetown on the very day he was declared winner of the presidential elections by some of the same crowd of people who were celebrating his victory.

I wonder if President Koroma is unaware that to date not a single individual has been prosecuted for such arrant lawlessness, reminiscent of the AFRC junta rule. Our president would certainly be aware of the recent attacks on the SLPP office leading to damage to the premises and looting of equipment and furniture; he must have received reports from various quarters and complaints from the SLPP that the attackers were APC vigilantes/supporters and were either led by the resident minister for the Southern Region or were operating under his instructions. What have the SL police done about these attacks? What about the numerous reports of attacks against the Fullahs during which they allegedly were dispossessed of their cattle in the north?

What about the recent attack of a man of God said to have been tortured at the APC headquarters in Brookfields? What has the president done, or what is he doing, to send a clear message that he does not stand for violence or human rights abuse not even from his supporters, his party strongmen or closest allies? Or is it the case that President Koroma is actually condoning these acts of lawlessness or turning a blind eye to them simply because they are being perpetrated against his opponents?

Bitter memories of the war are still fresh in the minds of many Sierra Leoneans and one would hate to be reminded of those dark days when blatant abuse of human rights and terror were inflicted upon innocent Sierra Leoneans by the military, rebel/sobel, Civil Defence Force (CDF) elements with impunity - terror, which was often meted out on the people of Sierra Leone all in the name of governance or liberation.

With these unpleasant developments, these acts of lawlessness and attacks perpetrated by certain hotheads - who would stop at nothing in elevating their party on to a pedestal of political supremacy - are we not witnessing a mini (but scary) replay of those dark days? Have we, as Sierra Leoneans, forgotten so soon? Should these despicable acts of violence, vandalism and human rights abuse be allowed to continue there is a danger that they could serve as a rich nourishment for re-sowing those same seeds of political strife that made Sierra Leone a theatre of one of the most bloody civil wars in human history.

Given what we went through during those ten years, the untold mayhem and suffering - the dehumanising of our youth and children who had been made into unbridled killers, the massive killing and hacking of limbs, the glaring evidence of which, including the traumatised youths, orphans and widows, continue to stare us in the face as we walk out on the streets; given the huge sacrifices we have had to make as a people in order to bring down the curtain on the war (in 2002), one would expect that every stakeholder, with the president and his Government at the fore front, would do their best to uphold and consolidate our hard-earned peace in the interest of national cohesion and development.

But the signals so far are that this is far from the case and rather than building on the peace stability which Sierra Leone had enjoyed between 2002 and 2007 we seem to be gradually drifting back downhill. Add these threats to the peace and security of the state and the unfair sacking of key officials of state only to be replaced by friends and protégés of the President. One sees a clear dissonance between the reality on the ground and the tenet of reconciliation and re-uniting of the country, which President Koroma had promised Sierra Leoneans on numerous occasions both during pre-election campaigns and post election speeches. The President ought to be different if he dares, only then will the people of Sierra Leone see him as representing the ‘change platform’ he so loudly campaigned on.

The president should know that as the father of the nation he must ensure that every peaceful citizen enjoys basic human rights and security and protection from the state. He should come across as an icon of national unity not just through rhetoric but more so through action. He should identify himself with reported cases of attacks against harmless and defenceless citizens; he should step in and ensure that the law enforcement agencies (the police) do their work without fear or favour and that whoever are at fault regarding the attacks on the SLPP party offices face the full force of the law. He should know that the bulk stops with him. Above all he must realise that his timely interventions to redress these despicable issues and prevent a recurrence/continuation is essential both in the interest of national cohesion, peace and stability and for the positive image of himself and his government. Fortunately, it is not yet too late. But the twenty million dollar question is ‘does the president care?’

*Sarjoh Aziz Kamara lives in London and has an MSc degree in Political Economy of Violence, Conflict and Development from the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London. He is currently working as Community Development programme officer, with Conflict and Change in East London.