From the Editor’s Keyboard

Sierra Leone: Acting when it’s too late

18 August 2008 at 18:52 | 558 views


By Gibril Koroma,
Vancouver, Canada.

In a recent commentary I observed that most times we Sierra Leoneans only act when things get out of hand or to paraphrase Chinua Achebe, when the rain starts to beat us. This is not a new phenomenon; it has been with us from pre-colonial days, colonial days, to the present.

Our country’s history is littered with instances in which we woefully failed to take preventive action that could have saved many lives and property. The eleven-year rebel war is a glaring example of many Sierra Leoneans failing to rise up to challenges to prevent tragedy. We always want others (foreigners) to do things we should do for ourselves. No wonder you frequently see foreigners boldly making policy statements on behalf of Sierra Leoneans right there in the capital, Freetown while the owners of the land(Sierra Leoneans) grin and clap for them.

Since the recent political violence in Freetown and other parts of the country, we have been receiving a flurry of press releases from political parties, human rights organizations, media organizations, etc condemning the violence in the strongest terms possible. This is good for our baby democracy but frankly not good enough.

I repeat: Sierra Leoneans should learn to be proactive instead of being reactive most of the time. We should not wait until a house has been destroyed or somebody has been killed before coming out of our comfort zones to condemn or decry or launch investigations.

We should for instance raise an alarm if opposition elements publicly and viciously insult or accuse a sitting government(without cause or evidence) and vice versa. We should cry out in disgust if a media organization starts calling for war and saying crude things about individuals without cause or foundation.

We should also condemn any government official that threatens a journalist or members of the opposition without cause too, the moment the government official utters the threat and not wait until they carry it out.

The recent violence could have been avoided if political party leaders had swiftly taken action to to control their supporters and institute party discipline. Calling somebody a "cocaine mayor", or "cocaine minister" etc on the air, or in newspapers without evidence or foundation is a recipe for violence in a country where there is a lot of ignorance, illiteracy and little respect for the law or due process.

Party discipline, like school discipline or discipline in the army, is a sine qua non for national peace and security. Sierra Leoneans will continue to experience political violence if our politicians do not enforce party discipline or control their supporters. Many so-called party supporters do not even have party registration cards; all they need is a green or red or orange shirt to identify themselves as SLPP, APC or PMDC. This is a bogus and crazy way to identify with a party as any criminal can use a t-shirt to invade somebody’s office and steal valuables in the name of "party support."

How many parties in Sierra Leone have a database of all their supporters? How many hold frequent meetings with their supporters to discuss party discipline and how to handle encounters with the opposition? How many civil society groups or organizations in the country take preventive action by condemning behaviour that might lead to violence and instability? I don’t think there are many. We normally prefer to wait until the rain starts pouring in torrents and the thunder is crackling before looking for umbrellas and raincoats. Too late, buddy.