From the Editor’s Keyboard

Violence in Sierra Leone is Unacceptable

17 March 2009 at 02:49 | 500 views

By Roland Bankole Marke, PV Special Correspondent, Florida, USA.

Well meaning compatriots and friends of Sierra Leone have been working assiduously to restore Sierra Leone’s tarnished image around the world, earned during its 11-year brutal civil war. But some ill-bred elements, mostly unemployed youths are working tirelessly to nail its soiled image to stick for good. The Awareness Times article published March 13, 2009 “Sierra Leone’s Opposition Party HQ attacked by Ruling Party” featuring a political event in SL that started as a celebration, and later turned dark and bloody is appalling, barbaric and unacceptable. This must be condemned in the strongest terms.

Rivalry between the two main political parties -All Peoples Congress (APC) the ruling party, and the Sierra Leone Peoples Party (SLPP) the main opposition party is not a novelty in this war fatigued nation. Frequent frictions and skirmishes between obsessive pundits of both parties have not improved their party’s image or given advantage to any one party, superior political maturity.

The ideologies, bitterness and hatred between the two are very strong and high spirited. As if the lessons of warfare and fragmentation as a nation went down the toilet. Tolerance between both parties is apparently in the tank. But the people are looking for peaceful and visionary leadership in a nation that is considered by the international community as very backward and chronically underdeveloped. This is the truth that Sierra Leoneans have to grapple with instead of this obsession to belong to the APC or SLPP camp. Through the world’s lens we are Sierra Leoneans or Africans for those who perceive the continent as a monolithic group of people.

But what are revelers celebrating, when this nation still cannot feed itself, while expansive fertile land is inadequately exploited for cultivated to nurse seeds for food security in a nation that imports its own staple food rice. Freetown suffers from acute water shortage, not due to drought but an outmoded and broken water supply system.

There is no time for reveling, but for serious reflection and accountability from elected leaders. Has this nation progressed or retrogressed is the question for peaceful and intelligent debate leading to tangible resolutions. A contest of new ideas and reconciliation are what the people need to move forward, away from the dismal international image of the country. I don’t wear any political hat or colors, nor do I intend to do so. I rationalize this disaster as a national disgrace that mirrors a dearth of functional leadership, intolerance and a democracy plagued with deadly ignorance. Like a diagnostic test, this is the systemic elephant that haunts this tiny nation of about 6 million people. The engine of government is defective and needs serious fixing or overhaul.

This is not the first time that this movie of violence has aired, usually perpetrated by lawless folk against innocent and law abiding citizens. Those who lead and claim to know better should by all means endeavor to do better. Shedding innocent blood and taking the law into one’s hands is unacceptable. When politics gets very divisive and radioactive with pundits acting as loose cannons, disservice is done to the electorate. Enough blood has been shed already during the nation’s bleak history. Innovative ideas for reconstruction, development, education and job creation should occupy the front burner of the nation at this time, not unwarranted violence. There are too many idle and mischievous hands roaming the streets of Sierra Leone, who have become a menace to themselves and others. It only takes a match to ignite a fire that could spread quickly, causing untold horror and destruction. It’s cheaper to prevent a fire than trying to extinguish it when it is already blazing.

High unemployment among youths means many time bombs are waiting to go off at any time. Is this what to expect at this precarious moment? Who’s in charge here, and where is the pendulum of democracy and justice teetering towards? Our educational system has failed, especially the youths. Teachers, like Cinderella, still languish without receiving salaries for months on end, even after demanding the attention of the authorities. No one takes them seriously. Is this not the reason why we had a mass exodus of brain power to global markets where they are respected and adequately compensated for their talent and skill? When negotiation and reconciliation end up in deadlock violence earns a free ride.

Recently, during the inter secondary school sports competition, some students, saturated with malicious hate attended the sports contest with knives, guns and other deadly weapons, with the intention to do harm to other students. The event ended in a fiasco. Police intervention using excessive force resulted in pandemonium, while innocent students sustained multiple injuries.

Earlier, secondary students had attacked police with invectives and weapons, when the police was called in to restore law and order while at Fourah Bay College, the University of Sierra Leone, some students went on a rampage executing vandalism and assault others at college campus. An endemic culture of violence has fermented among young people, who are expected to take over the helm of leadership in the near future. Our present leaders need to address this cancer that is full blown. But how did we get here? Memories and images of a decade long war still haunt our people. Who is in charge in Sierra Leone? Absence of good leadership is a recipe for a tragic train wreck of a nation seemingly hurtling downwards in a perilous ride.

The poor people of Sierra Leone are demanding peace and justice from the government that they worked so hard to elect. Those in the Diaspora are biting their nails and asking: Is this the society that government wants us to return to and contribute to national development, and investing our treasure and hard earned skills?

I don’t think so. We all can and must do better to heal and work as a community to move forward this beautiful land of our birth that we love so dearly. Only Sierra Leoneans can build and develop Sierra Leone. We have the will and skill to do so, if only we put aside our pettiness and think selflessly, leading by example. The Prince of Peace initially gave us peace that we have blatantly squandered. And we must return to him in repentance and humility to receive His mercy and forgiveness.