In Violence, We Forget Who We Are.

     Abdulai Mansaray, author

Sierra Leoneans can no longer afford to airbrush the spate of violence from our national consciousness. It is more than 6 months into President Maada Bio’s reign, but the afterbirth of the last general elections seems to take a different colouration that has not been witnessed in our country for a long time. Sierra Leoneans may not be strangers to political violence. In fact, we are used to violence. Many would recall the violence that used to define elections during the reign of late Siaka Stevens, which was ably demonstrated by his deputy the late Sorie Ibrahim Koroma; popularly known as S.I. Koroma. The late S.I Koroma was the architect in chief of the notoriously coined phrase, “Orwai, orsai”. Even though Sierra Leone was under a one-party state rule, the APC at the time contrived to wreak violence on all those who refused to toe the line; even when opposition was conveniently stifled. Those were the days when the word “democracy” was not only an allergy to the party, but also considered to even harbour such ideas. But our country has come a long way from those dark days. Sadly, it took the loss of lives, thanks to the rebel war for Sierra Leoneans to embrace in part, the value of democracy.

The recent spate of violence that is being bandied in the country does not make for good reading for our embryonic democracy. Sadly, now that we have democracy, some people don’t even know what to do with it. To a large extent, some people’s idea of democracy is a corrupted and an adulterated version. This has not been helped by the advent of social media, where every Jack and Jill purports to be a media connoisseur. Our new breed of “journalists” needs no grounding in the sacred art of information. It seems that all you need to qualify as a moral commentator is a smart phone and some data; bingo and you are up and running. Sometimes, the amount of putrid information that is spewed on social media is beyond comprehension.

 There is no doubt that there are certain elements in the current political set up who see Bio’s reign as a festival of payback time. Some of them may have felt aggrieved; that they were on the receiving end of unfair treatment during the APC reign. Some may have felt unfairly marginalised then. Those people would find no shortage of excuses to engage in malpractices as payback time. Sadly, they forget that politics is cyclical, and would engage in acts of violence in the name of the SLPP party or Bio’s government. It is so interesting that whenever you point out a bad deed by the SLPP led government, someone is always ready to counter this by saying that the APC government did the same during their time. This is the same when you quote a malpractice by the APC, and some APC sympathisers would be convinced to justify such acts by alluding to similar acts by the SLPP; as if to say that behaving like the other is justification enough. Phew. An eye for an eye will only make the world go blind.

As Sierra Leoneans, we cannot allow the few to replicate the modus operandi in America. It used to be the “United” States of America, but it is anything but united today. We are witnessing how Donald Trump, is using every divisive tool in his box to disintegrate the USA as we know it. But should President Bio allow such to fester on his watch? Should he allow certain people to perpetuate violence in his name, without repercussions? Should he be seen to preside over a country where some people see themselves as above the law? There is no doubt that the elections were sadly fought along regional and tribal lines. This is unfortunate, as president Bio is not the president for the Mende, Limba or Temne tribe. He is not the president for the South, North or West of Sierra Leone. He is the President of Sierra Leone and for all Sierra Leoneans. That is the minimum expectation; at least. It is obvious that President Bio took over a country that has never been so divided; thanks to the unscrupulous politicians and some misguided so called media outlets; the latter who have sold their souls to gain the world. It’s disgraceful.

If you want to gauge the level of disunity in our country, take a rain check of the simple pleasures of life, the things we used to take for granted. I remember those days when the country was divided between Sabanoh 75 and Afro National, Blackpool and East End Lions, Eastern Paddle and Bloody Mary, etc. The rivalries were intense but were conducted with fun. In those days, there was nothing tribal or regional about the rivalries. In today’s Sierra Leone, even the slightest national past time is discussed and dissected along political lines. The recently concluded beauty pageant was tarred with political slants. Just because the winner was from Bonthe was enough to qualify the event as biased in favour of the SLPP or the South. As if that was not enough, the fact that Mrs Maada Bio graced the occasion made it all the more plausible for infantile conspiracies. I am sure that the Big Sister House would also get its own share of these conspiracies in due course; if not already. This just goes to show the level of social depravity in our country today, where you cannot do or say anything without some political slant.

But President Bio and his government know that a successful reign should be grounded in a united country. His political party is fondly known for its “One people, one country” slogan. There can be no better time to demonstrate this. The President and all the president’s men should rise above the pettiness that some people want to engage in, to drag this country back to the doldrums of depravity. The last thing that the president can do is sit by and see just a few people undo whatever good intentions he has for this country. We all know that he is not short of detractors; it comes with the territory. Nevertheless, our president should ensure that we live in a safe environment, devoid of violence, victimisation and lawlessness. If the country is allowed to wallow in the cesspool of violence, there can hardly be a broader shoulder than the president’s, to take the blame. This is not to suggest that the cause of the violence is Bio’s fault. But to sit by and not do anything about it would largely be his fault. President Maada Bio should not allow this violence to fester on his watch.

If the media is to be believed, we have never been so divided as a country. It goes without saying that for a leader to succeed, it would require the effort and mass participation of the whole nation to come on board. Unfortunately, there are some people who secretly or overtly wish the president to fail in his aspirations. Such people ignorantly believe that the failure of Maada Bio and the SLPP would mean success for the APC.  A power cut in Kingtom does not mean the bulb in Kissy becomes brighter. God forbid, but if Bio fails, we all fail with him as a nation.

There are a lot of people who were, and are still hopeful that with the unprecedented number of political parties in our parliament, our government would be subject to higher and better checks and balances. To all intents and purposes, there may have been an expectation of some political gridlocks along the way. But on the balance of probability, the hope was that we would not see the kind of sycophancy that characterised the last government; where every breath of the last government was unquestionably taken by the “dear leader”. Following the last election results, it was easy to diagnose the malaise of the erstwhile government. It is natural to expect the APC to be in opposition mode. But many Sierra Leoneans would expect constructive opposition, and not opposition for the fun of it.

That brings to question the role of the APC, if any, in the violence that is perpetuated in the country. We can all recall when the APC won both the 2007 and 2012 elections. There were reportedly some snippets of violence. The farthest the SLPP got to contest the results was to submit a petition to the courts. We can still recall Christiana Thorpe’s “go police” response. But we did not see the kind of violence that is being perpetuated on our streets these days; post the April elections. This has now left some people thinking whether the APC is struggling to accept defeat. There are many who may rightly or wrongly be thinking that the APC is instrumental in fermenting the violence in our country. No one can conclusively say that this is the case. Nevertheless, the APC will be in danger of being seen as the architect of violence. Many may feel that the APC is refusing to accept defeat; 7 months after the elections. No one likes to lose, but equally you don’t want your party to be seen as a bad loser.

To all intents and purposes, our political parties should note that those days of political indoctrinations are over. Politics is no longer traditional, or the domain of the few. With social media in toe, everyone is politically downloaded and activated. What many people would want to see is a constructive opposition. Even when Bio has ushered in the Free Quality Education programme, there are some who criticise it as not free. They complain that the Free Quality Education is not free; because it does not include FREE UNIFORMS. Come on. Many people would like to see a grown up approach to political opposition and ask the opposition parties to grow up. The APC needs a total recall and reorganisation, or risk being seen as the enemy of progress.

By the way, the deputy minister Mr Tondoneh behaved disgracefully the last time. We do appreciate his enthusiasm and fervour to promote Bio’s agenda. But his behaviour towards the Mayor of Freetown was nothing short of unprofessional. If he ever needed a reminder, the mayor was elected with a mandate by the people and for the people. Mr Tondoneh, you were appointed by Bio, and this means that you can be sacked at any time; especially if Bio gets out on the wrong side of his bed one day. That was not the way to treat your colleague by any standards. Thankfully, her response and the way she dealt with the situation was pure class. We cannot say the same for you, as your behaviour bothered on thug culture. 

Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about the things that matter (M. L. King).

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