It is barely a week since the whole nation observed in various ways, by prayers, silence, meditation and reflection on the January 6 anniversary that saw one of the bloodiest events that ever tainted our country’s history. Prayers were said in all shades of faith for the departed, the injured, amputated, raped and decapitated. The displaced, misplaced and replaced were all etched on the minds of survivors on this fateful day. January 6 will always mark a momentous time piece on the nation’s psyche. It will always bring back painful memories, regrets, sorrows, recriminations and all sorts. But above all, it will symbolise the ability of Sierra Leoneans to survive in the face of adversity, and the ability to forgive, reconcile and move on. It was only proper that on this day, a collective tribute was paid to all those who innocently paid the price of such barbarity.
It is common knowledge that the war that lasted for 11 years claimed the lives of over 50,000 people. The causes of the war have been varied but paramount among them has been the “resource curse”, the phenomenon whereby countries with an abundance of natural resources tend to nonetheless be characterised by lower levels of economic development. It has always been the continuing pattern of corruption and personal aggrandisement at the expense of public needed services, infrastructure and institutions that have always formed the bedrock for angst among the people. The war in Sierra Leone was used to serve many vested interests at home and abroad; principally the late Muammar al-Gaddaffi who trained and supported Charles Taylor and helped Foday Sankoh as well. Victor Bout, the Russian “merchant of death” supplied Charles Taylor with the weapons for use in Sierra Leone. It is ironical that Gaddaffi became a major “benefactor and friend” of Sierra Leone after all the atrocities. Unknown to many Sierra Leoneans, his death was mourned by those who saw him as a saviour. Enough of the history lesson.
The inter-party violence that marred the Fourah Bay bye –election on Saturday has not left a bitter taste in the mouth, but has generated accusations and counter accusations across the political canvas of the country. It might come as a surprise to some people but some of us had expressed concerns in past articles about the potential for such scenarios long ago. In my article, “The youths of today have a lot to say”, I implied that the theatre for such atrocities have been prefaced by the events in Kono and Bo, which came in rapid succession. I also intimated that such tendencies needed to be nipped in the bud with zero tolerance. In spite of the sitting governments achievements, there is no running away from the fact that a large part of the populace, especially the youths feel disgruntled, left out and destitute. The current economic climate, which has not been helped by the global recession, has not been kind to the economic recovery that was reportedly dawning in the country. While belt tightening and austerity measures are fast becoming the financial fashion statements trending the developed world, countries like Sierra Leone have recycled these measures umpteenth times over, to be a permanent feature.
The question that may be confronting every well meaning Sierra Leonean is “have we not learnt from the past?” You will be forgiven to think that with an 11 year war history and a recently held memorial of January 6 massacre, such reminders will be so raw that the citizens, or better still survivors will be constipated with anything to do with war and violence. Of course the violence seen on Saturday may have been carried out by a few, but the effects can be far reaching. If these events are anything to go by, one would shudder to think of what the future holds come November. This is no attempt to masquerade as a political soothsayer or merchant of doom. However, there are certain hall marks that can be used in an attempt to offer a diagnosis of the cankerworm that is threatening not only our recovery but the hard earned peace that is the envy of countries like Somalia, Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, and Libya, to name a few.
There is an easy temptation to attribute the violence to the youth. The uneasy atmosphere between the major parties has been generated by a triumvirate that includes the thugs, the politicians and the media. The youths remain largely disaffected because of the lack of unemployment and the lack of opportunities. Poverty is the worst form of violence (Ghandi).The high predominance of illiteracy does little to promote their employability. Against this background are the historical stretch marks of war. Many served as or were born into an era of political and social upheaval. Some were active participants of the horror that was meted to our country and its people. The end of the war, a welcome relief had bequeathed a generation of seriously psychologically traumatised young adults and kidult. Some grew up as orphans, some with broken families and others with nowhere to go; resulting in abandonment as street children. With no role models to steer their lives, the psychological and social shipwreck becomes predictable. As children, they were exploited by the world of adults, drafted as child soldiers during their innocence and forced to carry out the evil deeds of their masters. All violence consists of some people forcing others, under threat of suffering or death, to do what they do not want to do (Leo Tolstoy).
As if that was enough and for the second time in their lives, politicians who symbolise the adult world take a second helping in capitalising on the disaffected youths to carry out their nefarious activities. These youths are exploited again by the political masters for their own gain. With that level of despondence, it is easy to see how these vulnerable youths can be manipulated to carry out such violence. Considering that the image of violence, death and bloodshed had been the only language they were exposed to during their innocent and formative lives, it is obvious to see how they can be easily persuaded to revert to type.
This is not intended to give a carte blanche to violence from the youths, and should not be seen as a professional opinion to diagnose our problem; just a bystander’s thinking aloud. Social injustice cannot be attained by acts of violence; as violence tends to destroy what it tends to create in the first place. It is a widely held belief that many of the youths who ride the “Okada” are “war veterans” in terms. One needs to just look at the death defying manner of their handling of these machines to get an idea of how much fear of death is coursing through their veins. Their adherence to traffic rules is suicidal by all accounts. This might be reckless to say, but death appears to have little fear for them.
My primary school teacher once told me that you need fuel, heat and oxygen to make a fire. In this scenario, we have the thugs as the fuel and the politicians as the heat. To complete the triumvirate, we have the media as the oxygen. The term media has been loosely used here to refer to those who have misused, abused and refused the right to freedom of expression. A free press is not a privilege but an organic necessity in a great society. There is no doubt that media is the most powerful entity on earth. Unfortunately, this noble and God given right has been reduced to a begging bowl. Some have used it to promote their personal interests and at the same time become celebrated political griots. People have been so cleverly manipulated and influenced by the media that truth has become hopelessly lost in semantics. The default position of the media is to remain neutral and objective, with the triple duty to educate, inform and entertain the public. We know that this is not possible in the real world, as he who pays the piper calls the tune. Unfortunately, some have gone to town with their blind allegiances; so much so that personal vendettas, accusations and political rivalries have been reduced to insults, threats and downright organised gossip. It is common place to see writers trading insults or attacking personalities instead of arguing their points on a matter of principle or issues. Politicians (heat) incite the thugs (fuel) and get the media (oxygen) to propagate their rhetoric to the masses. It is this kind of literary thugery that can easily permeate onto the psyche of the man on the street. As we know, political histories involve mass violence, and it is this heroism on command and senseless violence that is been perpetuated in the name of patriotism. The mouth of a righteous man is a well of life, but violence covereth the mouth of the wicked (Proverbs 10:11).
It will be very difficult to see how the media can exonerate itself from the violence that seems to pervade our country today. Prior to the bye-election violence, there was an imitation of the American style East Coast-West Coast drive by shooting gangland deaths among rival musicians. As for this group, they would be best advised to drop the act because “E nor fit una sef”. Sadly, there is some glorification of such immoral violence in the reporting.
Some people may be addicted to violence but the main goal of the future will be to stop It.; for the most important element of a free society, where individual rights are held in the highest esteem, is the rejection of the initiation of violence. This is what Ron Paul, a presidential nominee is telling the hawks in America, who are preparing to widen their knowledge in geography by attacking Iran. If the recent violence surrounding the bye elections is anything to go by, then the hope of a free and fair election this year remains questionable.
According to local media, the SLPP is alleged to have initiated the violence. This seems to be a departure from the accustomed African political scene. It is usually the incumbent party that perpetuates violence in order to hold on to power. Laurent Gbagbo and Robert Mugabe are co-authors of “an idiots guide to clinging to power”. In most cases, it is the challenging party that cries foul; not that the change is laudable or welcome in any way. The reported 14% voter turnout is either indicative of the fear or threat of violence or just voter apathy. Either way, such a percentage is not representative of a democratic process in action. If the margin is representative, then we are in for a close call election; hope it’s minus the violence though.
As for the youths, remember that politicians can promise to build bridges even where there are no rivers. Is it worth dying for? As the election is coming, universal peace will be declared and the foxes will declare their sincerest interest in prolonging the lives and welfare of poultry. Better still, they will ask turkeys to vote for Christmas.
Don’t forget to turn off the lights, when you leave the room.