The recent spate of violence on the streets has become a recurrent eyesore to all well meaning Sierra Leoneans. It goes without saying that violence and Sierra Leone are not strange bedfellows. Our country, like many other African countries has developed a penchant to attract chaos. We seem to have perfected the art of generating chaos even in an empty room. We all know that violence never gives birth to a good child. No one needs a reminder of the definition of violence in Sierra Leone. Our country had monopoly on barbarism and depraved cruelty for over a decade. One would think that with such an unenviable history behind us, we would have learnt our lessons. Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it. To all intents and purposes, and as a nation, it looks like we are making a conscious effort to forget our past. It is a really sad state of affairs that our history has become a bloodstain that keeps on showing on the wall no matter how many new owners take possession; and no matter how many times we paint over it. Our memories have become so frail that we cannot even hang our history on it.
That brings us to the recent violence that took place between supporters of our perennial suspect parties SLPP and APC, in the sleepy suburban Hamilton village in Freetown. Reports have it that the bye election rally by the APC turned violent, leaving several people injured and property set alight. It will be disingenuous to pretend that this is a new phenomenon. Our history has been littered with political violence since the beginning of time. But one would expect that the civil war was a watershed and turning point for us all. The hallmarks are still so visible, that no one would need a reminder of the cost of violence. What makes the current situation so disheartening is the fact that in addition to the usual rivalry between these 2 political demagogues, tribalism has been thrown into the mix.
By all indications, it looks like our politicians have tried everything and failed. It is so common in politics today, that “When people have tried everything and have discovered that nothing works, they will tend to revert to what they know best—which will often be the tribe. It is a really sad state of affairs that with a population of just over 7 million people, and having failed the people so hopelessly, our politicians are unashamedly reverting to tribalism, as the only saving grace to their battered and tattered political lives.
Our country is littered with a high percentage of unemployment.This is more prevalent among our youth, where 60% are structurally unemployed. Our politicians can take credit as architects of this sad situation. Knowing full well that this is the case with our youth, our politicians therefore take full advantage of this vulnerability and gainfully employ our youth in random and wanton chaos, where violence is the main job description. The minimum requirement to qualify for this role is “idleness”. Now you know why our politicians always maintain a department of human resources that oversees the recruitment of our youth, which they euphemistically call “GRASSROOTS”. The paradoxical imagery is that “grass” is meant to be trampled on; which our politicians are literally perfecting.
What makes this situation volatile is the fact that today’s youth are yesterday’s babies, who were weaned off a diet of violence during the rebel war. The majority of the babies then, are now full grown embodiments of testosterone. If anything, these youths need support and time occupation in gainful employment, not engaging in re-runs of the same violence that has left their psyche toxic today. But our politicians have grown so adept at using, abusing and refusing our youth in society, that they are all too ready to employ them for their dirty work. There have been rumours that these youths are readily plied with drugs and alcohol to fuel their violence. This proves that our politicians are using violence as the last refuge of their incompetence. If these 2 political parties are so entrenched in their debased rivalry, that they cannot tolerate each other’s rally, what hope is there for any free, fair and peaceful elections.
As usual, the accusations as to the guilty party have started in earnest. Depending on who you care to listen to, both parties are innocent and the other side is guilty. Both the APC and SLPP leadership have issued statements denying responsibility and blaming the other for what could be the resumption of a new wave of political violence in Sierra Leone (thesierraleonetelegraph.com). They would like us to see them as saints. To all intents and purposes, our 2 main political parties are partners and shareholders of the violence that is blighting our landscape. It takes 2 to tango. It is pointless for these parties to try and exonerate themselves. Our country does not deserve this wanton violence. We have had our share of this barbarity. Our youth have enough on their plate by way of unemployment and tough living conditions. We cannot fill the vacuum of unemployment by seasonal recruitment for violence. Our politicians need to know that engaging these youths in violence is the worst form of abuse. It is one thing to be called “grassroots”, but an entirely different thing to be treated like grass.
But where does that leave our law enforcement agencies? Our police force would like you to believe that they are “a force for good”; and there is no doubt about that. But how could they allow rival factions to congregate in the same area and at the same time, when the potential for violence is staring us in the face? Unfortunately, many see our police force as compromised by the ruling party of the day. People don’t feel that our police force is impartial in these circumstances. They are seen to embody the “he who pays the piper calls the tune” adage. If our political parties could not organise their rallies freely, what hope is there for free, fair and peaceful elections, come 2023.
Sierra Leone does not need these distractions. The government of the day has and needs a lot to do. Many of us have been left wondering whether these spates of violence are a reflection of the accusations being bandied around. While some believe that the SLPP is breathing the oxygen of tribalism into our society, others feel that the APC is allergic to political defeat, and that the party is suffering from political adjustment disorder. They believe that the APC is struggling to accept defeat, while the SLPP does not seem to know what to do with victory. This article is not aimed at arbitrating on or adjudicating between who is right and who is wrong. This is a gentle reminder that the people of Sierra Leone have suffered from violence, unrest and chaos for too long. Our politicians seem to think that their rivalry adds charm to their conquests. They need to remember that, in their rivalry for greatness, they risk dividing a whole generation that could threaten our country along tribal fault lines. And that is one privilege that posterity can ill afford; for the next generation cannot pay for the violence of their ancestors.
If our politicians think that they can exonerate themselves by a series of press releases, they may succeed in doing so with their loyal or misguided supporters. To the average and well meaning Sierra Leonean, the buck stops with the leaders of these 2 political parties, who have decided to play Russian roulette with the lives of our youth. Their supporters will buy into their excuses, but many will find both sets culpable for our current situation. The majority of us face abject poverty in Sierra Leone today, and poverty is the worst form of violence. Our politicians have been the midwife of our poverty in the first place, but as if that is not violence enough, they seem too ready to promote and propagate it as well.
If our 2 political parties cannot give us reasons to believe that they are different, if they cannot give us Sierra Leoneans our deserved grown up politics, is it time to look elsewhere for a 3 way? Is it time to request adult supervision? Sierra Leoneans deserve something new, from the “New Direction”; not the same old, same old.
Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about the things that matter (M.L King).
Don’t forget to turn the lights off when you leave the room.