Sierra Leone: Dark Days Resurface

Published on 23rd January 2012

Sierra Leone ethnic groups                      Courtesy
In 2002, after a decade of bloody war, Sierra Leoneans once again enjoyed an environment of peace and a return to democratic order. Everyone expected that the Kabbah led SLPP government would reshape the country’s economic landscape that was destroyed during the almost three decade of the one party All People’s Congress (APC) rule. The RUF war was as result of a breakdown in governance where vices like corruption, injustice, rigging of elections, banishment of opposition members, intimidation, sacking of Paramount Chefs, youth unemployment, high cost of living, decadence in the education sector and political cabal based on ethno-regional dynamics prevailed. The SLPP quickly reversed most of these ugly economic developments and restored political civility where huge successes were recorded in human rights, rule of law and justice, access to standard and affordable education, press freedom, inflation and foreign exchange, queuing for items like petrol, rice were immediately abolished. There was virtually no need to worry about who was in governance since the enabling institutions were all functional. 

Unfortunately, when the APC government took over in 2007, I presaged that there was absolutely no need to rejoice over a regime change agenda (APC Victory) that was purportedly sponsored by Western powers in the sub-region in resuscitating their so-called liberal political order that has almost become obsolete as far as national stability and cohesion is concerned. Among other reasons, it was rumored that our so-called moral guarantors or international community were not comfortable with a Berewa Presidency. It was much later that I came to understand the nature of their “displeasure”…Organized hypocrisy indeed. Certainly a Berewa Presidency was not going to allow the current socio-economic and political decadence that Sierra Leone currently suffers from under the watchful eyes of the international community.

Expensive as they were, basic needs under President Kabbah were not only accessible but affordable even for the laborer. Vices like queuing ‘toeline,’ voucher gate, Abuja Haja, Bailor-Barrie and Davison-Nicol mentality, timber-gate, cocaine gate, etc were completely abolished. Yet musicians like “innocent” were paid to popularize an ejectment notice (song) to the SLPP for maintaining rice below Le 70,000, keeping a dollar below Le 4000 without any significant increase for almost 8 years. This was the SLPP that scored an A grade before leaving the corridors of power in 2007.

By 2007 when EBK was elected President, hopes were high among APC supporters and members that a change for  better condition of living was imminent. His sonorous address to his supporters at Marine house saw an unprecedented migration of APC members from the country-side to further congest the city. Over the BBC Africa Have Your Say and Focus on Africa Programmes that week, President EBK was live denouncing sacred cows, corruption, and promising to reshape the economic landscape of Sierra Leone through his ‘business agenda.’  Judging therefore from an objective lens scanning through the current state of our nation, could it be fair to tag President Koroma and APC reign of 2007-to-date as a success story or unquestionably a failure? Certainly and as a trained teacher, I will announce the grade sheet as an F+ grade.

In the following subject areas, I have painstakingly tried to present a brief account of how and why the APC has and will continue to fail Sierra Leone. In the first place, I will briefly look at what I have tagged as a hybrid peace that the UN and Sierra Leone Government are building which is almost near explosion. What accounted for the RUF war was the collapse of socio-economic and political institutions, a factor that is in the current dispensation. The various opposition parties and civil society groups continue to criticize the government in its divide and rule style, continuous harassment of opposition members, interference with the judiciary, monopolizing state institutions and interference with the electoral commission, among others.

There is alleged deliberate divide and rule in Sierra Leone, with continuous exclusion of the South-Easterners from the current national dispensation, sacking of civil servants, professionals and other workers alleged/suspected of supporting opposition parties, and also hugely on regional and tribal sentiments. Hundreds of professionals are sacked from their work places because they come from the dominant South-Eastern MENDE tribe which mainly supports the opposition Sierra Leone People’s party (SLPP). The country is on the verge of being divided along regional and tribal lines. Intra-tribe and regional mobilizations are currently underway with each group begrudging the order and waiting for the slightest opportunity to pay back.

How can the UN convince the world that amidst all these vices, they are still building peace? What type of peace could it be when mere by- elections in local council wards lead to injuries and deaths, arbitrary arrest of opposition and blatant disregard for the rule of law?

Over the past 40 months Sierra Leone has faced serious local and international embarrassments like the Cocaine plane and Cocaine Container saga, Mis-procurement, illegal timber logging involving the office of the Vice President, incarceration of the Freetown City Council Mayor on corruption charges, corruption in foreign embassies and attack on opposition leaders and UN diplomats. What explanations can the UN and Government of Sierra Leone offer for the recent spate of political violence when they attack opposition candidates and vandalize their offices? Making the situation worse is the fact that Sierra Leone Police is being built along partisan and ethnic lines that favour the APC.

Effort by the APC government to maintain the human development gains recorded by the Kabbah led SLPP government has deteriorated. For example, Fourah Bay College; the Athens of West Africa alter their academic calendar because of lecturer’s strike and lack of stationeries to conduct semester exams. The youths who constitute 34% of the country’s population remain unemployed despite UN intervention. These incidents remind Sierra Leoneans of 1967-1992 APC rule when education, was a privilege and not a right. Since the Koroma led APC assumed power, living conditions of the people and management of the economy has been poorly handled. On average, the  Sierra Leone economy grew at about 6.5 percent between 2002-2006 and the exchange rate was stable between Le 2,700-Le 2,9000 to US$ for the same period.

The SLPP government increased foreign reserves from about US$ 51.9 million in 1996 to nearly US$200 in 2006 which served as a buffer against donor shocks, and stabilize the exchange rate with inflation to single digit by end of 2006. Barely three months after assuming the reins of power, the APC reversed this trend of economic growth and stability. The value of $1 (US dollar) against the Leone currency is now chasing 4500 Leones. Inflation that was a single digit and below 10% under the SLPP by 2006 sharply increased to 17.0% in February 2010. A bag of rice that was Le 60,000 under the SLPP by 1996 has today tripled in price thus making it difficult for the average teacher for example, who receives a pay slip of Le 300,000 (less than $100) to feed his family and meet other family needs. Is this a price to pay for regime change?

In conclusion therefore, if Brotrous-Brotrous Ghali’s concept of Peace building actually seeks to address those ugly state vices that may have led to conflicts in a country, then the UN peace building Commission and the Government of Sierra Leone need to be sincere and more aggressive in handling the current systemic decadence that is crippling Sierra Leone. The signs are everywhere that Sierra Leone is now a time bomb waiting to explode at the slightest provocation especially during the pending elections. The patience of the ordinary man who is being attacked because of his/her political affiliation is running out.

The APC government very well may have read their history books to know that Foday Sankoh’s RUF rebellion were as a result of these vices that President EBK is promoting. If you hit a man below the belt, you leave him with no option but to retaliate. On the part, the UN which personifies the international community should dust themselves from their current diplomatic fantasy and organized hypocrisy and be sincere in their peace building effort. What has the UN peace building Commission achieved as far as post conflict stability in Sierra Leone is concerned? The UNSG reports of 2010 and 2011 to the Security Council highlighted the youth question and unemployment as one of the main risks facing current peace building efforts. Over 800,000 youths according to the World Bank were said to be unemployed or under-employed, but so far, only 18,000 youths have been reached under a $20 million World Bank project. This unemployment even further degenerated into physical clashes between the police and youths in Tonkolili which were related to the high unemployment, but still, the UN reports indicated that on the average, the World Bank funds provided in 2010 “have increased the income of youths by over 200 per cent and enabled them to enjoy increased social status and a sense of well-being.

On political violence, Sierra Leone has seen a state led intimidation of opposition members during by-elections between 2007 to date perhaps equal to the dark days of the 1970s and 80s of APC one party rule. The return to these dark days are unquestionably signs of a state degenerating into conflict. Certainly Sierra Leoneans are tired of war but as eneke the bird says, since men have learnt to shoot without missing, we birds have learnt to fly without perching.

By Patrick Brima Kapuwa PhD (Doctoral) Research Candidate, International Relations, Institute of International Studies, Jilin University
Changchun, China.

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