Sierra Leone Telegraph: 18 December 2015
Tomorrow, Saturday, 19th December 2015, the people of constituency 025 in Sierra Leone’s eastern district of Kono will go to the polls, after last weekend’s political violence, provoked by selfish and thuggish politicians.
The people of Sierra Leone are still trying to deal with the emotional trauma, social and economic loss suffered during the ten year civil year, which ended in 2001.
Many communities in Sierra Leone, especially those that have suffered decades of neglect and marginalisation at the hands of politicians, since the country gained independence in 1961, remain fragile and volatile.
They are tinder-boxes waiting to go off with just a little spark. And it seems that spark was made available in Kono last weekend, when the country’s vice president – Victor Foh delivered what has been described in Kono as ‘his political hate speech’ to a large crowd of ruling APC party supporters.
The result of his hate speech is believed to have sparked widespread violence in Kono, leaving several people injured and property destroyed.
Heavily armed police backed by the national army had to be called in to quell the violence, using teargas.
Kono is unlike any other district in Sierra Leone. Apart from the capital Freetown, it is the most politically sensitive district in the country, Where a single vote at national elections can make the difference between a party staying in government or return to the opposition benches.
But the importance of Kono in determining the colour of the government at State House, has never been matched by the size of government’s spending in tackling deeply rooted and growing inequalities and poverty in the district.
With a population of about 364,000, Kono is one of the poorest districts in the country.
Although many of the youths in the district are illegally employed in the diamond mines, unemployment in Kono is much higher than the national average at more than 70%. Adult illiteracy along with child mortality in Kono is one of the highest in Sierra Leone.
Ironically, in the midst of vast diamond deposits buried deep within the soil of Kono, resides a whole swathe of people that are living in squalor and abject poverty.
So when the country’s vice president (Photo) addressed a large crowd of ruling party supporters at a political rally ahead of tomorrow’s by-election in Kono, calling on the people of the district to either support the ruling APC or continue to wallow in abject poverty, feathers were ruffled, old political wounds were lanced open.
This style of politics is quite reminiscent of the APC politics of old, when president Siaka Stevens will deprive those he regarded as disloyal or difficult communities of basic amenities, so as to bring them to their knees and keep them there until its time to vote, when they are reminded of who controls the purse strings.
But responding to the vice president’s hateful speech, the Mayor of Kono – Emerson Lamin reminded the vice president that 85% of his people in the district are struggling to afford three meals a day.
Successive governments have lied to the people of Kono, simply to win their votes at general and local elections.
Since losing the 2007 elections, the opposition SLPP has not succeeded in regaining control of the district which is now fully ruling party dominated.
But the ruling APC is making the same mistakes it has made in Kono since the country gained independence in 1961 – taking the people of Kono for granted.
The ruling party is now at serious risk of losing political control of the district, despite having key Kono activists in its ranks, such as Diana Konomanyi – the Local Government Minister, Karamoh Kabba, and Balogun Koroma – the Transport Minister.
The recent sacking of vice president Sam Sumana – a son of Kono, by president Koroma, has not gone down well with a large section of the Kono community. This crisis has fragmented the ruling APC party support in the district significantly.
Kono is fast becoming a hot political battleground for the ruling APC fanatics, disgruntled APC supporters, and the supporters of the opposition SLPP who are trying to regain lost ground.
And in such frenzied and volatile atmosphere, political violence is bound to occur, when the flames of hate are fanned by politicians, as vice president Foh succeeded in doing last weekend.
Victor Foh is one of the oldest active politicians in Sierra Leone today, who ought to know better than to deliver hate speeches that is likely to undermine the peace and harmony of fragile communities.
Foh started politics in the early 1970s under the tutelage of the notorious dictator president Siaka Stevens, who taught Foh the dangerous art of political manipulation and propaganda.
Whilst those skills may no doubt have served the interests of his boss Siaka Stevens in the 1970s and 1980s, there are serious questions today as to the relevance of Victor Foh in the modern politics of Sierra Leone, which essentially is about building sustainable peace, promote diversity and economic development across all regions.
But this is a matter for the young and forward thinking APC rank and file members to ponder, as the country looks to 2017 when national elections will be held.
For now though, as the people of constituency 025 in Kono go to polls tomorrow Saturday, 19th December 2015, as well as count the cost of the loss suffered during last weekend’s politically motivated violence, they will no doubt be rethinking their support for the ruling APC.
Today, a group of prominent Sierra Leoneans of Kono origin, issued the following statement, making clear their position on last weekend’s violence in the district (Photo: Dr. Fuambai Sia Amadu – one of the signatories):
“We, the undersigned leaders of Kono organizations in the Diaspora condemn in the strongest possible terms, the current acts of intimidation and violence in relation to the Constituency 025 by-election scheduled for December 19th in Kono District.
“In particular, we call the public’s immediate attention to the alleged arrests of family members of the opposition party candidate – Sahr Gbondo, as well as the alleged illegal search of his compound this morning. Mr. Gbondo is currently in an undisclosed location within Kono and has expressed fear for his life as well as the safety of his family and supporters.
“We have also received information of the alleged “taking in for questioning” of Jonathan Leigh, the editor of the daily Independent Observer, concerning a front page report of the said violence in Kono yesterday, which included several reported casualties and alleged vandalizing of private and public property.
“These alleged activities of intimidation and harassment come at the heels of the Vice President’s controversial address to the people of Kono in Gorama Chiefdom last week. In his speech, Foh asserted that Kono people must vote for the APC party if they wish to receive development in their region.
“We view this assertion and other disturbing remarks in Foh’s speech as a grossly demeaning of the people of Kono, and an attempt to coerce votes through open blackmail. A formal complaint and press release of this blatant flouting of the democratic rights of the people of Kono will be issued in due time.
“We ask President Koroma’s administration for an immediate investigation of reports of harassment and intimidation of ordinary citizens exercising their constitutional rights to vote in Kono, as well as alleged infringement of the rights to free speech and freedom of the press.
“We ask for public assurance of free and fair elections this Saturday, December 19th for the people of Sewafe and Gorama to decide their own fate.”
Dr. Kai Ngeba, Kono District Development Association UK
Dr. Fuambai S. Ahmadu, Kono Union USA
Mr. Aiah Fanday, Kono District Global Organization
Fatima Wahab, Kono Diamond Women