Election violence makes a comeback in Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone Telegraph: 5 April 2018:

Police in Sierra Leone have been engaging in fierce street battles with youths this afternoon in the Eastern District of Kenema, after serious violence broke out between supporters of the APC party and the SLPP. There are reports of serious injuries, though so far, the number of deaths remain uncertain.

This wave of political violence comes less than twenty-four hours after the result of the presidential runoff election between the APC and SLPP was last night announced and the winner – the Retired Brigadier and opposition SLPP candidate – Julius Maada Bio, was declared the winner with a three-percentage point lead. (Above video showing violence in Kenema).

Until last night’s orgy of violence by the supporters of both political parties – APC and SLPP, which took place in the central business district of the capital Freetown, Sierra Leone’s 2018 elections had been hailed by international observers as relatively peaceful.

It is not clear what sparked the rioting in central Freetown last night, but it is alleged that supporters of the newly elected president – Julius Maada Bio, took the law into their own hands when they attacked and destroyed hundreds of makeshift market stalls used by street traders.

Although street trading is illegal in the business district of the capital, enforcement of the law by the police has been weak, leading to very serious vehicle and pedestrian traffic difficulties.

The destruction of the street traders’ market stalls has been condemned by all sides. And tonight, there are calls for those responsible to be brought to justice, and a permanent location found for housing of the street traders.

In other parts of the capital, there were disturbing scenes of political party supporters destroying the election campaign billboards of their opponents. (Video seen below showing violence in Kenema).

But the worst of the growing political violence in Sierra Leone has been taking place throughout this afternoon in the eastern city of Kenema, where there were disturbing scenes of violence against police officers.

An eyewitness in Kenema said: “The city of Kenema is presently under heavy police attack this afternoon. Police have engaged in firing tear gas after supporters of the SLPP took to the streets to celebrate their party’s victory. It is understood that an OSD officer was seen pointing his gun at the crowd, which led to him being disarmed by some of the SLPP supporters. As a result, several police officers then swooped the SLPP party office to retrieve the gun. According to eyewitness the police were behaving aggressively.”

Another report said: “Heavy fighting going on between police and civilians in Kenema. Three people have so far been shot by police with live bullets and are on their way to the hospital. The township of Kenema is tense as I’m typing,” says Musa Bockarie.

Other reports received by the Sierra Leone Telegraph, say that it seems the police were outnumbered by the crowd of youths. Several police officers could be seen firing live bullets in the air to disperse the crowds, but to no avail.

A large crowd of youths alleged to be supporters of the SLPP gathered across the road from the APC party office in Kenema, where there was a standoff with an unidentified group, believed to be APC supporters.

According to an “initial medical report on the Kenema incident” posted on social media: “Post-election tension erupted in Kenema leading to 11 victims being brought to the Kenema Government hospital with various injuries.

“Presently we’ve received 11 victims (8 males & 3 females) – two of them very serious: One gunshot wound in the abdomen and one in the leg.

“Medical Superintendent and his team had performed exploratory laparotomy successfully, but the gunshot wound in the leg is still bleeding.

“X-ray done with fracture of the mid tibia confirmed with massive soft tissue damage and profuse bleeding. Two units of whole blood is in progress and ambulance is prepared for evacuation to Connaught as there is on available bed at emergency hospital.”

But serious questions must tonight be asked about the lack of sufficient numbers of police and military officers in Kenema and the capital Freetown, both last night and this afternoon, to tackle the rampaging youths and keep the peace.

There are calls for the elected president Julius Maada Bio to seize the initiative and make public broadcast appeals to the youths, so as to end the violence.

Both APC and the SLPP can boast of having hundreds of thousands of youths in their respective camps – a politically volatile scenario, which if not addressed, could lead to widespread chaos and violence across the country.

Sierra Leone’s youth makes up over 60% of the total population, with eight out of ten out of work, and possibly over 20% of no fixed abode, sleeping rough in the streets.

Drugs and alcohol plays a significant part in fuelling violence and criminality in Sierra Leone, and there is little doubt the latest outbreak of political violence is fuelled by substance abuse.

Commenting on the attack on street traders’ stalls by a rampaging mob in Freetown, a prominent APC member – Dr Sylvia Olayinka Blyden said: “The SLPP supporters are saying they want no more street trading to keep the city clean. I think the new president should step in and resolve this by finding them a nice selling location. In as much as the SLPP supporters may be right, we should also recognize that the economy is damaged, and these market women have to survive too.

“I strongly condemn the abrupt destruction of economic livelihood of lower income women last night by thugs supporting the ruling SLPP Government of President Julius Maada Bio (Photo).

“The destruction of market stalls and threats against those poor women who are their families’ breadwinners is just sickening. And it appears to have well organised undertones.

“It was not a spontaneous event. If even you wanted them removed, it should never be without alternative arrangements put in place.

“So, I strongly condemn the abrupt destruction of market street trading stalls and threats against women breadwinners without alternative arrangements yet put in place. I hope we are not going to experience any more of such unfortunate actions.

“APC lost a chunk of support when similar video images appeared of women being displaced in Aberdeen in the year 2015 by the demolition squad. Don’t take citizens for granted.”

This latest outbreak in violence will do very little to consolidate the peace in Sierra Leone, after ten years of civil war which ended in 2001, leaving over 250,000 dead and thousands amputed.

Where is Sierra Leone heading? Perhaps the newly elected president Julius Maada may be addressing the nation tomorrow to answer this and other burning questions that are now threatening the peace and stability of the country.

7 Comments

  1. Please have sympathy for the people of Sierra Leone at least you have to think about the next person. How does he cater for his life in order to survive. Sierra Leone government is not paying those that the government fails to provide job for in the country. If street trading is banned in the country how do you think the citizens will survive.

    All those spoiling, stealing and also selling the country’s natural resources to foreign countries, all of them will face justice in the court of Allah on the day of judgement. But when they are enjoying in this world you don’t understand that Allah is looking and also the angels are writing their records.

    Leaders of Sierra Leone let’s be ashamed of European leaders, the love they have for their citizens. There is no country without street trading. I am not supporting totally the act of street trading, but am also looking at the endurance of the life of poverty which Sierra Leonean youths are going through. Life is all about respite. Without it, life is worthless.

    I thought the advice we should give the Sierra Leone government is to fight against these common problems that are bringing destruction to our country as a whole:

    (1) drugs control. The young of Sierra Leone are the future. Lets don’t always allow people supplying them with drugs, such as alcohol. All countries are against drugs. The alcohol that is manufactured in Sierra Leone is from drugs, because its percentage is high.

    (2) Immigration control. Foreigner are destroying the country. There is no immigration policy. Lebanese, Indians and Chinese are stealing the wealth of the country because most of them gain huge profits in their business, but pay little or no tax.

    Those Chinese companies and other foreign mining companies are making billions, but the citizens are not benefiting. Can’t the leaders of Sierra Leone fear God that all of them will die and one day they have to stand in the court of God to face judgement, because of their actions.

    (4) Sierra Leone should stop begging from foreign countries and stop depending on imports. Government should be able to strengthen agriculture. Agriculture is lacking in our country. Commercial agriculture can be done by the government by employing graduates. In Europe most people are employed in farming.

    • Jay, I think you have one of the better responses to the article about the current political and social climates of Salone. While I don’t agree with some points, it address the underlying problem, which is the plight of the youth, overall the living experience of Salone’s people today. Salone has great opportunity, considering that the population is very young, but unfortunately very lost. I don’t think you’d see this level of violence if people were employed and being paid for what they are worth. Too many of the youth are running around on the streets acting reckless.

      1) Drug control. There’s no way to eradicate it once people have experienced alcohol or drugs. The demand in of itself isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it actually can be harnessed like any other commodity. Not all countries are against drugs, they’re just against the illegal sale and distribution of them because the government can’t turn a profit from it.

      There is also the side effect of people’s lives being ruined by the “addictiveness” of certain drugs, which all goes back to plight of people. Diversifying the options that people have, from just trying to survive, to actually thriving should be a priority for this new administration. Create opportunities for the people to thrive, not just survive.

      This can start by establishing things people shouldn’t struggle for everyday, clean water, food, electricity 24/7, proper sanitation, education, and shelter. So many industries & services can emerge from those six things, all of which can be exported to other countries and can hire some many people to facilitate those activities.

      2) Immigrants aren’t really the problem, it’s business law, taxation, and to some extent property laws and taxation. How are businesses able to operate on Sierra Leone soil without paying their fair share of taxes? It’s either the government doesn’t care, or are desperate to get any kind of business in the area. The new government needs to be tougher on collecting business taxes from all businesses, therefore bringing in the much needed revenue.

      3) I completely agree with your third point. Sierra Leone looks weak by begging from other countries. I feel like other countries do not take Sierra Leone seriously because of that. To change that position, Sierra Leone should be making or exporting things that other countries need, diversifying their trading export assets portfolio, like agriculture.

      Stop pointing fingers at Blyden, she was doing the best that she can with limited resources. The local government can move street traders, or they can re-write the local ordinances, have part of the street occupied with traders, and just not have cars go down that part of the street. The rest of the street traders can go somewhere else as long as they have a licence.

      Therefore street traders, all of them, should have a licence to be a street trader in any area that they transact business. The local mayor should tax them just like any other business in his/her area, considering that they live in the same area that they work in. So whatever money is generated by taxes, can be used to support sanitation.

      If they do not pay their taxes, slap them with a fine, and if they still do not pay up, they cannot sell their products there anymore and evict them. If you can’t follow the rules, you need to leave and the local government can work to get that traders’ debt collected.

  2. Well said Alan. The mischief maker is at it again. The matter of street traders/hawkers and sanitation is under the purview of the Freetown City Council, and the two previous Mayors – Herbert George Williams, Bode Gibson and the current Madam Aki Sawyerr are all APC functionaries.

    Dr Blyden knows fully well that State House as well as the Freetown municipality have been occupied by the APC for the past ten years, and during this time the plight of the street traders. not to mention sanitation has been deplorable and pathetic.

    In ten years. Dr Blyden’s responsible APC party could not find the street traders a “nice selling location”, yet wants the new President to resolve it. Give us a break, Dr Blyden!

  3. Once again I feel worried. Is this the change we are looking for? As I see photos and videos of youths destroying the market stalls of women in the capital city Freetown, and Kenema, and also chasing police officers, whose mandate to protect lives and properties.

    If this continues, without putting it to a halt and bring those responsible to face the law, it will spark to ethnic violence in our beloved country.

    His Excellency President Rtd Brig. Maada Julius Bio, we love you, so please address the issue at once. These traders in those centres, they can either be APC or SLPP supporters. Now they have suffered under these gangs of youths. So we are all one, in the sight of Allah.

    One People, One Country. We have inter-marriages in this country. so let’s unite and promote peace to see the development of Mama Salone.

  4. You are right, Mr. During, this is a national problem and comes up by every election. All the political parties, judiciary, civic societies, religious groups, Ministries of Internal Affairs and Education must come to a round table conference to solve this problem once and for all.

    Advocating of ethnic violence and tribalism should be booked as crime in our criminal system. Any politician caught propagating violence, is to be banned from politics for life and for government employees, the immediate suspension from work and the lost of his or her hard worked pension. We have to do something about this CANCER in our political system.

  5. Dr Sylvia Olayinka Blyden said: “The SLPP supporters are saying they want no more street trading to keep the city clean. I think the new president should step in and resolve this by finding them a nice selling location. In as much as the SLPP supporters may be right, we should also recognize that the economy is damaged, and these market women have to survive too’ – Telegraph

    No decent Sierra Leonean wants to see traders taking over all the heart of the capital. So it it wrong to insinuate that only the SLPP supporters are against the kind of street trading that we are witnessing in Freetown and other big cities. Street trading has become a political tool in the hands of cheap politicians who are quick to exploit it for fame and other diabolical reasons.

    It is wrong for hooligans be they SLPP supporters or not as this was a midnight operation and so no one can tell who did this, to take the law into their own hand. I do not think with all the mess in the country, stopping street trading is top of Bio’s government.

    So Dr. Blyden insinuating that it is a well organised operation is another cheap political shot by someone who thinks she can take advantage of any loophole to remain relevant. Dr. Blyden was Minister of Social Welfare for over a year. The welfare of those women should have been a priority instead of fighting with her subordinates. With more than 3 to 4 thousand women and children trading in the center business district of Freetown, the first thing to look at is the sanitary conditions.

    That was never done before Dr. Blyden’s tenure nor during her tenure. So let us stop this early political shot even before Bio officially enters his office space at State House. Bio and his team were at Radisson Blu Hotel in Aberdeen when the incident involving street traders occurred in the center of the city. How can it be a well organised scheme? This is CHEAP politics madam.

  6. Contributory factors to this outbreak of violence might include bad examples of lawlessness with respect for rules, regulations and ethics by some of our top political leaderships; add the ongoing politicisation of our Institutions – Police, Army, Magistracy, Judiciary etc; disrespect of national audit functions, we all get these unsurprising and undesirable results.

    President Maada Bio now needs to convert these problems to challenges. He must combat them. We should wait and see.

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