“We can minimize political violence in Sierra Leone”

Abdul M Fatoma

5 July 2012

The culture of Political violence is not new to Sierra Leoneans. The country’s historical narrative – before and after 1977, and to date is characterised by politically motivated incidents of violence, torture, intimidation and false imprisonment.

This culture of political violence is a gangrene that is eating into our values and the cord holding us together as Sierra Leoneans.

This is evident in the recent tribal sentiments and abuses directed at one tribe or region, the Bo incidence that resulted to stoning and burning of houses, the Fourah Bay bye-election saga, to name but a few.

With barely 133 days and 3,234 hours countdown to 17th November, 2012, multi-tier national election, some segments of our society are predicting that this year’s general elections will be marred by violence.

This is premised on the early warning signs in retrospect to the above instances. One should get weary about the uncertainties that lie before us as a nation, with the understanding of how modern internal conflicts are triggered.

My question is: when will Sierra Leone free itself from the grip of this menace, which continues to rupture the spirit of tolerance and friendliness – the best resources Sierra Leone can boast of?

There is growing concern among the developed democracies about the problem of failed or fragile states; the genesis is triggered by political intolerance, hate speech, insincerity, etc.

These failed states are breeding grounds for drug trafficking and transit, terrorism, disease and other threats to human security, and no country prefers to be a failed state.

Therefore, conscious and deliberate efforts need to be taken by all and sundry to STOP politicians and their agents playing tricks with the lives of Sierra Leoneans, as a means to their selfish desire.

The dynamics of war between states can be explained in geo-political terms, as a contest for natural resources, a means of resolving disputes over territorial boundaries and so on, as opposed to internal conflicts.

We have still not learned how political machinations or manipulations through vote rigging, muzzling of political opponents, hate messages and speeches, can suddenly escalate into organised violence.

I wish to warn the leadership of all political parties, their agents and supporters to behave responsibly, and seek non-violence approach as the foundation of peace, as echoed by Mohandas (Mahatma) Karamchand Ghandi:

 “From the beginning of time to the end of time, the force of truth and love always wins over violence. With this great force you can bring this world to your feet”.

I wish to respectfully ask our politicians to be mindful of their utterances and activities before, during and after the elections, so as to promote national cohesiveness and reconciliation as manifested by Nelson Mandela and other great leaders of Africa.

Our Organisation – Campaign for Human Rights and Development Sierra Leone (CHRDSL) is closely watching your actions.

Politicians should be mindful of the fact that it is not in the interest of any Sierra Leonean, to see our fledgling democracy and fragile peace shattered.

I strongly believe Sierra Leone deserves comparable respect from the global community. We wouldn’t want to lose our enviable democratic stature in Africa. Democracy needs education, and education needs democracy.

If we want a healthy democracy, we must have citizen involvement; and to get it we need to start with ourselves.

A community certainly uses its resources, organizes and regulates itself, maintains balance among competing interests, and must co-exist with the rest of the community. 

If democracy is the natural state of all living things, then democracy in our hearts and minds, not unrestricted freedom, but freedom with responsibility is the only healthy way to educate ourselves.

We strongly support the strengthening of the legal framework of the Political Parties Registration Commission (PPRC) to take stringent actions against violators, not just naming and shaming; but placing life ban and sanctions against political parties and their leaders from holding leadership positions in any election related activities in the country.

To this end, I recommend a collaborative action between the judiciary and the PPRC to ensure there is sanity in the political arena.

My humble suggestion to the PPRC is that any politician caught giving any form of support to those carrying out political violence, for whatever reason, must be banned from participating in political activities until death.

I do not mean that culprits would not be allowed to vote. What I mean here is that anyone found to be aiding and abetting political violence, should never be given the opportunity to contest in any election and to hold public position in the country.

This would not be difficult, because where there is a will, there is always a way. And if we are to eradicate or minimize violence from our political landscape, then drastic medicine should be administered to cure a drastic disease.

We must encourage the democratic process wherever it is found, and strengthen it where it is weak.

We must aggressively tackle the issue of election fraud and deceit at every level, and smooth the playing field for every segment of society.

In our daily lives, we should think and feel at peace within ourselves. We should treat each other with kindness and consideration, and we should live according to our own highest ideals and values as a Sierra Leonean.

Political stability and socio-economic development is what the people of Sierra Leone want at this time – not war.

A government can work successfully, if people are taking part by playing different roles in the process of governing. People can play a role in governance in terms of keeping government accountable to the delivery of services.

Examples of areas people should keep the government accountable are; health provision, education, protection (public order and security), etc.

People can also play a role in governance in terms of fulfilling civil obligations. For example; by paying taxes, obeying the law and giving support to their lawful leaders.

We must free ourselves from the restrictiveness of our past beliefs. We must remove the blinders that we have become accustomed to, and that which we are often not even aware of.

War, or any other violent behaviour, is not genetically programmed into human nature.

Warfare has changed so radically that we now know war is a product of culture. Biology does not condemn humanity to aggression.

The same species that invented war is equally capable of inventing peace.

What about all the differences that seem to exist?  There seem to be so many. There are differences among people, nations, and values.

Sierra Leoneans, we must embrace the fact that differences are part of the very core of the solution, if we are to grasp the opportunity for growth.

When we work with differences and find the relationship that exists between the difference and the whole, we can begin to understand another’s view, without accepting it.

The German poet and novelist – Wolfgang Van Goethe, once said that; “Thinking is easy, acting is difficult, and to put thoughts into action is the most difficult thing in the world”.

We spend our days waiting for the ideal path to appear in front of us, but we forget that paths are made by walking, not waiting.

A Buddhist proverb says: “If we are facing in the right direction, all we have to do is keep on walking.”

The key question for our policy makers and the media alike is how to create a media framework and practice, that can sustain such a public sphere in a post war nation like Sierra Leone.

Over time, the public sphere has been constituted through a range of institutions which changed through time.

The media, including newspapers, was part of this process from the eighteenth century onwards. By the end of the twentieth century we have ‘mass societies’ informed by mass media – principally broadcast media.

This is a complex situation that requires a careful and measured policy response.

In conclusion, I may borrow a word from Mahatma Gandhi: “if you want to see the brave, look at those who can forgive. If you want to see heroic, look at those who can love in return for hatred”.

The Author, Abdul Fatoma, is Chief Executive, Campaign for Human Rights & Development Sierra Leone (CHRDSL)

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