John Pa Baimba Sesay
19 June 2012
Since an end to the civil war in 2002, governments – present and past have undertaken various efforts, aimed at tackling the causes of that civil war.
For instance, former President Tejan Kabbah worked towards the creation of democratic state institutions that would help in the day to day running of the country.
The National Revenue Authority-NRA, the Anti Corruption Commission-ACC, the Independent Media Commission-IMC, the National Social Security and Insurance Trust (NASSIT), are among the many institutions established by Kabbah.
I may have my issues with the Kabbah government, in terms of its failure to effectively use public communication in his governance, or his many unfulfilled promises. But he was able to take the lead in bringing about institutional reforms in post conflict Sierra Leone.
President Ernest Bai Koroma came into power in 2007. Since then, he has been working assiduously towards sustaining the peace we achieved years back, as well as moving the country ahead in the area of infrastructural development.
There has been phenomenal transformation in present day Sierra Leon in the areas of road network, free health care delivery, fight against corruption, and the provision of energy and power.
President Koroma has achieved a lot in five years. And I wonder what Sierra Leone would look like, after 10 years of a Koroma presidency, given the pace of development taking place in the country.
That does not mean, we have arrived where we are heading for. But the signs are gleaming, and with this pace of socio-economic and infrastructural development, we will succeed in our desire for a better Sierra Leone.
Our collective efforts
But what about the collective achievements we have made as a people? This is something we often forgot about, or ignored, or often tend to give such credit to a government in power.
Our peace, our efforts and our commitment, these, we need not down play. Indeed, the peace process was spearheaded by government, but it was as a result of the preparedness on the part of each and every Sierra Leone, that eventually led us to put an end to that decade long and sad history of ours.
I am however perturbed, that the gains we have been making, since the end to our civil war, today appear to be in jeopardy.
And together, we must not to allow this trend to continue. And in this direction, we should be ready to work as a people, give our support where it is needed. Our youths, our police officers, are key to the sustenance of our peace and security.
Recent developments in Sierra Lone are disturbing and they are not in the interest of our peace, and even not in the interest of the development efforts that President Koroma has embarked upon since 2002.
The police and citizens alike are partners in development, which makes it compelling for us to collaborate. The recent death of two youths in Wellington was an unfortunate incident indeed and I, as a Sierra Leonean totally regret such happening.
The timely intervention of the President helped in salvaging the apparent deteriorating situation in Wellington. There was a complete show of leadership here, by President Koroma.
His presence at the funeral of the two young men was an indication of his love and desire to ensure the security of his people. I particularly would want to commend the President for that singular action. This is statesmanship at its highest level; a smart Leader indeed. But there are issues we need to look at here:
Problems and solutions
A critical examination of the police-public relationship in Sierra Leone is needed. In this vain, let me attempt to bring out factors I see as being responsible for this poor police-public working relationship. I wish to state them as follow:
Challenges facing the police force and people’s expectations
The public’s expectation of the police is great. But again, expectations should be realistically managed. This is a major challenge in fostering a positive relationship between the public and the police force. Also, the police force itself has a number of challenges.
Again, we may wish to also even look at the training process for newly recruited police officers. Is the training period at Samu or Hasting commensurate to present day reality and public expectation?
Have we been recruiting the right people? Have we often conducted a clear and critical assessment of those who normally apply to enter the police force from the viewpoint of their past record? And are they getting the required training?
As long as these questions remain unanswered and addressed, there will continue to be plenty of room for mistrust and lack of confidence.
Civil mistrust for our police officers
Civil mistrust and lack of public confidence in the police force are key here. This may be as a result of the public perception about the police. We seem to have a fixed mindset in so far as police operations are in Sierra Leone.
From our podapoda drivers, to our okada riders, perception is the same. But again, are the police themselves responsible for the apparent negative public perception about them? This is debatable.
But take a case study here: A commercial driver is asked for his driving license along Fourah Bay Road, which is good. But are private vehicle drivers subject to the same rule?
The laws are made for all, but once discretional powers are being used, it becomes a problem. Also, there have been complaints of police officers putting more emphasis on accumulating money, more than their work.
I may not accept or deny this, but what I do know is, you see a commercial driver making a U-turn around Cottage Hospital, when that should not happen.
And when arrested, it is the very public – the passengers that will criticize the arresting officer.
So, this brings us to the attitude problem. Our attitudes should shape our perceptions, which in turn should help us improve on our relationship with the police. This should be addressed as soon as possible.
Total disregard for law and order
The police force is expected to maintain the internal security of the country. But we have seen, out of anger and frustration, people taking the law into their own hands. If someone is killed, the law requires us to make a report to the police.
But when once we begin to turn our anger on the law enforcing body, it then becomes a threat to national security.
Again Information dissemination in security issues is vital. When a faulty message is transmitted, it creates room for chaos and instability. This was the case in the violence that erupted at Bumbuna.
The alleged use of that radio station in Bumbuna by a local Reverend was also believed to have helped adversely.
Seeming ineffective Local Policing Partnerships
Partnership Boards were introduced across the country, through the local policing policy, introduced by the police. But what has been the impact of these boards? To what extent have they contributed? Can we now take a review of the leadership in some of these partnership boards across the country?
Let me take Kissy as a case study. The Head of the Policing Partnership Board was proving to be effective, but can we now take a look at whether it is right to be actively involved in party politics, and at the same time carrying the Leadership of the Local Policing Partnership Board?
If the head of the Board wants to, for instance, enter into parliament through a political party, as in Kissy, is it not advisable to relinquish the leadership of the partnership Board?
You cannot be a politician and in charge of a security Board in a locality. If a politician, not having the political beliefs or ideologies of the ruling party is heading a Local Policing Partnership Board, what do we expect in the real sense of party politics?
My reference to Kissy has to do with my apparent connection to that part of Freetown. I have lived most of my life in Kissy, Freetown.
Finding solutions – there must be a way forward here.
Police to improve on their public relations
The relationship between the public and the police force should be reviewed, and in the process efforts should be embarked upon to try and regain the seeming drop in public confidence and mistrust for the police. This can be done by:
– A change of attitude among the people and the police – by constant radio discussion programmes, regular meetings with stakeholders; drivers, executives of the bike riders, community leaders and opinion leaders and also religious leaders of local communities;
– By working in close partnership with media practitioners, especially broadcast media – radio and television, use of community barray meetings, production of radio jingles on message of peace and national cohesion may be of help also.
By constantly engaging stakeholders – communities, youth leaders, and opinion leaders in these communities, the police will succeed in making people understand their (police) traditional duty of maintaining law and order and also in letting the public know what is expected from them (public). Communication is relevant here, especially public communication.
Review of Local Policing Partnership Boards
The following activities of the Local Policing Partnership Boards should be looked at:
– what impact they have made, if any;
– whether they are still performing in line with what is expected from them
– Determining whether those who are now actively involved in politics should still be made to keep heading such bodies;
Review of community neighbourhood watch groups where necessary
The idea of having community neighbourhood groups to help ensure the security of a given community may be a good one.
But given present security risks, and also in an effort to improve trust, perception and confidence in the police officers, a review of such groups should be conducted.
When the war came to an end in 2002, there was, prior to that, a Disarmament, Demobilization and Rehabilitation exercise that was done across the country.
The question is to what extent we can say the exercise was a success, from an impact assessment standpoint?
Just few days ago, I ran a telephone interview with the Police Chief in Sierra Leone, Francis Munu and he was quick to highlight, that the police “have been criticized for use of weapons but we know there has been an increase in armed robbery and we need to curtail that…the public has most often not been fair with their needs…”
He promised to make amends where necessary, but to “also try to deliver on our agenda” and again called on the general public “to support us so as to be able to make progress in our work.”
This then tells me that, state security should not be seen as the responsibility of government alone. It involves the collective effort of society, political parties included.
Not just a government issue
Passing relevant information to police officers, in terms of potential security threats within communities is necessary and helpful. Take for instance; you don’t expect government to come knocking on your door, just to remind you that the music you are playing in your sitting room is to the discomfort of your neighbor.
These are basic societal norms we should start to inculcate into our daily interactions. Most of the problems we face today are societal problems, and one way of addressing them is by looking for societal solutions to those problems.
The police should come to terms with the present day needs and expectations, and do all they could to meet them.
The society on the other hand, should manage its expectations in line with present day realities.