2 April 2012
Politics in Sierra Leone took a rather sinister, yet intriguing twist last Week, when the country’s volatile and unpredictable minister of internal affairs – responsible for internal security – Musa Tarawallie, told the BBC World Service – Focus on Africa, that the ruling APC party is stockpiling heavy military assault weapons to defend itself.
This statement by the minister – who is said to be fighting for his ministerial and political life, confirms the fears and anxieties of the people of Sierra Leone, after enduring ten years of brutal civil war, which started under the watch of the previous APC government.
When former UN representative in Sierra Leone – Michael Schulenburg told the UN Security Council two weeks ago, that the government of Sierra Leone must explain why it needed to spend over $5 Million on importing deadly arms and ammunition into the country, no one expected the response to be so swift and worryingly graphic.
Speaking on the BBC’s ‘Focus on Africa’, the minister of internal affairs, told Umaru Fofana that:
“Those who illegally overthrew the APC government in 1992 have succeeded in taking over the opposition SLPP; this time under the cloak of democracy. In life, we have to look at precedents, so that they do not reoccur and to prepare yourself so that you are not overtaken. The government at the time was very weak, so they were overthrown by junior officers. The arms we have brought into the country for the Police is to resist any eventuality.”
This statement has sparked an expected political row, which appears also to have caught the country’s Chief of Police on the back-foot, as he painstakingly tries to gloss-over the minister’s gaff.
But many believe that the minister’s statement was not a gaff, but an honest assertion of president Koroma’s government policy, which is to establish and strengthen a paramilitary police force, that is sympathetic to the ruling party.
When asked about the reasons for the purchase of the cache of weapons ahead of the November elections, Inspector General of Police – Francis Munu said that the weapons “are meant to provide static security at very vulnerable points, such as residences of foreign diplomats. With the global threat of terrorism, occasionally, we are asked to step up security at various embassies depending on how threatened they feel. “
But that response does not cut ice with the opposition and most Sierra Leoneans who are being reminded of the brutality of the war that raged in that country a decade ago.
The opposition SLPP presidential candidate – Mr. Julius Maada Bio is quite forthright in his reaction to the minister’s statement. He said; “I find it to be completely preposterous, because I believe that as Minister of Internal Affairs – he should be taking care of internal security of this country.”
Presenting his democratic credentials and his party’s non-violence philosophy, Maada Bio attempted to pour cold water on the minister’s suggestion, that the SLPP is a party to be feared.
He said that; “to claim that we, the leadership of the SLPP, are coming from the NPRC and therefore he should be prepared to take care of us, I think I find that completely abhorrent. And I think it runs against the grain of democratic tenets and also the kind of security situation we are trying to create in this country.”
The SLPP presidential candidate – Maada Bio sounded patently clear about his party’s intention to continue to promote peace and non-violence. “We are a peaceful party. We have invested so much in the peace that we enjoy today, and we are going to do everything to resist any attempt by anybody to bring about insecurity in this country”, says Bio.
In a separate development in Freetown, following the BBC revelations, the leader of the opposition PMDC – Francis Charles Margai, held a press conference at the party’s office, where he strongly condemned the minister’s statement and justification for the purchase of those weapons.
Margai calls for the impeachment of president Koroma by parliament.
Margai told news reporters that; “As a party we have written letters to the Chief of Defence Staff – Nelson Williams and the Inspector General of Police – Francis Munu to inquire about the truth of those weapons.”
He said he cannot understand how a responsible government can spend $5 Million on arms and ammunitions, at a time when the salaries of civil servants go unpaid.
The government’s free health care programme for vulnerable groups in society is in peril, as care centres and hospitals struggle to cope with rising demand, due to lack of funds.
This has prompted accusations of a government that is out of touch with the needs of the poor, who makes up over 70% of the country’s population.
It was rumoured last week that the beleaguered minister of internal affairs, who has been cited in a recent Commission of Enquiry report to be partly responsible for political violence in the country, is to be sacked by president Koroma.
But analysts say that the president is in another state of quandary as to what to do with the discredited minister of internal affairs – a politician once member of the opposition SLPP.
“He knows too much about the ruling party’s elections campaign strategy, which he helped crafted, and he represents government’s voice in the opposition southern stronghold” – analysts believe.