Disgruntled youths – big headache for president Koroma’s electoral ambition in November

Sierra Leone Telegraph: 9 June 2012:

In the wake of disturbing violence and rioting, which led to the shooting of two unarmed youths in the eastern district of Freetown last Tuesday, a political row is said to have erupted between the senior officers of the police force and key government ministers.

It is understood that some of president Koroma’s ministers responsible for planning and managing the government’s 2012 election campaign, are terribly concerned at the  breakdown of communication and confused chain of command in the police force.

Senior ruling APC politicians such as Alpha Kanu, who is the party’s key political adviser and minister of political affairs, and Leonard Balogun Koroma – the party’s national elections campaign chairman, are in particular, said to be demanding a change in policing strategy ahead of the elections taking place on 17 November.

The interior minister responsible for the police – Musa Tarawallie (Photo) is supportive of the police chief’s ‘shoot first and ask question later’ policy.

The minister was reported months ago, to have told the BBC that the arming of the police is necessary for the survival of the government.

Anonymous sources say that president Koroma is also giving his full support to the country’s chief – Momodu Munu, who has to take full responsibility for the poor policing strategy, which led to the shooting by heavily armed officers of local youths at Wellington.

Observers say that what is rather ironic about the police shooting at Wellington, is that the police were shooting at innocent and law abiding youths, who had been granted permission by the authorities to establish and supervise a neighbourhood crime watch project.

It was during the discharge of what the youths saw as their constitutional duty to protect and preserve life and property, that their own lives were threatened by the law enforcers, and with two of their compatriots gunned down in cold blood.

A procession led by the families of the murdered youths was stopped on Thursday by armed police at Kissy Road, heading for State House.

The families wanted to meet with president Koroma to protest and lodge an official complaint about the police brutality.

Police fired teargas and sporadic gunshots in the air to disperse the funeral procession, causing chaos and suffering to pedestrians and local residents at Upper Kissy Road.

Businesses in the commercial districts of Freetown are beginning to count the financial loss suffered as the result of widespread looting and chaos, sparked by the worsening confrontation between the police and youths.

But the upsurge and spate of armed robbery and other violent crimes in the capital Freetown, is responsible for local youths now taking desperate measures to protect their communities, such as forming voluntary neighbourhood watch schemes.

Unemployment, especially youth unemployment is running at over 65% in most districts of Freetown, and there is little prospect in sight for the creation of sustainable jobs.

It seems the government and the police have lost the fight against serious crime in the country.

As police recrimination intensifies and the government criticised for its militarisation of the police, the country’s National Youth Coalition (NYC) and the Sierra Leone Civil Rights Coalition, have jointly spoken.

They are calling on the government to invoke the ‘Military Aid to Civil Power (MAC-P)’ policy, in order to address the alarming spate of armed robbery in the country.

The ‘military aid to civil power’ policy, though controversial, allows the government to evoke the emergency deployment of the army in areas of the country, where there is a complete breakdown in law and order and the police cannot cope.

Critics of MAC-P say that by deploying the army, the government runs the risk of  militarisation of a country, struggling to make the transition from a ten year long civil war to a stable and prosperous nation.

They also argue that such policy would be a serious indictment of the police’s ability to maintain law and order in the country.

But the president of the National Youth Coalition – Mr. Ishmael Al-Sankoh Conteh, told reporters that the numerous cases of armed robbery, are causing misery and fear in communities.

He added that the coalition is aware that it is the duty of the government, through the effective and proactive services of the security apparatus, to provide adequate security for its citizens.

But the success recorded the last time the MAC-P was invoked, he said, has served as best practice in maintaining peace and stability throughout the country.

“We are calling on all peace-loving youth and community activists to form themselves into community safety volunteers with the support of the Sierra Leone Police to complement the effort of MAC-P before elections,” he urged.

Many in Sierra Leone would say that the youths of Wellington did just that. But today, sadly, they are mourning the loss of two of their brothers, killed by the very police that was to have protected them from harm.

The Executive Secretary of the Sierra Leone Civil Rights Coalition – Mr. Salieu Kargbo, said that the high incidence of armed robbery in the country has the tendency to instil fear in the minds of investors.

This, he said will undermine national development, peace and security.

President Koroma is expected to speak on national radio and television about the deteriorating security in the capital Freetown.

Unconfirmed report from Freetown says that president Koroma has assumed ministerial responsibility and control of the police.

But will this unofficial presidential decree, be enough to instil confidence in a population that has been reminded just days ago, by the sporadic firing of AK47 in the streets of Freetown, of life under rebel occupation in 1999?


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