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.