Bamine Charlie Boye: Sierra Leone Telegraph: 19 July 2020:
Let me start by expressing my sympathy to the families of those who lost their lives in the unfortunate incident that took place in Makeni yesterday Saturday and Friday. Let me also hasten to make it known that I am against any form of violence and lawlessness. We are supposed to be a nation of law and order.
Having said that, it is no secret that Makeni is sitting on a time bomb; and this is because of the massive distrust that exists between the SLPP led Government and the people of Makeni. This has been heightened over the past few months due to the propagation of fake news which is the order of the day nowadays, and also the unfortunate utterance of the Resident Minister, North, Abu Abu in a video that got him suspended for some time after it was leaked.
In fact, one might be tempted to go back and revisit the threatening statement of the Resident Minister, North, who boasted that he had ordered the police and army to shoot and kill rioters. True to his words, everything he said in that video has now seemingly been executed allegedly by the Sierra Leone Police and Army.
Is this a coincidence? No. Is it planned? Not sure. Either way, this distrust and tension is unfortunately expected to continue, unless addressed.
Makeni over the weekend, Friday and Saturday, was described as a war zone, by reliable eyewitnesses. This is because of protests by its residents against the move of a standby generator from their town to elsewhere, leading to clashes between them and law enforcement officers. It is alleged that both the Sierra Leone Police and Army fired live bullets at mostly unarmed protesters whose only crime was protecting their township standby generator.
It is clear that Makeni has been enjoying a steady flow of electricity supply, and thanks to the Bumbuna Hydroelectric dam. To ensure that electricity is enjoyed at all times in the township, the city has a spare generator which is there to chip in if and when Bumbuna has a problem, more so during the dry season. Due to the rainy season, Bumbuna is fully functional, has been working well, so the standby generator was of no use per se.
Lungi is facing massive issues with electricity due to their generator being broken down and it needs to be fixed. I have been reliably informed that per a deal signed, only foreign (German) engineers can fix it. A bad arrangement if you ask me!
As a result of government efforts to solve the problem immediately, whilst they await the foreign engineers, the Ministry of Energy thought it fit that the standby generator at Makeni should be temporarily transferred to Lungi so that they too can enjoy electricity. Through all this planning, the ministry engaged stakeholders within the township in order to inform them about the government’s plans.
I don’t know what the outcome of the engagement was, but what I know is that the relocation effort has cost lives due to lack of respect for life by the police acting on behalf of the central government!
Unfortunately, we must note that the deep distrust that exists between Makeni residents and the central government alone, is a recipe for violence.
Continuing, the efforts by the government to relocate the generator during the nights of Friday and Saturday faced massive resistance by locals. This is an action that should surprise nobody since we have a largely uninformed population. We also know that not everyone within the township even knows that they have a spare generator sitting down idle while other parts of the country struggle with lack of electricity.
With fake news being the order of the day, such an operation will be automatically misinterpreted as an effort by the government to deprive them off the electricity they are enjoying. What any right-thinking mind will do, when faced with such resistance, would have been to immediately pause the relocation exercise and re-engage again with local authorities, but this time, let them, the local authorities, lead the relocation efforts.
The idea of using force at all means to get things done is bad. We have to understand that dialogue often produces better results and doesn’t necessarily show any sign of weakness. Using toughness as a sign of showing strength and sending a message of “I am in power” is wrong. In this century, soft-power is the order of the day. Toughness was only fashionable in the 80’s and 90’s.
What happened in Makeni is sad, and I think the government had all the opportunities to avoid it. To make matters worse, two press releases were issued by the government in relation to the incident, and none of them showed any sympathy or empathy towards the loss of lives. In fact, it is believed that this has been the norm of the government.
One can recall the May 8th, 2020 speech, now dubbed as infamous, by the President in connection to national security, in which the Commander-In-Chief never expressed any sympathy or empathy for the lives that were lost at the Pademba Road massacre. Does this sound alarming? Yes!
Moving forward, the government needs to be involved in dialogue with communities nationwide. It should allow communities to take the lead and ownership of issues that are important to them.
The ever-growing distrust between the government and the people of Makeni needs to be addressed. Government is for ALL and only when the people believe that is what is happening, is when these unnecessary tensions will cool down.
Soft-power is the new world order! Government needs to adopt it and move away from the use of unnecessary force that has cost the lives of its citizens.
The police and armed forces are there to serve and protect the people, not shoot them down in cold blood at the sign of any protest or disturbance.
Makeni Lives Matter too.
Bamine Charlie Boye (Photo) is a US based Child and Youth advocate. He’s the Former National President of the Sierra Leone Children’s Forum Network. He is a graduate from American University School of International Service, Washington D.C. He’s an expert in Diplomacy, Conflict Resolution and Crisis Communication & Management.