Makeni riot – who said it was about a generator?

Andrew Keili: Sierra Leone Telegraph: 28 July 2020:

Much has been written and said about the recent riot in Makeni that resulted in such much mayhem and loss of valuable lives.  Blame has been cast on all sides and comments from the politically inclined have tended to support the views held by their respective political leaders.

It is encouraging however to see that others who may have no dog in the fight have been more rational. They have, whilst condemning the riotous conduct of the youths, roundly condemned the high handedness of our security forces resulting in the needless death of five youths. There have also been concerns expressed about the poor consultation between members of the two main political parties – the APC and SLPP, resulting from lack of cooperation and possible nefarious motives in relation to this unfortunate issue.

I would like to hone in on a few issues. As someone who fully realises the importance of energy to this country’s development and the need to strengthen the management of our State Owned Enterprises, it surprises me that a 1.6 MW generator could cause so much mayhem in a country.

To put things in the right perspective, this could easily be the installed generating capacity of an Industry like the Sierra Leone Brewery or the American Embassy. But then again, I should not be surprised that we have set our sights so low in this country.

I will digress and talk about an experience I had some 20 years ago while attending a power sector privatisation training programme in Egypt. The instructor mentioned, when discussing a particular topic that countries with less than 100 MW installed capacity for powering their national grid have no business discussing the particular issue, as they in essence have no power sector to talk about. When he started asking some participants about the generating capacity in their countries that fed the national grid, my heart skipped a bit, as at that time, Sierra Leone had less than 15 MW. To save myself from embarrassment, I made the decision to go to the bathroom until the discussions were over.

But generating capacity apart, we have never got our establishments to carry out their mandated functions. Everything has been viewed through a political lens and it did not start today. We can cite incidences for which generators were moved from Bo to Kono and back to Bo during the tenure of the last government, which again required informing the citizens in those areas.

Basically we have come to acknowledge that these things cause mayhem as people read into the motives of the utility managers and the government. If EGTC as an institution cannot move equipment from one operating area to another without the government thinking it will hurt the sensitivities of those staying in those areas, then what is the utility in business for?

But then in Sierra Leone, there is good management and there is political reality. In our always politically charged atmosphere everything has been politicised, requiring government to inform the populace in such an event. Why? Because we are so far behind in our power provision that it is hurting our development. Why? Because our political atmosphere is always so charged that there are prophets of doom who twist the message and intent to give the impression the government is callous and uncaring for those in the opposition strongholds. There is so much mistrust in this country because of our acute political differences along mainly regional lines.

Enter poor unsuspecting youth who are fed on the fodder of fake news and you have trouble. Politicians have got much too sleek with their messaging and every party now has its own purveyors of fake news to make the other look bad. We are living in this era in which social media with self–styled broadcasters spew out pure venom in their fake news. This should be roundly condemned. Sure, the youths must be blamed for being so gullible to fake information to have the propensity of being violent. But then, you may ask yourself who is not gullible to fake news?

I recall several years ago during the tenure of the last government in which fairly educated people were arguing over the radio that Bumbuna was not operating and that the power from Freetown was from a “hidden” source. More recently we have seen attacks caused by fake news on perceived “5G telecommunications towers”. It is not surprising that there are many people in Sierra Leone who think CORVID is “advanced malaria”. We have seen even in advanced countries, people denying the existence of CORVID or believing fake conspiracy theories about Bill Gates’ involvement in its creation.

The problems of our youths are many and complex; and simply condemning them misses the point. Rather, the emphasis should be on education and consultation.

The instigators who propel such poor unsuspecting youths to this state should be roundly condemned and censored in the strongest way possible. These include partisan politicians who do it for their own good; those who fleece money meant for development programmes and many armchair critics who are comfortable and only pay lip service to the ills of society.

Let us ask ourselves how many people knew Makeni receives almost all year round power supply from Bumbuna. The government must be commended for its recent drive to bring electricity supply to several Provincial headquarter towns. Whatever is done, the issues may continue to be misrepresented by both opposition and government supporters.

Some supporters commenting on Social media on the generator remarked – ” Port Loko 1: Bombali 0, rubbing salt in Bombali’s wound and giving the impression it was good that Bombali was being “punished” to the benefit of Port Loko. It behoves the Energy Ministry to continue on its drive to inform and educate the public.

The killing of innocent citizens is quite another matter. We are in a country in which the unbridled use of lethal weapons to curb violent strikes has become much too commonplace. Within the space of a few months, there have been over 40 deaths of unarmed civilians in various episodes. All of these have made headlines in the international press and dented our image as a peaceful nation.

Undoubtedly this affects investments and our human rights credentials. Our security forces, who have gained plaudits in international peace missions cannot put down violent strikes without resorting to killing. This is absurd and the issue should not be politicised but roundly condemned.

I sense the government is embarrassed by this latest episode. It should however be applauded for sending a delegation headed by Political Affairs Minister Foday Yumkella to meet with communities in Bombali and assuage their fears.

Many reasons have been proffered for the current, frequent spate of violence – ostensibly from APC’s refusal to accept the SLPP as the legitimate government on the one hand and to SLPP’s bent to be authoritarian and its refusal to accept dissent. The truth may lie somewhere, but whatever the case, the buck stops with the government whose credentials are tarnished by these events.

It behoves the government therefore to speed up its many plans for national cohesion and put the Commission of Inquiry behind us. Where do we stand with these issues? What concerted plans have we got for addressing the myriad of problems facing our youths in all spheres of life in this country?

How do we allow those who are legitimately aggrieved to express their opinion? As one of my friends recently said – “Democracy is supposed to be our escape valve to allow dissent and a desire for change to channel in constructive and peaceful directions”.

The call for an independent, impartial inquiry is in place. The government has said it plans to send a team from The Office of National Security (ONS) to investigate the issues surrounding the riot and present a report. Under normal circumstances the ONS may be viewed as an impartial and astute observer. The ONS however has highlighted several issues of conflict in communities in the past and called the attention of successive governments to address these issues at the root source. However, the ONS has either not been made to carry out its mandate seriously or got politicised.

It is also strange that the recent riots have not really resulted in independent inquiries, as mainly government connected and appointed operatives have been asked to do the investigations. If government really wants to get to the root cause of these problems and address the situation, there is no substitute to credible and impartial investigations-otherwise we will only be spinning our wheels till the next disaster.

You undoubtedly now agree that this recent debacle is not just over a generator. It is over a generator and a lot more. The explanation for events is often far away from what is seen by the bystander. I know this quite well, and even in the midst of all this doom and gloom I can’t help but recall my encounter in Bo with a groundnut seller, as a pupil teacher. I was riding my bicycle when I ran into a groundnut seller on Bojon street. She dropped her tray and the groundnuts got scattered on the floor. A crowd gathered and despite the entreaties of the onlookers to just pay the girl for her groundnuts, I vehemently refused – “Pa dis na easy tok, just gi di gal in gratnat money”, they pleaded. ‘A nor go do am. E too careless. How you day cross road you nor day look”, I remarked.

The truth is that my protest was because I genuinely had no money in my pocket and it was getting embarrassing. Her carelessness was my weapon. Things don’t always seem the way they look.

And who by the way said the Makeni riot was about a generator? And who said riots will end because five Makeni Youths have been shot? And who said these will address the mistrust between our major political players and stop violence? And who says the same thing will not happen in another area with another government run by another party?

The Makeni riot is not just about a generator. We are running to stay in the same place! Ponder my thoughts

16 Comments

  1. 1. What is the false and negative news spread in the Makeni issue?
    2. Is it true that the past government provided most of the districts generators?
    3. Have we accepted that any protest should be put down by live bullets or killing?
    4. What are the recommended ways of expressing ones dissatisfaction?
    5. If we are fully aware and agreed that false news on a particular issue will cause protest what is our responsibility to counter such false news?
    6. Is it correct for men in military uniform to be shooting live ammunition against unarmed civilians?
    7. We have commented on the Makeni incident, what about the Prison, Lunsar, Tonko and mile 91 incident?

  2. Yayah Amid Kamara says—“ 50 – 60% of our northerners especially my Temne tribe are in the south – east doing businesses.”

    Hey Yayah, do you really know what you are talking about? Please my brother, do yourself a favor, avoid flatly making up things in this platform. This is not the typical village environment where you can simply brainwash gullible uneducated folks. I am not really sure if you know anything about the demography indices of Sierra Leone, because even a class one pupil knows that at least 80% of the Themnes tribe occupies the North-West region of the country. In regards to your tribalist sentiment expressed in your post, I will say thanks for exposing your ignorance about a group of people you know nothing about. Just remember, this platform is intolerance to fake news peddling!!

  3. The idea of regional divide or tribalism only exists in theory and in fact these tribal, regional and hate speeches mainly come from the northerners. I am a northerner from Bombali district and a Temne by tribe, so don’t tell me what I know. I have been to the south. I know the Mende tribe. What’s affecting us the Northerners is the stereotype Ideas or information we have got about the Mendes.

    50 – 60% of our northerners especially my Temne tribe are in the south – east doing businesses. If these people really hate our northern region will they allow our people to do business in their region? No! No one tell me anything about the Mendes.

    • Thanks Mr Yayah Kamara for your argument that Mendes are welcome in the North and Temenes are welcome in the the south. I spent part of my life in Temene land – Makeni; and I have to say its one of my best memories in my life . I am not disputing that, God forbade, otherwise we would have had the Rwanda style genocide that took place between the Tutusi and Hutus long time ago. In Sierra Leone, through out our history, there is what I call two ways to define Tribes. The first definition of a tribes is a group of ethnic groups, which makes up the population of Sierra Leone living peacefully side by side with other tribes.

      Fulanis living in Kono, or Mendes living in the north. If your argument is based on that one, which I think is your point you were trying to make you are 100% right. which brings me to my second point. There is another way to define tribes in Sierra leone, its called POLITICAL TRIBE. And this is the one that has polluted and confused everyone. And guess what, it is designed by our corrupt and unrepentant politicians to work like that. And has been doing its work since independence. This one is only for political purposes, nothing to do with tribal division, just so the corrupt politicians have been using it as a tool to maintain power and steal from the state.

      So this is the one myth the politicians have developed about the North / South divide. APC is for Northerners, and SLPP is for the Southerners. So even that argument is debunked, because in terms of the percentage share of the population, no single tribe be it Temene or Mende on their own can elect or meet the threshold to elect the president. Whatever candidates have to reach out either to the people of the North or south, if they were to stand any chance. The political tribe has more voice, loud and is vicious to maintain the status quo, than the everyday tribes that live side by side happily together.

  4. The idea of regional divide or tribalism only exists in theory and in fact these tribal, regional and hate speeches mainly come from the northerners. I am a northerner from Bombali district and a Temne by tribe, so don’t tell me what know. I have been to the south. I know the Mende tribe. What’s affecting us the Northerners is the stereotype Ideas or information we have got about the Mendes.

    50 – 60% of our northerners especially my Temne tribe are in the south – east doing businesses. If these people really hate our northern region will they allow our people to do business in their region? No! No one tell me anything about the Mendes.

  5. Wow, I’m still wondering about the two comments from Mr. Sulaimaan S.Jalloh if it’s the same person. One sounds like the “ attack dog” of the destructive APC propaganda machine and the next sounds very reasonable and patriotic. In my personal opinion, I believe that the majority of Sierra Leoneans know the truth that the Corrupt APC party is fighting a proxy war through the social media, by unpatriotic Sierra Leoneans living abroad as law abiding citizens of their host countries, but are trying all their best in perpetuating lawlessness through hateful and inciting statements in the place they supposed to call home where most of their families lived.

    Unfortunately APC politicians are trying all their best to distance themselves (because of security reasons ) from those people and are also scared to criticize them because they will expose their families especially their mothers to a barrage of Insults. On the other hand the other parties don’t want to dignify them by constantly calling their names and blaming them for the unrest which is an admission that they are having a destructive stronghold among our youths. I received a WhatsApp video clip few weeks ago that is going viral of a young student of the Albert Academy School who was rapping or singing all insulting messages and was surrounded by other students who saw him as a hero and I was wondering where our country is heading.

    Unless our Parliament debates and approves a cyber law that will limit the spread of Fake News, the security of our nation is at stake because as far as the APC party supporters are considered, all those hateful and destructive inciting messages are part of our Freedom of speech. Kudos to the NGC member to take a shot at both “ Alusine and Alhassan” which I personally believe is well balanced.

    • Mr Fallay,because of your location, you would be forgiven for seeing #9 as #6 Vice versa…But if I may add to it, I will admonish you to go through my comments that I had dropped in this platform since day one, you will come to realize that I have always been fair and reasonable when making comparisons or commenting on issues of importance. However,I will never let wrong things cross my path without calling it out as it is.And I will forever stand up for the truth,speak for it,defend it and even fight for it if need be. That’s just who i am!

      Like Ebk, my criticism of the Bio administration for its wrong deeds will forever continue to be until his administration changes course and start to act right.But what we have seen under this Bio administration is beyond peril. Such has never happened under the past Ebk administration.And some of us cannot sit by without saying nothing. For such would be a recipe for another war.At least to serve my conscience right, I will do the smallest things I deem fit and right to do,if that is what is going to make a positive difference so be it. When the ebk administration SQUANDERED the ebola and the mudslide funds meant for the victims, I in particular called them out for that,in all the social media platforms I happened to be in at the time. I wish I had known about the existence of this noble newspaper at the time.

      I just wonder which category you would place our legendary political musical critic, Emmerson, for Calling out pa Kabba and Ebk for their economic failures and maladministration.At least if only the slpp supporters can call out this administration for its gross human rights violations and abuses, that could not only save lives, it will wipe away the ideology of tribalism, and it will also be kudos on their part. You see, Mr Fallay, people like you are the very so called elite who keep standing on the opposite side of history.

  6. Government of SL are really trying hard, from the past government we had about subsidy. The income government is getting from taxes might not even encourage development, thinking about privatization, the word is being misunderstood in Sierra Leone; poverty is leading our nation. Citizens think beyond their dreams, we can only be proud of other countries donations.

    Sierra Leone’s problems might be easier if we learn how to solve our problems one after the other; the attitude of Sierra Leonean people trust me is very very bad. Those who are managing our different budgets in our nation are lazy and lack experiences. Guma Valley company for example can not evenprovide water for the city – what a shame. EDSA people are paying for the electric power they use, but these people lack business skills. They can’t even provide light for the nation. Government is a pest in Sierra Leone, but trust me Sierra Leone is not suffering by the staff but by mixed blood who always think they are foreigners, buying houses overseas they believe Sierra Leone is a farm.

  7. I cannot ponder your thoughts sir,because it is full of your personal experiences that are so different to the incident you are trying to report here. Even your flagship statement “who said it was about a generator” did not even say what it was,if its not about generator. Well, If it’s not about generator what was it about then? No wonder I didn’t ponder your thoughts. The only thoughts I can ponder on are why for God sake a so called government of the people for the people by the people turned against unarmed people and murdered them in cold blood like the way they did. That will keep me thinking forever irrespective of the location where the incident happened. And here you are trying to make a comparison that is so irrelevant to the real issue,just for you to score cheap political points.

    Moreover, this idea of the current administration complaining that they are not being given the chance to rule really keep baffling my memory because people like you are still peddling this false narrative. Do this: call out this Bio government when they faulter. Stop bringing in all sort of incompatible incidents from the past administration just to make a creepy point. This to me is tantamount to trouble. All the incidents you cited from your ‘granat pikin’ episode to “not about generator” are just mere irrelevant opinions.

    I wonder why you didn’t got off your bike and kick or slap the granat pikin for not paying attention before crossing the street that led to your crash. Call out this administration for all the wrong things they have and still doing for God sake and the people of SL. Stop the beating a dead horse for it would not bring it back to life! The human rights abuses that this Bio administration is orchestrating were never orchestrated by the past administration. But here you are,making all sorts of comparisons just to make us feel like you are speaking out. No you are not! For what is going on right now in SL is just too much for the people, especially the opposition, and is a clear recipe for chaos….People like you need to speak out now and in very clear terms before it’s too late…Look insai dae o bra!

    • Fantastic response by Mr Sulaiman S Jalloh. I was going to comment on this article but Mr Jalloh has done it all for me. Great credit from the man who speaks from his heart! Yes, we need historical facts to infer on current events. However, no amount of premeditated counterbalancing will dilute the incessant barbarity of Maada Bio’s reign of terror. We should not let the mud of history hold us back, or else there will be no way FORWARD.

      The manner of some writing and commentary in this great medium – in legitimizing Bio’s morally deranged way of thinking – in more ways than one, seeks to conflict with its reputation. The past administration is history; let’s reposition the tripods, adjust the focal length of the camera and zoom in on current events in Sierra Leone.

    • I am sure that you did get the crux of the message that the author. If you have been following articles penned down by this writer, you will not accuse him of feigning the facts. He writes as he sees it. Unfortunately, all of his opinions are not going to satisfy every one. You are mad because he mentioned the distrust and misinformation from bad Sierra Leonesns that have led to what had happened. I don’t think that there is anything wrong with such historical facts. The writer did not fail to apportion the blame for the Makeni incident on the current regime. However, he made his readers know that this is not the first time that the government in power had transferred generators from one part of the country to another. And at that time there was no fuss and fighting.

      The question now is why did the Makeni one result to fatalities? It is because of bad Sierra Leoneans in our midst who cannot hide their hatred of their own country men. Was it not in the same Bombali that a fellow Sierra Leonean was denied to take the leadership of the Catholic church simply because he was from the south, and yet a foreigner was celebrated to take the same position?

      The truth sometimes hurts but it has to be said to set us free.

  8. You touched on the ills that have held back our country for the past fifty years. The level of mistrust that exists between the governing class and the governed in Sierra Leone, has always been the achilles heel to the development of our country. The North / South divide has always played its part in propagating the myths. And the problem is not helped by some of our greedy politicians in both main parties and in some cases well educated men that studied in the West, helping to fan the flames of division amongst an illiterate population. Sierra Leoneans are capable of living together happily in peace and harmony. For example when it comes to religion, the level of tolerance amongst us is the envy of other countries. So why can’t we flip that over and address our tribal differences?

    My answer to that, is in order for us to overcome this tribal and North / South divide, we need to start teaching our children from nursery age how to love our country and flag. Also create mechanisms, whereby school trips from district to district can be organised amongst the young. Cabinet meetings should be rotated from district to district. The president should find time to visit towns and rural areas more. I grew up in the North, I have never been to Pujehun, Kenema, Bo, Tonkolili, Bonthe, Kono. For all I know these places are strange to me like North Korea. That is why the government should invest first and foremost in road construction. Sierra Leone is a small country. You can travel from North to South in one day. Until we start to interact with each other, the problem of mutual suspicious will always be there. The only people that gain from the division of our people are the corrupt politicians. May God bless the republic of Sierra Leone.

  9. Well penned sir. The A.P.C and S.L.P.P politicians must stop the habit of paying their operatives from spreading wrong and negative news to ensure peace and development in this country. The tactics of deviating the citizentry’s mind of what they are being voted for should have no place in our society, only then would we see developmental being taking seriously. The politics I see this days is full of the S.L.P.P and A.P.C trying to show case that the other is not good for us and the rest is bad happenings here and there. Is that what we are going to continue voting for forever?

    • Sir, lets condemn the current administration for its ill actions period! They are in governance. They should bear any responsibilityfor anything that happened under their supervision. That is why the people gave them the mandate. Let them start to act right, if they don’t want social media, musical, political and economical criticism from the populace…Lonta!
      Remember, a responsible government tries to work solutions out from both sides of the aisle…

    • Very wonderful and great. Very understanding and wonderful eassy. I strongly support the article. I personally know that it was not really about the generator but there was a hidden agenda behind the whole process. I strongly believe that the Law should take its course and discipline any unlawful citizens that go above the law.

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