2 August 2012
As Sierra Leone’s parliament passed a new law yesterday – ‘The Arms and Ammunitions Bill of 2012’, approving the ownership and carrying of firearms by civilians, questions are being asked about the rationale and motive for such a retrograde decision.
In most countries where the ownership and carrying of firearms has been legitimised, it is the overwhelming argument of protecting civil liberty that has made it possible.
For a war ravaged Sierra Leone, the call for the right of civilians to own and carry firearms has not come from advocacy groups or from civil society themselves.
It is believed that the government itself has pushed for the passing of this new legislation by parliament. But what is the real motive for the government’s hurry and desire to push this Bill through?
During Sierra Leone’s ten year war, hundreds of thousands of civilians were subjected to degrading and inhuman conduct by drugged-up, gun toting militias, as the International Court at the Hague recently concluded, in the trial of Liberia’s warlord – Charles Taylor.
So why has the government utilised precious parliamentary time to pass a Bill that is inimical to the country’s development and peace consolidation, when other very important issues, such as the promised Freedom of Information Bill, are yet to make it into the Statute Books?
Unconfirmed sources say that yesterday’s passing of the firearms legislation, is aimed at ensuring that all senior cadres of the ruling APC party and government ministers, will be able to carry personal fire-arms – especially pistols, during and after November’s elections.
It is understood that the president and some senior ministers, have seriously questioned the loyalty and volatility of sections of the police force to protect senior party members and ministers during the election.
When the government made the decision to purchase a large arsenal of pistols and other military assault weapons, costing over $5million early this year from Belgium, questions were raised as to their motive.
The international community, the United Nations, civil society groups, and opposition political parties were all incensed by the decision to import arms into the country.
According to press reports, the parliamentary debate preceding the passing of ‘The Arms and Ammunitions Bill of 2012’ was fierce.
The opposition members of parliament, strongly denounced the government’s intention and purpose of the Bill. They are calling for its immediate repeal.
Most notable during the debate was the absence of the minster for internal security – Musa Tarawallie, who himself has been implicated in the government’s commissioned inquiry report into gun violence in the country .
Presenting the Bill on his behalf, the deputy minister of Internal Affairs – Raymond Kabbia, told parliament that “the purpose of the Bill is to regulate the use of fire arms and ammunitions by individuals or groups for their personal security and safety.”
But the opposition parliamentarians are suspicious and could smell blood.
Perhaps the most poignant statement made in parliament yesterday, was by the SLPP member of parliament – Brima Kamanda.
He said that; “In the interest of consolidating the country’s fragile peace after a protracted civil war, legalizing the use of fire arms has the propensity of undermining the security of the country, especially when the country for the past four years has been grappling with internal security issues.”
But the government was not short of foot soldiers in parliament, ready to gun down the opposition, in order to see the Bill through.
Ruling APC party member of parliament – Ibrahim Sorie, said that; “The Bill is essential in the interest of personal security and as a repeal of the Fire Arms Ordinance of 1955”. He referred to the declining security and increased gun crime in the country.
With the passing of this ‘vigilante legislation’, it is now obvious that the government has lost the battle to regain the streets and rid the country of serious crime.
Speaking on behalf of his PMDC party, Siaka Musa Sama questioned the timing of the passing of such a Bill. He said that; “The bill has come at a wrong time when the country is approaching an electioneering period.”
Given their marginal majority in parliament, the government did not struggle in seeing the Bill through, as the majority leader – S.B. Dumbuya puts it starkly and chillingly; “whether coming close to election or not, it is a bill that must be passed.”
This desperate decision by the government to use its majority in parliament to pass a dangerous and unpopular law, has done nothing to further enhance the country’s fledgling democracy.
If anything, it has served to strengthen the overwhelming feeling of disconnect between the people and those elected to govern them, as the government continues to put its need for self-preservation, ahead of the needs of the people.
There are now fears, especially in the capital – Freetown, with the prospect of a renewed proliferation of small firearms among the civilian population, ahead of the general and presidential elections in November. This, many argue, will result in chaos and further violence.
Has the government shot itself in the foot, or will the gun be turned on innocent civilians?