Palo’s acquittal – we are victims of Stockholm syndrome

Andrew Keili: Sierra Leone Telegraph: 9 July 2020:

I spent two years in Ukraine working in a remote environment in the mining industry in the mid-90’s and greatly appreciated the sense of humour in their folksy yarns. One I liked was about a young man who was about to marry a lady from a neighbouring village who was not exactly renowned for her sexual morals.

His friends, wanting to dissuade him took him atop a mountain which had a good view of the village. “See her village over there”, they told him, “your fiancée has slept with half of the young men there!” He surveyed the size of the village, but not deterred by their condemnation, Sergei remarked confidently – “Actually the village is very small, and the number of young men may not be that large”. The wedding took place!

Sergei typifies the fate of us Sierra Leoneans as we prepare to marry this “land that we love”. We have for decades allowed our politicians to trample on us and have failed to strongly confront mediocrity in governance. We have become victims of the Stockholm syndrome.

Stockholm syndrome, or capture-bonding, is a psychological phenomenon in which hostage express empathy and sympathy and have positive feelings toward their captors, sometimes to the point of defending and identifying with the captors. These feelings are generally considered irrational considering the danger or risk endured by the victims, who essentially mistake a lack of abuse from their captors for an act of kindness.

Take the case of the recently ended trial of Major Palo Conteh in which Sierra Leoneans are celebrating the fact that a jury can acquit someone in a treason trial. It is almost as if we expected that government in its “infinite wisdom” would have found ways of sending Palo to the gallows! This is not however surprising to many, as the judiciary’s manipulation by successive governments especially in politically charged cases is legion.

The commentators have given us objects lessons in history-No one person has ever been tried on his own for treason in Sierra Leone, this is the first time a treason trial has acquitted the main accused perpetrator, many perpetrators have been hung or imprisoned for long periods on trumped up charges.

Everyone tells the history according to his party’s perspective and we have a confused idea of what was fair or unfair. But that is all for conjecture. What is true is that there is a great deal of “happiness’ because twelve men and women have actually acquitted Palo! Thank God for small mercies to have twelve honest Sierra Leoneans and for the government to allow them to display their honesty without intimidation. What a country!

Others however question whether the trial was supposed to have proceeded in the first place. A statement by the Centre for Accountability and the Rule of Law (CARL) questioned the wisdom of in fact bringing treason charges against Palo Conteh: “Treason is an extraordinarily serious offence, and we expect State actors to assess the evidence thoroughly and objectively to be certain that it meets the evidentiary threshold of sustaining the allegations.”

The respected Renaissance Movement and several independent commentators echoed these sentiments. The obvious question to be asked is whether this was not a case of reckless overzealousness to nail a potent government opponent at all costs by throwing everything including the kitchen sink at Palo.

Despite the euphoria, one should not lose sight of the fact that negative perceptions of this trial and other issues characterize the performance of our justice system. Carl has pointed some of these out in its press release – “Over the last four months, the family members of Rtd. Major Conteh in particular, have endured serious psychological and emotional distress. His wife was also arrested and detained for several days as part of the investigation into his alleged treason. She was released without charge, and unfortunately, without compensation or an apology.”

As much as Carl applauds the expeditious nature of the proceedings – the trial lasted for three months, it talks about “significant challenges that characterize jury trials in this country, including inordinate delays caused by jury absenteeism” and calls upon “those charged with delivering justice on behalf of the State to do so while bearing in mind that their decisions and actions could undermine the administration of rule of law, public confidence in state institutions, and the protection of human rights.”

I can’t help but relate the views of two “Savisman dem” who were discussing the Paolo trial. According to “Savisman A” who was in favour, “Palo was angry at President Bio and the NPRC for overthrowing President Momoh. He wanted to go upstairs at State House, shoot President Bio, quickly run downstairs, shoot his way through bewildered military personnel too dumbfounded to react, make a dash down state avenue and head for the Cotton Tree area, where a getaway car would be waiting, be driven to Government Wharf from where a waiting boat will speed him off to his hideout.” “Who do you think would have taken over, had Palo succeeded?” Saviman B” asked.

“And besides how will a man with a pistol shoot his way through the maze of RPG-toting military personnel after shooting the President? Palo has more sense than revenging for the overthrow of his uncle Momoh who is long gone.” Indian film? Well, I am sure the debate continued, and I was not in a mood to find out whose views prevailed amongst the crowd of onlookers.

Let me state, in the abundance of caution that this is fiction, as I do not wish to be Sylvia Blydenised! I have no portrait of President Koroma in my house.

We thank God for small mercies!

The case of Stockholm syndrome also exists in our expectations of Government’s treatment of our medical workers, especially in the middle of a pandemic. We have hailed the performance of government and Nacoverc and the huge sacrifices of our medical workers who work under extremely difficult circumstances to yield impressive results, but we tend to forget that their sacrifices should not be taken for granted.

The incessant spate of quarrels and strikes by medical personnel is worrying and detracts from the fight against COVID-19. Doctors working in COVID-19 Isolation and Treatment centres across the country threatened to go on strike indefinitely if the government fails to meet their demands about allowances.

The government claims it is due to the need to carry out a verification process but the Sierra Leone Medical and Dental Association (SLMDA) says that very little effort has been made by government to verify lists of staff at Isolation and Treatment Centres, even after several weeks of vetting by the relevant government agencies.

It is also strange that instead of spurring the government on to sort out these problems some unsavoury people resort to tarnishing the image of the leaders of the SLMDA. According to an SLMDA complaint, “the payslip of Dr. Samba Jalloh, General Secretary of SLMDA was published on social media with comments that he had already been paid and that the views of the SLMDA were politically motivated influenced by me – the President of SLMDA”. We are always shooting the messenger.

The matter of prioritisation of government’s efforts in the COVID fight is worrisome. One report put things in the right perspective when it stated: “Since the outbreak began, about 20 percent of Sierra Leone’s total coronavirus expenditure, or nearly $850,000, went to procuring 30 new SUVs and 230 motorbikes. The only medical equipment listed on that procurement report was eight ventilators, which cost the finance ministry approximately $85,285………. Meanwhile, the health ministry’s COVID-19 situation reports routinely describe a lack of funds to pay for contact tracers. Doctors complain of a lack of protective equipment like gloves, masks and coveralls vital to prevent infections spreading from patients to hospital staff.”

But the COVID fight goes on. Thank God for small mercies!

But amidst all the doom and gloom there is good news in the payment of end of service benefits. Government has recently completed outstanding payments of end of service benefits to Presidents, Vice Presidents, Ministers, Deputy Ministers, heads of government agencies and Departments and other Political appointees. These include former ministers and deputies of the current administration.

Although this is not Christmas and Santa Claus is certainly nowhere in sight, the government has got even more generous. Council employees have had their salaries increased by more than 140 percent.

Government has also commenced payment of salaries to Mayors/Chairpersons and their Deputies and increased allowances to Councillors. In collaboration with the Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development, the Finance Ministry is planning on paying Salaries to Paramount Chiefs and other Chiefdom functionaries.

Well, since we have set our expectations too low, a jury acquitting a treason defendant, medical workers being given allowances to which they are entitled and Mayors and Paramount Chiefs getting paid are things events for which we should be eternally grateful. In fairness to the current government, these problems did not happen overnight and have been with us for a long time, but we have always had a sense of resignation and accepted our sorry fate.

When the captor releases small crumbs to us we fight over it with glee and accept our fate. We thank God for small mercies!

The reason Stockholm syndrome becomes very dangerous is that very soon the captor realizes that his victims would consider any form of mercy (no matter how little) as a divine favour, and so the captor rather than taking the time to implement actions that would totally free their hostage or at least give them a fair shot at life, instead releases basic goodies to the overwhelming delight of the captive.

We Sierra Leoneans are certainly victims of Stockholm Syndrome and that means we have invested deep feelings and trust in a captor— the leaders. The question than is, when will we finally start demanding what is due us by whatever government is in power? Ponder my thoughts.

2 Comments

  1. Mr Keili is always outstanding at telling a story within a story. I like the humour about the two ‘SAVISMAN DEM’; and that about former President EBK’s portrait, regarding Dr Sylvia Olayinka Blyden’s nightmare. Great article. If only Sierra Leoneans could learn from this.

  2. What this writer is suggesting about the Stockholm syndrome, is prevalent right across African countries where dictatorship thrives. The issue then becomes since you are a hostage, how do you free yourself from your hostage taker? You are spot on when you say the hostages, collectively in this case, the whole of the population of Sierra Leone, after undergoing mental torture, or indoctrination since independence, we naturally start to identify with the beliefs of the hostage taker – our governments. I am much as a victim like everyone else. Especially, under the Stevens APC dictatorship.

    To crystallise this, in an interview, just before rebel leader turn politician, and during the 19th July 1997 Liberian presidential election, Charles Taylor of NPLF was asked if he will trust Liberians to vote for him? His reply was astonishing to say the least. “You kill my Mama and you kill my Papa, but I will vote for you”. That is the level of contempt that our elected politicians hold us collectively as a country, and people. That they will do whatever they like, to the extent they will kill our parents, but we will still vote them to power. The sense of entitlement they feel has no bounds.

    They have a stranglehold over the electorate and you can’t fight them off to get away from them. They don’t respect or fear us the electorate, because for them election is just a tick box exercise to satisfy their western creditors. They don’t care whether they honour their manifesto pledge, because the people will not hold them to account at the ballot box. The only good news if there is one, the Internet has broaden the horizon for the ordinary man and woman of Sierra Leone. You can hold your nose and vote for these people that denied you opportunities, but at least you are making an informed choice. No one will think for you anymore. Certainly not me!

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