Sierra Leone Telegraph: 27 October 2019:
Political temperature and popularity were tested by two leading politicians in Sierra Leone on Friday, but in the wrong place – a Mosque.
This is just not any old Mosque, but one of the most politicised Mosques in the capital Freetown, if not the whole country – the Al Basharia Mosque at Bombay Street in the East of the capital.
The Al-Basharia Mosque at Bombay Street is largely, if not exclusively, a Temne tribal Mosque. Most of its congregation belong to, or support the opposition APC party, whose 2018 presidential candidate and one of the leading contenders for the party’s 2023 presidential candidacy – Dr Samura Kamara, lives within walking distance from the Mosque. Dr Samura Kamara is not a Muslim – he is a Christian.
The area itself is densely populated – with a high percentage of young, vulnerable people, dogged by many years of chronic unemployment and poverty, who blame government and public officials for their poverty-stricken circumstances.
At the best of times, this is a part of Freetown where politicians would be well advised to tread with extreme caution, in order not to inflame tribal or religious divisions and unrest by their presence and utterance.
But on Friday, passions and tempers were ignited to boiling point, which could have led to widespread political unrest in the capital, when both Dr Samura Kamara and the country’s vice president Dr Mohamed Juldeh Jalloh, appeared at the Mosque for last Friday’s Jumma prayer, and both wanted to address the congregation.
According to reports, Dr Samura Kamara, one of the leading contenders for the 2023 APC presidential election candidacy, had informed the Mosque authorities of his visit to the Mosque about two weeks ago, for which arrangements had been made for him to address the congregation – the majority of whom are APC party loyalists.
Just before the commencement of the Jumma prayer, vice president Dr. Mohamed Juldeh Jalloh arrived at the Mosque unannounced, to the surprise of the congregation and the Mosque authorities.
Both vice president Juldeh Jalloh and the APC presidential aspirant – Kamara (Photo: Samura – left, and Jalloh – right), not only greeted each other, but sat next to each other at some point – before or during the prayers, which proceeded peacefully, and with the expected decorum and dignity.
But chaos erupted after the prayer, when the vice president stood up to address the congregation, instead of the scheduled speaker – Dr Samura Kamara.
The Imam was caught in a difficult situation where he had to decide who should speak. Out of respect for the vice presidency, he decided to announce that vice president Juldeh Jalloh should speak. Passions and tempers flared. The congregation became angry at this decision.
People started shouting and booing as they heckled the vice president: “We want Samura, we want Samura,” they yelled.
This is one testing of political temperature and popularity that not only went wrong, but took place in the wrong arena – a highly politicised Mosque, full of opposition party loyalists.
Things could have turned very nasty – violent and bloody; and could also have spilled outside of the Mosque had the vice president not decided to give way and leave the Mosque, though embarrassed by the reaction of the congregation.
Samura Kamara then left the Mosque, followed by a throng of supporters who had gone to the Mosque to listen to his address, as he walked to his house at Montague Street which is just a short distance from the Mosque.
There are reports that Dr Juldeh Jalloh was initially expected to attend the Fullah Mosque last Friday for Jumma prayers, but decided instead to make an unannounced visit to the Al Basharia Mosque.
Many in the Al-Basharia Mosque congregation are accusing the vice president of trying to sabotage Samura Kamara’s visit.
But supporters of the vice president say that the authorities of the Mosque and their congregation were disrespectful to the vice president, and are demanding an apology.
They are also criticising the Mosque authorities for allowing Samura Kamara – a Christian to pray among the congregation. “The vice president is a Muslim and does not have to notify Mosque authorities before visiting their Mosque,” they say.
The Mosque authorities are accusing the vice president of breaking official protocol by not giving them prior warning of his intention to visit and pray at the Mosque, which could have ensured that appropriate plans were put in place to receive him.
Yesterday Saturday, 26 October 2019, there were reports of arrests by police, of some members of the Al-Basharia Mosque, identified as senior APC politicians.
What lessons are there to be learnt from this potentially explosive and politically engineered chaos?