Political violence in Sierra Leone: What happened to “never again”?

Abdulai Mansaray: Sierra Leone Telegraph: 21 June 2023:

When violence appears to do good, it is temporary and the evil it does is permanent (M. Gandhi). Those who make peaceful revolutions impossible will always make violent revolutions in inevitable. Sierra Leoneans are waking up to scenes and stories they never thought they would witness in their lifetime again.

Many would be pinching themselves, wishing that what is happening in our country today was a fiction that had been consigned to the dustbins of history. No one needs a reminder about our adulterated history, which is littered with one of the world’s most barbaric events that ever assaulted the senses and decency of humanity. The mantra that followed such a shameful and depraved chapter of our history is to all intents and purposes, beginning to sound hollow and a load of BS.

What happened to “never again”? What happened to the legacies of the war? What happened to the commemorations for the dead? What happened to the sacrifices of those who laid their lives to defend our country? What happened to the memories of those innocent lives that became collateral damage to a senseless and depraved war? Are today’s events our best demonstration of respect for the dead? As a nation, have we fled to brutish beasts and lost our reason? Did we learn anything from the senseless war?

There is no doubt that our country is facing one of the most crucial political and moral questions of our time. Our political landscape is littered with nauseating feelings of oppression and violence. However, our need to overcome oppression and violence must not and cannot be achieved by revenge, aggression and retaliation.

The events taking place in our country did not come from thin air. There are people who should take personal responsibility, a more valuable position than political grievance for the atrocities taking place today.

Some of us have always cautioned our political leaders against the use of incendiary speeches during this campaign season. Sadly, they have learnt to tailor their speeches to suit the palates of their supporters of their respective political parties, much to the detriment of the wider populace.

The process of democracy provides for social and political change without violence. Anger and violence can never build a nation. History has taught us that violence is the last refuge of the incompetent. It is so disheartening to see lives lost, dwellings and property destroyed in the name of politics.

So, how did we get here today?

Since our country was purportedly weaned off violence two decades ago, well-meaning Sierra Leoneans had looked into the future with renewed hope. Sierra Leoneans were beginning to enjoy the meaning of democracy. Since the end of the civil war, our nation has conducted several elections along the framework of a democratic process. No one is saying that these have been perfect or gone without fault lines. Nevertheless, the relative peace with which they were conducted was a far cry from the doldrums of the late 70s and throughout the 80’s.

It is understandable to some extent, that some people who were born and breast fed on the staple diet of violent elections will struggle to wean themselves off this cancer. Are we slipping into those same years we collectively vowed, “NEVER AGAIN”?

Notwithstanding the fact that “democracy” sounds alien to their grey matter, it Is beginning to feel that this concept is an anathema to their very being. What is so difficult about “democracy” that some of our leaders cannot grasp? Democracy is about being civil. It is about equality, freedom and plain simple human decency. It is about acknowledging and accepting our differences that make us stronger together.
Why do we find it so easy to condemn slavery by the white man but conveniently practise it by another name. We preach about racial discrimination but perfectly practise it by another name.

This brings us to the question of our leaders and leadership in our country. Why do our leaders exploit the base instincts of our plebian majority for their personal ego? Why do they pull on the heart strings of our gullible electorate?

It is no secret that in their bid to garner support, some of our leaders have made and continue to make speeches and remarks that are not only incendiary but bear all the risks of generating what is happening in our country today. Is Sierra Leone about to enter another phase of jungle politics? Can we afford the cost in lives and property? Can we afford the politics of grievance, revenge and abject hatred?

Our leaders have been involved in making speeches laced with verbal grenades and dog whistles. The political mantra is all about gaslighting an already politically saturated atmosphere that is reeking of grievance. It will be hypocritical for any of them to pretend shock at the current situation.

If we are to secure progress in our “democratic” society, we need discourse and critical thinking. We need to be united in engaged participation to do so. It is understandable to feel wronged and disagreeable. What is difficult to understand is the fundamentally unhealthy reaction to negative stimuli that passes for righteous outrage.

When President Bio and Mr Samura Kamara and other political leaders signed the Peace Pledge last month, is that pledge today, worth the paper on which it was written?

We need to remember that incivility can be contagious and has the power to attract righteous indignation even without legitimate grievance. Our democracy is now facing the risk of being hijacked by those who have no acquaintance with the concept of democracy. Our country is bogged down by the twin sense of ignorance and powerlessness, with both having the attraction to serve as palatable ingredients for conspiracy theories. Ignorance is the most violent element in our society today. Let us not run away from the fact that both our main parties have taken Machiavellian stance, which has made the recent events of violence impossible to avoid.

This is not an attempt to adjudicate between who is right or wrong here. When violence breaks out, there is no right, but who’s left. It is a collective responsibility of failure, of our inability and incapacity to manage our affairs.

When you think that our country was recently “elected” as a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council, a body responsible for maintaining international peace and security, it becomes tellingly ironic that “peace” and “security” on the one hand and Sierra Leone on the other, are fast becoming strange bedfellows. How can we look at the speck of dust in the eyes of other nations but pay no attention to the plank of wood in ours?

It is sad that our country has been reduced to a binary equation of “US” (good) versus “THEM” (bad). It is this kind of polarised and factionalised way of approaching our public discourse that has resulted in the kind of violence we see today. There are those who may want you to believe that it is justified violence. No way. Violence in any shape or form can never be justified. To justify violence will be like anointing political demagoguery.

It is up to us as citizens to argue and reason out our differences. As citizens, if we fail in our duty to reason out, if we fail to guard against the wilful blindness of our politicians, we will be left with no shelter to hide from the consequences of such acquiescence. We cannot use violence as a vehicle for gaining power and camouflage it under the guise of religion, tribe or region.

When Donald Trump gave an incendiary speech to supporters, lamenting election fraud and urged them to march on the Capitol, telling them to “fight like hell”, we all saw what happened on January 6, 2021. When you tell your supporters that electing the party opposite will lead to the destruction of our country, that is a recipe for violence. When you tell your supporters that the office of the party opposite is not supposed to be in a particular location, you put violence on the menu.

When our leaders make such speeches, what you get is a toxic blend of psychology and violence. Why do we trick ourselves into believing that our pain derives from other people and those people deserve to be punished? You cannot inflame wild beasts with the smell of blood, and innocently wonder at the wave of brutal appetite that sweeps the land consequently. What is happening today is an existential threat to the lives, peace and security of all of us.

As citizens, nobody can bring us peace but ourselves. We cannot engage in destroying our country and keep calling the International Community to intervene. The American Embassy has expressed concerns about “election -related violence and aggression across the country, in the run up to the election”. It is urging “everyone to refrain from violence, respect the political choices of one another, and to reject the language of division and hate”.

Why can’t we avoid the need for international intervention in the first place? “The future of peace and prosperity that we seek for all the world’s people’s needs a foundation of tolerance, security, equality and justice”. Kofi Annan.

The playwright, novelist and poet once summed up the spectacle that is unfolding before our eyes: “Only in Africa will thieves be re grouping to loot again and the youths whose future is being stolen will be celebrating it” Nuff said.

What happened to “Never Again? Don’t forget to turn the lights out when you leave the room.

1 Comment

  1. What a well written article, and so sad to see that your wonderful country is facing such a precarious future once again. I was there in 2002 and hoped you were on the path to peace and prosperity. Good luck from England!

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