Sierra Leone telegraph: 18 July 2020:
There are disturbing reports coming from Makeni in the north of Sierra leone, where military personnel have fired teargas and live bullets at local people protesting against the government’s removal of an electricity power generator from the city to relocate to the town of Lungi. (WARNING – Some readers may find some of the images below disturbing.)
According to eyewitnesses, at least one person has been shot dead.
This shooting comes just weeks after the resident minister for the region – Abu Abu openly threatened to shoot anyone in the northern town of Lunsar where youths went on the rampage after a dispute with the local paramount chief.
The removal of electricity generators from one part of the country by the current government to meet the needs of other parts – is becoming all too familiar and worrying.
One report this afternoon says: “Running battles continue in the Northern City of Makeni between irate youths protesting the removal of a 1MW Caterpillar generator by the Electricity Generating and Transmission Company (EGTC) and police firing gun shots and canister tear gas.
“It all started last night when news broke around the city that a team had arrived at the powerhouse to remove the said generator to Lungi. EGTC official said they had had prior consultations with local authorities regards the said movement of the generator.
“As the situation escalate there is report of some youths fired at with fire rounds. The ruling party office on Yiks Road in Makeni is reported damaged by irate youths.”
Another report says “As violent continues to spread in makeni, military support units from Daru, Pehbu in Kabala, Wilberforce and other areas have been called up to support those in Tecko who have been completely overwhelmed. The president wants law and order restored immediately. The machine is still going to be moved because it is something that had been pre arranged. A 24 hour curfew has been contemplated for makeni and full military patrol instructed. Some arrests have been made.”
“There are serious disturbances in the city of Makeni. The genesis of this issues came from an electricity substitution issue. Since Lungi is experiencing a shortage of electricity, the authorities says it will be wise to transfer a mini power plant from makeni to Lungi temporarily, since makeni is currently enjoying electricity from the Bumbuna hydro. In response, the Makeni people refused – arguing that when the rains cease, Bumbuna output will drop and they will have no backup plant. Riot broke out and a lot of vandalism. The SLPP office is reportedly destroyed. Military officers from Daru and Peehbu barracks in Kabala sent in and all hell has broken loose, ” says another report.
A report believed to be from the ministry of energy reads:
“The Ministry of Energy is perturbed by reports of violent skirmishes in Makeni over an attempt by authorities to relocate a standby 1.65MW Caterpillar engine from Makeni to Lungi for the supply of electricity to Lungi. The Ministry of Energy roundly condemns this unlawful behavior from some ill-motivated youths in Makeni.
“The ministry wishes to make it abundantly clear that Lungi is currently in dire need of electricity ,and with the resumption of flight operations at anytime from now,there would be more compelling need for electricity.The relocation of the standby thermal plant from Makeni to Lungi is therefore only a stop-gap measure for Lungi until such a time when the 3X2 MW Man engines at Lungi were fully repaired.
“The ministry would further like to assure all that Government has made concrete arrangements for the quick repairs of the engines, and with the Airport resuming operations ,the expert engineers and the necessary spare parts would arrive in the country for work to start .
“The ministry states for the avoidance of doubts that it held consultative meetings with stakeholders in Makeni,including but not limited to the Mayor and her Deputy, the Provincial Secretary North, Representatives of the AIG , Media Groups and Civil Society Groups. The issue of the relocation of the thermal plant was clearly presented and discussed in those stakeholders’ meetings . Government further assured all the stakeholders that despite the relocation ,Makeni would continue to enjoy uninterrupted supply of power from the Shield Wire Arrangement along the 161kv Line from the Bumbuna Hydroelectric Station.
“In view of the above , the ministry would like to state its lawful determination to relocate the thermal plant to Lungi in line with the outcome of a series of consultations ,while also assuring the people of Makeni of its commitment to providing uninterrupted power supply for the city .
“Once more, the ministry totally condemns the violent protests that erupted in the town and urge the security apparatus to take all necessary steps to restore order, to deal with those responsible for the illegal protests within the confines of the law and to protect state property.”
Calling for peace in Makeni, Mahmud Tim Kargbo – a social policy commentator said: “I have always had the utmost respect for our law enforcement team, and am asking them to be professional enough in protecting lives and property in the current unrest in Makeni.
“They’re trained diligently to understand how, when and where to use force. Current shocking tragedy of social media images showing dead bodies and injuries inflicted against civilians clearly crossed that line.
“It is not unusual to face disruption from unemployed and bitter youth which can occur for many reasons, but we expect our law enforcement team to handle the situation professionally. We know our law enforcement forces have comprehensive plans in response to violence coming from irate youth across their network that cover contingencies – including youth that want to take the law into their own hands, and how to use proportionate force to enforce peace in a specific town, area, district, or region where such youth overstep the mark. I consider this planning part of our law enforcement team’s core operating model.
“In conclusion, I am also calling on the youth to be law abiding and avoid all situations that will make them come in brush with the law. Our law enforcement team must manage their response to the present unrest in Makeni and at all cost minimise negative impact on property and life.”