It is now a cliché that the hard won peace in Sierra Leone is fragile. I hate clichés but this is one of the ineluctable ones. Indications, maybe even the reality, cannot be more telling. Any pretence to the contrary aimed at making things appear rosy will mean papering over the cracks and peppering the eyes that will make a grim situation grimmer.
The ongoing conundrum between the opposition Member of Parliament, Elizabeth Alpha Lavalie and presidential Press Secretary, Sheka Tarawallie, was in my view brought about by a bitter taste that has left in its wake a nasty paste splattering on all by all. It brings to the fore what bears the hallmarks of both persons having an anathema against each other.
Mr Tarawallie reminded us in a radio interview that Mrs Lavallie was one of those that sent him to jail in 1996 following what I thought and still do think was a mere newspaper article about the relationship between Parliament and President for which the House should not have imprisoned him. In any case that reminder sounded to me like someone who is still bitter against someone else who in their view wronged them sometime ago. Mrs Lavalie is also on record as saying that she did not know Mr Tarawallie. Again this may be a way of showing a morbid disdain for someone so that we say we don’t even know them.
In all this one thing looks clear to me namely the use the military. The resolution of such a situation is not within their remit. Mr Tarawallie had all rights to call for protection if as he said a gang had been mobilised against him by Mrs Lavalie. Even as an ordinary Sierra Leonean he deserves such protection let alone the press secretary to the president. But the Sierra Leone Police it is that has the constitutional and moral responsibility, as well as the professional wherewithal to intervene in such situations. I am sure if the police had been called in, they would have been more professional in handling the matter and probably there would not have been the reported beating, if true that the MP was beaten by the soldiers.
But Mr Tawarallie has also alleged that Mrs Lavalie had mobilised young people against him in the past because they belong to different sides of the country’s political spectrum. If this did happen, then it is serious. But more importantly is what the whole situation brings to the fore: bitter blood between supporters and members of the country’s two leading political parties. This is bad for our country. And the reality on the ground in the provinces where there are not as many structures in place as in Freetown is even gloomy.
I have just returned from trips to the country’s two geographical political dichotomies namely Pujehun in the southeast and Kambia in the northwest. What I saw there and the acrimony that I came to find in Freetown between the MP and the Press Secretary, are enough to make one worry about the direction our country is headed. These situations can set fire even to the Atlantic Ocean.
In Pujehun I spoke with many people whose hate for the other political party was stark and caustic. In Pujehun, the one surprising thing was that there were more supporters of the governing All People’s Congress party than the country’s political history would make one believe. And they hate the opposition SLPP party’s guts. That said, the overwhelming majority who support the opposition SLPP don’t hate the APC any less. The same picture was what I gauged in the APC stronghold of Kambia in the north. Like the proverbial gut that is not strong unless there is something inside it, in both cases, you could tell the political leaders of the two parties were behind the hate.
Such hate without basis other than the spirit of us-versus-them will make this country reel again. Yes really real again. More often than not, it is generally lip service that is paid to our problems. It reminds me of one of the antics of the late former leader of the Revolutionary United Front, Foday Sankoh. We once went to the frontline where he was to ask his rebels to disarm. In public, he would say all sorts of things that sounded like music to the ears of any peacemaker. He would later call for a meeting with his commanders where he would not allow the peacekeepers to be present. Once, I was at the back of a mud-built house in which he was addressing his men, and I heard him tell the commanders not to listen to whatever he had said in public. In other words, they should not disarm.
Our politicians who were shouting their voices hoarse just a little over a year ago, and are still doing so, that what they were interested in was to improve the lot of the people, are stoking up anger and hatred which can only make our country bleed again. From opposition politicians who do not want to give the Government any respite to concentrate on its development agenda, to government officials whose bull’s eye is to flex their muscles and prove they have power against the opposition members and supporters.
In all this the ordinary people are caught up. As poverty looms and survival becomes a mystery the masses who toil for what to eat become fertile in the hands of foolish politicians who are feeding them with pittances in exchange for proving a point against one side or the other.
It behoves ECOWAS, especially Nigeria, and the United Nations not least Britain who spent so much cash and lost many lives, to intervene in our situation as soon as possible. Left unattended, it may generate to larger scale conflict and degenerate to deeper hatred that has the proclivity of taking a very serious toll on a country still battered by conflict.
The other day I was listening to a brilliant coverage of the rift between the parliamentarian and the press secretary by Radio Democracy that covered all sides and the hitherto uncharted territory, and I heard a woman crying at what she said was the heavy handedness of the soldiers against her child. Beneath that cry was anguish and hopelessness. This breeds strife and oozes blood from wounds whose scars and scab are both evident and angering in a country that has been though it all.
By Umaru Fofana