While there have been clashes and other diatribes preceding and ensuing the events of that Black Friday, the country is now settling down even if slowly and with hesitation. I was not the least surprised and I had been warning about it in this column. I had called on several occasions on the United Nations and the diplomatic community, as moral guarantors of our peace, on the need for them to intervene in our situation.
The meeting early this week called by the Executive Representative of the United Nations Secretary General, Michael Von der Schulenburg and attended by political parties and the diplomatic community was a step in the right direction. But it is not over yet. They must not sit down and relax thinking it is all fine and rosy. The task ahead is more Herculean. The problems ahead can be more dire if not nipped in the bud. There is trouble waiting to happen if the parties are not engaged in a sustained manner.
Like the philosopher who believed every bad thing had the certainty of something good, beneath the veneer of the darkness that was brought upon us belies the obvious lesson that we must all learn from. That we must tolerate each other and make room for divergent views and appreciate anything good that someone else does.
The nexus of the recent disturbances is hard to pinpoint in terms of one singular event. Besides the fact that they came on the heel of a mutually deep-seated rumble of a morbid disdain by one party against the other, they coincided with the commissioning of the clock tower and with a local council by-election in Pujehun district. An election that was postponed as a result of the violent clashes. With that election now scheduled to take place alongside another one in Port Loko district, the lead-up to them should be interesting and should give us an idea as to where to pay attention to ahead of the biggie when presidential and legislative elections happen in 2012.
If the current pattern continues, namely that there are clashes consistent in one region, civil society and the international community can engage the political parties to point this out to them and possibly name and shame. I was impressed by a section of the All People’s Congress party’s position statement at the press conference yesterday, on the recent disturbances in which they denounced violence. All political parties should commit themselves to the denunciation but also renunciation of violence. And this should not be mirrored on the trick of the late former rebel leader Foday Sankoh who in public would call on his rebels to disarm but would in private go on to tell them to continue holding on to their guns. None of our political parties stand to gain anything with and in a violent Sierra Leone.
As the party in power the APC should strive very hard not to be provoked into anything that will besmirch the image of the country and reverse the gains and make it unattractive to investors or make the country uninhabitable for even its people. The opposition Sierra Leone People’s Party must also be mindful of the fact that if they came to power and inherited a battered country it would be in the interest of neither their government nor the country’s. They should not provoke or be provoked into doing anything that will be inimical to the future prosperity of the country.
In all of this, the police should strive to be above board. Their recent abysmal performance during the political skirmishes is too obvious for me to bother to justify. Even the Assistant Inspector General of Police for Crime Services, Francis Munu has admitted publicly that their response or even their lack of pre-emptive foresight was below performance. Those who built the force and are still helping it out are watching and will review their continued support for a force that continues to stand aloof or take sides in the discharge of their functions. It will affect funds for their development and will subsequently emasculate them.
I would rather all party supporters arrested for crimes other than rape were pardoned and the government took over the renovation of the headquarters of the SLPP office and the City Council building as well as replaced those cars burned or damaged in both premises. This should be preceded by a visit to the party’s headquarters and the mayor’s office by President Ernest Bai Koroma just as in his brilliant show of leadership he attended the launch of the opposition’s radio station. Empathy is the word and reason for such. This is naturally bound to assuage the state of mind of the opposition and the accompanying photo-ops will perform wonders. This will strengthen the president’s image as a statesman and will take nothing away from him. If anything, it will make him as tall in statesmanship as he is in height.
It should be impressed on the minds of the two political parties however that should there be a repeat of political violence, the political party leader in the area as well as the main ringleaders will be dealt with severely. And the “masquerading party activists” (courtesy President Ernest Bai Koroma) should be made to know that the penalty for such will fall heavily on them without mercy, fear or favours. There may even be the possibility of an international tribunal looking into their cases. So those who carry out criminal orders should be made to know that the world can be made into a just world when people think they can behave with impunity.
If for some reason the way out is to punish the wrongdoers, the courts should be even-handed in treating the suspects as I am sure they will be. The fact that one political party is in power or the other seems to be the more severe victim should not becloud their sentiment. The facts should be brought out and the weight of the evidence should determine the verdict. Let us remember one of the main causes of our civil war was the lack of justice. And if both parties are claiming to be acting in the interest of the country they should show that now by sparing this country another cycle of violence. And this is why the international community should be more deeply involved with the National Electoral Commission in goading the electoral process at this stage which may be seen as early. 2012 may seem far away but it is just one year after next year, and the electoral process actually starts.
The trigger that has been pulled by the recent disturbances should be returned permanently and never pulled again, in the interest of all.