The Political Parties, the Police and Election-related Violence in the Run-up to the Elections in Sierra Leone in November 2012
By Julius Maada Bio,Presidential Flag Bearer of the SLPP
The Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP) was 60 years old last April; indeed the oldest political party in Sierra Leone. For good measure, as early as 1951, the Founding Fathers consciously chose the path of non-violence. Consequently, unlike other parties in Africa, in 1961 the SLPP led Sierra Leone to freedom and independence from the United Kingdom by way of a constitutional agreement. In 1967 it lost power for the first time in a democratic election. Save for an unwarranted interference by the army, it handed over power to the Opposition without a murmur; the first ever in Africa. This scenario repeated itself for the second time in 2007 when again it yielded power to the Opposition after democratic elections without demur. On both occasions the SLPP demitted power to the Opposition All Peoples’ Congress (APC).
So commenced our Party’s journey towards a truly genuine democratic dispensation and accountability for Sierra Leone. This is the record of the SLPP. Long has it eschewed the use or threat of violence from its polity, more especially during and after elections. Under its watch, the elections of 1967, 2002 and 2007 were all held in peace. Today the SLPP is known as the Party of peace and development. This record constitutes not only the enviable pedigree of the Party, it is also my sacred inheritance as its standard bearer for the presidential election slated for November 17, 2012. As such, I feel duty bound, by the dictates of history, custom and practice, to uphold this sacred tenet of non-violence for which the SLPP is not only renowned world-wide but has no equal in Sierra Leone.
By way of contrast, the APC has, by its own record, earned infamy as a destroyer of democratic values and institutions. Right from 1967, the APC, after gaining power through the ballot box, set about to dismantle the structures of democratic governance in the country. Through political intimidation and incarceration, it denied Opposition members their seats in Parliament; and, by political thuggery and violence, it secured their replacement by handpicked lackeys. By this method, by 1971, the APC had secured enough seats in Parliament to be able to throw out the democratic parliamentary system and replace it with an all-powerful presidential system; and in 1978 it mortared the last building block of a tyrannical system by dismantling completely the multi-party democratic structure, replacing it with a one-party constitution. This tyrannical edifice then misruled Sierra Leone for two decades until 1991.
The reputation of the APC did not stop there, however. In the 1980s and early 1990s, the APC also displayed an innate propensity for creating crises. It knew perfectly how to create a crisis. For example, by its misrule, the APC Government of President Joseph Saidu Momoh gave birth to the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) and the country imploded into a rebellion in March 1991. But the APC hadn’t an iota of how to quell it. That rebellion laid waste every inch of the country it touched until an SLPP Government brought it to an end eleven years later, restoring the country back to peace and stability.
These differences between the SLPP and APC governance cultures are fundamental and must never be lost sight of. Whereas the SLPP governance culture was rooted in non-violence and multi-party democratic dispensation throughout the period it was in office between 1961 and 1967 and again between 1996 and 2007, the APC governance culture was one steeped in intimidation, violence and one-party tyranny. This characterization is apt not only for the earlier years of the APC from 1971 to 1991- the so-called Old APC of President Siaka Stevens and President Joseph Saidu Momoh – it is also appropriate, albeit to a limited extent, for the so-called New APC. Not too infrequently, the impression is given of a mental orgy of nostalgia for those inglorious years, to say nothing about the occasional expression by its radical lobby of a desire for a return to the days of one-party rule.
Win or lose, like the Old APC, the urgings appear irresistible within the so-called New APC to inflict political violence and mayhem upon the Opposition. Even when declared the winner, the APC in the wake of the election of 2007 couldn’t resist attacking and vandalizing the offices of the SLPP in Freetown, Bo and other places as well as attacking SLPP supporters especially in its strongholds in the North. Similarly so when it loses an election. The violence unleashed upon the Opposition at the bye-elections in Tongo Field, Pujehun, Zimi and in Ward 369 in the East-end of Freetown in Constituency 104 bear eloquent testimony. In all of them, the violence seemed to have been masterminded by the leadership of the ruling APC.
Where do the people of Sierra Leone stand in all this? Judging by the massive pain and trauma inflicted upon the people for over 11 years during the RUF rebellion, they are naturally concerned not to repeat that terrible experience ever again in their lives. They therefore say enough is enough. They are now resolved to guard zealously their hard-won peace from any further wanton disturbance.
The SLPP and I know this. This is why we have long ago condemned and outlawed political and election-related violence in our body politic by whomsoever perpetrated and have called upon other political parties to do likewise. However, given the cavalier and sinister approach already shown by the Government of President Ernest Bai Koroma towards the Report of the Shears-Moses Commission of Inquiry (recommending the dismissal and banning of the current Minister of Internal Affairs, Musa Tarawally), the extraordinary rate of coincidence of that Minister always being found in and around the vicinity of political violence, and the alarming spate of political violence in the country, more is needed to be done to persuade President Koroma to act. Already there is mounting public anxiety and foreboding about the pending elections in November this year. More especially, many see the most recent reaction of the APC after losing the bye-election in Freetown as a foretaste of what is in store for us in the run-up to those elections.
In the circumstances, therefore, I am addressing this appeal to the international community, as the moral guarantor of our country’s peace, to pay heed to these warnings and set about putting in place appropriate and timely measures to ensure not only that the pending November elections are conducted fairly and transparently to the satisfaction of all political parties but also that they are completely and totally violence-free.
In this connection, the Police too are hugely challenged. Increasingly, both the general public and the political parties see them as an agency that has reduced its functionality to being a mere handmaiden of the Executive. As such, the erosion of public trust and confidence in the Police is massively evident almost everywhere. This erosion must be halted quickly and reversed. However, for this to happen, the leadership of the Police must take primary responsibility to reform and correct themselves according to law. Not only must they evince impartiality in the discharge of their duties and especially in their investigations of the incidence of political violence, they must also be able to assert impeccable credentials of independence from Executive interference.
This slide downwards in public trust for the Police is now palpable everywhere. A few instances will suffice. Following the Bo incident last September, the Police were not afraid to impose an indefinite illegal ban on public meetings and processions by political parties, knowing full well that the party most likely to be disadvantaged was the Opposition. Also, arising from the attempt on my life at the same Bo incident by APC stalwarts, the Police acted with lightening speed in charging to court the alleged arsonists of properties belonging to APC supporters whilst leaving the OSD policeman who allegedly shot and killed an innocent bike rider to go scot free. Further, there are instances of partiality arising from the violence in the bye-election at Fourah Bay in Freetown last week. Some SLPP supporters were charged to court barely 48 hours after the incident whilst Hon. Tunde Lewally, Member of Parliament, who allegedly broke the arm of the SLPP candidate that won the bye-election, is yet to be even questioned by the Police let alone charged to court. Again, arising out of the same incident, the Police, after brutalizing the SLPP Chairman of Constituency 104, Mr. Aziz Carew, leaving him in comma on the night of 15 January, the day after the election, are now threatening to remove from Connaught Hospital and charge him to court. They allege he was the person who had stabbed Mr. Lansana Fadika of the APC even though the victim himself, in an interview shown on public SLBC television on 16 January, completely exonerated him.
With such evidence of bias and highhandedness on the part of the Police, tarnishing their credibility and impartiality in the electioneering process, what can we in the Opposition do? What remedies do we have?
Time is short. And various options come to mind. One such option is to demand that the Police, including its paramilitary wing, do not carry live arms both in the run-up to and during the elections. Another option is to demand that they reform and correct themselves according to law. The crucial question is: are the Police able and willing to reform? Not too long ago they went through some training by British officers as part of their post-war rehabilitation but judging from recent performance many say they have learnt very little indeed. Therefore, mixing them with United Nations Police from UNIMIL in Liberia during the electioneering period in Sierra Leone is perhaps worthy of serious consideration by the international community. Public security is certainly one crucial area all Sierra Leoneans, both at home and abroad and irrespective of political affiliation, can and should play an important role. Together let us lobby the Government of President Ernest Bai Koroma and the international community to listen and act in the best interest of our country. In addition, I stand ready to join them in a joint declaration to reaffirm publicly our respective Parties’ denunciation and outlawry of intimidation and violence from our body politic; to pledge our total commitment to ensuring that the elections are held in an environment that is free, fair, credible and transparent; and to accept the result of the elections.