…celebrate for peace
By Mohamed Massaquoi
The atmosphere was colourful in the eastern provincial headquarters, Kenema, where residents from various parts of the district converged in the township to celebrate Sierra Leone’s 53 Independence Day anniversary.
The occasion was marked by the usual traditional masquerade ‘Paddle’ dance, witnessed by traditional leaders, youth, women and children, all of whom were in a jubilant mood as they danced alongside the main streets of Kenema. Thousands who took part in the celebration sang songs denouncing any move by the ruling party to give president Koroma another term.
President Koroma’s second and last term expires in 2017, and he is barred by the 1991 constitution to stand for a third term, which is allegedly what his party want, albeit two official denials by State House that there is no such agenda.
But talks about an extended term persist, and party supporters have been seen wearing T-shirts emblazoned with ‘After You Na U’ apparently making reference to President Koroma succeeding himself.
Also, despite the official denial, two party officials – Minister of Transport, Leonard Balogun Koroma and deputy Publicity Secretary, Robin Fallay – are on record to have called for a ‘third term for the president.
Alumni of the Kenema Government Secondary School were even forced to postpone their annual thanksgiving church service and march pass because there were fears that paddle dancers might clash with the alumni and present pupils of the only government secondary school in the town.
In the build up to the event on Sunday, 27 April, tension had began to mount between supporters of the opposition Sierra Leone Peoples Party, SLPP, and members of the ruling All Peoples Congress, APC, when the APC deputy National Publicity Secretary, Robin Fallay, went on Star Line Radio in Kenema to propagate a third term plan for President Ernest Bai Koroma, thus fueling widespread fears that this year’s paddle dance would be marred by violence.
However, the paddle dance was peaceful in Kenema as revelers clad in national colours danced and sang happily.
Brima Foday, a staunch SLPP member, said they are not dancing because of the alleged plans by the APC to manipulate the constitutional review process in their favour, but to show the world that Sierra Leone belongs to its citizenry, majority of whom will out rightly reject any form of tenure elongation for President Koroma.
“We are vehemently rejecting the third term plan by Koroma and his men. We will not take it lightly if the APC decides to manipulate the (new) constitution,” he said.
As part of the celebrations, a leading Christian faith group in the district, Christ Embassy, organised street shows aimed at changing the mindset of residents about the mode of celebrations and how the day can be used for peace and development.
Town Chief of Kenema, Chief Ngombolango, said he was in the streets of Kenema to ensure people maintain the peace.
“As traditional rulers, our business is to maintain peace within our community, but I want to commend all of those who put security measures together and I am happy there is no major incident reported,” he said.
Before the celebrations, Assistant Inspector General of Police, East, Alfred Karo-Kamara, issued a strong press release warning against violence, as the Independence Day celebrations should be peaceful and non-partisan, adding that any individual or group of individuals caught perpetrating violence could be arrested and face the full penalty of the law.
“We resolved to work hard as security personnel to seriously police the Kenema community and its environs. We have been working with the Community Safety Volunteers to crackdown on criminality at various communities. I want to commend members of the Police Partnership Board, traditional authorities and our politicians for working with the Sierra Leone Police in providing security for our people. We believed in community policing because it is the best model for our people that in fact is responsible for the peaceful conduct of the paddle dance and the entire independence celebrations. We will continue as police officers in providing the appropriate security but we relied on the community to furnish the police with relevant information,” he said.