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Sierra Leone at the Cross Roads

OPINION

By: Alpha Rashid Jalloh Media, Political Analyst and Research Consultant

It was thirteen years ago when  the war in Sierra Leone was officially declared over by President Kabbah, but today the current leader still faces challenges in sustaining the fragile peace that this country boasts of. In any post-war situation, there is what I usually call “conglomerating factors” that usually pose threat of a recurrence of an event. These are factors that come together to bring about an eruption. These factors could be economic, political, social or legal or a combination of all four.

Those in the media who practice what is called “preventive journalism” usually need to look out for signs of these conglomerating factors so as to forewarn people responsible for their emergence. They create the necessary condition for instability. According to Paul Collier, formerly research consultant at the World Bank, who has analyzed conflicts in Third World, a country that has gone to war once is likely to go to war again. If we may take his theory to have a semblance of realistic prediction, he may be correct in the situations like DR Congo before and after Kabila, Liberia with its Taylor rebellion and subsequent anti-Taylor rebellion, Ivory Coast with its Ouatarra and subsequent anti-Ouatarra rebellion and many more. But Sierra Leone stands unique in as much as it’s a war that defied all typologies. This is because ours was not war of bad governance, democracy, (you name the usual concepts tagged on wars in Africa), but merely greed and malevolence and the quest for power. So, there has been no ideological affectation in our crisis. No wonder after its end there has been no signs of recurrence, but that should not make us be oblivious of the fact that those factors that ushered the war if allowed to linger for too long and become prevalent might create the necessary condition for another war. That is why we should warn some of our brothers in the media. In every fight the first round could be yours, and you jubilate and shout triumphantly, but wait to see the next round and the other.

The Second World War was triggered by a 19 -year -old boy who shot and killed a diplomat in Sarajevo, but if the conditions that necessitate war had not existed at that time, the world would not have gone to war over the murder of one man. This evidently points out that it is the existing conditions that trigger a war.

Most catastrophes emanate out of human ideas especially when they are shared by people or they are used to influence the minds and perceptions of others which ultimately become determinants of their actions. One of the key factors responsible for the emergence of instability identified by the Special Court for War Crimes was the culture of impunity, which was and which is prevalent in Sierra Leone. It is common for people who hold offices to manipulate policies and regulations to make others victims of the implementations of such laws or policies. This is as a result of the prevalent malevolence in the country which has become inherent in the character of each and every Sierra Leone.  Sometimes it happens when either a person or group of people are fighting an individual so as to unseat him or when someone in office just feels that he could use his office to settle personal scores or unhinge people he abhors. It could be done by craftily stage-managing events against certain people. The cases in which they are involved could have a verisimilitude but not necessarily true. I think that is what people should note and try to know.

There are issues that have a semblance of truth but they are not true because there has been an adulteration of the facts. This is what our brothers in the media should be careful to deal with.  Let us bear in mind that when these things happen and proliferate, the multiplier effect itself takes a high toll and goes a long way to create room for vengeful tendencies by those who have become victims.  Taylor left Liberia amidst allegations from Samuel Doe that he embezzled funds but came triumphantly later. Kabila left Congo amidst allegations against him by the ruling government but returned triumphantly later. The same with Alhassan Ouatarra who was accused of being a foreigner. In Sierra Leone Foday Sankoh claimed he was innocent of the John Bangura coup in 1973. What happened in 1991?

In the case of a trial, at the time of such trial or investigation the victims may be powerless or may have been demonized in the eyes of the public, so, no matter what their explanation is at the time, it would not be appreciated by the public.  But nevertheless after sometime when the conditions change, and it is in their favour, such victims end up getting support from others who have suffered similar fates; these may include sympathizers, disgruntled elements and those who have been able to identify certain demons behind the scenes who they suspect might have been responsible for their own predicaments or that of their families and relations. They now form the conglomerating factors. This brings to mind what I have shared with certain key personalities in our society yesterday.

When Johnny Paul Koroma was chairman of the Commission for the Consolidation of Peace, he told me that the investigation that was mounted to know the existing problems between the Kamajor militia and the soldiers was manipulated by certain people who were interested in destroying him. He said nobody got his own side of the story. Instead they went to the chiefs, who, according to him, definitely hated him for taking sides with soldiers against kamajors. Johnny Paul said it was common for kamajors to execute soldiers in broad daylight claiming that they were looting, which he said was bad and illegal. “As a commander on the ground I need to defend my boys”, he told me at the time.  He said he felt disappointed with media who never got his own side of the story. He only singled out one person who according to him implicitly is the only professional journalist in the country, and that was Lansana Fofana. What did we experience in the end? A catastrophe, in which many people suffered. In all this, the media has a role to play in preventing such manipulated events. We need to warn those who think money comes first before  ethical principles in journalism—always s twisting facts on the side of the  stronger to trample on the weak, which does not augur well for peace  in Sierra Leone.

In Rwanda, a radio station with its monologue program was doing the same. They had all the facts about Tutsis. They knew what Tutsis do and how dangerous they were. It went on until the genocide that led to the massacre of not less than one million people which I believe is a euphemistic way of describing the Rwandan genocide

In all conflicts there are the general factors that most times characterize them and there are the unique ones that may make a conflict defy all types of typologies.  But if one is to adopt a realistic approach and dispense theoretism, we would accept the fact that certain conflicts do not actually defy typologies, it is because analysts, especially the traditional analysts, have been used to using the general indicators to measure conflicts.  When we use that approach, we may end up finding certain conflicts which because they were built by unique factors, would not easily be placed in any category.  For too long analysts have used either political or economic factors to determine causes of conflicts when there are many cases in which social causes are more apparent and are the dominating determinant factors.  One of the biggest errors in analyzing conflicts is that when it comes to Africa and the Third World in general, it is the general

indicators like; bad governance, injustice, unemployment, availability of resources to loot (Paul Collier’s idea) that become the tools for measurement, disregarding social factors like malevolence, ethnicity, manipulation of the law and policies, so as to militate them against certain individuals, stage-managing  and manipulating  events to make certain people victims who end up being punished legally, administratively or whatever the case may be in any situation for something they know nothing about  but for which they are presented as  guilty. These are things that happen in the media, medical profession, legal profession, public service, education sector and you name them. Think of those it has happen to who silently nurse their ill feelings. If they were to have an opportunity to revenge what would happen? It was these factors that existed and prevailed yesterday but which no one took notice of and not even the traditional analysts, before the guns started booming. The political and economic factors merely served as propagandistic instruments or weapons for achieving objectives.

Today, Sierra Leone is at the cross roads, we need to start thinking twice. The media need to warn those who think political connections are meant for bullying that they are creating a volatile situation. The media need to point out to those who hold offices, be it in associations, councils, corporate intuitions, public institutions or the forces that in any given circumstances, stage-managing and manipulating events may make you win first round but you might not win the second. The media should ensure that they serve as role models of the society when it comes to enhancing justice.  This is the only sure way of Sierra Leone taking the right route at these cross roads otherwise we may end up taking the  wrong route  which not far away takes u-turn  that  leads us back  to where we came from  about a decade ago.