March 30, 2015 By Abu-Bakarr Sheriff
Sierra Leoneans have been unfortunately divided along the line of “peace” and “constitutionality” despite still grappling with a deadly Ebola conflict which has not only decimated our number, but has inflicted a telling socio-economic impact on the citizenry. No doubt surpassing the eleven years armed conflict by Foday Sankoh and his rag-tag militia which brought untold suffering to every household in our country, such that even to date we are still reeling from the effect. As a result, or perhaps in genuine fear of the past, any well meaning Sierra Leonean loathes war, we all crave peace or profess to.
But in this crave for peace, we tend to forget or we put under the carpet the holistic meaning of peace. Theorists of Peace, including our compatriots Dr. David Francis at Bradford University in England and Madam Memunatu Pratt of the University of Sierra Leone, have insisted, and rightly so, that peace does not only mean the absence of war or the silence of the guns. Rather, peace should be holistic in its actualisation and manifestation, in that it draws from a wide range of disciplines. If you like, a mixture of disciplines aimed at safety, security, fairness and effective and efficient laws to protect the rights of all citizens, an equal space where everyone is able to participate in shaping political decisions and ensuring their government is accountable, where everyone has fair and equal access to basic needs for their wellbeing – food, clean water, shelter, education, healthcare and a decent living environment, and equal opportunity regardless of gender, ethnicity or any other form of identity, according to the NGO International Alert.
“Peace is when people are able to resolve their conflicts without violence and can work together to improve the quality of their lives,” adds International Alert.
Also, according to the Dalai Lama, “Peace can only last where human rights are respected, where the people are fed, where individuals and nations are free.”
In view of the above, my question is: what is this ballyhoo about that civil society organisations and legitimate political parties should not vent their displeasure at the seeming brazen attack on the constitution in the wake of the president’s sacking of the democratically elected vice president?
Peace and constitutionality are two sides of the same coin. There is no way you can separate one from the other. Peace will be absent anywhere there is a breach of the constitution, and a police crackdown on free expression. In fact a country which brutally suppresses free expression, albeit by way of peaceful public demonstration, is not peaceful because the semblance of peace is dangerous and deceptive.
Proponents of this newfound paradigm of peace would want those who disagree with them, in respect of the present constitutional impasse, to believe that a peaceful demonstration or civil disobedience would amount to ‘kuss-kass’ (chaos) and mayhem. But what they have not told us is who will trigger that ‘kuss-kass’ and chaos – the police, protesters, hired thugs?
A certain failed politician who is at best a rabble-rouser and more adept at pursuing his selfish goal has blurted that any attempt to demonstrate in the streets of Freetown and other cities would bring ‘kuss-kass’. As preposterous and inane that is, it doesn’t come as a surprise because that is his stock-in-trade, doing a hatchet man’s job for his political puppet masters.
As for the police, their belated press release leaves no sane Sierra Leonean perplexed! IG Munu and his misnomer of a ‘Force for Good’ have always interpreted the law to suit officialdom and not for the benefit of the masses. Even during Emergency Regulations they have allowed a group of people to hold ‘public gatherings’ even providing protection or cover for them, while they randomly arrest and charge to court less privileged Sierra Leoneans. Just few days ago, a rent-a-mob invaded the peace and quiet of Freetown and picketed State House, to show solidarity to the ruling party for expelling the vice president. Did Munu and his men stop them for breaching peace? But most significantly, did their action cause ‘kuss-kass’ as Munu, Bangura et al would want us to believe?
The very constitution which the President used to sack the Vice President guarantees free expression. A friend of mine succinctly puts it that: “demonstrations can either express happiness or dissatisfaction. Political rallies are demonstrations. For the most part here they are peaceful”.
Granted some demonstrations have ended in skirmishes and fatalities, such as the 8 May, 2000 demonstrations. But in most often than not, the security forces are at fault for triggering violence, which at times spirals into bloodletting. During the incident in question, Sankoh’s drugged bodyguards fired into the crowd, killing scores of protesters, including a journalist.
The purpose of the demonstration was to draw attention to RUF intransigence to heed national and international appeals for the release of 500 United Nations peacekeepers who they had kept captive, and the demand for peace and stability. But the UDM leader, Mohamed Bangura, would denigrate the memory of those martyrs of peace who died because, according to him, someone called for a ‘violent demonstration’.
Those folks and thousands more died so that Bangura and all of us alive now could enjoy the dividends of holistic peace. It is a shame that the UDM leader, who was in Canada then, can have the temerity to blame those poor souls for their fate, just so that he can paint an apocalyptic picture if people go ahead to demonstrate against the decision to sack the Vice President.
This is Sierra Leone though, where rabble-rousers will bluff about being “successful politicians” even when they are yet to win a ward election! Yet, he will go scot-free for bringing the memory of martyrs of freedom into dispute.
If we allow this scaremongering by Bangura and his ilk, that peaceful demonstrations should not be allowed because in their warped opinion they would lead to ‘kuss-kass’, we could be headed for “despotism and tyranny” as erudite and respected legal luminary, James Bylden Jenkins-Johnston, ominously noted in his open letter, after the Sierra Leone Police desecrated the sacred precincts of the Law Court to disperse lawyers who were meeting to pass a resolution on the constitutionality or otherwise of the President’s decision to sack his vice.
Democracy is holistic. It cannot be practiced piecemeal: to justify entrance legitimacy to acquire power and subvert the wishes and aspiration of the sovereignty of the people – the constitution. The same constitution which the President invoked also bestows upon the people the sovereignty and right to express their free will, albeit peacefully. And the police should by law endeavour to protect that right, not subvert it, by allowing them to make their displeasure known within designated routes and time. This is what obtains in any true democratic state.
In conclusion, those who pretend to be peaceful and calling for calm are the scaremongers. They are the ones, it seems, who are hoping that heaven and earth will fall if peaceful demonstrators with placards express their views about this brazen attack on our constitution. Why didn’t fire and brimstone engulf Freetown when hired youth came to Freetown to demonstrate against the sacked Vice President?
Of course the Supreme Court has exclusive mandate to determine this matter, but that in no way means people cannot demonstrate. We have seen that in Ghana, Kenya and South Africa, all in Africa.
So enough of this scaremongering and may peace and constitutionality coexist amicably for all classes of citizens!