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 Flashback 2018 Presidential Runoff: Remembering April 4th Police clash with youth in Kenema

September 3, 2018

By Mohamed Massaquoi

flash back
Journalist Mohamed Massaquoi stands with ASP Mustapha S. Kamara, Officer-in-charge of Kenema’s Burma Police Post.

The 2018 presidential and general elections in Sierra Leone may have come and gone, but there are still rifts among some sections of society, not least the security sector and members of the public.

Sierra Leone has gone through civil conflict and other disasters, and citizens looked forward to the 2018 presidential and general elections as a decisive moment in the political transformation of the country.

During the electioneering period, the eastern district headquarters of Kenema became a ground for political violence. Leading up to elections, political vandalism grew within and around Kenema district. This created a challenge for the police, who are tasked with enforcing law and order in the area.

Rumours in the community spread quickly, with angered residents lashing out at anyone accused of “conniving” with the authorities. In one such incident, rumours led to the residence of the APC District Youth Leader, Emmanuel Farma, set on fire, not far from the Burma Police Post.

Efforts to reach Farmer to comment on this incident proved futile, but Hawa Gbao, a business woman and resident of Burma community explained that she was at the scene when some irate youth stormed the police post.

Gbao says on April 4th 2018, she was selling drinks under a mango tree very close to the police post when she saw a group of young men advancing towards the station with sticks.

Gbao explains: “I am living very close to the police post, so when I saw the boys coming, I told my children to take the drinks to the house immediately because the situation was very tense and it was getting out of hand. Everybody in this community was moving up and down; some were crying for their children, while others concerned were about the violence in this community. Daily activities came to a standstill on that day, shops were closed, no cars, only police were on the street on that day.”

“The residence of Youth Leader Farma was burnt down completely,” says Gbao. “I do not know the reason for that, but remember that Farma was the APC youth leader.”

Brima Lahai, a bike rider at Burma community, explains that they are being targeted and suppressed by the police.

He said the police are in the habit of raiding that community for bike riders and arresting them, a development that sparked a massive youth action on the 4th April against the police. That day, the Burma police post was set alight.

In the months since, the police post that was burnt down has been rehabilitated, with law and order restored. Yet former Councilor of the Kenema City Council, Anthony Fonnie calls for an inquest into what he refers to as “complete negligence and overuse of police authority”  by the former Assistant Inspector General of Police East, Alfred Karrow-Kamara.

He says that during announcement of the 2018 presidential runoff election result, Kamara ordered his men to manhandle innocent civilians – an allegation Kamara vehemently denies.

A police post at the Burma community around a hitherto airfield was burnt down and property worth millions of Leones destroyed. Yet no charges or arrests have yet been made since the incident occurred four months ago, apparently due to absence of substantial evidence.

Former Assistant Inspector General of Police East, Alfred Karrow-Kamara says: “I don’t want to comment on this issue because the matter is under investigation.   The situation between the police and the youth of Burma was not charged to court but we have heard that the matter is being investigated, so I cannot comment on it now. But I want to put it in summary that the police was very professional in handling that situation and we do not provoke any issue, and the rumour that I held a gun and shot at somebody is malicious propaganda. The police was more professional at every level.’’

According to the Assistant Superintendent of Police in Charge of Burma Police Post, Mustapha S. Kamara, on 4th April 2018, at around 4p.m., they were carrying out their normal policing activities when they saw a group of youth advancing towards the police post, armed with machetes, stones, sticks and other dangerous missiles.

He says the youth were in hot pursuit of police officers and chanted slogans calling for the head of Karrow-Kamara and some of his closest allies.

He adds that the youth started pelting stones and other missiles in the direction of the police post, and later set the post ablaze.

“We managed to escape from the scene, the youth broke into the building and collected everything inside and set them on fire. They also set the police post ablaze and other structures around. We narrowly escaped with our lives,” ASP Kamara narrates.

“I wanted to go to the police barracks but I was told that the entire barracks was   surrounded by the youth and my family members narrowly escaped their mob,” recalls ASP Kamara. “Myself and colleague officers moved over to the military barracks where we sought refuge for some days. Through the support of the Police Partnership Board and other community members, we have rehabilitated the police post. The Mayor of the City gave us money for the rehabilitation work. We cannot succeed in our operations without the help of the community and we must be seen doing the right things. It is against our operational orders for police personnel to be political. That situation was unfortunate. I am happy that peace has finally returned to this community.”

This is not the first time in recent months that the actions of the Sierra Leone Police have come under scrutiny. The (OSD) Operations Support Division is the paramilitary wing of the Sierra Leone police. Earlier this year, the human rights watchdog, Amnesty International, released a report condemning the OSD for their use of excessive force in recent years.

“Impunity for police abuses is deeply entrenched in Sierra Leone,” says the report. “The police have used excessive force, including excessive lethal force, to disperse protests over the past 10 years. At least nine people have been killed, over 80 people injured and over 80 people had their properties looted and/or were arbitrarily arrested in the incidents mentioned in this report. Several people still suffer from health problems after being shot by the police during protests. There are no clear guidelines for awarding compensation, resulting in victims or families of those killed receiving ad hoc or insufficient compensation.”

Secretary General of the Police Partnership Board in Kenema District, Anthony Kamara, says he cannot categorically state as to the identity of the group that actually burnt down the Burma police post.

He recalls that on the 4th April 2018, immediately after the presidential runoff election result was announced, riot ensued in the Burma community, and the police post was partly burnt with a lot of property destroyed.

“As partners to the police, we have the responsibility to support their activities. When the incident happened, I immediately called on the councilor and other community stakeholders to come on-board in order to address the ugly development. We also held meetings with the police and the community people because there was a sour relationship between the people and the police. They specifically pointed at Karrow and some other police officers for supporting the then ruling APC government. All of us, including the Office of National Security ONS, the Mayor and the district council person agreed to address the matter,” he said.

The Mayor of Kenema City Council, Thomas Mbayoh, says the incident was chaotic especially when the police attempted to arrest certain individuals.

He says that at that time, there was no cordial relationship between the police and the people.

“Because we wanted to rekindle the good working relationship with the police,” explains Mbayoh, “I personally provided them three hundred United State Dollars for the rehabilitation work. I am pleased that we have settled that matter.”

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