My Take

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Why ICC must keep an eye on the Sierra Leone Police ahead of presidential run-off Election

March 22, 2018 By Mohamed Massaquoi

It is my view that the International Criminal Court (ICC) representatives currently in Sierra Leone should focus their attention on members of the Sierra Leone Police in order to have first-hand information as to how they would be conducting themselves in the run-off presidential election.

A lot of international support has been given to members of the Sierra Leone Police over the past decades to strengthen their capacity to international standard, but it seems that the credibility of the current SLP is highly at stake as evident by the activities of certain police personnel.

It is open secret that some senior police officers have been compensated by the current administration after retiring from the force.

Former Inspector General of Police, Brima Acha Karama, was sent to Liberia as Ambassador by the Ernest Bai Koroma administration.

The immediate past Inspector General of Police, Francis Alieu Munu, was also sent to Liberia as Ambassador after he was relieved of his duty as IGP few weeks ago.

So, it would not come as a surprise if the current IGP, Dr. Richard Moigbeh, work very hard to maintain the trend.

Ahead of the March 7 elections, an election manual was developed by the Office of National Security as a guide for members of the security sector. The police hierarchy in Sierra Leone has violated the guide, I dare say.

For example, Assistant Inspector General of Police Eastern Region, Alfred Karrow Kamara, on March 7 instructed his personnel and some military officers to barricade the offices of political parties in the township of Kenema and its environs.

Many opposition politicians viewed the decision as a strategy to intimidate their supporters.

A former Member of Parliament of the main opposition Sierra Leone, Hon. Francis Kaisamba,had claimed that even though the activities of their members were limited at the SLPP headquarters, the police boss physically removed them from their premises.

“We are always intimidated by the police especially when there are political activities,” Hon. Kaisamba claimed.

Peace and stability in Sierra Leone before during and after that all important decision making cannot be overemphasised, knowing the partway the country has come from in strengthening its fragile democracy.

It should be collective responsibility of every Sierra Leonean to take all necessary steps in ensuring that the March 27 presidential run-off election is conducted in an atmosphere that is free and fair.

The main opposition Sierra Leone Peoples Party is leading the ruling All Peoples Congress into the presidential run-off, according to the final presidential result announced by the National Electoral Commission.

Amid all of these, a lot of speculations have been made with regard the security of the state.

As the institution charged with the responsibility of providing internal security, the Sierra Leone Police has come under tremendous scrutiny, especially from opposition parties and members of the public, with regards the manner in which some police personnel have been conducting themselves.

In response, the IGP has requested that members of the public send any evidence that implicate a police officer in political activity.

“We are ready to take disciplinary actions against any police personnel in deep political activities. We have strongly advised our personnel to be unbiased in carrying out their responsibilities,” IG Moigbeh told political party representatives at the Police Officers Mess in Freetown before the election.

However, even though the IGP has made that promised, the civil populace is worried that politicians will use the security forces to intimidate voters.

“We do not have trust in the Sierra Leone Police. We believed they are not neutral. We have got a lot of instances where the SLP will support members of the ruling All Peoples Congress against our members. Our supporters have been attacked, property destroyed and the police have not been swift enough to bring perpetrators to book,” SLPP Secretary General, Umaru Napolum Koroma, claimed.

“The neutrality of the Sierra Leone Police is significant not only to the outcome of the presidential run-off election but the general outlook of the country’s fragile   democracy . There are reports of police personnel using excessive force in coiling down violent activities,” civil society activist Joseph Sannoh said.

Before the election, a survey was conducted by the Institute for Governance Reforms to gauge the views of Sierra Leoneans as to trust and confidence in the security forces, especially the SLP. That survey report stated that despite challenges facing the security sector, there was a guarantee that the SLP will act professionally in the conduct of the March elections.

But the police have been heavily criticised for not effectively handling political violence in Freetown and other parts of the country.

What is now worrisome is the tribal divide that has pervaded the minds of Sierra Leoneans. For many, elections – and the preceding campaigns – provide the true measure of how Sierra Leone has progressed. The fundamental character of political competition in the country has not been altered. Identity, not ideology or policy, remains the paramount factor. Ethnic and regional voting blocs – sustained by entrenched patronage networks and corruption – are as rigid as ever. Elections are regarded as “winner takes all” contest while defeat means a potential exclusion of the losers and their region.

Thus, the ICC should take note of events unfolding in Sierra Leone, not least the conduct of the security forces in the run up to, during and after the crucial run-off election.

I rest my case.