January 23, 2015 By Alpha Rashid Jalloh
The internet has put Sierra Leone abreast with contemporary global trends but it has also offered dangerous opportunities to mischief-makers, especially in the use of a social media tool called WhatsApp.
WhatsApp has become a means for chatting and also offers an opportunity for groups to link, exchange information, share ideas and do many more things. But on the other hand, it is a means of passing on mischievous information which could damage reputations, endanger individuals or enable a group of mischief-makers to achieve a cause. It is not therefore a surprise that each and every day you hear of some strange news about someone, an institution or some event in a community originating from WhatsApp which, if further investigated, would turn out to be a hoax.
I felt surprised when a friend contacted me and informed me that a group of people were disseminating information about me on WhatsApp. When information is sent to gullible people, especially Sierra Leoneans with uncritical minds, they become the accepted facts. Many people have become victims of the mischievous use of this social media tool and do not have a means of seeking redress. In a country where people have become so belligerent and malevolent, the first option of destroying someone is through WhatsApp with concocted versions of stories or just merely framing up something about the person.
In any civilized and peace-loving society, if any individual or group of people has any grievance, there are legitimate channels to put them across. But in a country like Sierra Leone where foul is fair and fair is foul, people use illegitimate means to pursue a legitimate cause or an unjust means to pursue a just cause and yet still it becomes the accepted norm. Those who wield authority in certain circles and are in solidarity with a particular group for certain reasons would surprisingly use such mischievous publications as conclusive evidence in the course of their investigation. Their perception is that: because it has happened once the media could mischievously be manipulated again and we can get away with it.
When I first got the information, I thought of contacting a friend, Jusu Kallon, to have an advice from him. He’s a man who knows so much because of his affiliations. I was however dissuaded from doing so by critical minds.
This is not the first time such things have happened. In a society which has been engulfed in bigotry, malevolence, nepotism, witch-hunting, tribal acrimony, mafia-like solidarity, nihilistic manifestations and surprisingly infantile academism, people should learn to read and understand the warning signs. If anyone was in Sierra Leone and has been watching trends over the recent decades, he would have discovered that many people have been subjected to misery, frustration and faced a bleak future just because they belong to a certain tribe. This is horrible and dangerous.
What worries me and makes me shudder is the fact that people could even use means of communication like WhatsApp to sow seeds of discord in a society. We have forgotten that Sierra Leone experienced a cataclysmic scenario that spanned across a period of eleven years and subjected the people to horrendous experiences. And as the country was trying to rise out of the ashes of war, a strange pandemic called Ebola gripped the nation. Many people have lost their lives, institutions and industries closed, trade and commerce going at snail pace, which has made the country to incidentally suffer from a cataleptic economy. But the question sober minds ask is: what if a bunch of people wake up one morning and try to mischievously create a scenario — through the use of this WhatsApp — that would usher in another “gbongboshoro” (catastrophe), especially when some people’s future have been destroyed by mischief-makers just because of their tribal or regional background? This blatant exhibition of impunity makes me shudder.
Surprisingly, this belligerence and malevolence that is now characteristic of our society has brought people into strange groups. You will be surprised to see a bunch of very tall people coming together to fight a clandestine war with those of average heights, and Third Class degree holders fighting those with better degrees calling them “fraudsters”, those belonging to a certain tribe coming together to fight others who belong to another tribe, those who previously entered a profession coming together to fight incoming ones. The organic solidarity manifested by such in-groups smirks off mischief, malevolence and cantankerous dispositions that do not augur well for a harmonious existence.
What I have stated may sound ludicrous, imbecilic and unimaginable, but it is happening. It is not strange in today’s Sierra Leone to see people on the firing line just because of their tribal background. It is therefore not uncommon to see or hear of a bunch of mischief-makers feeling trigger-happy after destroying others because they have strong backing from nepotic public holders while the victims gnash their teeth in frustration because they find themselves on the weaker side at a particular time. These are not good things to hear in contemporary Sierra Leone.
But, nothing stays the same forever; everything stands to be tested by time. While some mischievous people continue to exhibit such impunity, let them remember what Olaudah Equialo says: “When you make men slaves you compel them to live with you in a state of war.” Let us not also forget the words of Shakespeare: “When these prodigious things do happen, let not men say they are natural. For I believe they are portentous upon the things that they do point upon.”