Abdul M Fatoma
The culture of Political violence is not new to Sierra Leoneans. The country’s historical narrative – before and after 1977, and to date is characterised by politically motivated incident of violence, torture, intimidation and false imprisonment. This culture of political violence is a gangrene that is eating into our values and the cord that is holding us together as Sierra Leoneans. This can be justified by the recent tribal sentiments and abuses directed at one tribe or region, the Bo incidence that resulted to stoning and burning of houses, the Fourah Bay bye-election saga to name but a few. With barely 133 days and 3234 hours count down to the 17th November 2012 multi tier national election, some segment of our society is predicting that this year general elections will be marred by violence. This is premised on the early warning signs in retrospect to the above instances I mentioned; one should get weary about the uncertainties that lie before us as a nation with the understanding of how modern internal conflicts are triggered. My question is when will Sierra Leone free itself from the grip of this menace, which continues to rupture the spirit of tolerance and friendliness as the best resources Sierra Leone can boast of? There is growing concern among the developed democracies about the problem of failed or fragile states; the genesis is triggered by political intolerance, hate speech, insincerity, etc. These failed states are breeding grounds for drug trafficking and transit, terrorism, disease and other threats to human security and no one country prefer to be a failed state. Therefore conscious and deliberate efforts needs to be taking by all and sundry to STOP politicians and their agents playing tricks with the lives of Sierra Leoneans as a means to their selfish desire. The dynamics of war between states can be explained in geo-political terms – as a contest for natural resources, a means of resolving disputes over territorial boundaries and so on as opposed to internal conflicts. We have not still learned how political machinations or manipulations through vote rigging, mustering of political opponents, hate messages / speeches etc that makes many societies can suddenly escalate into organised violence. I wish to warn the leadership of all political parties, their agents and supporters to behave responsibly and seek non violence approach as the foundation of peace as echoed by Mohandas (Mahatma) Karamchand Ghandi “from the beginning of time to the end of time, the force of truth and love always wins over violence. With this great force you can bring this world to your feet” I wish to respectfully ask our politicians to be mindful of their utterances and activities before, during and after the elections to promote national cohesiveness and reconciliation as manifested by Nelson Mandela and other great leaders of Africa. Our Organisation Campaign for Human Rights and Development Sierra Leone (CHRDSL) is closely watching your actions! Politicians should be mindful of the fact that it is not in the interest of any Sierra Leonean, to see our fledgling democracy and fragile peace shattered! I strongly believe Sierra Leone deserves comparable respect from the global community! We wouldn’t want to lose our enviable democratic stature in Africa. Democracy needs education, and education needs democracy. If we want a healthy democracy, we must have citizen involvement; and to get it we need to start with our selves. A community certainly uses its resources, organizes and regulates itself, maintains balances among competing interests, and must co-exist with the rest of the community. If democracy is the natural state of all living things, then democracy in our hearts and minds, not unrestricted freedom, but freedom with responsibility is the only healthy way to educate ourselves.
We strongly support the strengthening of the legal framework of the Political Parties Registration Commission (PPRC) to take stringent actions against violators not just naming and shaming; but placing life ban and sanctions against political parties and their leaders from holding leadership positions in any election related activities in the country. To this end I recommend a collaboratively action between the judiciary and the PPRC to ensure there is sanity in the political arena. My humble suggestion to the PPRC is that any politician caught giving support in any form to people to execute political violence for whatever reason must be banned from participating in political activities until death. I do not mean that culprits would not be allowed to vote. What I mean here is that anyone found to be aiding and abetting political violence should never be given the opportunity to contest in any election and to hold public position in the country. This would not be difficult because where there is a will, there is always a way. And if we are to eradicate or minimize violence from our political landscape, then drastic medicine should be administered to cure a drastic disease. We must encourage the democratic process wherever it is found and strengthen it where it is weak. We must aggressively tackle the issue of election fraud and deceit at every level and smooth the playing field for every segment of society. In our daily lives, we should think and feel peace within ourselves. We should treat each other with kindness and consideration, and we should live according to our own highest ideals and values as a Sierra Leonean. Political stability and socio-economic development is what the people of Sierra Leone want at this time not war! A government can work successfully if people are taking part by playing different roles in the process of governing. People can play a role in governance in terms of keeping government accountable to the delivery of services. Examples of areas the people should keep the government accountable for are health provision, education, protection (public order and security), etc. People can also play a role in governance in terms of fulfilling civil obligations. Examples by paying taxes, obeying the law and giving support to their lawful leaders. We must free ourselves from the restrictiveness of our past beliefs. We must remove the blinders that we have become accustomed to and that we are often not even aware of.
War, or any other violent behaviour, is not genetically programmed into human nature. Warfare has changed so radically that we know war is a product of culture. Biology does not condemn humanity to aggression. The same species that invented war is equally capable of inventing peace.
What about all the differences that seem to exist? There seem to be so many. There are differences among people, nations, and values. Sierra Leoneans we must embrace the fact that differences are part of the very core of the solution if we will grasp the opportunity for growth. When we work with differences and find the relationship of the difference to the whole we can begin to understand another’s view without accepting it. The German poet and novelist Wolfgang Van Goethe once said “Thinking is easy, acting is difficult, and to put thoughts into action is the most difficult thing in the world”. We spend our days waiting for the ideal path to appear in front of us, but we forget that paths are made by walking, not waiting. A Buddhist proverb says: “If we are facing in the right direction all we have to do is keep on walking”. The key question for our policy makers and the media alike is how to create a media framework and practice that can sustain such a public sphere in a post war nation like Sierra Leone. Over time the public sphere has been constituted through a range of institutions which changed through time. Media, such as newspapers, were part of this process from the eighteenth century onwards, but by the end of the twentieth century we have ‘mass societies’ constituted by mass media, Principally broadcast media (more radio than television internationally, but supplemented by newspapers, cinema, social networking site, internet and mobile phones – the increasingly converged world of modern communications). This is a complex situation that requires a careful and measured policy response. In conclusion I may borrow a word from Mahatma Gandhi “if you want to see the brave, look at those who can forgive. If you want to see heroic, look at those who can love in return for hatred”
Note: The Author, Abdul Fatoma, is Chief Executive, Campaign for Human Rights & Development Sierra Leone (CHRDSL)