By Lawrence Williams……
The Secretary General
United Nations Headquarters
13th September, 2017.
RE: AN OPEN LETTER TO THE UNITED NATIONS SECRETARY-GENERAL.
I am writing this open letter to draw your attention to the rising tide of political violence and intimidation being meted out by the ruling All People’s Congress (APC) on opposition political party representatives and supporters.
I am doing so based on the assumption that you are aware about the Presidential and Parliamentary elections in Sierra Leone, which are scheduled to take place on Wednesday 7th March, 2018.
This complaint is also informed by the growing concerns from the general populace about what impact the current trend of political intimidation would have on the conduct and outcome of the electoral process, and whether the elections will consolidate or endanger the fragile peace in my country.
I am a hoping that you would find time to go through the following major concerns I have tried to list below and hopefully be in a position to take early and timely actions to ensure a peaceful outcome of the forthcoming elections in Sierra Leone.
The present political climate has been largely characterised by hate speeches deeply rooted in the bellicose relationships between and among members belonging to the political class. Politicians are now in the habit of trading hate speeches in debates on radio and television. Hate speeches are also carried out mostly in the newspapers owned or financed by politicians.
On the other hand, social media has become a market place for derogatory attacks and viscous political propaganda. Of serious concern is the usage of social media platforms where unprocessed and unverified information is quickly circulated without recourse to the far-reaching consequences it might have on the electoral cycle.
Political Violence and Intimidation
Internal strife in some political parties has resulted to violent confrontations that have caused loss of lives and destruction of property. There are worrying trends of extreme political violence and intimidation by ruling party agents against opposition and dissident movements.
For instance, in June 2016, violence broke out between the supporters of the ruling All People’s Congress (APC) and the main opposition Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP) during a campaign rally for Parliamentary bye-election in Constituency 001, Kailahun District. I have seen pictorial and other forms of evidence that show supporters of the SLPP Presidential Flag bearer aspirant, Julius Maada Bio in Constituency 20, Kono District, beating up their chairman Tamba S. Farmah. The latter was hospitalized in a critical condition. In that same month, violent skirmishes between supporters of rivaling SLPP Flag bearer aspirants, Maada Bio and John Benjamin, resulted in the murder of one Mohamed Karimu, an ardent follower of John Benjamin.
In July 2016, some supporters of the All People’s Congress attacked opposition leader Mohamed Kamarainba Mansaray of the Alliance Democratic Party (ADP) and his supporters in Lunsar, stabbed his driver and vandalized his vehicle.
In January 2017, the civil rights activist and Chief Executive Officer of Campaign for Human Rights and Development International, Abdul M. Fatoma, was arbitrarily arrested and detained on the orders of Parliament for asking the same to account for monies received as Constituency Development Fund.
In March 2017, founding member of the newly formed National Progressive Democrats Party, Jesmed Suma, was arrested for standing in solidarity with protesting students of the Njala University.
On June 1st 2017, ADP leader, Mohamed Kamaraimba Mansaray was arrested on “politically motivated” charges and locked up twice in the Kenema prison.
In the early hours of Tuesday 29th August 2017, the opposition ADP headquarter was set on fire by people who had allegedly thrown a “petrol bomb” into the building. Its leader described the situation as “politically motivated”.
The general socio-economic situation in the country is very alarming. The vast majority of Sierra Leoneans live below the poverty line as defined by the United Nations, World Bank and other international bodies. Everyday life is a major challenge for most children, particularly those in rural communities. Clean water, electricity, healthcare and education are out of reach for many. Citizens’ lack of access to affordable shelter and job opportunities is too much to talk about. Recent reports rank Sierra Leone at the top of the list of countries with the highest mortality rate and the worst place on planet earth for youths to live and develop. Discontentment and disgruntlement is rife among the jobless youths and environmental disasters have become common place due to gross mismanagement of resources and failed policies.
Financial impropriety has become the hallmark of the ruling party’s governance in the last four years and so many agree that corruption will be the major issue to campaign on in the 2018 elections. Debates on government’s reckless spending and lack of accountability have sparked widespread agitation among members of the ruling government. Its failure to properly account for Ebola funds; procurement of 100 Chinese buses at $12 Million; multiplier Wellington-Masiaka Toll Road agreement (62Kg Rd) at $161 Million and many other concerns have created deep-seated animosity among the general citizenry.
Other Serious Issues
There are serious doubts over the credibility of the National Electoral Commission (NEC) Voters Register, as 39,276 records of voters are reported to have been missing from the electronic data. This is at variance with Articles 2(1) and 5 of the ECOWAS Protocol on Democracy and Good Governance.
Article 2 (1): “No substantial modification shall be made to the electoral laws in the last six (6) months before the elections, except with the consent of a majority of Political actors.”
Article 5: “The voters’ lists shall be prepared in a transparent and reliable manner, with the collaboration of the political parties and voters who may have access to them whenever the need arises.”
Additionally, the Commission is deliberately starved of the necessary funds needed to conduct the business of elections. This is because its Chairman has refused to countenance every attempt by the Executive to rig the electoral processes.
Article 1(b) of the ECOWAS Protocol on Democracy and Good Governance states that: “Every accession to power must be made through free, fair and transparent elections.”
Whilst the same ECOWAS Protocol shows “zero tolerance for power obtained or maintained by unconstitutional means” (Article 1(c), there are clandestine moves to extend the life of the Presidency and Legislature through a ‘More Time’ campaign launched years back.
An attempt to extend the constitutional term limits of President Koroma and Members of Parliament backfired recently, following heavy criticism from the media and some credible civil society organizations.
It is also very common for the government to abrasively castigate civil society and media practitioners/institutions it considers not acting in their interest. In one instance President Koroma described their patriotic stance as “radio talk shops” and “incoherent articles”.
Historical Antecedent Of The Ruling Party Government
The fact that violence is embedded in the current APC politics cannot be over emphasized. From 1968 – 1971, all elections conducted during this period were characterized by violence and intimidation. APC thugs beat up opposition supporters and set fire to houses belonging to them. Through the infamous “unopposed system”, APC mobilized thugs to terrorize opposition and stifle dissent. All this led to the creation of a one-party state with the then Siaka Stevens as Executive President. Stevens, whose comrade, Dr. M. S. Forna described as the “evil spirit behind the use of force and violence”, instituted a highly centralized, inefficient and corrupt bureaucratic system of government, marginalizing the people and robbing them off their rights and freedoms. The price paid to end APC long years of tyranny was a civil war conducted on an unprecedented scale. You know the rest!
I am craving your indulgence to intervene and take all necessary steps in ensuring a violent-free election and a peaceful transition of power in Sierra Leone. Our election must be seen as a means to a democratic society; not an end in themselves. As you once said, “Peace must be our goal and our guide”.
I look forward to hearing from you at your earliest convenience
Journalist and Pro-poor advocate.
U.K High Commission
UN Country Representative