Divisive Politics Hindering Progress in Sierra Leone

Mr. James, a disabled victim of Sierra Leone's civil war, lives in a village for amputees near Freetown. (Photo: Issouf Sanogo / AFP-Getty Images)

Well-meaning compatriots and friends of Sierra Leone have been working assiduously to restore the country's tarnished image around the world that was earned during a brutal 11-year civil war. However some ill-bred elements, mostly unemployed youths, are striving just as hard to make the soiled image permanent.

The Awareness Times newspaper published an article on March 13 headlined, "Sierra Leone's Opposition Party HQ Attacked by Ruling Party." It described a political event that started out as a celebration, then later turned dark and bloody in an appalling, barbaric, and unacceptable manner. It must be condemned in the strongest terms.

The rivalry between the two main political parties, the ruling All Peoples Congress (A.P.C.), and the main opposition Sierra Leone People's Party (S.L.P.P.) is not a novelty in this war-riddled nation. Frequent friction and skirmishes between obsessive pundits of both parties have not improved their image nor given an advantage to either party in terms of displaying superior political maturity. The ideology, bitterness and hatred between the two are very strong and high-spirited. It is as if the lessons taught by warfare and national fragmentation went down the toilet. Tolerance between both parties is apparently in the tank.

The people are looking for peaceful and visionary leadership in a nation that is perceived by the international community as very backward and chronically underdeveloped. This is the truth that Sierra Leoneans have to wrestle with instead of this obsession to belong to either the A.P.C. or S.L.P.P. Through the world's lens we are all Sierra Leoneans, or Africans for those who see the continent as a monolithic group of people.

What are party revelers celebrating, when this nation cannot even feed itself, while expansive fertile land is inadequately cultivated? An adequate amount of Seeds must be nursed to achieve food security in a country that imports its own staple food, rice. Freetown suffers from acute water shortages, not due to drought but to an outmoded and broken water supply system. There is no time for reveling, but for serious reflection and accountability from elected leaders. The question of whether the nation is progressing or retrogressing is a suitable premise for peaceful and intelligent debate, hopefully leading to tangible resolutions. A contest of new ideas leading to reconciliation is what the people need to move forward, away from its dismal international image.

I don't wear any political hat or colors, nor do I intend to do so. I rationalize this disaster as a national disgrace that mirrors a dearth of functional leadership, intolerance and a democracy plagued with deadly ignorance. Like a diagnostic test, this is the systemic elephant that hunts this tiny nation of about 6 million people. The engine of government is defective and needs serious fixing or overhaul.

This is not the first time that the movie of violence has aired, usually perpetrated by lawless folk against innocent and law-abiding citizens. Those who lead and claim to know better should by all means endeavor to do better. Shedding blood and taking the law into one's hands is unacceptable. When politics gets very divisive and radioactive, with pundits acting as loose cannons, a disservice is done to the electorate. Enough blood has been shed already during the nation's bleak history. Innovative ideas for reconstruction, development, education and job creation should occupy the front burner on the list of priorities at this time, not unwarranted violence. There are too many idle and mischievous hands roaming the streets of Sierra Leone, and these individuals have become a menace to themselves and others. It only takes a match to ignite a fire that could spread quickly, causing untold horror and destruction. It's cheaper to prevent a fire than trying to extinguish it when it is already blazing.

High unemployment among the nation's youths means many time bombs are waiting to go off at any time. Is this what to expect at this precarious moment? Who's in charge here, and where is the pendulum of democracy and justice teetering towards? Our educational system has failed, especially among the young people. Teachers, like Cinderella, still languish without receiving salaries for months on end, even after demanding the attention of the authorities. No one takes them seriously. Is this not the reason why we had a mass exodus of brain power to global markets where one is respected and adequately compensated for his/her talent and skill? When negotiation and reconciliation end up in deadlock, violence earns a free ride.

Recently, during the inter-secondary school sports competition, some students saturated with malicious hate attended the sports contest with knives, guns and other deadly weapons, with the intent to do bodily harm to other students. The event later ended in a fiasco. Police intervention with excessive force resulted in pandemonium, and innocent students sustained multiple injuries. Earlier, secondary students had attacked police with invectives and weapons when the officers were called in to restore law and order. While at Fourah Bay College, the University of Sierra Leone, some students went on a rampage executing vandalism and assaults upon others on the campus.

An endemic culture of violence has fermented among young people, who are expected to take over the mantle of leadership in the near future. Our present leaders need to address this cancer that is now full-blown. But how did we get here? Memories and images of a decade-long war still haunt our people. Who is in charge in Sierra Leone? The absence of good leadership is a recipe for a tragic train wreck of a nation seemingly heading toward a perilous ride.

The poor people of Sierra Leone are demanding peace and justice from the government that they worked very hard to elect. Those in the Diaspora are biting their nails and asking, "Is this the society that the government wants us to return to and contribute to national development, and investing our treasure and hard-earned skills?" I don't think so. We all can and must do better to heal and work as a community to move forward this beautiful land of our birth that we love so dearly. Only Sierra Leoneans can build and develop Sierra Leone. Some have the will and skill to do so, if only we could put aside our pettiness and think selflessly, leading by example.

View the Worldpress Desk’s profile for Roland Bankole Marke.