Sierra Leone Rocked by Protests

Photo source: Al Jazeera

By Naveed Qazi | Editor, Globe Upfront

Freetown in Sierra Leone exploded into violence in August 2022 due to persistent economic hardships, and a government failure in ameliorating the impact of rising costs. As clashes broke out, most of the dwellers of Freetown stayed indoors.

People believed it was a sudden explosion of violence, as many government buildings and private property were destroyed. Due to this, government forces patrolled the streets, and a tense, eerie calm returned with ordinary life gradually returning.

But, due to the intensity of the protests common people were shocked. Apart from Freetown, the protests had been also concentrated in the opposition's northern heartland. Female protestors had too joined the political protestors, and it added to the mayhem.

It was unclear who was behind the destruction, but Freetown’s mayor, Yvonne Aki Sawyerr, an opponent to the current government, revealed in a statement in August 2022 that the city council was not responsible for it. Abdul Rashid Thomas, wrote in an Oped for Sierra Leone Telegraph that the destruction of property by protestors was uncalled for, despite the constitution guaranteeing the right to protest and peaceful demonstrations.

It also seems that the youth in Sierra Leone, largely unemployed, who drove the crises, have time and again been misused, abused and refused on several fronts. The civil war in the past has been fresh in their minds, and it gave them a stimulus for violence, including beating police officers to death.

It was during President Kabba’s time when he had promised that the Truth and Reconciliation was a process that needed to be put in order, to ensure peace was safeguarded. However, this promise for peaceful reforms was strained during Koroma’s presidency, eventually resulting in a transition from the All People’s Conference to Sierra Leone Peoples Party in the 2018 elections. It was hoped under President Bio that the arrangement of peace would be strengthened and his government would usher the change. Until now, most people are not satisfied, it seems. In fact, people have witnessed the use of extra-judicial measures, such as disappearances, intimidation and killings which were commonplace under the NPRC / AFRC era with the specific aim of silencing the collective voice.

The role of the church in pacifying the crises during the protests was also highlighted in the media. As the president, and some of the cabinet members are catholic, the catholic church had issued statements, to put out Christian values in place to promote the common good, and a good life for everybody.

According to World Bank data, more than half of the population live below the poverty line, so the venting out of people’s frustration was meant to happen sooner or later. Due to the war in Ukraine, the country was badly affected by inflation, like many other African countries. It was also affected by Ebola and coronavirus outbreaks.

Sierra Leone had enjoyed relative stability since it emerged from a civil war between 1991 and 2002 that, according to the United Nations, left at least 70,000 people dead and 2.6 million displaced. But, it remains among the world’s poorest countries despite its extensive mineral resources. Nearly thirty per cent of Sierra Leone’s population suffers from chronic hunger, according to the World Food Program. For agriculturalists, the situation is also troublesome as the cost of fertilisers has spiked up.

According to an Oped in New York Times, by Elian Peltier and Yaya Barry, Sierra Leone’s central bank removed three zeros from its banknotes in July 2022, hoping to restore confidence in the currency and reduce the amount of paper money in circulation while keeping its value unchanged.

In a leaked report by Politico, Sierra Leone is also struggling with food imports. Food accounts for about a third of merchandise imports in Sierra Leone.

The government had accused the opposition of inciting the demonstrations. The country’s vice president, Mohammed Juldeh Jalloh in a televised speech in August 2022 had said that ‘for the last several weeks some self-serving Sierra Leoneans have intensified the call for violence and the forceful overthrow of the legitimate government of President Julius Maada Bio.’ The president himself in another media interview described this week’s protests as acts of terrorism. It has been believed that a Sierra Leonean citizen residing in Holland has been accused of instigating the insurrection.

According to police spokesman Brima Kamara, the ex-pat was believed to be using various accounts on Facebook to spread hate against the ruling SLPP party. That’s why, to curb the situation, the Internet had been blocked at several places, to stop the protests from spreading. It also led to the arrest of more than a hundred persons.

As an answer to this, the United Nations, the European Union and the United States issued pleas for calm in August 2022. Amnesty International also urged the Sierra Leonean authorities to hold accountable those responsible for the deaths of protesters.


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