Sierra Leone:Youth and the proliferation of incitement messages

By Ishmael Sallieu Koroma

Photo depicting violence Scene in Freetown
Photo depicting violence Scene in Freetown

Youths make up the larger portion of Sierra Leone’s population with about 40 % of them below the age of 15 according to the 2015 census. They are any nation’s life blood to fuel growth and development; they are young and agile and can work in every sector be it formal or informal.  They have contributed in every facet in the development of the country. Our nation is blessed with a youthful population but experts say many countries in Africa have yet to fully utilised its youthful population. Lack of opportunities for the many youths, un employment, internet access, poverty to name a few are some of the things that hold Africa’s youthful population not to grow and are left behind in the transformational development of the continent.

For many years, youths have been left out in the decision making, participation and development of the country as they have been neglected and dejected in the society, many felt disgruntled by their circumstances they go through and when the war broke out, they were easily used to take up arms and ammunition.

  During the 11 years civil conflict, youths were at the centre for causing mayhem and untold suffering on innocent civilians, many turned rebels, some used as child soldiers destroying every fabric on our nation and their action left a lasting legacy on many lives. Today, even after the war has ended, most youths are still traumatised, unemployed, un educated with no future for them. There is a growing population of disgruntled and frustrated youths across the nation.

The findings of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission are very clear chief among them was endemic poverty, corruption, nepotism, the lack of respect of the rights and freedoms of individuals were the reason for our senseless civil conflict which claimed the lives of thousands of civilians, forced tens of thousands of people to flee to neighbouring countries and left many in ruins.

“The Commission found that the central cause of the war was endemic greed, corruption and nepotism that deprived the nation of its dignity and reduced most people into a state of poverty,’’ TRC report No. 34.

Like the findings speaks of itself, of the causes of our conflict and the failure of those in leadership position to act swiftly to prevent conflict were also the many reasons of our internecine war.

“The Commission, as its first primary finding, found that the conflict represented an extraordinary failure of leadership on the part of all those involved in government, public life and civil society.  No enlightened and visionary leaders emerged to steer the country away from the slide into chaos and bloody civil war,’’ TRC No. 33

These reasons for our darkest history still live with us even today with inciteful and hate speeches within our body politic and almost on our everyday discuss on social media. The 2018 elections saw one of the greatest tests of the country’s democracy with the incumbent ruling All Peoples Congress Party losing to the now ruling Sierra Leone Peoples Party. The election was marred with hate speeches, and incitement messages perpetrated by both the two leading political parties and even other opposition parties in the run up to the elections and after the elections. Almost three years, since the elections passed which ushered in the new government of President Julius Maada Bio the country has seen a rise in the proliferation of hates speeches and incitement messages perpetuated mostly by youths both at home and abroad.  This is a brewing trouble that has the propensity of destabilizing our hard earn peace we have been enjoying as a nation. These inciteful and hate speeches are mostly shared by youths living in the diaspora and are re-shared by other youths living within the country. Two people have been notoriously been popular for sharing inciteful and hate speeches on social media like Gibrill Bangura and one Adebayor both of whom are believed to be living abroad, with several social media self-styled commentators brewing up sharing the same. Their audios are very popular among young people and even the aged with some alleging that their audios are been listened widely by even elites and educated people. Rumours are that these two popular inciters and sharers of hate rhetoric’s are perceived members to belonging to the main opposition party APC, an allegation they vehemently denied.

 In September last year, the Sierra Leone Association of Journalists, the Human Rights Commission of Sierra Leone, the office of National Security and other rights groups have raised concern over the raging proliferation of hate speeches and outrightly condemning it urging anyone involved in this ugly act to stop it and will face the full force of the law.

“HRCSL however abhors messages of hate and division as they do not constitute the free speech envisaged by the repeal nor do they constitute the spirit and intendment contained in section 25 subsection (1) of the Constitution of Sierra Leone, 1991, Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), Article19 (1) & (2) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR),’’

“The HRCSL in its general monitoring role has been monitoring different social media platforms which have recently been flooded with hate messages and diatribes from Sierra Leoneans both within and outside the country with the aim of inciting civil and political unrest and ultimately bringing the State to a standstill,’’ HRCSL said in a statement.

“Freedom of speech is like a kitchen knife. When you take it out of the kitchen for other purposes like stabbing, then it becomes harmful to the victim and to yourself,” said President of SLAJ, Ahmed Sahid Nasralla.

SLAJ called on all media houses not to allow their platforms to be used as conduits for the dissemination of incendiary messages, fake news and disinformation thus calling on all journalists and other citizens not to share any such messages, if they receive them.

The effect of the impact of hate speech was visibly seen during the internecine war and was again seen in the Tombo situation in Tombo where it was alleged that Adebayor had incited the people in that community to come out in their numbers to pelt stones on authorities and to even burn down a police station, the house of the waterloo chief and caused properties worth millions of leones destroyed. Every day the people engaging in these activities keeps increasing and sadly little has been done in order to nap these perpetrators. The time to Act is now! we do not need as a country to come together when everything is upside down, we must handle this social trouble head on and started condemning this act entirely without fear or favour. Religious leaders, the National Commission for Civic education to name a few have a huge role to play in making sure they name and shame these bad eggs of our nation and to mount a robust surveillance system to track those involved in this horrendous act to suffer in jail if not it will affect our democracy, peace and general well-being as a nation.

“The Commission, as its first primary finding, found that the conflict represented an extraordinary failure of leadership on the part of all those involved in government, public life and civil society.  No enlightened and visionary leaders emerged to steer the country away from the slide into chaos and bloody civil war,’’ TRC No. 33

Executive Director for Citizens Advocacy Network (CAN) Thomas Moore Conteh said, the TRC report highlighted the causes of the war and it was clear in their findings that there was a huge disgruntled youthful population in the country and hence they were they able to be manipulated when the war broke out in 1991 and the mayhem, they caused were untold suffering of untold sufferings.

“As an organization that work around these issues as civil society activist, one of the things we do is, it is not just work to advocate, is also to provide civic consciousness for people so that they can know that these things are very dangerous. Hate messages and hate speeches have caused havoc in different countries in the world. For instance, in Rwanda, thousands and thousands of people lost their lives due to hates speeches, one tribe rises above the other tribe, the Hutus and Tutsi’s. They rise against themselves in Rwanda all because of hate speeches. Authorities go to the radio and started calling one tribe as cockroaches and because of that statement that nation degenerates into anarchy,’’ Thomas Moore Conteh said.

Conteh said that hate speeches have undermined the country’s national peace and cohesion citing that hate speeches and inflammatory messages now a days caused people that comes from different facets of society to see themselves as enemies stating that one tribe see the other as enemy.

“We still have a society that is highly embroiled and enmeshed in hateful conduct in the way we talk, in the way we act, very hateful and more often than not, it is youths that have become victims, and also the perpetrators of this unwholly act. In the war, we see how youths were at the fore front in the chopping of hands and burning down houses, slaughtering the belly of women, we see how youths were at the forefront to use and take drugs to cause mayhem and all these things happened as a result of hate, hate which stem from hate speeches and hate actions,’’ The CAN boss added.

The Civil society Activist however recommended that Government to take very honest steps to be able to bridge this divide in the country adding that it is evidently clear in Sierra Leone that the country is highly divided into tribal, sentimental and political lines.

Let us act now, or we risk sliding into an abyss of destruction again which is not absolutely our dream as a nation but to move forward towards a lasting peace and national cohesion.  

*This article is produced with support from MRCG through the ATJLF project on “Engaging the media to change the narrative on Transitional Justice (TJ) issues in Sierra Leone.

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