Social media pictures show an unknown senior police officer in a pool of blood, dead. His death follows a trail of other officers who have fatally bitten the dust after nationwide protests on Wednesday in Sierra Leone’s capital, Freetown.
The protests began on Monday, August 8, 2022, when Sierra Leoneans embarked on a massive sit-down strike dubbed “August 8th’’.
The strike, according to reports from local media, was a result of soaring prices of commodities in the market amidst a bitter cocktail of other social and economic problems.
The protest, which started as an ordinary sit-down strike, escalated into violent and rowdy encounters between the protestors and security agencies.
Police and protesters are locking horns in what appears like a street combat. Several protesters have died. The number of fatalities is unclear at the moment.
In response to the national uproar, the Strategic Communications Unit of the Ministry of Communications held a special television discussion programme on the state-run broadcaster, the Sierra Leone Broadcasting Corporation (SLBC), where a nationwide curfew was announced.
The curfew was to be in force from August 10, 2022, to August 11, 2022, from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. each day except for essential workers at hospitals, hotels, radio stations, television stations, telecommunication companies, Electricity Generation and Transmission Company (EGTC), and Electricity Distribution and Supply Authority (EDSA), with valid identification, who are allowed to move around during the period of the curfew.
The head of the police in Sierra Leone’s Northern Region, Gabriel Tommy, said the duration of the curfew remained indefinite. The provincial towns of Makeni, Magburaka, and Kamakwei were the first to be put under curfew.
Several government buildings have been earmarked with threats of being torched.
The Youyi building in central Freetown which houses up to 10 Government Ministries and Departments happens to be one such endangered infrastructure on the verge of being demolished.
The message from protesters across the country remains the same, that President Julius Maada Bio must go.
The Minister of Information and Communications, Mohamed Rahman Swarray, while responding to an interview from the BBC, said “the Military Aid to Civil Power (MACP) has been fully enforced. There is a visible presence of the army working to restore law and order. Self-seeking politicians are behind this uprising exploiting the joblessness situation among the youth.”
A journalist in Freetown, who pleaded anonymity, told The Fourth Estate that the lives of some staff of the state-run Sierra Leone Broadcasting Corporation have been threatened over their coverage of the protests. Some protestors say those reports are biased, nonfactual, and pro-government.
According to him, a cameraman of the SLBC was beaten, and another, a veteran broadcaster, Daniel Moseray, was chased. One of the corporation’s cars was damaged in the process.
The government shut down internet access in the country on Wednesday, August 10, 2022, with the hope of stifling external communications to citizens in Sierra Leone, but that yielded little effect. A few hours later, all networks were fully restored but the protests are becoming more rapid, and destructive.
Several police stations across the country have already been burnt.
A Sierra Leonean citizen-journalist living in Holland, who is famous for making monologue series on social media about societal ills in the country, has been labelled by a government official as an instigator of the protests. He has been accused of doing so with inciteful recordings.
The country’s presidential spokesman, Alpha Kanu, indirectly called the activist an “intellectual miscreant’’ on national TV.
A month ago, hundreds of market women in Freetown took to the streets in peaceful protests over what they described as bad government economic policies, which, they argued, were having a crushing effect on the economy and their living conditions. This resulted in the arrest and detention of many of them, including a famous opposition politician, Femi Claudius-Cole, who was later released after almost a week in custody.
Sierra Leone’s currency, the Leones, was redenominated and launched in July 2022, but its effect remains unnoticeable.
Youth unemployment and desperation are raising the level of discontentment in the country.
Sierra Leoneans are desperate for a change not just in politics but in the economy. The wave of protests as a result of hardship is currently blowing in the country, and its end largely remains a puzzle.
After two decades of ending one of the worst civil wars in Africa, the effects of which are yet to be fully remedied, many fear this current situation, if not handled properly, could plunge another disaster.
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The writer of this report, Victor Jones, is a Fellow of the Next Generation Investigative Journalism Fellowship at the Media Foundation for West Africa.