5 November 2012

Sierra Leone: Ritual Murders Threaten to Recall War


A woman has been killed at Six-Mile Village, 26 miles from the capital Freetown, her breasts and private parts cut off, and her heart plucked out, apparently for ritual purposes ahead of the November 17, 2012 elections. The matter is currently being tried by the Waterloo Magistrate Court, but it is going on at a snail pace. The suspects most times refuse to attend court. This has sent shock waves down the spines of residents of the village and its environs.

When the ritual murder was first uncovered, the media initially howled about it but paradoxically has been silent, and it has been observed that sometimes stories about the issue are killed by editors. But let us ask the following questions: who is emboldening these suspects? Why? Is the issue politically connected? Why should there be political interference? If not, why is the matter still not progressing? Why should someone send unknown men in police uniform to terrorize witnesses when the matter was initially discovered? These are questions that need to be answered by someone in authority. Lawyers in Freetown need to help the deceased because she has no lawyer to represent her interest in the matter. And many lawyers are reluctant to travel to Waterloo.

The prevalence of these barbaric acts across the nation does not augur well for peace in the country. It is a sign of degenerating peace. I remember when the war escalated in the country in the 90s, President Kabbah was talking about "unconditional surrender" of the Revolutionary United Front (RUF), but somewhere along the line either out of pressure or the need to consolidate his gains, he spoke of amnesty to all rebels who laid down their arms. I was not happy with the pronouncement. In an article I published in the 'Afro Times' newspaper, while I was its editor, I asked President Kabbah if he would kiss and hug anyone he knew who could have killed his son or daughter or relative or who roasted them alive or amputated them? I pointed out that if the war ended with a blanket amnesty, the worst war would come into Sierra Leone and it would be a war of revenge. Many people thought I was too daring because of the words I used. But that is the sort of journalist I am. I call a spade a spade as long as it is for the benefit of the country. Talking of war crimes trial even by then, my own idea was that it should start as far back as 1977 when politicians sent thugs to butcher people with impunity. But others said it was too remote and had no connection with the war. I wondered why, because every war has remote causes. But that is the past; let us return to this ritual murder issue.

It was in the 1980s that Alhaji Tokowa, who murdered a baby and used the skin for ritual purposes, was convicted in the High Court of Sierra Leone after a marathon trial. Years after that incident, there have been several other murders connected with rituals, but in some instances suspects escape the net of the law. But what is menacing about rituals is when they are connected with politics. It makes you jittery and start asking, "How safe are we?" Have you ever been a victim? If your father or mother or any of your relative had been murdered for ritual purposes you would understand what I am trying to drive home.

The woman who has been murdered at Six Mile Village, 26 miles from the capital Freetown, has left about four children. Who would take care of them? How would they feel when they grow up and someone points out the suspects to them? We are talking of a situation if its prevalence continues lays down the conditions for a war. There is never a war if the prevalent conditions are not in existence. The killing of a diplomat in Sarajevo would not have sparked World War II if the conditions for a world war had not existed. The First and Second Gulf wars would not have taken place if the conditions for war had not existed. The war in Liberia would not have taken place if the conditions for war had not existed. The war in Sierra Leone would not have occured if the conditions had not existed. The Arab Spring (Arab uprisings) would never have taken place in Egypt, Libya, Tunisia and Syria if the necessary conditions had never existed. (My apologies to readers for my tautological expressions. They expose my state of mind at the time of putting this article together and also indicate recurring emphases).

Although people like Paul Collier have asserted that wars in Africa are all about politics of the belly, there are other factors responsible for outbreaks of wars apart from economic reasons. Some people, especially Sierra Leonean Dr. Ibrahim Abdullah, have rejected Collier's use of econometrics and statistical progression for the predictions of wars in Africa, because these are not appropriate instruments to predict human actions, since human actions can be unpredictable. But somewhere along the line, I want to agree with Collier. Even though econometrics and statistical progressions cannot account for human actions, yet still inferences from them can be used to make presumptions, especially where there has been no definite explanation for a phenomenon. We cannot definitely explain the true causes of wars in Africa because of the complexity of the dynamics that are at play: Scenario One may be different from Scenario Two and so on and so forth. So, making generalizations from those scenarios may be very elusive. It invokes the need for hypothesis. But we as local analysts need to take cognizance of what is usually called the "prevalent conditions" like those negative constitutional endowments and statutory provisions. When once the events that flow from the violations of these constitutional endowments and statutory provisions create prevalent conditions, there is likelihood to be a violent reaction in the near future, because there is bound to be an organic solidarity amongst those who perceive themselves as victims and those who sympathize and empathize with them. This would in turn have a multiplier effect. In the midst of that eruptive situation, when the lid goes up, an explosion is bound to take place.

The reason for putting issues in different contexts here is to underscore the gravity of the incident at Six-Mile Village in Newton. People are crying for lack of justice and they are being subjected to silence by those who boastfully claim to have connections with those in the upper echelons of government, something which I am investigating and I'm putting all the evidential facts together. This is where the international community should start taking note. It is not just a matter of trying people at The Hague after the worst scenarios have taken place. There is need for pre-emptive action. The United States is represented in Sierra Leone by its embassy in Freetown, the United Kingdom by its High Commission, and various countries are also diplomatically represented. I guess they must have read about the incident and must have taken notice of the silence of the media after the incident. This is an issue that the Office of National Security (ONS), civil society organisations, the media and all diplomatic missions should be concerned about. I am doing my own follow up and I am urging those who have concern for human lives to do the same.

If this trend continues and it is coupled with the reticence of the media, it is an indication that we are sitting on a time bomb.

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