• December 18, 2023

Security Breach-A Failed Coup Attempt Shakes Freetown: Unveiling the Harsh Realities of Conflict and Economic Struggles

Security Breach-A Failed Coup Attempt Shakes Freetown: Unveiling the Harsh Realities of Conflict and Economic Struggles
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By: Sulaiman Stom Koroma

In a slowing-down episode that sent shockwaves through the rushing city of Freetown, residents awoke to the noisy echoes of gunshots reverberating through the morning air. The peace and tranquillity that usually accompanied the dawn hours were shattered as an unprecedented security breach unfolded at a local army barracks at Wilberforce. What initially seemed like a routine disturbance quickly escalated into a full-blown crisis, catching the residents off guard and plunging the city into a state of uncertainty. “In the early hours of this morning, there was a breach of security at the Military Barracks at Wilberforce in Freetown, as some unidentified individuals attacked the military armory,” said President Madaa Bio in his first address to the nation after the outbreak.

As the sun rose over the Lion Mountain, the streets became a theatre of chaos, with anxious stories spreading like wildfire among the confused citizens of Freetown. The mere notion of a security breach was later confirmed as a coup attempt on their doorstep was unimaginable not in the very heart of their city. Mohamed Koroma is a resident of Wilberforce, he said the experience he had that faithful morning, will never be forgotten so soon. “I am not used to gunshots, never heard it before apart from movies I watch, guns were blazing, I was hiding under my bed. I thought I was going to die”.

For years, Freetown had been a bastion of stability and progress, its people striving for peace and prosperity. However, the events of that fateful day shook the foundations of this vibrant city and tested the resilience of its inhabitants. The sudden eruption of violence and the subsequent panic that gripped Freetown would force every resident to confront the grim realities of political unrest and the fragility of democracy. “The PEACE of our beloved NATION is PRICELESS and we shall continue to protect the peace and security of Sierra Leone against the forces that wish to truncate our much-cherished stability. We remain resolute in our determination to protect democracy in Sierra Leone and I urge all Sierra Leoneans to unite towards this collective responsibility”. President Bio said.

Sierra Leone, a country striving to maintain a fragile democracy, faces a grave challenge as an attempted coup threatens its stability. It is apparent, that the aftermath of such an event will bring about hardships that will affect the nation’s people and exacerbate existing struggles, which have been going on for years now. John Koroma is a political analyst, he believes that the consequences are galore but few are these: decline in security, economic strangulation, Investment opportunities decline deep down, and Mistrust increases between the Governing and the Governed.

The attempted coup on the 26th of November 2023 in Sierra Leone serves as a stark reminder of the dangers inherent in conflicts and political instability, apart from the brutal war, the country has gone through many trying times- the Ebola, VOVID-19, and Mudslide in the outskirts of the city. Beyond the immediate consequences on the economy and fragile democracy, it is the people who bear the brunt of such turmoil. Sierra Leoneans face increased hardships, struggling to sustain themselves amidst rising costs and diminished opportunities. As the international community rallies to support Sierra Leone, it is vital to address the root causes of unrest and invest in sustainable solutions that protect lives, rebuild institutions, and foster lasting peace. John Caulker is the Executive Director of Fambul Tok International, an organization that is working on reconciliation in post-war, Ebola, and other disputes, he said that in such a situation, the government should “balance the act”.

Sierra Leone is no stranger to coups, as it has seen two coups- the 1992 coup d’état was staged by a group of young military officers led by 25-year-old Captain Valentine Strasse. Strasser took control of the government, deposing President Joseph Saidu Momoh. The 25 May 1997 coup ousted President Ahmed Tejan Kabbah and brought to power the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC), under the leadership of Major Johnny Paul Koroma. Being a coup plotter himself, Valentin Strasser understands what coups can lead to. “It is with great disappointment and concern that I addressed you today regarding the failed coup attempt that took place on November 26th. As someone who has experienced the consequences and devastation caused by a coup, I feel compelled to speak out against such actions and condemn them in the strongest possible terms. Having led the NPRC coup on April 29th, 1992, I understand the chaos, violence, and instability that a coup can bring upon a nation. It is a dark chapter in our history that we should strive to overcome and never repeat. The attempted coup on November 26th represents a threat to the hard-earned peace and progress that Sierra Leone has achieved over the years.”. Captain Valentine Strasser Former Chairman of the NPRC.

This attempted coup may have taken its toll on various other countries which has seen coups of late, from 2020, Africa has experienced several coups, in Gabon on July 26, 2023, the military announced that they had overthrown President Mohamed Bazoum. Burkina Faso had two in 8 months -On January 24, 2022, President Roch Marc Christian Kaboré was ousted, and by September 30, Captain Ibrahim Traoré was invested as transitional president. In Sudan, on October 25, 2021, soldiers led by General Abdel Fattah al-Burhane chased out the transitional civilian leaders, who were supposed to lead the country towards democracy after 30 years of dictatorship of Omar al-Bashir. Next on the list was Guinea which on September 5, 2021, saw President Alpha Condé overthrown by a military coup. Just like Burkina Faso, Mali also had two coups in 9 months, on August 18, 2020, President Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta was overthrown by the military, but on May 24, 2021, the military arrested the president and the Prime Minister. Colonel Assimi Goïta was inaugurated in June as transitional president. In August, a group of Gabonese military officers deposed President Ali Bongo, whose family had ruled the country for nearly six decades.

According to Simon Rynn, a senior research fellow on African security at the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) in London, “There are so many factors pushing in [the] direction” of more coups in the region. “So many countries have had contested elections or have third-term presidents clinging to power, or have high insecurity or a stagnant economy,” Rynn told Al Jazeera. “We don’t know where might be affected by coup plotting next, but places like Cameroon, Togo, Senegal, and Benin are all struggling in various ways.” But for John Koroma, the Sierra Leone attempted coup may have been influenced by Socio-economic and Political factors “Justice in most members of the public views is seriously uneven. There could be times when justice tilts as always, the case but the point at which the current status quo prevails is considered the lowest ever. The alleged members involved in the Breaches/Attempted Coup targeted free prisoners crammed in cells whom they believed had been unfairly handed uneven justice as most were locked up without being charged to court on procedures despite pleas by their families and Rights groups. From August 10, 2022, to August 11 2023 followed by other arrests and detentions after the June 24 polls has all fueled hatred for the justice system. Any opportunity arising from unfortunate situations can take advantage to express this as did the plotters on that day”. He said. In a majority of the 28 countries surveyed between 2021 and 2022 by Afrobarometer, researchers found that most people would welcome a military government. “What we are seeing is the product of dysfunctional institutions and the fact that democracy hasn’t delivered the expectations of the local population,” Mutaru Mumuni Muqthar, executive director at the Accra-based West Africa Centre for Counter-Extremism, told Al Jazeera.

The attempted coup was negatively greeted by many, including the former president Ernest Bai Koroma, the opposition Flagbearer Dr. Samura Kamara, and the APC party who in their press release states that, they “firmly condemns the dastardly acts of violence of Sunday” the release called for “an inclusive, speedy, conclusive investigation that is fair, independent and transparent”. ECOWAS and other international bodies also condemned the act.  “A coup undermines the foundations of democracy, erodes trust in our institutions, and disrupts the lives of ordinary citizens. It tears apart the fabric of our society and jeopardizes the future of our beloved nation. We cannot allow such reckless actions to go unpunished or unchecked. We must learn from our past and strive for a future where political disagreements are resolved through peaceful means, dialogue, and respect for the rule of law. Let us focus on fostering national unity, promoting civic education, and empowering our citizens to actively participate in the democratic process”. Captain Valentine Strasser Former Chairman of the NPRC said.

During the attempted coup, some other military bases were attacked, and the central prison in Freetown was opened allowing prisoners to escape. Journalist Umaro Fofanah reported that “Of the 1,890 inmates who escaped from the central prison after Sunday’s jailbreak, 155 were serving life imprisonment and 831 were long-term convicts. There were 20 foreign nationals with 10 of them convicted and the others on remand or awaiting trial. 253 were on remand while 347 were categorized as being on trial. Hundreds of others were serving short-term jail sentences and two were under safe custody”. Berthan Lamin Bangura is the Project Manager for the Civil Society organization, Prison Watch he said the escaped prisoners should come back and serve their sentences and trials rather than continue to be at risk and be labeled as public enemy. On the prison break, he said “The continued reoccurrence of such acts is very worrisome, and the kinds of people who are out there now, are also a concern. For those who have voluntarily returned, they can be granted amnesty, because that is a show of statesmanship”.

The police issued a warrant of arrest for some individuals and those that escaped from prison. Soon the government said they had arrested 80 people who they believed had a hand in the attempted coup. “Therefore, let all be rest assured that we will follow the evidence wherever it leads us, and all those found culpable, no matter their status, shall be held fully to account for their actions within the confines of the law whilst at the same time also recognizing the wider demands of justice and freedom”. Said President Bio in his second speech to the nation. And the “evidence lead” was to the former president of the country Ernest Bai Koroma who is now been investigated for what the government says is evidence linking him to the failed coup attempt, and called him a suspect.

Meanwhile, a statement from the Ministry of Information and Civic Education says 20 people, including 16 loyalist soldiers, 1 police officer, 1 correctional service officer, 1 journalist, and 1 civilian who died by an astray bullet were killed in the attacks, the officers were laid to rest on Wednesday, December 6, 2023.

Coups in many parts of the world are always necessitated by something, a report by the Institute of Governance Reform just after the failed coup attempt to look into what people think would have been the cause of the coup shows that “Given the lack of disclosure about a motive, there has been a bevy of mixed interpretations among commentators and interest groups. For some, the failed coup is motivated by economic hardship, and credibility issues with the June 24th election, and echoes a trend of coups in Africa for others, it is either a symptom of a deeper political division that leaves the nation in urgent need of political dialogue and reconciliation4 or is part of a chain of violent disturbances promoted by anti-democratic forces unsatisfied with the change of government since 2018”. According to Jonathan Asante-Otchere, a political analyst and lecturer at Ghana’s University of Cape Coast, citizens in many countries “are not seeing the dividends of democracy”. That is a key reason, he said, “why the coup makers seem to enjoy that kind of support”, though Asante-Otchere also cautioned that it is unclear whether that support will last. However, according to good governance expert Valnora Edvin, one of the key issues that are responsible for political struggles and good government in Sierra Leone is when the citizens think they don’t have justice and that justice is selective, they do not have the space where their voices would be heard “ over times we have been seeing that happening in different forms- the Tombo issue, the issue in Makeni, the issue at Pademba Road with the prisoners, a lot of things have been happing over time. When you say things that affect the country, they start labeling you as an opposition”. She told Liberty TV Online.

Striving for stability, Sierra Leone has made significant strides toward establishing a democracy that respects the will of its people. However, the attempted coup poses a threat to this delicate balance. Political instability blocks progress, jeopardizing democratic institutions, and leaving citizens disillusioned with their leaders. With weakened governance structures, corruption may flourish, impeding efforts to address societal challenges. As citizens lose faith in their leaders, social cohesion suffers, potentially fueling further unrest. Undoubtedly, attempted coups and conflicts inflict severe damage on a country’s economy. Sierra Leone, once on a path toward economic growth, now faces setbacks. Investor confidence dwindles, foreign aid may diminish, and essential industries suffer. Infrastructure development projects stall, limiting opportunities for employment and economic expansion. Such conditions have a direct impact on the cost of living, making it increasingly challenging for ordinary citizens to sustain themselves amidst rising prices, limited job prospects, and reduced access to basic services.

The state CID is currently investigating more than 80 people including the former president who the government says may have been involved in the attempted coup, more people are been arrested and an updated list of wanted people has also been issued with the daughter of the former president, current and past security of the former president on it. For the IGR caution is necessary while leaning on the rule of law “In the immediate term, maintain professionalism in prosecuting and punishing individuals behind the violent crime, in line with the rule of law, constitutional principles, and human rights standards and to not target any political party; and in the medium to longer-term promote greater reform of the security sector through rapid recruitment of personnel and providing training in ethics, inclusivity, and professionalism to the current serving men and women”.  For good governance expect Valnoral Edwin the get to the bottom of what exactly may have caused this may be needful “Let us examine why people are complaining and let us try to address it”.

The next few months will be a litmus test for this West African nation, with inflation, hardship, and high cost of living troubling its citizens, coupled with the post-election peace deal recommendations between the government and the main opposition which is hung in a balance, now the former president under house arrest, plus his daughter and other people on a wanted list, the court of appeal’s rulings demanding the former president and the flagbearer of the opposition to refund billions of Leones and the silence of many Sierra Leoneans, it’s a long walk on a slippery floor.

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