Siege! 15 Arrested 19 Injuries

What happened in the Central Business District (CBD) of the capital Freetown on Sunday afternoon 26th January, 2020 has left many ordinary citizens very worried that if the government does not put its feet down hard on youth induced violence, worst is yet to come that would throw the entire state and its people into chaos and anarchy. The government can afford to overlook this real threat to the peace and security of its people at its own peril.

According to eye-witness report, contrary to reports that it was red clad APC youths that attacked the SLPP headquarters that caused a running battle along the area from the SLPP headquarters on Wallace Johnson Street into parallel Lightfoot Boston Street on to the shopping center of Ecowas Street, the breaking into shops, burning of vehicles and assault on and harming of innocent passersby by the youths involved was well orchestrated and executed.

Significantly, eye-witnesses reported that this mob of criminals, fearless of the law and consequences, were armed with cutlasses and other dangerous instruments for harming people and shop breaking.

According to report, fifteen people have been arrested and are under police custody helping with investigation, whilst nineteen were injured. 

This latest incidence of lawlessness reportedly came in the wake of a political confrontation between SLPP and APC youths outside the APC headquarters last week in which, as in this one, several people received serious injuries.

Whilst the Minister of Information and Communications in downplaying the incident said it was one of several isolated incidents, Sierra Leoneans warned that this was a very serious issue bordering on the peace and security of the state and its people that the government could not afford to sweep under the carpet because it would have many adverse direct and indirect socioeconomic consequences on the country.

The critical question is, given the negative social attitudes that have become so prevalent in youths in especially the urban areas, how do we as a nation maintain the country’s hard won peace so that we will not encounter another nightmare along the way as it happened to us in the 1990s? Experts believe we have to go back to the recommendations of the Truth and Recommendation Commission (TRC) with regards how to solve the youth dilemma.

According to the youths, an idle mind is the devil’s workshop. Reports are that since majority of the youths are idle and have nothing to do, they have resorted to engaging in taking psychotic drugs and every form of antisocial behavior including violence and crime because they have no money and are hungry. They reported that while some of them use drugs to sleep off their frustration, others use it to embolden them to commit crime and violence.

According to the Narcotics Control Board of Ghana, some Ghanaian youth now smoke dried faeces and soak sanitary pads to drink for vitality. This shocking revelation was made by the Upper West Region Commander of Narcotics Control Board, Ishak Bakuri when Internal Minister, Ambrose Dery visited the Regional NACOB Office as part of his three-day tour of the region.

The conscious ones among these frustrated social and economically marginalized youths call on the government and humanitarian organizations to look into plight and come to their aid.

Whether the government admits it or not, the youth problem is directly tied in with peace, security, investment and the quest for economic prosperity.

Both foreign and local investors would hardly take the risk of putting their monies and materials into medium and long-term businesses when they are not certain that they would wake up one morning and here that their factory, shop or vehicles have been burned, damaged or looted.

Mass illiteracy among the youth, their lack of marketable skills and job opportunities make up the sum total of “youth unemployment crisis.” Notably, unemployment among Sierra Leonean youths between the ages of 18 and 34 is very high. We can safely guess that 8 in 10 Sierra Leonean youths are unemployed and idle. Certainly, this is a potent recipe for insecurity, crime and violence in any country as these youths are highly vulnerable to recruitment into criminal and violent activities. This has been demonstrated many times across the entire country in post 2018 political violence, with the government apparently powerless to come up with a durable solution to this unwelcome phenomenon that has cost lives and loss of properties.

The country faces a precarious future because the expectations of the youth, as admitted by even the President, are very high and cannot go on forever unmet. What, therefore, is urgently required from government and its development partners are a series of interventions at all levels of society geared towards providing a conducive socioeconomic environment for youth development, employment, empowerment, engagement and inclusion if we are not to ferment the long harbored youth problems that culminated in the RUF war.

There is a way out with coordinated effort from the government and assistance from its international development partners.

While maintaining law and order is paramount to guaranteeing the country’s peace and safety, beyond that, in addressing the youth crisis, government and its partners have to undertake many proactive interventions that will give the youth opportunities and hope of a better life to come.  These include labor intensive public works; private-public sector agricultural and agro business enterprises; skills development and employment support including apprenticeship; empowerment through access to organized funding for business startups for graduates and other skilled youths.