Sierra Leoneans are demanding their rights of freedom of speech and seeking solutions to the escalating cost-of-living crisis, with many feelings marginalized and unheard by the government. They yearn for open dialogue, empathy, and meaningful actions to address their concerns and improve their quality of life.
As stories of a protest by an anonymous group of people hit the media over the past weeks, most Sierra Leoneans on the 11th of September 2023, were shipwrecked at home. Many streets were empty and motorists and general transport providers abortive to work their trade for fear of being coarsen or caught in the process of the demonstrators or military and police officers.
The streets of Freetown and some parts of the country including Makeni, Lunsar and Bo, most shops, schools, and some Non-Governmental Offices are shut down due to fear of the protest.
While speaking to some Sierra Leoneans residing in Freetown, it was learnt that many citizens sympathize with the demands of the promoters of the protest which include freedom of speech and a solution to the economic crisis.
Mr. Joseph T. Sesay, a concern citizen, expressed his frustration, noting that the government seems to be using fear and force to stifle dissent. He questioned whether the constitutional process for hosting protests is being followed, as the head of media for Sierra Leone Police explained on Radio. He felt scared seeing many robust military and police officers all around the street of Freetown and some part of the country with heavy guns and some protective tools in their hands which is rare in the country. Although it is a constitutional duty that before hosting any demonstration, the process is to notify the Inspector General of Sierra Leone Police to grant the demonstration with considerations, but the question now is can any protest be approve by the present IGP if only Sierra Leoneans followed the process written in Section 17, subsection 1 of Act no. 46 of 1965 Public Order Act? Again, he questioned if everything done by the government is constitutionally followed? Why is it when citizens want to do such, they instill the provisions of constitutions on them.? Additionally, he called for President Bio to address the nation and provide explanations for the economic challenges that are burdening Sierra Leoneans.
Finally, he said, “We want back our Freedom of Speech, let’s forget about the constitutional process, the citizens are dying with stress, the salaries that workers are receiving monthly are not equivalent or stand at average compared to the economy situation of the country now. Are our voices now a gun or weapons to the government that, they don’t want to listen to us or are we strangers to our mother land? We are sick, and we want solutions.”
Aunty Marie Kamara, another concerned citizen, lamented the use of military and police to quell protests and expressed a desire for dialogue and empathy from the government.
She said what happened last year, on August 10th, 2022, was not good for the country when youths and young men and women moved beyond the peaceful protest to riot by destroying innocent people’s properties, and so the military and police officers had no options but to sprout with their weapons to counterattack the situation.
“Such bloody situation last year would not have occurred if only the president should have created a room for dialogue or come out then and speak to the nation.” Kamara said, adding that the government is holding the breath of Sierra Leoneans, and they are dying with economy crisis every day.
“They no longer used to sing the song ‘Sweet Salone’, because things are rising every day, no price control, and if you say your voice, you will be arrested. If the youth want to host a protest, they will not allow them, but it will be a time for them to teach constitutional process.”
Kamara further highlighted the economic hardships faced by parents, teachers and citizens alike, citing rising school coasts, transportation expenses, and the high cost of living.
In her words, “This year’s school resumption is not a topic for discussion. Parents are swimming in debts and teachers are complaining of their small percentage of salaries. Schools’ materials are very expensive this year compare to any other year. Some parents had to change their children school from far distance to schools beside their homes because of increase of transportation. The cost of transportation is very expensive after calculating for the whole month. We are no longer happy. The cost of feeding is becoming expensive every day, an average man with a kid and a wife cannot feed themselves with less that le 200 for a day. Where is Sierra Leone moving to?”