The Sunday morning news on November 26, 2023, reporting an attempted military takeover in Sierra Leone is deeply unsettling, surrounded by precarious circumstances. 

Upon reading Reuters’ report categorising the incident as another of the “unfortunate recent coups that affected the subregion” and labeling it as a major setback to African democracy, I find myself in complete disagreement.

I do not concur with Reuters’ characterisation of the recent “Guarding Coups” in Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger, and even Guinea Conakry. These events, occurring in former Francophone countries, do not resemble the common coups of the past. 

The past post-colonial coups were not only setbacks to democracy but also marked the continuation of the same system by new individuals in power, driven mostly by greed. 

I firmly believe that the coups in these four states were progressive endeavors aimed at instigating much-needed and welcomed systemic changes, rather than mere power transitions reinforcing retrogressive and exploitative government systems that perpetually impoverish the masses.

However, the situation in Sierra Leone, based on the available information, appears dissimilar, making any comparison of it to standard military-coup attempts questionable. 

The government’s press release today, declaring an open-ended nationwide curfew while emphasising citizens to stay indoors as they search for the unknown culprits, suggests that the perpetrators may not have originated from the army and are still at large.

Typically, curfews declared under such circumstances are effective from dusk to dawn, assuming the government has control of the situation. However, the absence of a specified timeline for when the curfew starts and ends indicates an unpredictable situation and a nation still grappling with serious trouble.

Moreover, there are reports of masked individuals in military fatigue seen in Freetown, issuing warnings to the population and emphasizing that their mission is targeted at specific individuals. 

In addition, the central prison, already overcrowded, has been breached by unidentified assailants, resulting in the escape of a significant number of prisoners.

Adding to the escalating situation, the Wilberforce military barracks in Freetown experienced a break-in at its armory, leading to the theft of several weapons. The alarming part is that this incident preceded a series of frightening shootings in the early hours of the morning.

In light of these developments, it appears more indicative of an insurgency rather than a conventional attempt at a military takeover resulting from an internal mutiny. 

What is particularly concerning is the historical context of Sierra Leone’s civil war, which eventually culminated in a coup where the current president, Mr. Bio, played an active role as a member of the mutineers. It is my sincere hope that the current chaos does not signify an attempt to spark another major unrest.

President Bio, having recently secured a second term in office amid controversy and subsequent violence during the elections, faces additional challenges. Sierra Leone, as a nation in the subregion, is recognized for adopting a constitutional term limit of two terms only for elected presidents—a crucial provision seen as a deterrent against coups. 

Given this, I would have preferred to see President Bio given the opportunity to complete his last term in office rather than facing attempts to force him out, a situation that could potentially destabilize a country currently enjoying a delicate peace.

However, the people of Sierra Leone, particularly the youth, have grown increasingly impatient with the Bio government due to its poor performance in addressing corruption and the country’s lackadaisical economic growth, resulting in significant youth unemployment.

A notable number of Sierra Leonean youth have chosen to migrate from the country in search of better opportunities across the subregion. Today, one can observe them in various roles in The Gambia, such as driving “Jakarta” taxis and engaging in various small-scale trades.

Sierra Leone boasts immense wealth in terms of natural resources and fertile land. With effective leadership, it could have become a model state in the subregion. 

However, it seems that President Bio, despite his charisma and charm, may lack the knowledge or determination needed to bring about the necessary changes for a better nation. 

Instead, there is a perception that he is clinging to the old post-colonial system, a stark contrast to the commendable changes implemented by the military in Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger, and Guinea.

The situation in Sierra Leone warrants ongoing monitoring. Unfortunately, given the current circumstances, prospects do not appear promising.

By Retired Lt. Col Samsudeen Sarr

Sam Sarr

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


Please disable your adblocker and support our journalism. Thank you.