Thursday, September 15, 2016

Sierra Leone's Internal Affairs Minister Calls for Resumption of the Death Penalty

Rtd. Major Palo Conteh
The Sierra Leone Minister of Internal Affairs, Rtd. Major Alfred Paolo Conteh has asked prison authorities to repair electric chairs and other capital punishment machines in the prison system, in order to resume the execution of prisoners sentenced to death in the country. He believes that the resumption of government sanctioned killings in the country is the solution to the rise in gang affiliated killings in Sierra Leone.

Speaking to the country through radio Radio democracy, Rtd. Major Paolo Conteh lamented the rampant rise in gang inflicted murders in the country and reminded everyone that Sierra Leone still has capital punishment in the country's law books. The minister referenced the "an eye for an eye" passage in the Bible and the local saying, "killing a dog before other dogs will make dogs aware of death" to support his position on the resumption of death. He said that if a human being that has killed another human in such a violent  and "raw" fashion is sentenced to death, there is no need for them to remain in prison for many years being fed by the government.
Ready the Gallows

Rtd Major Paolo Conteh  also stated that even though he was aware of human rights views on capital punishment, he viewed the Sierra Leone case is unique.  The country, he stated, had gone through too much suffering in recent times to allow this spate of wanton killing to continue unabated. He had therefore given strict instruction to corrections authorities in the country to ready the gallows for the resumption of the implementation of the death penalty, particularly for these types of crimes.

Over the past few months, many Sierra Leoneans have been worried about the rise in gang related killings in the country's capital Freetown. Many  believe that the government should take firm steps to go after the leaders of such gangs and curb their practices. The police has already promised financial rewards to anybody who will provide information on the leadership of these gangs. However, there are many in the country who feel that  as dire as the the situation is, it can still be brought under control through professional police and detective work without resorting to the reactivation of the death penalty in the country.

Gang member in Freetown
The first step should be the ban  and criminalization of these gangs all over the city, with strict penalties and mandatory prison sentences for anybody belonging to  or sponsoring them.Many of these gangs consist unemployed and disaffected youths who are used during election periods by politicians to attack and intimidate their political rivals. Some of these youths are promised money, jobs and a better life after the elections. Unfortunately these jobs never appear and the gangs never disband. The gangs assume permanence and become involved in petty and major crimes. The leaders of these gangs and any politician caught sponsoring them should be prosecuted.

Even though the focus on the reduction in gang violence should be a national priority, government should conduct a root cause analysis to determine the main reasons why such gangs attract the city's youths in the first place.

I believe the main reason for the existence of these violent gangs is the lack of many opportunities for youths in Sierra Leone. The  Sierra Leone government should prioritize programs for youth social mobility in the country, with the help of private organizations and NGO partners. There is a popular saying that, "an idle mind is the devil's playground." Youths in Sierra Leone need positive engagement that will give them hope and keep them away from the things that attract them to gangs.
No Opportunity for Youths

Trade schools, skills centers, and vocational institutes are needed in Sierra Leone to develop minds and help youths in the country to  focus on the future, rather than focus on gangs and cliques. Major Paolo Conteh can resume the death penalty in Sierra Leone, but this will just be a stop gap solution. However, if opportunities for positive youth engagement are not provided in the country, youths will risk even their life to be attracted to those vices that provide them respite from the grinding poverty that is the hallmark of the society in which they were born.

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