Monday, November 21, 2016

Creating an Unlikely Political Hero

Theresa Released on Bail
Sometimes fame is suddenly thrust on people. The decision by Mohamed Bangura, Sierra Leone's Information Minister, to arrest a 20 year old female university student over a social media post and charge her to court has made her an unlikely heroine in the country. Many people see in her treatment the depravity and ineptitude of the Koroma regime and the depths to which it has sunk, even as the country is on the brink of economic collapse.
Student Supporters

Mohamed Bangura, a half literate political opportunist who gave fake academic credentials at his parliamentary confirmation and was only approved because the country's Parliament rubber stamps every decision of the country's president, was rewarded the Information Ministry after he left his government sponsored opposition party, the UDM, and declared his loyalty to the ruling APC party. Of late Mohamed Bangura has been threatening to ban all social media in the country, with the opinion that social media was being used to portray the government in a bad light. Mohamed Bangura a newly christened APC stalwart who has been a member of every major political party in Sierra Leone, has been so vocal in defending the APC party over the past few months that some are have taken to comparing him to the mourner who weeps more than the bereaved.
Free Theresa

This morning, Theresa Komaya, the unjustly arrested female student was taken to court and had no shortage of lawyers to defend her.  The country's bar association seems to be one of the few voices of dissent left in the country. Many law abiding citizens turned up in front of the court to support the student against this gross human right violation. To many in the crowd, Theresa's arrest symbolized the attitude of a government that had come to increasingly believe that its authority supersedes the rights of the people, a view that was publicly expressed by Mohamed Bangura few months ago.

It can be recalled that sometime ago, in threatening to clamp down on social media, Mohamed Bangura had explicitly made the statement that as a government minister, he cared neither about " human right or human left." This arrest and prosecution of the young student can only be seen as a practical demonstration of the disdain the half baked minister and his government have for human rights in the country.

Theresa was released today on a reported 50 million Leones bail and is scheduled to appear in court again as Mohamed Bangura seeks to make her the example of how serious the government is in its desire to trample on the rights of the common Sierra Leonean.


Sunday, November 20, 2016

Sierra Leone Government Jails Female University Student for ForwardingSocial Media Post

Theresa Mbomaya 
In an act that can be only be described as pure paranoia, the government of Sierra Leone has detained a 20 year old female university student, Theresa Mbomaya, for four days without bail, over a social media post that she forwarded to some friends, calling for peaceful protests against a sudden steep increase in the price of fuel and the generally hopeless economic situation that has gripped the country.

It can be recalled that many citizens groups, alarmed at the sudden downward economic trajectory in the country and the decision of the government to compound this by removing fuel subsidies, have been seeking police permits to peacefully demonstrate against the hardship imposed by the sudden increase in fuel prices in a country in which the average citizen lives on less than two dollars a day. So far the government has refused to issue permits for peaceful protests, with police parading through the city with water canons and armored personnel carriers in a show of force. People have been taking to social media to air their grievances. 
Theresa Mbomaya

Government supporters have been pointing to similar removal of fuel subsidies in other countries.  However, many have failed to note the fact that the majority of civil servants in Sierra Leone earn between 50 and hundred dollars a month and any removal of fuel subsidies will just send them deeper into already intolerable conditions of poverty. Pointing to the removal of fuel subsidies in relatively affluent countries seems insensitive, especially when the average Sierra Leone civil servant does not earn enough to feed and cloth their families, let alone provide them suitable housing.

The fuel price increase is bound to adversely affect students in the country, especially the capital Freetown, as many of them rely on public transportation to go to school. The impact of education should have been a reason to think over the decision more deeply.

The current Minister of Information Mohamed Bangura, a renowned political opportunist who has joined almost every major party in Sierra Leone, has been making loud noises about clamping down on social media and his first example seems to be the frail female student who is reportedly being held in very horrible conditions. His ministry released a public statement on the misuse of social media that was as rich in grammatical abuse as it was poor on substance.

Theresa's father, a secondary school teacher made an impassioned appeal to the government on social media on the day she was arrested, calling for the release of his daughter.  But so far his appeal seems to have fallen on deaf ears. Theresa is scheduled to appear in court on Monday to answer charges of public disorder and incitement. With the notoriety of the courts subservience to the government, only providence knows the girl's fate.

The government of Ernest Bai Koroma was returned to power four years ago on a promise of an Agenda for Prosperity. However, the last four years have seen the most dramatic decline in living standards in the history of Sierra Leone. 

A combination of the Ebola crisis, decline in mining activity, rampant public corruption, lavish public expenditure on government functionaries and gross mismanagement of public funds have brought the country to near economic collapse. The government recently introduced some half hearted austerity measures that are seen by many as a public relations stunt rather than an attempt to deal with official mismanagement. The impact of the measures are bound to affect the people more than the president and his allies who get fuel allowances.

Sierra Leone's problem is exacerbated by the fact that under the current government, civil service hiring is done mainly on the basis of political patronage. Many qualified people without political connections are out of work, while political operatives occupy core national positions that require technical expertise they do not posses. The result has been a steep increase in public inefficiency with a simultaneous decline in public sector productivity. The official currency, the Leone,  has depreciated by almost 50% in this year alone.