Makeni 'Deaths': Just Another Abuse of Power
By Abdul Suhood Komeh,
The argument, that somehow, the ‘youth’ of Makeni are too unsophisticated to organise, or instinctively move themselves to protest the removal of an electricity generator that serves their community, unless manipulated to do so by unscrupulous politicians, is itself the defining foolishness in this matter. Down right disrespectful and, a lack of understanding not just of ‘youth’, but Democracy itself. Above all, it is a crass attempt at giving cover and legitimacy to an act of brazen authoritarianism.
Seven people are reported dead. Others injured, and some may have sustained life-altering injuries. In the poorest country in the world. All, just to make way for the removal and transfer of a single machine that needed just one truck!
There is no way, a used-machine that Makeni (pictured) can conveniently keep idle, is worth more than the cost of mobilisation and use of security personnel, workmanship, meetings, phone calls, transportation, palaver, injuries and deaths. No way. Especially at a time when the airport in not fully operational. Surely, a new machine would be cheaper to source and more durable. Rather than a display of unyielding toughness and being in control, this ignominious incident is just another waste of political capital by a government, bereft of imagination.
There is the other lazy idea that the ‘youth’ should not demonstrate objection to government decisions because they might lose their lives. Instead, forward grievances to local politicians. As if the youth are oblivious to local politicians’ complicity in the endless erosion of their rights and opportunities. This is bad logic. Those making these calls are the same people who unceasingly pontificate the importance of ‘youth’ participation in politics. Yet after being killed by the limitless power of government, they find themselves totally incapable of reasoning with the surviving adults they continuously infantalise as ‘youth’. That is as long as the so-called ‘youth’, cannot discern or demand that they are listened to, or treated with dignity. Incredible condescension. How about holding responsible the government that killed them?
The SLPP government has been in power for over two years. All through that period, the airport operated to its current capacity without a plant from Makeni. So what suddenly necessitated the removal of the machine if not to create difficulties where there was no need? It’s not like the airport was an afterthought, no. In fact, it’s a centrepiece. Accompanied by computer-generated images, Bio announced not just a plan for a $2billion access bridge, but the construction of an ultra-modern city at Lungi. But shit!, they forgot. The village needs a generator, quickly. Unbelievable.
How do we run a country where Makeni, one of the largest cities, but without a single national institution, has reserved energy provisions but not a village with the country’s only airport? Worse, Makeni is the headquarter-city of the SLPP’s main rivals, the APC. What settled the government to the thinking that moving a plant from Makeni to Lungi would be controversy-free? Is it possible, an APC government, sanctioning the removal of an electricity plant from Bo to Tongo would be met with protests too?
A few days ago, Bio was met by an enthusiastic welcome from supporters in Makeni. Equally, an APC president would be greeted with identical support in Kenema or Pujehun. So this issue, rather than simplistic regional biases or resistance to a South-Eastern administration by northerners, was substantially down to poor execution.
Yes, absolutely yes! The government has to prevail because it is the government. We all agreed to that. Whether we voted for them or not. We are bound by the constitution to submit to the government, legally. But if wanton violence and loss of lives is the outcome every time the government directly interacts with the people, then the tactics of that government must be questioned. If governing means some lives are disposable, then you are not governing but killing people.
Any excuses, proffered at the killing of fellow citizens, in any circumstances, let alone over the removal of a poxy generator, is to participate in essentialising authoritarianism.
‘Government property’ is not the property of those entrusted via an election, and paid to execute governance. ‘Government property’ is: the PEOPLE’S property. Its paid for by the country’s yields, not the pockets of politicians. Therefore, location and relocation has to be based on democratic deliberations and negotiations. Where force - however one defines it - is necessary, it has to be restrained by the law, with minimum risk to lives.
Based on information in the pubic at this point, what happened in Makeni does not appear like an execution of a well-thought out plan, but another shameful abuse of power. The government must be held to full account. After all, it is the government, only because there are laws we created and agreed to.
The chronology is: society, law and government.
PS: Maada Bio was a youthful 28 year old in 1992, when his moral impatience peaked to participate in a military intervention to remove a terrible government. We gave him his crusts then and now. So to seek to strip rational instincts from a new generation of ‘youth,’ protesting a government he leads, is a touch hypocritical, no?