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The State of Emergency on Rape is a Needless Stunt

By Abdul Suhood Komeh (pictured),
London, UK.

The problem with the State of Emergency on rape in Sierra Leone is that it creates a false impression that president Bio faced obstacles in rolling out his agenda by a stubborn opposition. This couldn’t be any more distant from the truth. 

Not that this is news, but in Sierra Leone, and like most of Africa, the president is god. He/she can do whatever the hell he/she wants without asking anyone. 

Even where there are protests in parliament or outside it. There are enough selfish party-loyalists that will support the leader. Their careers depend on this blind subservience, even at the detriment of basic respect for the constitution. In fact, so powerful is a president in Africa and Sierra Leone in particular, the only serious thing a constitution guarantees is that they are elected. Although even that, most of the time, is nominal. 

From the moment the democratic charade is done with and they are declared leader, almost seamlessly, their personhood is transitioned from an ordinary being that begged, bribed and lied for votes, to one of supremacy. They become accountable to no one. 

In Sierra Leone, he (so far) simply prevails over us for ten years. Sorry, Yumkella and Kalokoh and others - see you in 2028. 

Bio is fully sure, his underlings in the SLPP will support everything and anything he wants. They have actually voted for his trumped-up declaration. Ensuring the emergency bolsters an image he's constructing as an agent of change, to be used at the opportune time. And few places beat or come close to a school at Harvard, where he told his audience this week, ‘we have declared a national emergency on rape and sexual violence’. 

Aptly, this is really the audience the stunt had in mind, and was designed for. Not the Sierra Leonean people or the real victims of rape in the country. So it surprised few that he had to mention the declaration there for the coolness value, more than anything else. 

This point has been made elsewhere. And I have no shame in echoing it here. Rather than a courageous stand against rape, this State of Emergency is a publicity stunt by the government. It serves no end that cannot be achieved without the declaration. 

There is not a single serious Sierra Leonean in politics or civil life, opposed to legislating against crime. Let alone rape. None. So what did Bio feared, or indeed informed his avoidance of making a proper law, through the proper forum - parliament? 

Interestingly, Bio’s speech at Harvard is titled: Toward a New Renaissance in Sierra Leone: A New, Bolder Vision. The problem is, the title is typical of grandstand African leadership speeches. The kind some of us are now fully accustomed to. Fine speech as it was, it is contradicted by the declaration of State of Emergency on Rape and sexual violence. Instead of a ‘new direction’, with the declaration, the government added more yards to the tapestry of negative publicity it says it wants to end. Far from a deviation from the calamities-strewn history of recent years, the government cannot change the ‘imagination of Sierra Leone’ - war, Ebola and a mudslide - overnight with fine speeches after just announcing a rape epidemic - albeit manufactured. Own goal.

The reality is, rather than a real emergency, what is at play here is pure exploitation of an emotive issue to score political points that are not up for grabs. At a time when completely unnecessary, and at what is still an embryonic stage of the administration - a total waste of capital. 

Is the government, which was in opposition in the last ten years, and in government the decade before that, trying to tell the world that rape was always legal in Sierra Leone? 

Calling a State of Emergency with the attendant fanfare on any single issue in Sierra Leone is a most feeble presupposition that the world thought most things worked there. As if the world is not there already via the various embassies to gather a firsthand account on the country.
Without being insensitive to incidences of rape and its effects on victims, I think the real emergency in Sierra Leone is the weakness of the law. Invest in a well-trained and funded police force that investigate cases efficiently, and to their fitting conclusions, there will be a decrease in the number of rape cases. 

If there’s no price to pay for a crime, it increases. Simple. That such a no-brainer mystifies our leaders is not even surprising. It’s expected. 

To use figures of reported incidences of rape as justification for a State of Emergency is just another definition for misusing power. Proving the point that the president is god. 

A figure on investigated cases that led to prosecution and conviction would have served a far more cogent reason to declare a state of emergency. Such a figure could have provided solid basis for a state of emergency. Figures on reported cases that were not investigated or verified are just allegations. They cannot inform laws or justify national emergencies. 

Sadly, by this action, the argument at the election reinforces itself. The SLPP is the APC and vice versa.