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The debacle of September 11 and Sierra Leone’s violent protest 

September 11, 2001, is remembered worldwide for the terror that occurred when two planes flew into the World Trade Center in the US, killing thousands of people and maiming scores of others in a terrorist attack.

22 years later, on the same day, September 11, 2023, the streets of Sierra Leone witnessed its own version of terror when a demonstration by the youth against the government turned violent and fatal. What started as rumours and a desperate call for protest over the high standard of living turned fatal as angry Sierra Leonean youths clashed with the police during the protest.

It seemed like a replay of the dreadful, chaotic scenes of violence between rampaging youths and armed Sierra Leone’s security forces on August 8, 9, and 10, 2022, which led to scores of deaths.

According to Sahara Reporters the clashes occurred at Port-Loko and Makeni (in the Northern Province) Waterloo and its environs, including Rokel Village, Deep Eye Wata, and Tombo.

Before the proposed demonstration on Monday, September 11, 2023, people hinted through social and traditional media that they would hit the streets in protest. So intense were the threats to hit the streets that on September 9, 2023, Sierra Leone’s Chief Minister, Dr. David Sengeh, accused the main opposition’s All People’s Congress (APC) party’s leaders of being behind the protest.

He challenged the opposition party to dissociate itself from the long-proposed demonstration openly.

“Is it too much to ask our friends who are leaders in the opposition to publicly condemn these so-called protests heavily linked to them?” Sengeh said.

Not long after, the demonstration happened, and sadly, it turned violent and fatal.

There have been many reports of unverified deaths, but the Sierra Leone’s Association of Journalists (SLAJ) confirmed that two people died during the demonstration.

Accounts of Witnesses

In investigating what may have triggered the clashes, DUBAWA spoke to some first-hand witnesses to the chaotic demonstration.

Wilfred Barming, resident of Deep Eye Water in the east end of Freetown, explained on Monday, September 11, 2023:

“[The] youths came out in the streets just as it had been rumoured some days ago to hold a protest. I was out with my bike to find my daily bread, and suddenly, some youths started coming out gradually from different locations around 9:00–10:30 AM. It was not long before I saw a police vehicle filled with police officers and requested that those who were gathering hold the demonstration. However, some of them failed to adhere to the police’s instructions, which shockingly turned into something dangerous, and I had to ride off for safety,” Barming narrated

According to another eyewitness, Ibrahim Jah, a student and resident of Deep Eye Water, the protest was scheduled after rumours of a pending demonstration against the government.  Jah disclosed further that he could not attend class because of the violent demonstration. He added that he was shocked that the police did nothing to stop the demonstration from happening despite the rumours.

“I was ready for class when, suddenly, I realised that some youths in my community had joined forces with some other people to stage a demonstration. And this particular rumour has been going around for over a week, if my memory could serve me well. So, I couldn’t risk it to even go beyond my community due to the chaotic scenes I saw in my community, Deep Eye Water,” he said.

James Sesay, a resident and commercial motorbike rider of one of the places where the protest occurred, Waterloo, in the east end of Freetown, told DUBAWA that the police should be held responsible for the violence associated with the demonstration. He added that the government should allow citizens to protest to vent their grievances instead of constantly suppressing them whenever they want to hold a demonstration.

Police reaction

The Sierra Leone’s Police (SLP) force gave a press briefing held in the conference room of the Ministry of Information and Communications (MIC) at the Youyi Building in Freetown. During the briefing, they said they had arrested some of those who were part of the September 11, 2023, demonstration in the dead east end of Freetown.

The SLP’s Spokesperson, Assistant Inspector General of Police Brima Kamara, described the demonstration as an ‘illegal protest.’ 

True identities and possible cause of death of the two allegedly killed during the demonstration

The identities of the two protestors who died still remain a mystery.

DUBAWA contacted the SLP to attempt to find the ‘true identities’ of the deceased, but the police did not give any information about it. The Head of Police Media could not disclose ‘the cause of death’ or the actual ‘identities of the deceased.’

Several media reports, including AYV News, did not name the deceased.

What does the law say about the Assembly/Association in Sierra Leone?

Section 26(1) of Sierra Leone’s 1991 Constitution provides for every citizen the right to ‘assembly’ and/or ‘association’ in the country with any person or persons (including groups or associations); hence, every citizen or group of persons who wish to assemble should be granted the opportunity to do so, but peacefully.

However, Clause 17(1) of the Public Order Act requires that the said right to hold or stage a ‘protest or demonstration’ can only be considered ‘legal or valid’ if the said action is at the notice of the Commissioner of Police.

Thus, any person or persons wanting to engage in any strike action or protest must do so by officially informing the Commissioner of Police (now the Inspector General of Police) concerning the said protest he or she wishes to engage in or organise. If not, the protest would be considered “illegal and thus punishable by law,” as provided in the referenced section. 

Is the APC responsible for the demonstration?

In responding to allegations made against the All People’s Congress (APC) party by the country’s Chief Minister, Dr. David Moinina Sengeh, the National Publicity Secretary (NPS) of the All People’s Congress (APC) party, Mr. Sidi Yayah Tunis, told DUBAWA that neither APC nor its leaders have details of what happened on Monday, September 11, 2023

He stated that the APC party was not involved in the riots by youths in some parts of the country and tagged the incidents as unfortunate and sad.

Concerning the party’s position on the rumours about the protest, the NPS of the APC  said neither the party nor its leaders participated in the planning and execution of the incident. He added that if the APC wanted to be involved, the party had the appropriate structures.

“There is no need for the APC nor its leaders to engage or organise a demonstration to disturb the ordinary and innocent citizens of the country,” he said.

“If the APC wants to embark on or organise any demonstration/protest, there are well-established ways that the party could utilise it. Away from that, the APC wants to note that it has no hands in the unfortunate event which occurred on Monday, September 11, 2023, as it was rumoured,” he added.

Adebayor and the violent demonstration

It is still unclear who the masterminds of the violent demonstration are. However, in DUBAWA’s quest to uncover more information, the researcher found a video posted a day before the violent demonstration.

The video was posted by the popular “King Adebayor” – a Sierra Leonean immigrant based in Holland. Adebayor has been accused of masterminding similar protests and sit-down strikes, including the August 10, 2022, violent protest.

In the 0:40-second video, posted on Twitter, Adebayor is heard calling on Sierra Leoneans to come out and not be afraid.

It is yet to be officially established if Adebayor was behind the demonstration.

The SLP has been tight-lipped on disclosing “true identities” and the “cause of death” of the two adult males allegedly killed in the riotous conduct of Monday, September 11, 2023.

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