Photo: Freetown street protest. Source: France24 - Photo: 2022

High Prices Spark Rare Street Disturbance in Sierra Leone

By Lisa Vives, Global Information Network

NEW YORK | FREETOWN (IDN) — The crisis of inflation taking a toll on the poor and middle class has spread to Sierra Leone, where rare protests shook the capital of Freetown.

Workers have been clearing broken glass from downtown restaurants. “It was an explosion of violence,” said Mohamed Sillah of the damage inflicted on his and other buildings. “We don’t usually see this in Sierra Leone but we are in tough times.”

Businesses, government offices and buses across eastern Freetown were charred or destroyed completely in the violence as police and security officials brutally cracked down on demonstrators. At least 21 protesters and six officers were killed. A video verified by Reuters shows police firing live ammunition into the crowds.

Protests are usually restricted in the tiny West African country, where 56.8% of the country’s 8 million people live below the poverty line. Like in many other African countries Sierra Leone has been badly affected by rapid inflation caused in part by the war in Ukraine.  The dire economic situation brought people out onto the streets.

Experts believe that four primary factors contribute to Sierra Leone’s overwhelming levels of poverty: government corruption, a lack of an established education system, absence of civil rights and poor infrastructure.

Additionally, an absence of funding for educational programs leaves Sierra Leone behind in terms of gaining knowledge about civil rights or responsibilities. This contributes to gender inequality and the marginalization of women. The effects of gender inequality include women’s inability to join the workforce and a cultural view of women as servants for men.

Despite the pain of expanding poverty, President Julius Maada Bio dismissed the economic reasons for the unrest, blaming anti-government protests which led to the deaths of six police officers and at least 21 civilians in an attempt to overthrow the government.

“This was not a protest against the high cost of living occasioned by the ongoing global economic crisis,” Maada Bio said in an address to the nation.

“The chant of the insurrectionists was for a violent overthrow of the democratically elected government,” he said, adding that the government would investigate all the deaths.

Meanwhile, at a market in the Western Area Rural District, traders who asked not to be named lamented how the prices of rice, onions, tomatoes and beef had all risen by about 50% over the last year, with the price of fuel and palm oil roughly doubling.

Marcella Samba-Sesay, the director of Campaign for Good Governance, said that the government had not clearly explained to the people why their economic challenges had worsened.  

“There is an information gap in the country where the government’s message doesn’t reach many people. They have not effectively communicated to people why things are getting bad and that is making people angrier,” she said. [IDN-InDepthNews – 29 August 2022]

Photo: Freetown street protest. Source: France24

IDN is the flagship agency of the Non-profit International Press Syndicate.

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