Image: A general view of the new banknotes released in Sierra Leone on July 1, 2022. Credit: African News - Photo: 2022

Rising Prices, Low Incomes Bedevil Sierra Leoneans

By Lisa Vives, Global Information Network

NEW YORK | FREETOWN (IDN) — Americans aren’t alone in turning purple over the car’s skyrocketing costs for housing, food, medical care and fuel.

Last month in Sierra Leone, women street vendors gathered peacefully to protest the soaring cost of living. A few days later, the number swelled to the hundreds as many more protestors turned out, clashing with police and demanding the president’s resignation over the government’s perceived failure to address the rising prices.

At least 27 people died in the anti-government protests, police and other sources reported, sharply raising the death toll from the previous day’s clashes.

Protesters demonstrated again on August 12 in Freetown, the capital city, but this time were met with police firing live ammunition at the crowds, according to videos shared on social media. The extent of the injuries was unknown.

Protestors were heard chanting “Bio must go”, referring to President Julius Maada Bio, who is currently in the United Kingdom on a private visit.

Sierra Leone is well known for its vast endowment in minerals, including conflict or war diamonds, rutile, bauxite, gold, iron ore, limonite, platinum, chromite, coltan, tantalite, columbite, and zircon, as well as promising petroleum potential.

Yet the West African nation, bordered by Guinea, Liberia, and on the west by the Atlantic Ocean, is one of the world’s poorest countries and has been for over 40 years. Nearly 30 per cent of the population suffers from chronic hunger, according to the World Food Program, and more than half its population lives below the poverty line.

Sierra Leone serves as an illustration of the risks faced by African countries also rich in mineral resources.

Meanwhile, in a recent interview with the BBC, President Julius Bio blamed outside forces for the unrest.

“We have a few Sierra Leoneans who live in the diaspora who have threatened to unleash terror in Sierra Leone,” he said, in an apparent reference to an anti-government commentator, Adebayor, living in the Netherlands who had called for protests.

“Wednesday was the tipping point of something that had been brewing for months,” said Alhaji U. N’jai, a professor of environmental science at the University of Sierra Leone’s Fourah Bay College. “That brought together groups that are completely different, but they were unified by economic difficulties.”

Amnesty International weighed in on the reports of more than a hundred people arrested. “The authorities must ensure that bystanders and those who were protesting peacefully are not arbitrarily arrested simply for having participated in the demonstrations.

“When policing assemblies, security forces have an obligation to minimize harm and injury, preserve human life and exercise restraint in the use of force.

“Amnesty is also concerned that authorities cut off the internet sporadically between August 10 and 11. Access to the internet, social media, instant messaging apps and other digital technologies are important tools expanding the ability of people to protest both online and offline, enabling people to gain access to information, distribute details about an upcoming protest, organize, and enable virtual engagement in a wide variety of ways.

“Therefore, disruption of internet access is a violation of the right to freedom of expression and access to information protected by international human rights law and can have a dire impact on the right to freedom of peaceful assembly,” Michèle Eken, a researcher at Amnesty International’s West and Central Africa office said. [IDN-InDepthNews – 16 August 2022]

Image: A general view of the new banknotes released in Sierra Leone on July 1, 2022. Credit: African News

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

This article is published under the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International licence. You are free to share, remix, tweak and build upon it non-commercially. Please give due credit.

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