Caritas Freetown, with support from Trocaire, AGIAMONDO, Catholic Agency for Overseas Development and Ziviler Friendensdienst Civil Peace Service celebrates International Day of Peace 2022.
As we celebrate the International Day of Peace with theme: “Stop Election Violence, Build Peace”, Caritas Freetown, with support from Trocaire, AGIAMONDO, Catholic Agency for Overseas Development and Ziviler Friendensdienst Civil Peace Service, has on the 20th September, 2022 organized a one- day Police and Youth Dialogue Session, targeting personnel of the Sierra Leone Police, Youth Affairs, Political Parties Representative, Bike Riders and Journalist. The event took place at Kondi Hall, Yam’s Farm in the Western Rural District.
The relationship between Police Officers and Youths have been strained throughout the years. But this was how many young people in Sierra Leone felt when the relationship between police and the youth were at their lowest point, especially during the August 10 accident that took place in some part of the country which led to destruction of properties and loss of innocent lives. As the appeals from young people to intervene grew, the consortium of five NGOs worked to broker a truce between young people and the police by celebrating the International Day of Peace 2022 with a one-day dialogue between the Police and youths in Sierra Leone.
Young people were saying they were always suspects. They are often harassed by the police, arrested and being rounded up and put behind bars when reporting crime, instead of being listened to. Stories like these were the catalyst for change.
A baseline study in the past years had showed that police harassment of young people, between 18 and 35, was one of the drivers for violent extremism in the country based on their approach.
Mohamed Turay, Chairman of the Bike Riders Association East said one of the causes of conflict between the parties is that the Police Officers see the Youths as a threat, emphasizing that as riders, they suffer too much harassment from the Police. He further stated that “Young people were being rounded up from their bikes, which has led to so many accidents or just for being in groups in their community.”
Rev Fr. Peter Konteh Executive Director Caritas Freetown and team talked to key actors, including in the National Government Administration, and took the lead in convening what is known as an open-air dialogue. This gave people representing all sides the chance to air grievances and start finding solutions. The young people got to speak out about some of the things that were being done in the country that they felt were really fueling the conflict between police and young people.
He added that, “We already know the problem which make us to organize a Dialogue Session between the two parties as election is here”. He further noted that the dialogue is indeed timely as it comes during an important period, when the country is preparing for General Elections in 2023. He continued by saying bringing the two sides together is geared towards promoting dialogue and greater understanding among the Police, the Electoral Commission and Youth on their roles and responsibilities to prevent and manage violent election related conflicts in order to ensure an enabling peaceful environment is achieved before, during and after the elections.
He maintained that during electoral processes and elections, the security forces, especially the Police have a central role in providing security and ensuring safety during voter’s registration exercises, political rallies and events, transportation of election-sensitive materials and keeping peace on Polling Day. The Youth also have an indispensable role to play in determining Sierra Leone’s progress towards a more peaceful, democratic and prosperous country”
Aminata Finda Massaquoi station manager Culture Radio who also serves as the Chairperson for the Dialogue session stated that, the youth are the leaders of tomorrow, they need to refrain from violence and look for what they can do to bring change in their communities. She added that social media is one of the causes of violence, saying most of the violence that has happened in the country is due to wrong information young people get from social media which is not true.
Lansana Fofanah, Head of Operations of the Special Division (OSD) of the Waterloo Police Station said, they police have listened to all the concerns and recommendations generated at the open-air dialogue, emphasizing that Police are not their enemies, and should not be seen as targets. He stated that they are carrying weapons as a protection for themselves and not to harm anybody but to serve the people stressing at the end of the day, they are all civilians and the Youths must work together with them to push the country forward.