By Millicent Senava Mannah
In a historic turn of events on August 10, 2022, Sierra Leone witnessed a pivotal moment as citizens across the nation took to the streets to protest against the Government, specifically targeting the ruling Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP) led by President Julius Maada Bio. The protests initially rooted in grievances over rampant unemployment, economic hardships and perceived injustices, were not only confined to Freetown but rippled through Waterloo, Makeni, and Kamakwie.
While the demonstrations began as peaceful expressions of discontent with the high costs of living, they escalated into violent clashes between protesters and State Security Forces. The security forces, interpreting the protests as a direct challenge to the Government, responded with force, leading to casualties on both sides but more so on the side of the civilian population.
The protesters, calling for President Bio’s resignation over alleged economic mismanagement, in trying to defend themselves, braved it off against the security forces using improvised weapons such as stones, bottles, and sticks.
During the unrest, it was observed by our on-the-ground reporter that some protesters were affiliated with the main opposition All People’s Congress (APC) Party. Among them was Osman Kargbo, identified as the son of a prominent APC Leader, residing at No 55 Smith Street, Portee in the far East End of Freetown.
Our reporter managed to interview Osman before witnessing his arrest. Osman expressed frustration over the deteriorating economic conditions in the country, emphasizing the incompetence of the ruling SLPP Government. Shortly after the interview, Osman, along with others, was harshly arrested and subjected to physical abuse by Police Officers. They were thrown into a van that sped away.
Hiring a motorbike, our reporter said he the van to see where they to be taken and what action would be instituted against them. He said, following the arrest, the van stopped at a Police Station, but upon realizing Osman’s severe injuries, among others that were arrested, the authorities decided to transfer him to a hospital for treatment on humanitarian grounds. The next day, our reporter, while making a follow-up investigation, discovered that Osman had escaped from the hospital, but details of his escape remained elusive saved only that he asked to be excused to use the toilet and never showed up again.
In a subsequent attempt to trace Osman, our reporter found that the Police had raided his residence at Portee, arresting family members in the belief that they might lead them to the fugitive. Additionally, fervent, young, irate supporters of the ruling SLPP Government issued threats against Osman’s family, vowing to intimidate them until Osman was produced. Despite persistent efforts, our reporter informed how he has been unable to locate Osman since his escape.
The unfolding saga highlights the challenges faced by young protesters expressing discontent amid inflation and economic hardships, where fundamental human rights are met with resistance, sometimes leading to tragic consequences. Instead of being deemed as sincere and genuine protests borne out of excruciating suffering and despair, the Government and the Security forces saw it as a blatant affront and a calculated sabotage aimed at toppling the Government which could only be quelled down by using maximum force and eliminate the perceived ring leaders.
The Sierra Leone Police have confirmed that the SLPP Government is actively seeking individuals involved in the August 10, 2022, protests, for them to face the full penalty of the law, further complicating the fate of Osman Kargbo and others who were caught up in this quagmire. The uncertainties surrounding their future remain deeply concerning not only to their family members but rights-activists in the country.