By Foday B Fofanah…………………………………….
Nine years ago, Sierra Leoneans from all walks of life see no evil, hear no evil and speak no evil of President Dr. Ernest Bai Koroma. The President enjoyed broad support, and his approval ratings were very high by every standard. “World Best” was how he came to be known, a reference that he was the best thing to have ever happened to Sierra Leone in a long time.
As you would expect, the President basked in his popularity and learnt quickly how to work the crowd and savor his new found fame and popularity.
Flanked by one or two security details, he (the President) would walk on foot from State House, walk past the Cotton Tree, walk all the way to ‘Stop Press’ restaurant at George Street. Most enthusiastic were the ‘Car Wash’ boys; these are the dregs of society condemned to washing car for a living, but they loved their President and made no secret about it. These young men would jump in the air, roll on the ground in joy whenever they see the President; their wild cheers always thrilled the President. Joined by passers-by, they would jump, tip toe, and trip on each other to catch a glimpse of the President, or, if the opportunity presents itself, shake his hand or touch him as if he was not from this planet. That was then.
Those rare moments are where you can see how much broad support the President enjoys–the young, the old, and the unemployed hero-worshipped him with a passion, and for a good reason. The President embodied their hopes and aspirations for a country where corruption would be a thing of the past, a country where equal employment opportunities would be made available to all with party affiliation, a country where justice would prevail and the rights of every Sierra Leonean would be upheld, a country where every Sierra Leonean is afforded the opportunity to pursue their dreams and lead a decent life.
After nine years in power, the disappointment that Sierra Leoneans feel about their President is immense. There is a lot less admiration for him than there was nine years ago; even his APC comrades are complaining privately about him. Like the rest of us, they (I mean top APC officials), too, have had just about enough and they can’t wait for March 2018 to see the back of the President. True, senior executive members of the party–if you enjoy their trust–are unabashed in their criticisms of the way the President has handled the affairs of state and his failed economic policies, which they have began to worry is going to be a drag on the party’s electoral chances in March 2018.
They have every reason to be worried. In today’s Sierra Leone, red is a color with a bad name. It is associated with everything that is wrong with President Ernest Koroma and his APC administration. Surprisingly, people just can’t wait for the general elections to register their displeasure with the President and his party at the polls. Instead of waiting for the 2018 election to vote the APC out of office, disgruntled youths are venting their anger against President Koroma and his ruling APC on suspected APC sympathizers or supporters. The youths, particularly those in the East-end of Freetown, hate anything Red.
Here is a Red on a busy street in Cline Town, in Freetown. The street is a color spectrum. Over there is a dull Red; it has no sheen and has lost its shine; it can’t hold its own in the rainbow of colors and drives people nuts when they spot it. Red annoys people. Don’t take my word for it, go and find out for yourself.
I spent an entire weekend wondering what is in a color after I witnessed, first hand, how color has become an enemy.
Watching a group of young men who were taking their turns to receive cash as pay and t-shirts as free gifts for helping offload a lady’s container filled with merchandise from China, I was shocked at what they did. As they stepped forward when they shout their number, they–one after the other–rejected the brand new red t-shirts and ‘Polo’ shirts that the lady gave them in appreciation of their hard work. They gladly accepted T-shirts and Polo shirts in yellow, blue, green and blue colors, but politely rejected the ones in red.
I can tell, from the steadiness in their eyes, the calmness in their manners, shabbiness in their clothes, and the politeness in their rejection, that something was quite not right. Size was not the problem because the shirts come in all sizes and the men chose their sizes. Why are they refusing brand new shirts as gift, from a benevolent lady who, on her way from China, spent her own money to buy shirts for them as gift? The lady who could not hide her disappointment grabbed few of the red t-shirts and asked, “What is wrong with these shirts”, shaking them in the air? “The red color, auntie”, one of the men replied. That answer came as a shocker to the lady. “What is wrong with a red color”, the lady asked? “It is not safe, ma”, the other young man replied. That answer was even more shocking. At this time, I jumped into the conversation. “What is unsafe about a red color”, I asked? “Is it poisonous to wear a red t-shirt”, I pressed? Then I got a new lecture on the politics of color.
I learned from these young men that it is not safe to spot a red shirt or dress and walk in certain parts in the city. They told me that in the part of the city where they live (I will not disclose the area), it is unsafe to spot a red shirt or dress; they said that you could be lynched or clobbered to death if the youths in the area see you wearing anything red, especially if you are a young man or a lady because the youths could mistake you for an APC supporter or sympathizer. They recounted horrific stories of ladies who have been assaulted in the evening hours for walking in their neighbourhood in red blouses. What a tragedy.
What these unfortunate incidents, as horrible as they may sound, go to show is that the people of this country are fed up with President Koroma and his APC administration. Were it not for the show of force or the brutality with which the Police have suppressed all voices of dissent and protest that has led to the death of innocent people, we would have been seeing mass protests on the streets of Freetown and in many parts of the country every day. We would have seen Parliamentarians, Paramount Chiefs, teachers, civil servants and students; all taking to the streets to voice their anger at this government because this President is lurching from crisis to crisis. The worst is yet to come. Mark my words.