On the 16th of August 2016, youth in Kabala town in the Koinadugu district went on the rampage, demonstrating against an alleged decision by the APC Government to relocate a proposed Youth Village from the district to Tonkolili District. According to the youth, government authorities identified the project and agreed that it would be constructed in Kabala.
According to sources, the youth were having a meeting at their center with an agenda to go on a peaceful protest, when officers from the Kabala Police Station stormed in. Soon the situation degenerated into chaos and violence; in thirty minutes time two people were reported dead and many others injured.
It is still unclear what rules of engagement empowered the Police to open fire on defenseless civilians, most of who, eyewitnesses say, were students watching the confrontation between the Police and protesters.
Simultaneously, Police were making arrests and by the time the situation returned to normal more than 30 people had been arrested.
Either out of fear or to intimidate the people of Kabala, the Police imposed a dusk to dawn curfew. The sudden curfew exacerbated the condition of a people already suffering from a very high cost of living. Kabala is recuperating from the heavy Ebola impact on its very small and insignificant economy. People work right round the clock to make ends meet. Worse, MAC-P was invoked, with joint patrols by the Police and the Military with checkpoints mounted at strategic points.
A formal investigation into the incident was launched.
Earlier, during the clash, the youth burnt down the house of the Local Unit Commander. The APC and NEC offices were not spared, while the District Officer’s office was vandalized.
A certain name was outstanding from the police officers involved in the clash. Eye witnesses say his actions were deliberate. He allegedly shot dead a 16 year-old even when the boy pleaded with him; kneeling and begging, identifying himself as a student coming from extra lessons and not a protester. The officer allegedly shot him in the head and shot another boy who rushed to save his friend on the back.
Already investigators from the criminal investigation department have stated looking into the circumstances leading to the violent clashes. The LUC and the Head of Operation Support Division have been relieved of their duties and are helping with the investigation. It is still not clear whether their suspension is linked to their alleged direct involvement in the killings.
The Inspector General of Police says their net has been spread wide to catch all those actively involved in the clashes. The Police have arrested people they claimed were involved in the clashes but said nothing about any arrest of police officers who allegedly carried out the killings. This has raised questions on the fairness of the investigation.
The Police could have employed up to 20 different strategies that could have prevented the deaths. They could have provided police presence for the proposed peaceful protest; they could have warned the protesters via a megaphone; they could have used teargas canisters; worse, they could have fired warning shots in the air.
On the other hand, the youth should have waited for an official confirmation of the statement of the Vice President, Victor Bockarie Foh. They should have formed a delegation to meet the appropriate authorities for clarifications and or further lobbying. They should have stopped the meeting as requested by the Police. The two parties saw this coming and should have avoided it.
On that particular sunny day Kabala town was very cold. Now, even though people are trying to go about their normal businesses, you can still see the fear on their faces. At 5pm daily businesses and offices are forced to close. People run to their houses before the curfew deadline. The streets are quiet and deserted, except for heavily armed security officers walking up and down cautiously and purposefully; bringing back ugly memories of the civil war. You see residents seated in front of their houses with frustration written all over their faces; faces of a people losing hope in the political system; faces of a people in need of reassurance that the project is staying in Kabala. Reassurance that their children will not be killed in cold blood; that they will live peacefully once again after a peaceful protest turned fatal, leaving the town very cold on a sunny day.