/ 5 September 2017

Doubts about fire that destroyed Sierra Leone opposition’s party offices

Last week
Last week

Mohammed Kamarainba Mansaray is now considered by experts to be a major challenger to the ruling party, All People’s Congress (APC). In the months since he announced his presidential candidacy for elections in March 2018, Mansaray has openly criticized incumbent President Ernest Bai Koroma, who is not seeking a new term. Mansaray’s outspokenness has earned him enemies. Last week, fire broke out in the offices of his party, the Alliance Democratic Party (ADP), in downtown Freetown. The young politician has said that he is very suspicious about the causes of the fire.

The police are investigating. Whether they will find evidence of arson is uncertain. Mansaray also suspects the security forces to be directed by the government and believes they may never find any evidence. According to Dr. Alshek Bangura, Director of Operation of the police in Sierra Leone, the police are relying on the National Fire force for further information. He said it could take several days to determine the causes of the fire and have them confirmed.

A politically motivated act?

Mansaray is a Sierra Leonean politician and leader of the opposition Alliance Democratic Party (ADP). He used to be a member of the ruling party APC and has in depth knowledge of the way it operates. But he was expelled from the party after a couple of years with no reasons given. In 2015, he formed his own political group, the ADP. Within a few months he managed to call the country’s attention to himself through his outspokenness. He is also one of only a few politicians in Sierra Leone who communicate with their audience through social media.

Whether anyone is trying to get Mansaray out of the political equation before national elections take place, is a matter of debate. Mansaray’s lawyer and a member of the SDI (Society for Democratic Initiatives) Emmanuel S. Abdulai said that similar incidents have happened in Sierra Leone in the past, when newspaper offices were burned down.

“The coincidences have been too many. This is a man who has been prosecuted, arrested, detained without bail. All of a sudden his office with all documentation and furniture has been gutted down,” Abdulai told DW. He added that if you knew Sierra Leone’s history: “You would know that the ruling political party would go to any length to quiet an opposition who they feel could hurt their hold on to power.”

But analyst Stephen Douglas told DW that one had to be careful with accusations: “I know Mr. Mansaray of the ADP has said that he suspects a fire bomb was thrown through his offices window at 7:30 in the morning yesterday. That’s his allegation. The police have said that they are going to investigate. As far as I know, there is no evidence of either faulty wiring or a fire bomb.”

Stun guns are no fire arms

Mansaray was accused by the police of possession of firearms without a permit. His lawyer claims that Mansaray’s security detail only had a stun gun. According to Abdulai, the law in Sierra Leone doesn’t consider tasers or stun guns to be fire arms.

Rising opposition candidate Mohammed Kamarainba Mansaray says he is undaunted by what he sees as attacks against his party. While the loss of the party’s offices, documents and equipment in the blaze was a serious setback, Mansaray remains defiant. Some, like analyst Douglas, believe that the politician is not above making capital of the incident: “I don’t think Mr. Mansaray will let this drop. I think he wants to use it to further his political campaign,” Douglas said.

DW tried to contact the president’s spokesperson, Abdulai Bayraytay, but he could not be reached.