Curfew in place in Sierra Leone after protests turn violent, leaving several people dead

Six police officers and unknown number of civilians killed as country’s president calls for calm

Sierra Leone remains under curfew after huge nationwide protests over the soaring cost of living and other grievances descended into violence on Wednesday.

Six police officers were killed, according to police inspector general William Fayia Sellu. Two of them died in the capital city Freetown, one in northern city Makeni, and three in Kamakwie, a northern town. An unknown number of civilians were also killed.

In a national broadcast, in which he declared a 3pm curfew, vice-president Mohamed Juldeh Jalloh said the “lives of both policemen and civilians were lost”. He called the protesters “self-serving” and “unscrupulous individuals”, saying they “embarked on a violent and unauthorised protest which has led to the loss of lives of innocent Sierra Leoneans, including security personnel”.

Mr Jalloh said the government had shown restraint. Meanwhile, Sierra Leoneans shared videos through WhatsApp and on social media, some of which appeared to show the dead bodies of both police and protesters, along with clouds of tear gas and what appeared to be police shooting live rounds.


One of the protesters, who asked not to be named, told The Irish Times he was shocked at the response of the security forces.

“We were really doing good protesting with [posters],” he said, until the police began firing tear gas towards them, which he saw as an attempt to stop the protesters from airing their grievances. “That made some people go mad and [they] started throwing stones towards the police and it became violent.”

“This was supposed to be a simple protest but [I] really don’t know who the police are really serving, the government or the people,” he continued. “This was the first-ever protest in my life and it didn’t turn out like what I was expecting.”

He said people had different reasons for joining the protests. “Some are saying the president must go while others have different cases like [how] the country is too hard for [them], transportation is expensive, people have been sacked [from jobs] for tribalism.”

The man said he didn’t witness security forces shooting guns, but he saw one person get caught and beaten by police as he ran away.

For now, he said they were unable to take to the streets again because of the curfew, though some wanted to. “People are afraid of the killing,” he said.

“As a government, we have the responsibility to protect every citizen of Sierra Leone. What happened today was unfortunate and will be fully investigated. I urge all Sierra Leoneans to be calm,” tweeted Sierra Leone’s president, Julius Maada Bio on Wednesday evening.

The Economic Community of West African States said it “strongly condemn[ed]” the violence and “call[ed] on all to obey law and order and for the perpetrators of the violence to be identified and brought to justice.”

Global internet monitor Netblocks said the internet was almost completely cut off across Sierra Leone for two hours at noon on Wednesday, and again overnight, going down to just five per cent of normal connectivity.

Sierra Leone has been badly affected by a fuel crisis that has seen hoarding and shortages, along with rocketing prices for transportation, food and other essentials. The currency is depreciating, while many Sierra Leoneans are fed up with corruption and a government they accuse of being ineffective. The West African country, which has a population of about 8 million people, is one of the poorest countries in the world in terms of GDP per capita.

Sally Hayden

Sally Hayden

Sally Hayden, a contributor to The Irish Times, reports on Africa