"Yeah, can Sylvia Blyden live? Can She live?
'Yeah, can Sylvia Blyden live?' is an odd headline. But Jay-Z's 1996 song symbolizes the increasing frustration some of us feel with the escalating harassment of Sylvia Olayinka Blyden.
'So, what do you want to do with Sylvia?' I recently asked one of her detractors. Those who write about Sierra Leone's most vocal critic in violent and aggressive ways.
'Do you want to kill her?' I pressed. Plus, I added, any country with a president who orders three police truckloads to surround his critic's house is THE banana republic.
Sylvia Blyden is no more an enemy of the state than all the revolutionary united front (RUF) sympathizers and combatants in government.
If Sylvia's detractors consider her actions self-serving, why bother with a sledgehammer for such low-level agitation? I argue Sylvia is a target for broadsides and innuendoes because the preferred candidate was roundly defeated in the recent election.
Sure, some Sierra Leoneans I know disagree with many of Sylvia's public statements. But unlike her ferocious political opponents, they do not want her to be "put in a cage and rattled" because they believe in the tenets of democracy.
Sierra Leoneans I know believe in a tolerant political culture; universal attitudes to right and wrong (thou shalt not kill or jail your opponent being fundamental); liberty, and sovereignty.
Most Sierra Leoneans I know also believe people can disagree (and not like each other for a time), but you do not have to oppress your enemies ALL the time and deny their right to exist.
Sylvia's detractors call her a rabble-rouser. Some say she does ethnic baiting. They must not have read what one squad used to write about Ernest Bai Koroma for a decade. They mocked his accent at every turn, claimed that northerners in Sierra Leone were inherently corrupt, and only Mendes from Bo and Segbewama had a God-given right to rule. Does one get riled by those insular views, or do you dismiss them?
The so-called deep-seated political divide between people in the North and South of Sierra Leone predates Sylvia Blyden or any living political commentator. Being Krio gives Sylvia no edge either. She is from a minority group (and a one-time politically-influential family) that held sway in history for a minute because many were college-educated trailblazers in the professional and business classes. Yes, western education and access to capital gave Krios privilege at one time. But sixty years after flag independence, with people from majority tribes taking turns to run Sierra Leone into the ground, I do not know that being Krio (or Sierra Leonean) is a privilege.
What happened when Paul Kamara reprinted a 1967 commission of inquiry proceedings, where a judge recommended that Ahmad Tejan-Kabbah never hold public office in Sierra Leone? Kamara launched the series with the headline "Speaker of Parliament challenge! Kabbah is a true convict!" suggesting that the president should not hold office.
Kabbah was so angry; he did not only jail Kamara for seditious libel, but the state also shut his newspaper, For Di Pipul, down. Worse, Harry Yansaneh, Kamara's replacement, died from a brutal beating reportedly ordered by a parliament member. How many people recall Yansaneh being pummelled within an inch of his life by thugs sent in by Fatamata Hassan Komeh?
So, how far has Sierra Leone moved to the center since then? Not much. Elected politicians still use their office as a tool against their enemies.
If Julius Maada Bio was indeed a Lieutenant before the National Provisional Ruling Council (NPRC) decided on their accelerated promotions during the junta days, why should Sylvia Blyden be harassed for saying so?
As for the conversation between Sylvia and Fatima Bio six years ago, I do not see the point of it.
What has Sylvia done, or 2012 presidential candidate Kadi Sesay, to help women boxed in by Sierra Leone's corrupt patriarchal politics? In 2012, Monica Timbo of Campaign for Good Governance collected stories from women candidates who were called prostitutes and received physical threats.
It's been eight years of the same vicious misogyny.
If the Bio administration is "regularly sending men with guns to Sylvia's Freetown residence, as if her house is a war front," then I hope she is recording these invasions. The world is watching.