The Sierra Leone Telegraph
Home Archives Links to Sierra Leone News

Crisis of Leadership in Sierra Leone: What Crisis?

Abdul R Thomas
Editor - The Sierra Leone Telegraph

21 March 2010

The Sanda Factor?

The people of Sanda - in the Bombali district - Northern Province of Sierra Leone, go to the polls on Saturday 20 April, to elect their parliamentary representative, following the resignation of Eddie Turay MP, who is now serving as the country’s High Commissioner to London.

Citizens of Sanda will also have the chance to express their vote of confidence on President Koroma’s leadership, or show dissatisfaction with the President’s effort in eradicating poverty, illiteracy, poor health and unemployment, in what is regarded as the ruling party’s heartlands. But will they?

While the majority of the people of Sanda may not be highly literate, yet they do know what is good for them. Saturday’s polls may not be a good barometer with which to assess the political significance and repercussions of the current media attacks being waged against the President; but the results should indicate the extent to which the opposition have improved their popularity since the 2007 elections.

Observers have described the somewhat frenzied media attacks against the President and some of his senior lieutenants, including the Minister of Justice and Attorney General, as the most potentially pernicious that the government has had to face, since taking up office in 2007.

Would the people of Sanda use this bye-election as a referendum on issues such as the President’s support for the Anti-Corruption Commission, which is now holding its APC ministers accountable? Would voter apathy play any role in this bye-election?

We would have to wait for the results, which may or may not give us the answers to these questions. Sierra Leone does not have an independent and sophisticated exit poll and voter behaviour evaluation organisation. The media could do this, but ethical reporting is a big problem.

According to figures available from the 2007 general elections, out of the 17,325 residents who turned out to vote in the Sanda constituency 33 of the Bombali district; APC’s Eddie Turay won 73.2% of the votes casted, whilst SLPP's Hamid Sesay got 15.1%, with John B. Koroma of the PMDC scoring third with 5.4% of the votes.

A political pundit writing in the On-line Bintumani discussion Forum, commented; “In my opinion, what the Anti-Corruption Commission does, will not be a factor in this constituency. Ethnic solidarity is primary; bread and butter issues the voters can relate to comes next. What the ACC does, will be considered an abstract exercise to the average voter this Saturday.”

He maintained that “voting will be down - due to apathy. It even happens in advanced democracies. I do not think they’ll get half of the voter turnout they had in 2007. No side will benefit greatly because the apathy will be spread across the board. The commitment to voting is high during national elections. Some of the voters will ask “Ar mean we don vote before; wetin we dae cam vote back for (meaning - why should we come and vote again, after we have already voted in 2007)?”

But voter apathy or not, the opposition should not expect to increase the percentage share of the 2007 votes they received, nor will the people of Sanda use this bye-election as a referendum on President Koroma’s leadership and policies.

So where is the crisis of leadership that sections of the media are alluding to? In all honestly, it is very difficult currently, to see any leadership crisis within the ruling party or the Koroma government.

Despite the sacking, indictment and conviction of ministers, there is no sign of dissent or rancour from within, in protest against the acquiescence of the President and the boldness of the Chairman of the Anti-Corruption Commission.

Things do not seem to be falling apart. Cabinet ministers and senior APC party grandees remain steadfastly loyal to the President. Foot soldiers of the party are busy campaigning in the Sanda constituency – not that they need to work that hard – tribal and family ties will determine the outcome of that bye-election.

The Economy?

Youth unemployment continues to run obscenely high, while the prices of basic goods and commodities rise beyond the reach of the average Sierra Leonean. For most people, especially those living in the rural up country areas – like Sanda, life is a real drag.

The average daily wage of one Dollar is hard to come by. Subsistence farming helps the young as well as old pass the time away. It also provides daily meals for families. But there are talks and rumours everywhere now - of renewed economic activities in the northern towns and cities. King Mining is in Town!

The groundbreaking ceremony marking the commissioning of the Marampa iron ore mines by the London Mining Company Ltd., after thirty years of closure, has added to that general sense of success the President and his cabinet ministers are beginning to savour.

It seems a rather long time now, since the commissioning of Bumbuna and the conclusion of the London Investors Conference. The government needs to look for success stories they can trail, in order to keep morale and the spirits of their hard line supporters gingered.

Bumbuna keeps pumping electricity to satisfy the avaricious appetite of the political class and urban folks in Freetown, while the people of Bumbuna continue to castigate President Koroma’s government, for failing to relieve them from complete darkness and poverty.

The unveiling of operational plans by the African Minerals Ltd., amidst much public fanfare graced by the President and his ministerial team, has brought a renewed spring of confidence to the President’s once heavy leaden limbs.

Thousands of jobs have been promised by both companies, who will be investing millions of Dollars in reviving the country’s beleaguered mining industry. But civil society groups and critics have expressed alarm at the appalling low rate of tax that the government will levy on the turnover of mining companies.

They say that the 6% mining tax is an insult to the people of Sierra Leone, especially for residents of those mining communities, who have suffered abject poverty, massive environmental blight and degradation, caused by decades of irresponsible mining policies of government, driven by avarice and corruption.

The Fight against Corruption?

One would expect that in the nation’s fight against corruption, there will be one single army. For the first time in the country’s history it would seem that the government is heeding the warnings of the international community and its citizens – that corruption must not be tolerated.

But it seems there are dark forces at work that are trying to thwart the sterling efforts of the Anti-Corruption Commission in pursuing and bringing those that they suspect of corruption to justice. Despite the rather crude shenanigans of the ‘Anti-ACC’ forces, the President and the people of Sierra Leone must be pleased with successes thus far.

There are reports of seven senior employees of the National Revenue Authority, along with two Lebanese importers – the Mohsen brothers, appearing in court on Wednesday 17 March 2010, and have been remanded at the Pademba Road Prison – pending further appearances in court on corruption charges.

The Commissioner of the National Revenue Authority, who was appointed by President Koroma, has been sacked and awaiting court charges for corruption.

The Minister of Health has been convicted, sentenced and narrowly escaped prison as he had paid the fine. The Minister of Fisheries and Marine Resources has been indicted in court on a seventeen count charge with offences contrary to the Anti-Corruption Act of 2008.

There are other reports of the Anti-Corruption Commission on Thursday 18th March, 2010 making the news; as two Public Officers of the Ministry of Defence were convicted on all three counts by the High Court.

The Reaction of the International Community?

The reaction of the international community to the efforts of the Anti-Corruption Commission has been swift. The media reports have prompted the United States Embassy in Freetown, to issue a press statement on 15 March 2010, to commend the good work of the Sierra Leone Police and the Anti-Corruption Commissioner.

The statement says: "The United States Embassy wishes to express its recognition of the efforts of the Anti Corruption Commission, and specifically of Commissioner Abdul Tejan-Cole, for investigating corruption in government, including the Immigration department, regardless of the level at which it appears."

In a separate but related development, the British Minister for International Development - Gareth Thomas, had issued a statement, which whilst not giving President Koroma’s government a clean bill of health on corruption, went to assure everyone that;

“The National Audit Office has just returned from Sierra Leone and found no evidence to substantiate these allegations. DFID does not tolerate corruption and has strong systems in place to ensure UK aid gets to those who need it.”

“In fact, we actively pursue those who steal money meant for the poor and have been working with the Government of Sierra Leone to investigate and prosecute those suspected of corruption.”

Also joining the queue in support of President Koroma was the British MP, Claire Curtis-Thomas, who referred to ‘wholly inaccurate statements which has unnecessarily damaged reputations and undermined the good work and offices of the Presidential and DFID offices in Sierra Leone’.

The Secretary-General of the United Nations - Ban Ki-Moon issued a statement on 18 March 2010, “welcoming the recognition by Sierra Leone’s President Ernest Bai Koroma that corruption poses a serious threat to the West African country - Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon says, while he is encouraged by some improvements in its political climate, challenges to fostering political tolerance and promoting non-violence remain.”

The UN statement went on to state that; “Looking at development within the country, the Secretary-General appeals to the international community to fill an anticipated shortfall in donor funding for the implementation of the Government’s so-called Agenda for Change, the national poverty reduction plan which focuses on ensuring a reliable power supply; increasing productivity in agriculture and fisheries; improving the national transportation network; and boosting social services.”

Putting all partisan leaning or otherwise aside, it is difficult to say that there is currently a crisis of leadership in the Koroma government or in the ranks of the ruling party. There is simply no evidence to support this claim. But who knows what the next few months would bring? Will the President offer some of his close members of his family to the Anti-Corruption Commission, for investigations as has been demanded?

The freedom of the press to criticise government and hold public figures to account must remain sacred. And, with this right come responsibilities. The responsibility to stay the execution of popular justice propagated by and in the media, until the rule of Law has prevailed.

There is little doubt that if some of those media attacks had been made against the head of state of any of the developed nations, the government would either have collapsed under the weight of a ‘no confidence vote’ in parliament; or the media editors themselves, would have been charged to court to prove their allegations.

If this is an indication of the level of press freedom Sierra Leone now enjoys, then it must be exercised responsibly and judiciously. The rule of Law and respect for due process must be regarded as the beacon of press freedom in our democracy, whether fledgling or otherwise.

Any violation of this principle will not only regrettably bring the relationship between the media, the state and judiciary into disrepute, but will also, seriously undermine the respect and confidence that citizens have in, and for the media.

Sierra Leone as a nation has come a long way since the end of the war, and it now stands at a cross roads, between avarice and the pursuit of social justice. The media has an onerous task and an inalienable role to play, not only acting as an arbiter, but in informing and educating the masses.

Great care must therefore be taken by the media, in discharging this responsibility, if Sierra Leone’s democratic institutions and rule of Law are to remain unsullied.


Back to main list of articles

Email the Editor
The Sierra Leone Telegraph

©2009 – The Sierra Leone Telegraph – All Rights Reserved.