Sierra Leone’s presidential election: Is Julius Maada Bio unelectable?

Dr. Alpha Kawusu

30 April 2012

Sierra Leone opposition SLPP presidential candidate - Maada Bio

With barely six months to general and presidential elections in Sierra Leone, the political mood in the country continues to be restless and polarized.

A major contributing factor to this atmosphere is the ruling All People’s Congress’ discomfort with the man at the apogee of the opposition Sierra Leone People’s Party – Julius Maada Bio, the man likely to win the forthcoming elections.

Bio, a retired Brigadier-General and former head of state has been pitted against President Ernest Koroma in the battle for the soul of Sierra Leone.

Interestingly, while the president would never publicly admit it, Bio is the least of the former SLPP flag bearer contestants that he wanted to compete with for the nation’s most coveted office.

Like many Sierra Leoneans living in the Diaspora, the internet has for a long time been my only source for checking Sierra Leone’s political pulse.

However, on the basis of a recent trip to that country, I can now argue that one does not have to conduct a scientific poll to determine that, in general Sierra Leoneans are not opposed to regime change in their country.

Animated political debates and discourses occur openly all over the country, thanks in part to our post-conflict democratic openness, although now on life support in the Koroma era.

Such interactions provide a reliable basis for fathoming the political leaning and voting choice of voters.

A formidable opposition - SLPP's Maada Bio and Dr. Kadi Sesay

Accordingly, in contrast to APC’s partisan propaganda, Bio is well liked in the Western area, well respected in the North and is a hero in the Southeast.

In Bo and Kenema, Bio fever has gripped an electorate ready to exercise its suffrage to get its man elected president.

And realistically, what can be said of Bo and Kenema can be generalized for the entire Southeast, in so far as voting patterns in that region’s districts have historically been a mirror image of each other.

Yet, this surging Bio popularity has had to coexist with a vicious onslaught on his integrity by APC media houses.

If integrity were to be put on the front burner of election year politics, then what would be said of President Koroma who plays an obscure Robin Hood by stealing from the national coffers and openly distributing some of his loot among his supporters?

This shameless behavior is swept under the rug by the president’s supporters, while hailing him as not only an honest man, but a socio-economic development-oriented president whose performance is unparalleled in the history of the country.

Evidently, socio-economic development may be a phenomenon too complex for the average APC praise singer to understand.

For one, a country like Sierra Leone that is virtually bereft of social and economic infrastructures can hardly facilitate and accelerate socio-economic development on the magnitude trumpeted by  these APC enthusiasts.

Second, the president’s Independence Day speech touting strides made in the mining sector is misleading.  Contracts signed between the APC government and the mining companies are not in the best interest of Sierra Leone and Sierra Leoneans.

Consequently, the exploitative conditions under which Sierra Leoneans have had to eke a living in the mines, were the major cause of the recent strikes that resulted in the loss of lives.

Notwithstanding this, Sierra Leone provides a good example of an economy where the natural resource curse is well and alive.

This shows how economies that primarily rely on natural resources such as oil, diamonds, gold, etc. suffer from greater poverty, and are more at risk of conflict than countries with more diversified economies.

Diamonds have been mined in Sierra Leone since the early 1930s.  Yet Sierra Leone has been perennially on the lower rungs of the Human Development Index, while being ceaselessly dogged by political instability and social conflict.

Third, the shoddy road construction projects taking place in a few areas of the country are all mired in corruption, and therefore of little or no economic benefit to the people of Sierra Leone.

In a depressed economy such as in Sierra Leone, the prioritization of road construction projects, among other things, does become a target of expansionary fiscal policy.

Although such an increase in government spending is usually designed primarily to have a multiplier effect on the economy – stimulating economic growth, however, once government corruption is factored into the equation, these projects fail to achieve value for money and their desired objectives.

The multiplier effect describes how an increase in some economic activity starts a chain reaction that generates more activity greater than the initial increase.

To illustrate, let’s assume that the government of Sierra Leone increases its social infrastructure budget by 100 billion Leones to construct a new road.

When the government contracts this project to company X, the money it pays this company will not only be used to purchase construction goods, which adds to the total demand for such goods but that company X will have to hire workers and buy more capital equipment and other inputs to produce more outputs.

The owners of the inputs purchased will in turn receive income.  Generally, they will spend a substantial part of the additional income on additional consumption purchases, pay additional taxes incurred, and save a bit.

By the time the construction project is over, it is possible that the 100 billion Leones initially spent by the government would have increased tenfold, thereby increasing aggregate income in the economy.

However, if the project is mired in corruption, as is the case with the present APC government, aggregate income in the economy is not expected to increase as a result of an increase in government spending.

For all the talk about infrastructural development in Freetown, the city remains a dark and filthy city – where rats and roaches fiercely compete with humans for the consumption of public goods.

Additionally, the much-hyped 24-hour electricity supply is a lie. There are frequent power outages, even in privileged neighborhoods.

Consequently, consumers have to rely on electrical generators for power supply. But these generators pose a serious health hazard, as they contribute immensely to air pollution, which imposes a significant social cost on society.

This notwithstanding, there are mountains of garbage on almost every street corner in Freetown, producing  a stench that depicts a city whose chronic illness can only be cured with a change of both the local and national governments.

The construction of Wilkinson road is almost complete.  But even on African standards, this is a shoddy work that no serious Sierra Leonean should be proud off.

Awkwardly, no attention has been paid to Aberdeen beach and Lumley beach, two major tourist attractions in the greater Freetown area.

The roads to these beaches are bedeviled with gaping pot holes that only a very skillful and patient driver would dare negotiate.  Perhaps even worse is driving from the west end of the city to the east end.

Poor roads, overly aggressive okada (motor bikes) riders, and an excessive pedestrian traffic will all ensure that the driving takes hours.

And added to this mess are the long traffic queues at the aging and dilapidated gas stations and the opportunity that this presents for unscrupulous salesmen to cheat unsuspecting customers.

Crime is at an all time high in Freetown, with pickpockets littering many of the city’s streets.  To make matters worse, undernourished policemen poorly clad in filthy uniforms, look on as  criminals prey on their victims with reckless abandon.

Interestingly, there are rumors that at the end of the day, the pickpockets share their spoils with the policemen who had turned a blind eye to their criminal activities. This makes President Koroma’s police force subservient to the interests of criminals.

Yet an even greater social problem lies with the colossal surge in armed robbery all over the country.

With rising crime prevailing like a pestilence, there is credible evidence of an unholy alliance between President Koroma’s police force and armed robbers around the country.

Tellingly, this nexus between criminality and President Koroma’s government, suggests that the president’s much talked about attitudinal and behavioral change philosophy belongs in the dustbin of hypocrisy and foolishness.

Ironically, Bo, the bastion of the SLPP has grown tremendously in the age of APC mediocrity.

Although starved by the withholding of much-needed government funds due to its political leaning, Bo now boasts of one of the largest college campuses in the country – the Njala University at Bo campus.

Bo is also home to several banks, insurance companies and non-governmental organizations (NGOs).  Besides these, a modern soccer stadium under construction is scheduled to open in 2014.

While a children’s hospital and high end hotels are also under construction, the streets in the heart of the city are nicely paved and there are several entertainment places that make Bo’s night life second to none in the country.

Give this growing city a steady supply of electricity and an international airport and it becomes a major attraction for foreign direct investment.

Yet the growth of Bo as a metropolis would never have happened, had it not been for the competence and honesty of the city’s mayor – Dr. Wusu Sannoh, who doubles as a professor of Chemistry at Njala University.

Such competence of leadership and success at the local level, must be replicated at the national level, for there to be a vibrant nation that is capable of employing its human resource potential at high levels.

Unfortunately, the hallmark of the Koroma presidency has been false promises, violence, corruption and tribalism – caused by weak leadership.

Over the last five years, the president has perpetrated violence against the opposition, endeavored to silence his critics by bribing journalists and established cash for endorsement program – primarily designed to dislodge competing elites from the benefits of mass political participation.

Further, President Koroma has used the state not only to practice extreme forms of social exclusion, but also as an agent of exploitation and plunder, thereby enriching himself at the expense of the general population.

This tendency toward authoritarianism has ushered in inequality in the distribution of income, mass poverty and mass discontent.

Probably, what is lost on the president and his advisers is that states that practice extreme forms of social exclusion, do entrench class and ethnic distinctions, whose material parameters are enough to stimulate a logical conflict that can form the basis for large scale violence.

Precisely, it is the aforementioned negative attributes in the president and his putrid style of governance that has made his opponent a viable alternative.

Bio, by not allowing himself to be distracted by the noises of APC partisans, and instead focusing on winning the presidency, is winning over the large army of the unemployed and the working poor – who are getting poorer as a result of the corrosive effects of hyperinflation under APC rule.

Consequently, when President Koroma’s supporters utter the words: “Di Pa Dae Woke”  (The president is working hard), Bio’s supporters respond with: “Di Mammy Nor dae cook, Di pekin den hangry” ( The wife does not cook and the children are hungry).

Evidently, presidential elections can be influenced by the power of the incumbency.  But the power of the incumbency depends on the trust that has been built between the incumbent and the voters.

In the case of President Koroma, such a trust only exists between himself and the sycophants that surround him.

Koroma asks Gbagbo to step down from office

However, there is a legitimate concern that the president might interpret the power of the incumbency concept to mean that he can rig the elections.

If he does this, then he risks pushing Sierra Leone into the abyss of an Ivory Coast or a Kenya.

 

In that case, a hovering International Criminal Court will ensure that President Koroma follows the path of former President Laurent Gbagbo of Ivory Coast.

 

2 Comments

  1. All I want to say here, is that if Sierra Leoneans fail to remove the present government from power, there will be mass poverty in the country and most middle class will not be able to afford food, let alone school fees to educate their children.

    Sierra Leoneans, I want us to make this a national issue to remove a government that has signed our mining contracts for 65yrs with no benefits or economy change for the people.

    Its so sad…….The same APC again !!!!! Poverty is back at the doors of Sierra Leoneans.

  2. if our nation and the international community can recall the high level delegation that went to gbagbo (headed by our president koroma) failed woefully to convince president gbagbo to step down. what does that imply? it may imply that our president does not have the charisma or will to talk gbagbo out of violence. and in the end, what happened? the WAR that was hiding in the corner (after soo many signals) finally emerged from its habour with a ”smile” and many people died, displaced, etc.

    the one thing for me personally (and i am sure for many others) is that, this country has been divided again. after the good work of the previous government to integrate us as one country one people. furthermore, i want to believe that we have forgotten what our country stands for: UNITY FREEDOM & JUSTICE.

    we can’t develop at the expense of our basics: the price of every food commodity (let alone staple) has risen to an all time high and some people are showing a blind attitude to this injustice.

    we continue to strive for the true visionary soul of our beloved salone.

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