Politics in Sierra Leone: The challenge of the moment

Raymond Dele Awoonor-Gordon

27 February 2012

History has shown that ordinary people, with a common purpose can take on an incredible challenge and accomplish goals they never dreamt possible.

So the task ahead of us as Sierra Leoneans, especially this year, is to create a framework for confronting the continuous stream of potentially disastrous decisions and undesirable behaviours displayed by those who aspire to lead us as well as those who are already the custodians of our democratic institutions.

As a people, we too need to collectively de-legitimise and reject distasteful behaviours that are engraved in our psyche and upon which our political class breeds so much that it’s only February but already our lives have been taken over by that elite-squad whose talent for deceit is so startling; whose fame for intrigues is so widespread and whose passion for violence and corrupt practices are so diverse across generations, cultures and ethnicities.

As it is and from indications, there is no sign that our politicians and their cronies are ready to mimic the adulation that trailed 2007, going by the paranoia as well as the obscene and barbaric manipulations of every facet of the electoral process; in something of a throwback to the political environment that has always been awash with greed-driven vision.

Our much vaunted democracy is not only planted in the midst of a discredited political elite, but it’s now rooted in electoral processes that not only confound all known meanings of transparency but which seems to have been deliberately skewed to create a probable stalemate and/or confusion.

Egged on by pressure groups and fifth columnists, November’s election; an awkward dinner, is already generating a slew of stories calculated to ensure the usual pull-the-wool-over-our-eyes stunt that paves the way for hollow-promises from the two-faced world of politicians.

Most of our institutions and infrastructure are still in a terrible state of decay and shame; there’s increasing insecurity and the quality of lives deteriorates; collective image and national esteem plummets and the economy sinks rapidly into vicious depth.

Endemic corruption has kept serious investors at bay as the continuing tragicomic national survival questions the ability of existing politicians to find solutions to the huge problems of this era.

Yet, we are not hearing superior arguments of what plans the candidates have to catapult the poorest members of the Sierra Leone society from their squalid living and working conditions, within a mapped out and defined period.

Solutions, with moral weight to the real perilous economic and social issues, are not bringing a twinkle to the eyes of those who claim to be the Moses of our time because they simply have none.

Our political and economic scenes look as bankrupt as Greece and are obviously mired in what looks increasingly like terminal impotence but instead of the Viagra needed as a shot in the arm, it is a recourse to tokenism and a shameless, laughable and frivolous appeal on sectional, ethnic, tribal, political and religious sentiments that are ruling the waves.

Rather than flawless campaign and rare sense of candour from allegedly pure, no-frills leaders, on their ability to fuse poverty and resources to lift millions out of the abyss, outlandish claims and titillating rhetoric are spewed from megaphones mounted in the gloomy political firmament and orchestrated by free-loaders in the media who claim to love the nation but who suffer from verbal diarrhoea and have nothing to offer but bile and personal agenda.

President Koroma and vice president Sam Sumana

While the government is using its own sense of humiliation following the ‘Timbergate’ and other similar scandals as a political weapon and leverage to redeem its image, the opposition is pathetically railing against the coming tide and howling at the moon.

Although the past four and a half years have been one of change and accomplishments, the period has nevertheless distinguished itself as a time of economic troubles; social destruction and political blunders.

The polity is disconnected from its leaders and corruption envelopes the society like two lovers in an embrace. And believe me, that is the truth; no matter what paid agents claim.

The depth of the anguish is etched on the faces of the beleaguered masses who are pessimistic about the future, angry about the present and desperate for a perfect champion for their cause because the haves are on the upward while the have-nots remain wanting.

So, amidst the hero worship of our mediocrity; political pantomime and given that the present class of politicians and their interlocutors seem so unconcerned about involving the rest of us – the rest of us, in the broadest sense, being the entire grassroots and the voting public – isn’t it rather tempting to throw our hands up in the air and ask them to wake us up when their belly dancing is over; when they’ve had their fill or when they are tired of playing with their toy.

Don’t you think it is less trouble to leave those in and outside the corridors of power, who not only keep trying to dictate the trend of our daily lives in the temple of their flawed ideology, but who also feel our realities are not that urgent or important enough to cause a fresh departure from the usual rhetoric that has plagued our existence and who instead, want us to wait patiently until the skies part, to reveal the creator coming in the chariot of fire to deliver us himself?

Because, if we pull away the curtain of propaganda and the veil of dramatics, what’s left is that the APC, SLPP, PMDC, UDM or whatever name that crops up, are showing that they are ‘fingers of the same leprosy hand’; and most of their personnel are old wines in an even older bottle.

They are like the big lump which shares your bed and who you’ve been trying to dump for years, to no avail. And this is why politics is taking a strange, atomised, scrappy path at the moment.

Unfortunately, when you train a monkey to be a butler, you cannot turn round to complain that it is throwing your shirt against the wall. We created the Frankenstein political class that has led us to where we are and which appears uninterested in changing direction.

National socio-political transformation has continued to elude our country simply because we as a people have failed to break the cycle of dysfunction and dismantle ethnic and political sanctuaries; the age-long beliefs and taboos; as well as the foolish prejudices and sentiments that permeate every stratum of our society; especially politics.

So, the system of encryption that fuels the cheap thrills of our political class and its high priests needs to be set aside for a revised, unambiguous social, economic and political charter that even the uninitiated has the key to and can understand.

As we stumble on in the daily struggle to lift the nation and its people out of the mire, the very foundation of our society is being greatly undermined by a section of the social order that is dragging the nation down and pulling back the hands of the clock.

Reactionary forces that are more than determined to not only roll in the deep but are ready to send a chill up the society’s spine for their own convenience.

This sinister group has thus set in motion, forces that are spiralling out of control and hell bent on either controlling our commonwealth in order to maintain its overall supremacy or in the eventuality of failure, to take the rest of us down with it.

From all available indices, the problem is not a one-off. If you dig deep to the source, you’ll find the embedded filth.

Our national malaise is an inter-connected network of problems which includes mass poverty arising from lack of economic and social developmental programmes; corruption, mismanagement, lack of effective leadership, undue reliance on foreign aid/investors as well as paucity of ideas and over-dependence on discredited international survival plans.

Over the years, Sierra Leone has been dragged through the gutters by its so-called leaders. It’s been had over the barrel; it’s been raped and plundered; taken for a ride and dragged to within a whisker of annihilation. Its unfortunate tram has been driven by lifeless souls, usurpers, sadists, buffoons; the invisibles and sheep in wolves clothing.

Till this day, the fight to stem the trend has only been cosmetic especially when we realise that rather than re-engineer our socio-political space, those who have put themselves forward in the past have simply introduced parameters for robbing the treasury, diverting attention and papering over inadequacies.

But then, if the consensus is that our socio-political leaders across board are warped characters, then we must appreciate the fact that they are a product of our spinelessness as a collective entity; since a society cannot produce a leadership that is different from itself.

Although they cannot be absolved from blame, as custodians of our affairs, it is our docility, distorted perception and the rottenness of our national fabric that has kept on fertilising the crop of national distress that has us in a firm grip.

We therefore need to challenge the retrogressive system that makes it possible for the worst politicians of our society to continue to force themselves on us.

For those of us who cannot join the murky fray, there is a positive and effective role to play through the honest education and mobilisation of the citizenry. Let us get something clear, the absence of ignorance and poverty will make it impossible for our not-so-well structured polities to be transformed.

It will also enable us, in the interest of everyone, to establish a culture of alternative viewpoints to national panacea. This can then remain the dominant vehicle for upholding our democratic plurality; rather than the erroneous equation of the will of the influential individuals or the most vocal party.

Because, it is these deficient social situations that have created the emergence of supreme personalities and allow those who have access to power and state resources not only to simply live it up and dispense to others as benevolent masters; but also to utilise all the national apparatus at their disposal to impede the emergence of a better informed society.

It is why in one corner there are things that aren’t quite what they seem. Emblems of a bloated, arrogant, self-satisfied political elite with sneering contempt for any form of criticism and completely bewildered that anyone could ask whether their perceived short-comings are a confirmation of their inability to engineer the desired change that we all desire.

I had expected Attitudinal Change to be a clear-cut action plan for moral renewal across board. But what has emerged is that corruption within and outside politics assumed some religiosity and grew in epic proportion amidst a display of absurdity; bare-faced stupidity and despicable hoodwink.

I am very much aware that democracy is not like instant coffee. It is a process that needs systematic development. It takes time to grow and build progressively, cumulatively, resiliently and resolutely.

But it will amount to a waste of time if the architects of the democratic fortunes at whatever stage fail to display reliable leadership, competence and a staunch commitment to good governance and socio-political development.

Blame being a slippery concept in politics is why our politicians betray themselves as having the mindset of masters of the universe with a strong sense of entitlement and a weak appetite for scrutiny or criticism.

So, as the confines of our political arena comes alight with the usual theatrics in the run-up to November and as our future and national needs get lost in a whirl of unconnected themes, personalities and irrelevant issues, let us not even attempt to allow natural sympathy for any political preference to get in the way of truth.

The monstrously-patterned, anti-aspirational mood music we are being forced to sing along to, at a huge cost; and which has become a funeral dirge, needs replacing with a soul lifting upbeat sound.

Why should we be saddled with such tales from the moonlight as ‘attempted rituals’; who owns what car; who goes to the UN, or who killed cock-Robin as well as clashes and obscene tirades; etc when money is tight, when cost of living is choking and nothing can be done without palm-greasing?

Our politicians, their cohorts and those who aspire to lead us should realise that they are like swimmers and some of us are watching their backside which they cannot see themselves.

I am aware that history is written by the victors. But if they want to be seen in a better light and if they believe in the fluid politics of today; that they have something to offer their party and the country more than they have done so far, our politicians should come out and tell the nation. All of us. Not just their own self-absorbed group.

Let them do us a favour and come out and convince us why they are worthy of being called our leaders.

What viable programmes they are planning to improve and build on what is on the ground as well as how they intend to finance their promises rather than selling us into slavery.

We want to know the specifics of getting our youths into viable employment and not just the usual blanket “I will do this and that”. We are tired of mealy-mouthed declarations of determination to change the course of history which has become a euphemism for disquieting desperateness and the seam for the toga of corruption.

We’ll like to feel less heat and see more light. Let’s hear the competing arguments in real practical terms, for the benefit of real voters, and let everyone with a view have their say. Let extraneous and extra-judicial applications not be introduced into the run-up.

As Sierra Leoneans we must be ready to challenge our leaders to address issues and how they plan to fix them.

The campaign and the election of this year must be on what the real issues are – the declining economy, health care, education, security etc and not the ego of individuals and their personal interests.

Every promise must be accompanied by time frame and not promises that would not be fulfilled except for banal euphoria.

We need to jettison meaningless political flattery; and those who turn blind eyes to issues that are inherently flawed in our socio-political set-up must recognise that the time has come for every patriotic Sierra Leonean to begin to put his or her head above the parapet.

Our flirtations with mediocrity and consistent failure must come to an end. A proverb says ‘if you want to go fast, go alone but if you want to go far, go together’.

That is why we must no longer allow the fox (our politicians) who want to go fast, to continue to be the jury alone at the trial of the goose and we must also not forget that no matter how much you sympathise with soldier ants, they will still bite you.

 

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