Andrew Keili: Sierra Leone Telegraph: 4 December 2021:
Congratulations to the SLPP for successfully conducting the election for women’s leader in Freetown. Kudos to the women of the party. You may want to ask why I am commenting on an internal SLPP issue when it should be none of my business. You would be right if you do! However, as a commentator on the socio-political scene, I would implore you -Allow me to enjoy myself!
Many were expecting the worse after the aborted “rumble in the jungle” election in Kailahun which was marred with, what Olu Jones, NEC’s spokesman would call “gbongbosoro” and “dabaru games”. But perhaps on reflection the debacle in Kailahun should have been expected. Many would not know, but this was the first time the party was holding such an election separately from the normal National Executive elections at the National Convention. With two of the contestants in Kailahun wearing judo belts and without shoes, the atmosphere was distinctively hostile.
Most of the hall marks of election rigging were on full display- a dodgy electoral list, missing names etc. The trick of pretending to drop a voter’s ballot paper into the ballot box and instead handing it over later to a more trusted lieutenant of the sponsoring candidate who is also a voter and who would drop the ballot with his/hers for the preferred candidate seemed to be on display, judging from social media pictures.
I don’t know what happened to the NEC and PPRC representatives- probably ran into a bundo bush in Kailahun! I don’t believe the rumour that the Party Secretary General hid under the table (that would be very untypical of a Napoleon!) and the Chairman did a 100-metre dash into a neighbouring house.
I however know Chairman Prince Harding to be as fit as a fiddle and a good dodger of bullets. There were accusations of intimidation, money changing hands and general meddling from the top hierarchy of the party. The outcome seemed like it would be an existential threat for some of the candidates.
Alas the election was cancelled and transferred to Freetown. Just when we thought we should buy our popcorn or “granat” and sit down to watch another “gbongbosoro”, SLPP wisely brought in a group headed by Education Minister Dr. David Sengeh. Mines Minister Timothy Kabbah, wily veteral journalist Sourie Fofana and others to run a free and fair election.
Armed with knowledge of databases and algorithms, these bright young party stalwarts at the helm of the Independent Elections Monitoring and Oversight committee (IEMOC) made it impossible for riggers with the measures they put in place.
The normal steps were put in place- Validate and publish list of delegates, publish all electoral guidelines before the conduct of elections, have delegate verification on site, verify voting process etc. This time they complemented this with cameras placed in the vicinity of the election area for security and election monitoring. These measures ended our Indian film!
This obviously presented challenges for riggers-No more passing your ballot to a proxy, hiding extra ballot papers in “kak bobbies”, tampering with delegates’ lists and all the trick in the book. I can’t help but make some personal observation.
The moment I learnt the elections were postponed; I feared the worst for Fatmata Sawaneh. I feared the momentum which she had going into Kailahun would be dissipated when the elections got to Freetown.
There would be a chance delegates would be induced by those with superior funding, especially if Sawaneh could not have backers with deep pockets. The postponement of an election can be a game changer as a potent opponent will have a better chance to regroup. There is obviously the other issue of the alleged involvement of the First Lady in these internal elections, but since I don’t have knowledge of this and would like to enjoy my Christmas, I will not comment on it.
Let us come back to the candidates. There is little doubt about the popularity of the incumbent, Fatmata Sawaneh who is very much liked by the women within the party. I have watched her progress over the past decade. I have seen her grow from a hot head into a reasonably measured person with a penchant for building fences within the party.
Her loyalty to the party and President Bio cannot be questioned. She has improved herself considerably in public appearances, from making frequent gaffes and assassinating the Queen’s language in her earlier days to almost flawless English when she is required to speak in English. She is also loathed by others in equal measure as being involved in alleged violent actions by the party against opponents.
The winner, Hawa Foray was in the diaspora and is a more recent returnee but her supporters say she is more mature. She says she is proud to be called a “cookery woman”-whatever that means! My guess is she is probably involved with running a restaurant-hence the unfair reference to a “cookery woman”, as was done a few elections ago for one, now prominent Parliamentarian.
What sort of women’s leader is the SLPP going to have? Time will tell. The big elephant in the room however appears to be the role of the First lady. Sawaneh may not have been her preferred candidate. Rumour has it she was supporting Hawa Foray. Judging by the popularity of Sawaneh, there will be a lot of fence mending to do-never mind the optics in the pictures taken after the elections with all of the candidates grinning like Cheshire cats.
The SLPP has however shown that it can fight and in the end resolve its problems. There is no doubt the party is essentially divided in the middle over this and pending elections. A big one to come is the Prince Harding versus Jimmy Batilo Songa battle. Or, is it possible for Chairman Bhonapha, the dark horse to slip through unnoticed?
No doubt, the battle lines are drawn and there may be some falling out of sorts after the results. The party is however old enough to realise that without unity, going into an election with one faction will lead to non-collaboration by other factions with negative repercussions for the election.
The question for the Harding / Songa election is whether Dr. Sengeh and his team will navigate through the shark infested waters to successfully handle the elections at the National conference or they will need the assistance of drones and Apache helicopters! Harding v Songa- Let us buy our popcorns and watch! December 22nd and 23rd is not a long way off.
By the way, I will also comment on the internal elections of other parties as they arise and I will continue to enjoy myself doing that-Allow me to enjoy myself for now. But seriously, congratulations to the SLPP for concluding a seemingly impossible task without rancour- at least not yet!
BANK GOVERNOR’S TERMINOLOGICAL INEXCACTITUDE
I am not a fan of our Bank Governor, Dr. Kelfala Kallon but I like him for a few things –He is a honest man and speaks his mind. The Governor has said several times that his work is made doubly difficult because we have an economy in which imports far exceed exports and we have been doing very little to redress this imbalance by increasing production.
He has said over and over that the implementation of monetary policy within his purview is fraught with difficulties. Some have said in jest that perhaps the statement made by a trader in one of his consultative meetings that “Di Salone economy day na street” should have qualified the trader to be Deputy Bank Governor.
I have had my run ins with the Governor in our SLPP opposition days. Anytime he felt I had written something negative about President Bio in this column, he would respond in his favourite Newspaper, usually in a two-page spread. The first paragraph would introduce the topic and finger me as the antagonist. This would be followed by several paragraphs making his case in professorial fashion, usually accusing me of my lack of knowledge about economics. He would then make a strong conclusion usually bordering on telling me to go to hell. Obviously, I have not gone there!
I was surprised he used the word “bribe” when alluding to steps he had taken to steady our currency. According to him he had bribed people some $60m to bring back Leones to Sierra Leone that they had hoarded, mostly abroad. I feel sorry for Governor Kallon who I now like-well sometimes. He obviously did not mean “bribe” but the opposition media have been quick to pick on him.
This is purely a matter of terminological inexactitude. It is like the former Chief Minister mentioning in a speech in Kenema that it was alright to take one percent of government funds-egregious mistake! We should learn object lessons from this-Watch your language when dealing with sensitive issues, especially when it has to do with money and corruption.
The Bank has taken the governor’s statement seriously and issued out professorial press releases explaining what the Governor meant. You know, I think the Governor should have used his professorial language when describing this issue. Word like “stimulating the economy”, “automatic stabilisers”, “allocative efficiency”, “non-Accelerating-Inflation Rate of Unemployment (NAIRU)” should have been used. I don’t even know what these mean, but if he had only used big words that most people don’t understand, they would have let him go, merely remarking- “Dis man too lek buk!
Anyway, my advice for people in such positions is- Avoid careless talk. Period!
Ponder my thoughts.