Good governance in Sierra Leone is the only way forward

Jimmy Kandeh and Sulaiman Banja Tejan-Sie

Sierra Leone Telegraph: 6 October 2016


When one hangs around any of the entertainment or social joints in urbane Freetown, the buzz word is the current economic hardship and its social impact on an anguished nation.

Our current economic woes are man-made. They are the result of uninterrupted economic mismanagement, high level corruption and lack of accountability occasioned by a deliberate policy to weaken and leave crucial democratic institutions at the mercy of the executive.

Today, years of penury for the vast majority of our compatriots in our native Sierra Leone have kept us pondering over these questions: where does this poverty stricken nation go from here? Continued chaos?  Or rebuilding our democracy and improving the quality of governance?

An affirmative answer to the last question appears by far a better and our only alternative out of our extant predicament. The quality of governance and the efficacy of our democracy do have a direct bearing on the state’s capacity to perform basic functions, respond to crises, care for its citizens and promote development.

Bad governance on the other hand has always being a source of all sorts of political, social and economic dysfunctions. Sierra Leone would have never suffered from an armed insurgency or be overwhelmed by the Ebola epidemic if governance quality was good and state institutions were effective.

Fixing the myriad of problems our country face today, has to, therefore, commence with a complete overhaul of how political power has been organized and exercised, to what effect and for whose benefit.

electionPower that emanates from the people must be exercised in their interest. Therefore, political organizations and the exercise of state power must be grounded in the needs, interests and aspirations of the majority.

This must be done by ensuring that state institutions and agencies function independently and effectively to uphold and promote our common interests which are the most assured way to nurture and consolidate good governance.

An important component of good governance is social provisioning by the state. The Newly Industrializing Countries (NICs) of South East Asia developed not only by growing economies of accumulation in targeted sectors but by also investing heavily in education, health care and basic infrastructure.

Social spending and curbing corruption go hand in hand for the less corruption there is the more resources will be available to spend on health care, clean drinking water, education, energy, and infrastructure. In underdeveloped countries like ours, development is a primary national interest that should at all times be promoted by state policies.

State power cannot be institutionalized unless it is consistently exercised to make a positive difference in the lives of ordinary people. It is by effectively responding to the needs, interests and aspirations of our people that governance can be improved and state power institutionalized.

Therefore, transforming an under-developed state, which continues to impede development into an effective state that promotes development, is the overriding governance challenge facing our country.

good-governance-1Governance, development and democracy intersect at multiple levels and what kind of state a country aspires to become is critical to mapping its developmental trajectory. Development, next to security, is our overriding national interest and nothing enhances security and helps consolidate democracy more than development.

Development enlarges individual freedoms and choices, transforms social structure and gives everybody a good reason to support the state. It is difficult to identify with failing states but easy to support states that are performing well.

Beyond accountability mechanisms and social provisioning, good governance in the context of Sierra Leone ultimately rests upon ensuring that what the state does is partial to the needs, interests and aspirations of the masses.

As we review our current state of affairs in our urgent quest to find a solution, Sierra Leone has a plethora of governance constraints that includes:

  • Weak Political institutions because state power is not institutionalized and informal networks and arrangements take precedence over formal bureaucratic channels and rules. Making the state effective involves overcoming this institutional divergence, upholding formality and universality (merit, rule of law, transparency, and accountability) and diminishing the significance of informality and particularity (patronage, ethnicity, etc.).
  • Pervasive and entrenched patronage continues to define our political system, drive political processes, crowd out formal institutional processes and undermine all reform efforts. The executive is chief dispenser and recipient of patronage and the practice of awarding government contracts to family members, cronies and business associates show no signs of abatement and may have gotten worse over the years.
  • Lack of consensus among the political elites on procedural rules, evidenced by the tendency to militarize political competition and the high levels of political violence and intimidation that continue to mar political contestation. Bending rules, manipulating procedures, resorting to violence and subverting unfavorable outcomes occur within the framework of informal logic and rules, which enjoy far greater consensus than formal ones.
  • We are not yet a nation (nationhood remains an aspiration or work in progress) and what divides our people trumps what unites us. Because the state tends to favor the ethno regional base of incumbent parties, and because parties and elites benefit from the politicization of ethno regionalism, a sense of nationhood that transcends communal solidarity remains weak. That we are yet to cohere as a nation is partly the fault of opportunistic politicians who invoke affective loyalties to empower themselves, disunite us as a people and fragment our resistance to bad governance.
  • Government is the agent of the state (locus of power) and governance problems are compounded when principals (state institutions) are captured and manipulated by state agents (political incumbents and bureaucrats).
  • Unrestrained clientelism in state institutions has concentrated power in the presidency, diminished administrative capacity and prevented the development of effective instruments of horizontal accountability. Democracy cannot be consolidated in the absence of horizontal accountability.
  • Democratic prospects are improved when the avenues of power and wealth are separated rather than converged as is the case in Sierra Leone today. Conversion of state offices and public resources into sources of personal wealth has transformed the state into a primary avenue of class formation.
  • Unbridled corruption among public officials was the underlying cause of the war and we have not done a good job since the end of the war tackling corruption. Because corruption nurtures poverty, undermines security, weakens public institutions and alienates the citizenry, its drastic reduction is critical to improving governance and resetting our country on a progressive course.
  • Bloated, inefficient and excessively politicized, our civil service operates in much the same way as it did before the war. Recruitment, appointments and promotions are based on patronage, which corrodes the relative autonomy, effectiveness and professionalism of the bureaucracy. Patronage inhabits the civil service perhaps more than any other sector of state and government, with civil servants routinely converting their offices into rental havens and depriving the state of resources required to perform its functions.
  • We remain by all accounts one of the poorest countries in the world, with high infant and maternal mortality rates, illiteracy and inequality based on class, gender and location. Corruption makes it harder to break out of poverty as it deprives the state of the resources needed to deliver social goods and provide mobility opportunities for the average citizen.
  • Sierra Leone lacks an indigenous business class that is capable of developing productive forces, partnering with the state, checking the power of political incumbents and providing the economic impetus for sustained democratization. An independent entrepreneurial class is not only required for economic transformation, the emergence of such a class can empower civil society in its interactions with the state and dramatically improve prospects for democratic consolidation.

good-governance-3The solutions to these arduous challenges will lie in the creation and implementation of a new set of governance objectives to include the following:                         

  • Good governance begs to be institutionalized; bad governance fragments, delegitimizes and deinstitutionalizes state power. The institutionalization of state power ensures political stability, prevents coup d’etats and armed insurgencies and improves state effectiveness.
  • States are transformed through regime change. Regime change, which is not the same as changing governments, is imperative if we are to have good governance in Sierra Leone. Regimes (principles and norms of political systems or how state power is organized and exercised) can foster or impede development, safeguard or obstruct democracy, strengthen or undermine public institutions and, in extreme cases, collapse states. Our current regime is neo-patrimonial and has failed to deliver development. Transforming to a developmental state that is democratic rather than authoritarian (as in the early East Asian examples) better reflects the needs and aspirations of the vast majority of our people than some of the ‘best practices’ of neo-liberal orthodoxy.
  • Government should be subordinated to the state, not the other way round, if the state is to be effective in the performance of its functions. Allowing public institutions to function autonomously of incumbent governments and safeguarding these institutions and agencies against politicization are critical to improving state performance and governance quality.
  • The objective here is to put a stop to the practice of converting state offices into sources of personal wealth by politicians and bureaucrats. It is all well and good for independent wealth to translate to power but the political process ceases to work for the people when power becomes the primary source of wealth among politicians.
  • It is very difficult to implement the most basic of reforms in the absence of professional bureaucrats whose private incentives do not collide with the public interest. Depoliticizing the civil service and enhancing its autonomy and professionalism are required to make the state effective and work for the society over which it presides.
  • Corruption can never be completely eliminated but it can be significantly reduced, tamed and contained. Curbing corruption starts at the top and is critical to ending mass poverty, enhancing state security, improving governance quality and building mass support for the state.
  • Access to health care, education, clean drinking water and electricity for all citizens is a springboard for development, exemplifying what the state can do to make a positive difference in the lives of ordinary citizens and institutionalize power.
  • Rents from the exploitation of our natural resources should be used to underwrite the costs of social goods and finance development projects. Where possible ‘forward’ and ‘backward’ linkages will be nurtured and ‘obsolescing’ bargains sought in the extractive sector so as to maximize rents to the state and spur industrial development.
  • Lifting the majority of our population from the depths of abject poverty and transforming the social structure through economic development are critical to improving governance and establishing the foundations for social progress and sustainable development.
  • Development of Indigenous Business Class that will partner and compete with foreign capital. This will involve identification of priority sectors for development and working closely with local entrepreneurs and foreign investors to achieve development benchmarks. Developing a strong local business class will strengthen civil society and help check the power of the state.
  • Promotion of a common national imaginary that overrides communal solidarity. Putting Country First captures the imperative of privileging the interests of the country and the majority of its citizens who happen to be poor in policy/project/program conception, implementation and oversight. No ethnic group or region will be favored in the exercise of state power or in the state’s allocation of resources and appointments to top positions.

good-governance-2Every Sierra Leonean stands to benefit if the state forges ahead and our country develops. But we can never forge ahead and develop if only a few benefit from the abundant riches of our country.

The best antidote to communal politicization is for the state to be inclusive by providing equal opportunities for all its citizens regardless of ethnicity, region of origin, party affiliation, religious conviction, gender and political beliefs.

In accomplishing these objectives certain governance modalities must be put in place that should include:

  • Political Institutionalization. (1) Strengthen horizontal (parliament, judiciary, ACC) and vertical accountability mechanisms (electoral commission)

(2) Promote and defend the relative autonomy of public institutions and agencies. For accountability mechanisms to function effectively they must be allowed the necessary autonomy, capacity and institutional space to perform their tasks

(3) Use state agencies to combat mass poverty and build support for public institutions based on good performance. Improved accountability, transparency, inclusiveness and social provisioning should be the building blocks of good governance and political institutionalization.

  • Regime Change. Adoption of the Developmental State model that is liberal, as opposed to authoritarian, because it caters to the needs and aspirations of our country and its people at this historical juncture.
  • National Cohesion. Achieving national cohesion depends less on what ordinary people do than on what leaders do and who benefits from the exercise of state power. It is by allowing the interests of the country to take precedence and override all other interests that we can make strides not only to develop and become a nation but to also consolidate our fragile electoral democracy. Active and transparent adherence to, and promotion of, policy of non-discrimination is required.
  • State and Government. The emphasis on horizontal accountability and the reduction of patronage in public institutions and agencies will begin to establish some distance between state institutions and party government.
  • Power and Wealth. Stringent conflict of interest regulations for public officials should be instituted to ensure that public offices are not transformed into sources of personal wealth. Asset disclosures by public officials should be a key requirement for holding public office and unexplainable wealth should be confiscated by the state. No ‘reserved domains’ or ‘sacred cows’ should be tolerated.
  • Meritocratic Bureaucracy. This involves streamlining the bureaucracy by reducing patronage, basing appointments and promotions on merit, developing a sense of role and mission, reconciling the incentives of bureaucrats with the interest of the public, rewarding high performance institutions and agencies, and strengthening IPAM.
  • War on Corruption. (1) Codify, streamline, strengthen and emphasize conflict of interest laws; (2) Confiscation of ill-gotten wealth and properties; (3) Mandatory jail sentences for officials convicted on corruption charges; (4) Reform and Clean-up the judiciary and civil service
  • Resource Rent and Sustainable Development. Strictly adhere to the value chain model of natural resource management, renegotiate mining contracts, seek reputable mining partners, become EITC compliant and allocate the bulk of resource rents to the provision of social goods and infrastructure development.
  • Ending Mass Poverty through Economic Development, Education, Anti-Poverty Programs and Anti-Corruption activities. Education lifts individuals out of poverty and it can also free the mass of our people from want.
  • Education, Health Care, Energy and Infrastructural Development. The bulk of resource rents and proceeds from anti-corruption enforcement should be invested in these critical sectors.
  • Development of an Indigenous Business Class. State partnership with local entrepreneurs and foreign investors to invest in sectors where we can develop economies of accumulation and become globally competitive in what we do best or can best produce.

When all is said and done, certain persistent governance challenges and inadequacies are preventing our country from forging ahead. Putting our governance house in order and improving governance across the board is a necessary first step toward realizing the potentialities of our country and its people.

The aspirations of our people for development, democracy and good governance have historically outpaced the commitment of our political leaders to these universals.

State power in our context can only be institutionalized when its exercise favors the many and where accountability mechanisms are in place to deter and check abuses of power. Good governance, in short, is what institutionalizes state power.


  1. Your article is well enlightening, perfectly chronicled. It really exposes the extremely poor leadership of this Koroma government.

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