Ibrahim S Mansaray: 26 May 2020:
In the early 1990s, Leonard Weinberg wrote the first and foremost article about the conditions under which political parties turn to terrorist activities. He argued that the links between terrorist groups and political parties have become common, often affecting each other’s appearances and disappearances.
Political parties labeled as terrorist include the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which is linked to Kurdish militant separatism, as well as radical Islamist political parties linked to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS). Donetsk Republic is another proto-state political party, which is classified as a terrorist organization by the Ukrainian authorities.
In China, Uyghur jihadists have established a terrorist organization called Turkistan Islamic Party aimed at seeking the independence of East Turkestan. The African National Congress and the Palestine Liberation Organization have all been branded as a terrorist organization at one point in time. Some, if not all, are geared towards their independence in their different approach to their political goals.
Bringing political parties to court to determine their liability for terrorism is a feature of the contemporary judicialization of politics. This tendency has direct implications for the constitutional division of powers, which is the most plausible reason why, in many countries, it appears inconceivable to attribute criminal liability to political parties.
During the Cold War, both the State and Defense departments dubbed Mandela’s political party, the African National Congress, a terrorist group, and Mandela’s name remained on the U.S terrorism watch list till 2008. In August of 1998, the State Department listed ANC among “organizations that engage in terrorism.” It said the group “disavows a strategy that deliberately targets civilians,” but noted that civilians had been “victims of incidents claimed by or attributed to the ANC”.
But the Defense Department stood by its language, and Mandela and other ANC officials remained on the terror watch list even as President Bush welcomed Mandela, newly released from prison, to the White House in 1990. The “terrorist designation finally proved too embarrassing for the US government to ignore.
In April 2008, during the last year of the George Bush administration, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told a Senate Committee that her department had to issue waivers for ANC members to travel to the United States.
Later that year, the terrorist designation was dropped after a bill, proposed by then-Senator John Kerry, passed both houses of Congress and was signed by President Bush. The African National Congress was in many ways the backbone of the resistance against Apartheid.
It began by using peaceful methods to oppose the system. The Sharpeville Massacre in 1960- where many black peaceful demonstrators were shot in the back by police was a powerful factor in the ANC decision to take up arms against the system. Margaret Thatcher, prime minister of Britain in the 1980s, called the ANC a terrorist organization, and her spokesman famously said that anyone who believed that the ANC would ever form the government of South Africa was ‘ living in a cuckoo land’. Apartheid came to an end in 1994 and ANC formed the new government with Nelson Mandela as president.
In a recent televised broadcast to the nation, president Bio labeled the largest opposition party, APC as a terrorist organization and financier of wanton destruction in the country. This message comes against a backdrop of the country being highly polarized on tribal, ethnic, and party affiliations.
So many unanswered questions remain: will president Bio meet with a “Terrorist Party” in his quest to form a national cohesion? Is the Political Parties Registration Commission going to rescind the registration of the APC from a political party to a new Terrorist Party? Is this the dead end to peace in Sierra Leone? Has the door been shut? How can you turn around and sit with a political party you have branded a Terrorist?
The speechwriters of the president may not have weighed the ramifications of branding a political party a terrorist in a country where jobs are few to come by, where the economy is still on life support, where even the basic necessities of life are hardly to achieve. If there is anything president Bio needs at this crucial time is peace in a divided country.
If president Bio can boast of anything in the world, he should be grateful that the people of Sierra Leone, bulk of his SLPP supporters and even some admirers of the APC party supported him and made him president of Sierra Leone. It is a feat he should compare himself to leaders like Olusegun Obasanjo of Nigeria and Jerry Rawlings of Ghana, to name but a few. These are leaders who had the opportunity to rule their country twice.
It is a blessing and a gift from God, and anyone blessed with such feat as president Bio should consider peace, unity, and cohesion the landmark of his presidency. President Bio will only succeed in Sierra Leone when there is peace and the semblance of the people’s belief that he is the Father of the Nation, regardless of political differences.
The opposition All Peoples Congress may not be an award winner in terms of convincing people of their record on violence, however, the nomenclature of being a terrorist organization or financier of wreaking havoc on civilians, perpetrating wanton destruction on lives and properties may not be their cup of tea.
The APC party had handful of their members booted out of parliament, after spending close to a year in parliament. They resort to the judiciary for due diligence, a case that is still awaiting jurisdiction. The APC party leadership has been uncharacteristically silent on many upheavals besetting the party, an accusation that has been levied on the doorstep of the Chairman and Leader of the party. His eerie silence has made many supporters calling for his removal.
To some, Ernest Koroma is playing the statesmanship game, just as his predecessor Tejan Kabba, allowing the present president to rule freely with no side distractions, while others want him to stand and address his supporters who are behind bars awaiting trial, speak on the spate of lawlessness in the country and the outbreak of the coronavirus scourge. (Photo: Former head of UN in Sierra Leone – Michael Schulenburg meets Ernest Bai Koroma few months ago in Makeni).
There is another school of thought that strongly believe that there is only one president at a time and the time should be given to president Bio to perform his constitutional powers.
President Bio may not be a typical politician with humor, eloquence, and a convincing strategist, however, his recent overtures to civil society and his engagement with the international community is a step in the right direction.
His inclusion of opposition members in the fight against the coronavirus scourge can be replicated in other spheres of political landscape to achieve his political goals.
President Bio may have all the strategists and elites in his government but his success on nationwide will only be realized when he incorporates competent citizens from all shades of the political aisle.
As the coronavirus continues to eat deep in our meager resource, and as the politics of polarizations seem to be on the rise, president Bio has the herculean task of uniting the country and achieving his dreams for the country of his birth rather than criminalizing a political party that will be hard to eradicate from the country’s history.
If my party is branded a terrorist, does it mean I am a terrorist?