Abdulai Mansaray: Sierra Leone Telegraph: 23 April 2023:
The late President Siaka Probyn Stevens has been credited with the unenviable accolade as midwife of Sierra Leone’s economic demise, after he rammed the proverbial One-Party State system down the throats of Sierra Leoneans.
It is generally considered disrespectful to speak evil of the dead, but equally disingenuous to “foxilise” (Fox News reporting) history. We cannot adulterate our history. Our experience of a One- Party State rule is anything but glorifying.
It took a decade of abject inhumanity, savagery, brutality and the senseless base instincts of mankind for our country to realise that there was another way for governance: Democracy.
Conventional wisdom has it that despite the pitfalls of Democracy; a government by the people, for the people and of the people is the nearest form of good governance.
The end of the civil war marked a departure for our country and the birth of democracy as we know it. Is it? Do we? The departure felt like a natural progression to have a leader that would encapsulate the badly needed healing process for our country.
Notwithstanding a rather chequered past, the late President Ahmed Tejan Kabba was anointed with the oil of majority consent and tasked with the arduous and seemingly impossible job of reconciling our nation for political rehabilitation.
The late President Kabba had hitherto been barred from taking up any political position in our country, thanks to some financial gymnastics during his time at SLPMB. However, the need for a unifier was so great that the delete button was conveniently applied to this segment of his life, which was a small price to pay in exchange for peace.
The seemingly unacceptable deals with Foday Sankoh were hard pills to swallow for many Sierra Leoneans. But we did it for the sake of peace. Sadly, now that we have democracy, we don’t know what to do with it. The rest is history.
Since our independence, and throughout the musical chairs among our leaders, from civilian to military rule, one thing that has remained constant like the Northern Star is the art of political cross-carpeting.
The late Tamba Songu MBriwa of Kono District, who had formed the Sierra Leone People’s Independence Movement (SLPIM) later joined Sir Milton Margai’s SLPP Party. He subsequently fell out with Sir Milton and was removed from office and banished to Kamakwie. He later crossed the Rubicon, joined the APC and handed victory to the APC Party in the 1967 elections.
So, the art of changing political parties and allegiances is in our nation’s political DNA. “Some people change their party for the sake of their principles; others their principles for their parties” (Churchill).
The forthcoming elections in Sierra Leone is no different. What is striking is the dramatic nature of this political ritual. In 2018, several political parties mushroomed from various parts of the country to add colour to our political canvas. Prominent among them were the National Grand Coalition (NGC) and the Coalition for Change Parties(C4C). The euphoria that greeted these new kids on the block was reflective of the political apathy among voters, who had endured the same rehashed promises of building bridges where there were no rivers from the usual suspects.
As Dr Yumkella and Alhaji Sam Sumana enrobed themselves with messianic fanfare, little did many pay attention to the political tremors that led to their chameleon syndrome. Here is a simple litmus test.
Both men belonged to the SLPP and APC respectively. Sam Sumana went as far as being the Vice President of the country. Dr Yumkella aspired to be the flagbearer of the SLPP for the 2018 elections.
What Yumkella failed to count on was that having tasted power, President Bio had made it his life’s purpose among others, that “PAOPA”, he will rule again. Yumkella found out too late that “ he who fights and runs away, lives to fight another day”; just like he who rules and runs away lives to rule another day.
Alhaji Sam Sumana’s road to political perdition was anything but honourable. While Yumkella became an obsession to EBK and the fourteen others, Sam sought refuge in Ghana “for fear of his life”. That is what he told the BBC then, when the noose was tightening around his neck. His departure from the APC will go down as one of the most “et tu brute” act one, scene two episodes of political tragedy. Like Yumkella, he returned to form the C4C party as payback. Let us look at these two kids on the block, who carried the hopes of the disgruntled.
Sam was kicked out of the APC party, while the door was slammed in Yumkella’s face. Both appeared to have exhausted their welcome. The C4C and NGC were not formed based on principles, policies or ideologies. At best, they were classic examples of “hell hath no fury like a politician scorned”. Their messages of hope for Sierra Leoneans were marinated in emotion. Is it any wonder that except for one constituency in Kono, C4C made a clean sweep in 2018?
While the then SLPP flag bearer Maada Bio, was telling his folks that “Bidi bi dimia”, my cousins were reminding themselves that “ Kono EE Kono Fah” and gave their “komaneh” a bloody nose. My uncles in Bombali still blame their Komanehs for the 2018 loss, while my cousins blame my uncles for ingratitude.
Just like in international relations, there are no permanent friends or enemies, just permanent interests. When Sam paid a well-publicised “courtesy call” on EBK in Makeni after he returned from self-exile in Ghana, the writing was on the wall for his return to the APC.
Unlike Sam, and in a well-choreographed occasion, President Bio offered the olive branch to Yumkella when he asked him to return to “his roots’ ‘. Yumkella’s “ar hold word” was the clearest nod for his eventual homecoming. He called it “Strategic Alliance”.
All alliances are strategic my friend and you can now position yourself for the holy grail. To many of their supporters, both men now carry the albatross of “betrayal” round their necks. In the case of Yumkella, some see him as pragmatic, “if you can’t beat them, join them”. Some believe that he has realised he could serve Sierra Leone better from within. History will be the judge.
So, where does that leave Sam Sumana? The Kono people rallied round Sam for what they saw as gross betrayal by the APC. Many see his return to the APC as the ultimate betrayal. Sam has now left his people feeling like “ the outsider who wept more than the bereaved”. Did Sam get the home coming he hoped for?
If the current executive of the APC is anything to go by, Sam Sumana’s return to the APC would be remembered as the worst political decision of his life. Today, Sam is neither here(Kono), nor there (APC). Political limbos don’t come bigger than that. How are the mighty falling? Interestingly, both parties saw and called themselves “Coalition”. True, coalition for the aggrieved and coalition for the ideologists.
So, why did they fail in their pursuit of power?
The timing of their breakaways was paradoxically ironic. Both came at a time when the average voter was politically apathetic. The environment seemed conducive for a “Third way”. Sadly, both men were guided by revenge politics, which has become the DNA of our politics today.
Unfortunately, they ventured into a cauldron that was, and is steeped in a culture of grievance, with both parties deeply entrenched in partisan politics of animosity. Is it any wonder that both parties prey on our tribal affiliations, and use tribalism as an addiction to drive false beliefs that have been conditioned by the mind trap of mass consciousness?
Since they have stopped building bridges where there are no rivers, they have gone professorial in telling us all that is wrong with the opposite party. Do they tell us how they would right the wrongs of the other? No. Do they tell us what they could do differently, or what they have done differently?
Notwithstanding the political alchemy that Yumkella and Sam Sumana have undergone, is political cross carpeting a danger to our democracy? Unlike other parts of the world where politicians change sides for ideological reasons, why do our politicians do so? Don’t answer that. Let me give you a clue.
Throughout the history of our parliament, governments have always increased the salaries of their parliamentary members to match inflation rates. You cannot say the same for the long-suffering civil servants or workforce. I know. You cannot ask foxes to vote for the welfare of chickens.
Irrespective of whether they are in opposition or not, have you ever heard a member of parliament oppose or criticise a sitting government for raising their salaries? Even though such increases have defied the basic principles of economics, did you ever hear anyone say “Fin”? This is where their opposition ends: Money. I know. You cannot ask turkeys to vote for Christmas.
So, as we head into the 2023 elections, those who see our politics as a favourite pastime for blood sports must think again. Is it worth cursing and fighting for? Is it worth losing lives and property? Is it worth fighting your brother or sister because he is Mende or Themene?
The exchange rate of the dollar is not tribalistic. The price of rice is not determined by “sabaa noh” or “ Bedee bedee mia”. You don’t need a voter’s card to buy gari.
Nor fet, nor cuss. You life value pass de ballot. Vote with clear conscience.
Don’t forget to turn the lights off when you leave the room.