Is politics in Sierra Leone fast becoming a spectator sport?

Abdulai Mansaray: Sierra Leone Telegraph: 4 August 2019:

It is an open secret that the relationship between our two major political parties – the SLPP and APC is one of attrition. There is no doubt that these parties would like us believe that they are sworn enemies.

Intrinsically, they are not enemies; for one thing that binds them together is their tasked purpose to serve the people of Sierra Leone to the best of their ability. Although they are different in their nomenclature and political persuasion, we can take comfort from the fact that they are our fellow citizens; and It should not be much to ask them to serve us with the best of intentions.

How they do this and how they get there is anyone’s guess. It is therefore so obvious that in a bid to carry out their mandates, there is an insidious battle for the hearts and minds of the populace.

There is also no doubt that in a bid to win the hearts and minds of the electorate, both parties may resort to many tricks of the trade, including spin, gerrymandering and politicking to achieve this.

But unfortunately, the battle to win the hearts and minds of the electorate has unconsciously pushed our political parties to extremes at times. They have used subterfuge, deceit, trickery and general underhand tactics to pull the wool over our eyes.

One thing that seems to stick out like a sore thumb is their use of megaphone diplomacy; their penchant for sensational front page news. Our politics has now been reduced to a spectator sport.

It is a fact, that some of the nuances employed by our parties seem to appeal to their respective bases and loyal supporters. Politicians worldwide have perfected the use and misuse of our emotion to get their job done.

In Africa, it could be tribal, religious, regional or anything; as long as it falls within the Machiavellian principles. Politicians can come up with policies, ideas, or roll out programmes that are cooked for local consumption and are only palatable to the political palates of their base, at the expense of the masses.

Unfortunately, and in most cases, these political gymnastics turn out to be dead ends or damp squibs. This has been a common theme with our politicians, and that is why modern day politicians employ spin doctors to package their messages for public consumption.

Spin doctors don’t tell lies, they just sanitise the message and deliver it gift wrapped, as God intended it to be (As tafulai). That is why it has become so common for them to raise an alarm, only for the news to fizzle out.

Our politicians seem to be engaged in the entertainment business also; they sensationalise the news, whip it into frenzy, and allow it to die a natural death. They know that today’s newspaper is tomorrow’s doughnut wrapping paper. But they would have achieved the maximum effect.

During the Ernest Koroma government, the ACC would make big announcements about some kingpins charged with corruption. They ended up going to court and that was the last we heard of such cases. Even when the fines or punishments were levied, they were not worth the paper they were written on.

There is no question that the Bio’s government is making inroads to recoup some of our stolen funds, no matter how small. However, the ACC is fast becoming a soothing balm and a distraction for sierra Leoneans.

Whenever there is an unsavoury situation facing the New Direction government, it seems that it has a cache of information relating to corruption that is released at the opportune time to distract the masses.

The news that was making the rounds recently was about the First Minister engaging in some act of sycophancy. The allegation was that he got an Imam arrested for taking down the photo of Maada Pontius Pilate from a mosque.

The government remains tight lipped on the issue. Instead, its spin doctors have gone to town with breaking news that houses belonging to former Ministers Palo Conteh, Kemoh Sesay and others have been IMPOUNDED. These houses were decorated with brightly coloured “do not enter” tapes, as if they were crime scenes. The photos were lavishly splashed along several news platforms, while request for an explanation on the arrest of the Imam went unanswered.

Former APC Minister Palo Conteh released a video clip on social media; and he is seen at pains to say that he has been forced to release it, because of what he describes as constant harassment by the Bio led government. You be the judge.

But rather than dismiss it outright, there are a few things we can take home from that clip. Some have accused him of playing the victim card and looking for the sympathy vote. His house was impounded because the ACC requested him to submit the documents relating to the building.

All the ACC needed to do was writing to him and request the documents. Or they could have asked him to present the documents at their office in person. Did the ACC need to tape off the house to get those documents? Did they need to invite the press for front page news? Did they need to make a song and dance of it?

So what happened after all that huha? Palo was allowed back into his house. It was a similar thing that happened during the early days of the Bio reign and while Palo was out of the country. He was alleged to have had a cache of ammunition in his house. Sierra Leoneans were left to believe that Palo and others were about to mount a coup d’état or some sort of revolution.

We saw the same thing happen when the ministry of Finance decided to be very economical with the truth about Auditor General’s report.

It is important for the government to maintain a healthy conversation with the electorate. But these conversations need to be purposeful and effective.

Politics is now a results based business, and that is why the electorate have a performance review process every 5 years in our country.

No one is questioning the procedural methods used in investigating crime in general or corruption charges in particular. What baffles most Sierra Leoneans is how these processes are used and misused for political capital. In investigating these crimes, due process is vital.

But equally, there is a question of credibility at stake here. Justice must be done, but it is more important for justice to be seen to be done.

It is common knowledge that the Bio government has gambled its whole reputation on the fight against corruption; and like he rightly said, corruption will fight back. The majority of the country is behind him on that. But in the fight against corruption, it will be naïve to use the same theme for political point scoring.

The SLPP government should remember that since taking office, there has been this charge that its DNA is steeped in vendetta against members of the former government. The government has continued to deny this. But it is not making a good case in its defence, at all.

We know that the investigations are ongoing, but many have their eye and ears trained at the end of the tunnel. In politics today, results matter very much. When we disguise ideology as expertise, it creates a deficit in legitimacy.

In today’s politics, the truth is managed rather than told. Many Sierra Leoneans would want to believe that with the “New Direction”, there is light in the tunnel; but they are not asking for the government to go out and buy some more tunnels.

It will be dishonest to imply that this is a new tactic, or it has just been discovered by the Bio government. This is common the world over. The APC party did it. The difference is that we have been promised a new direction, and that direction needs to be NEW. We can’t pour old wine into new bottles.

Sierra Leoneans just want a different political menu; not the same Cassada soup. Maada and his government have made some positive strides, and some people have been quick to recognise this.

Ernest was called “World Best” and today Maada is overseeing a “Talk and Do” government. But let us not be blinded by blind loyalty, for there is thin line between admiration and sycophancy.

The First Minister will do well to remind himself, that sycophancy was the Achilles heel that marked the death knell for the previous government. Maada does not need flatterers around him. If he has them around him, he will be well advised to consider such flattery like chewing gum: Chew but don’t swallow. There is a river of contempt between flattery and admiration.

Our Lives begin to End on the Day we Become Silent about the Things that Matter.

Don’t forget to turn the lights off when you leave the room.

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