Raymond Dele Awoonor-Gordon
25 October 2012
Of the many absurd steps taken to dress our political system in borrowed robes, purportedly on behalf of the teeming illiterate masses, possibly the most ridiculous or hilarious, is the idea of having two of our November elections’ gladiators to take part in what is being billed as a politically neutral debate – though Hollywood comedy would have been much more appropriate.
In the minds of the utopian dreamers of this meaningless absurdity, the televised deliberation is meant to achieve the goal of educating the poor souls, whose lives have been battered into submission by hardship, to make informed decision on the direction of our governance.
Fat chance of that happening, considering that, electricity permitting, half the population is hardly politically literate enough for them to be swayed by the mumbo-jumbo that will be spewed by the participants.
It is definitely clear also, that the privileged few, chosen as the props for the event, will either be partisan or will skirt around issues, for fear of victimisation.
Likewise, the entrenched socio-cultural and political divide that have been the weapons of choice of our politicians, can and will not be wiped away by suave professionals in a finger-wagging drama production.
Apart from the dark bubble of the boiling broth in the middle of our electoral conundrum, it needs no soothsayer to reveal that the centre-stage of the debate will be political acrimony and feud rather than decency.
We can’t have forgotten so soon, the reported clash of personalities and power show on the streets of Freetown by the two contestants, even though the President’s security apparatus should have been aware of the rally and the route.
Rather than blame them for putting the President’s life at risk and for deliberate provocation, which could have led to a breakdown of law and order, fifth columnists – including the President himself, saw that as another opportunity for cheap point scoring.
How then do we expect any meaningful debate from such a scenario?
Agreed that in the absence of visionary leaders and credible media and political education, we may need to rely on the talent and energy of such ‘patriots’ to shape the future, but the mere fact that the debate is being limited to two candidates, shows the farcical nature of the endeavour from the onset and it’s rightly being described in some quarters as self-glorification by the organisers.
Struggles for progress don’t happen with symbolic gestures of modernity. It happens when people rage against the status quo machine and stand up for what they believe is right at all times. They speak out when it matters. They act, even when they are at risk.
Let us digress a bit. What national debate did these patriots organise on behalf of those who will bear the brunt of the most ridiculous policy ever – an added year to the school calendar without a thought for the burden on the impoverished people – even when the major fault of the rot is due to lack of investment in the educational system?
May I ask how much noise was raised when the future of innocent kids, up for adoption, was blighted by foot-dragging bureaucracy?
How about the senseless gift of our natural resources to foreign exploiters, who pay little or no rate of tax, provide little in the way of employment and contributions to the local economies and create problems rather than prosperity?
Only yesterday at a forum involving Sierra Leoneans in London, one of our respected international figures, made the salient point; that the international community can reel out all the developmental programmes it likes, but it cannot force national governments to implement them, unless those playing fast and loose with power, really appreciate the importance of such policies to the future of their nation and its people.
Looking at Sierra Leone, the Millennium Goals readily come to mind, along with a few other issues to be discussed later. Even though the government has produced more heat than light, it is impossible to retouch truth out of reality. A mirage promises an oasis, but fails to deliver the water.
In April 2008, a national debate was held by ENCISS in which participants under the mistaken belief that it was indeed an agenda for change, highlighted without pulling punches, several issues about governance, their expectations, fears and aspirations. Till today, the report of that forum has not seen the light of day, simply because of the hard hitting truth it contains.
The lack of a political awareness programme, for those whose benefit the candidates are supposed to be laying out their visions and plans, indicate that the idealists behind this effort are not in tune with the monumental crisis facing the true and effective participation and emancipation of the people in the political process of the country.
Already, whenever you argue with those with different shades of opinion as well as entrenched views, about the subject of the failure of our leaders, they resort very quickly to verbal crutches.
But the incoherence of their often choreographed response, indicates a framework that underlies the absence of a collective contribution in shaping our national path.
Having deliberately watched political developments in the last month or so, it is fair for discernible minds, to conclude that the current scenario is not only graceless in the extreme, but a grotesque caricature of democracy.
Events have also shown the inability of power holders to command the affection of the whole public, simply through their personal and political report cards.
And if we as a people can combine courage with clear thinking, we should be able to realise that the illusion of achieving optimal results in the effort to build a mutually desirable socio-economic and political society, which began in 2007, has been destroyed and that, this is a dangerous thing.
From all indications of the illusory rainbow, the cinematic truth about our realities is that our current self-delusion is a prelude to the inevitable disappointments with the political class, which will, through its unavoidable consequences, reflect the fundamental depressing problem at the heart of our politics and governance.
Amidst the utter strangeness of the apparent mission to deprive the people of true and effective participation, as well as the poisonous hatred at the heart of our politics, which shows that neither the leaders nor the led have learnt anything from the past, a deeper probing of the didactic monologue of the ruling class and their cohorts in its true light, will reveal the real issues.
Right now, despite the fact that life-changing socio-political quality is painfully thin, economic vision is dreadfully myopic and attitudinal change among leaders, woefully non-existent.
And this, despite the lack of institutional frameworks for accountability – regardless of the reinforcement of corruption and greed, the deeply defective economic policies and the lack of political courage.
The elite class is profoundly out of touch with the lives of ordinary people, yet they have as their main attraction, the coming of oil and the allure of power, as their main wedge with what appears to be the infinite capacity of our fellow citizens to absorb hardship.
Add this to the glaringly missing ethical reorientation and change of value system that is verging on the paralytic, and you’ll understand why Sierra Leone is on a suicide pact with our politicians and the media’s social-inspired death wish.
Consequently, the task ahead is to create a framework whereby the people are able to confront the continuous stream of potentially disastrous decisions and undesirable behaviours of the political class.
There is a serious and compelling need to delegitimize and reject abhorrent behaviours that are etched in our psyche, and which are preyed upon by the custodians of our fledgling institutions, before they become full-blown social crisis.
Unless we want to continue in our barn of hypocrisy, the development of any nation depends on the appropriate value system – coupled with well-articulated governance strategies and positive development.
As the usual enemies of progress rub their hands in glee at this evidence of ‘internecine war’ within our society, we need to deal with faulty foundations, such as the political naivety and the endless coercion of the people.
There must be a shift from apathy and reliance on blind faith, or dumb historical political sentiments and luck, to a willingness to change what is, to what ought to be.
The regrettable circumstance we find ourselves, whereby with less than a month to election, vital national issues are not dominating our discussions, also highlights among other developments in the last year – the absence of enduring integrity in the political system and indeed its practitioners.
It is undisputable that the greatest challenge facing Sierra Leone at the moment is how to navigate the forthcoming general elections successfully.
Unlike the 2007 elections, which elevated the nation to a height of envy when the ruling party was kicked out of office, this year’s poll is already eating deep into the psyche of the masses, as palpable tension simmers.
Just look at the all sweetness and light between those who this time last year and early in the life of the present administration were singing a different tune, before their worst nightmare emerged.
Marry that to present attempts at banishing every opposition to obscurity, through tactics that are inimical to national interests, and you’ll realise that our payback for that daring act of political revolution is nothing but greed, parochialism, nepotism, political and democratic criminality.
If we are determined to change the frequent howls, one significant milestone in this transformation process, is to ensure the creation of an alternative construct that will allow us to strike the right balance between the governed and their governors, which cannot be tampered with or manipulated by the political class.
How the civil society must be allowed to play its crucial role in shaping the future of Sierra Leone and becoming the truth that will bring the conscience of our politicians alive, is the DEBATE we need to have.
How the power of their votes will influence elections and give them the voice to dictate what changes they want in their lives and in the nation of their dream, is the DISCUSSION that is urgently needed.
How inept and dubious politicians will not cling on to power when they are of no use to the people or how democracy and hope for brighter future – through free, fair, competitive and peaceful elections can be achieved, is the DELIBERATION that is urgently needed.
The education of the masses to vote for who they believe to be the best candidate, even when he or she does not belong to their party, is the national DELIBERATION that should occupy our minds.
Why should we be living in abject poverty? Why should foreigners be dictating the course of our national existence? Why should irregular electricity and water supplies be the lot of the majority of the people?
Why should a generation of our students be condemned to educational servitude because of the incompetence of their leaders? Why should our youths be an embodiment of hopelessness and our women – the plaything of the numerous hawks circling overhead?
These are the examinations we should be having, not just at election time, but throughout our day-to-day existence.