Yusuf Keketoma Sandi
2 January 2012
2011 was a remarkable year, as the ‘Political Hurricane Eviction’ hits ruling parties around the world. Whether in Sao Tome and Principe – August 2011, Cape Verde – August 2011, Zambia – September 2011, Spain – November 2011, and now finally Jamaica – December 2011, the peoples of these countries have used their most powerful political instrument to evict their governments, that are responsible for inflicting suffering, hardship and unemployment. But what lessons can be drawn from the recent election victory by the opposition in Jamaica, for the forthcoming elections in Sierra Leone?
Jamaica has a reasonably small population of around 2.8 million people. Like Sierra Leone, their political landscape has been dominated by two major political parties: the opposition Peoples National Party (PNP), which has won the recent elections in a landslide, and the defeated ruling Jamaica Labour Party (JLP).
The victorious PNP has been led by iron lady – Portia Simpson Miller, whilst the ruling JLP was led by incumbent Prime Minister – Andrew Holness, who succeeded Bruce Golding after his resignation as Prime Minister in October 2011. With this background, I will now focus on the fatal coincidence and the lessons for the APC.
Firstly, like President Koroma’s APC, the now defeated ruling JLP took office in September 2007 in a narrow defeat of the PNP. On assumption of office in 2007 and like President Koroma, Bruce Golding (then Prime Minister of JLP), criticised the PNP government of economic stagnation, abuse of security forces, corruption in public sector, inability to reduce crime and drug-related network, high levels of poverty, high unemployment of 9.3% (2007) and high level public debt.
Coincidentally, in the same September 2007, President Koroma criticised the SLPP of high youth unemployment, poor conditions of living, high level of corruption in public offices, filthiness of the capital city – Freetown, poor management of our resources and poor fiscal policies.
As such, whilst the then Prime Minister Bruce Golding promised the Jamaican peoples, in his inaugural speech, ‘a new approach’, President Koroma promised Sierra Leoneans an ‘Agenda for Change’.
So, almost five years on, what are the results?
In Jamaica, PM Bruce Golding JLP’s ‘new approach’ has led to worse conditions of living, with irregular water supplies, more people living in poverty than 2007. There has been an increase in unemployment rate of more than 12% compared to 9.3% in 2007; and a record public debt of roughly $18.6 billion or 130% of GDP.
Similarly, in Sierra Leone, President Koroma’s ‘Agenda for Change’ has led to massive increase in youth unemployment of around 70%; increase in violent crimes – especially armed robbery; rampant business fraud that is ripping apart the country’s reputation.
Recent corruption scandals in Sierra Leone, such as the Timbergate; president Koroma’s diplomats engaging in sexual scandals; the abuse of power and violation of the country’s procurement public laws, which saw the awarding of public contracts to the President’s families and friends; emerging traffic queues at petrol filling stations; rising government debt, which now stands at more than $ 800 million, when in 2006 SLPP secured foreign debt cancellation of more than $1.6 Billion.
Sierra Leone is now experiencing the worst food crisis to hit the country in the last five years – with prices of basic commodities either doubled or tripled, as evident in the price of rice which was Le 60,000 in 2007, but now ranging from Le140,000 – Le 160,000.
The lesson we can learn from the Jamaican elections is that, suffering voters do not give a second chance to government when electorate are wallowing in hardship, poverty and joblessness.
Voters are waking up to the fact that they cannot mortgage another five years of a promised paradise, when sadly they are sleeping on empty stomach.
The Jamaican voters having punished the JLP for their lies, deception and ineptitude, so will Sierra Leoneans punish the APC for their lies and deception, which have made us poorer and driven up youth unemployment.
Another issue from the Jamaican elections which strikes a coincidence is that of the story of the new Prime Minister elect – Portia Simpson Miller. Portia Simpson Miller was a former Prime Minister who first took up office in March 2006, but ruled for 18 months when the PNP narrowly lost to JLP in 2007.
Although her tenure of office was short lived, that opportunity gave her the first hand experience of governance to handle state affairs, as opposed to a novice in the corridors of the highest office.
So the question is, why have Jamaicans elected a former Prime Minister?
The obvious answer is that when people find themselves in a wilderness of hardship – where everything seems hopeless, they always turn to a political leader who has got prior experience of state governance.
As such, Portia Simpson Miller can be likened to Maada Bio, a former head of state with a wealth of experience and knowledge of state governance, and whose leadership in office was tested especially during the toughest times of our transition to democracy.
If Bio had the courage and determination to usher the people their first democratic elections in 1996, he can also lead them from the APC’s wilderness of hardship to the land of prosperity.
However, the flip side of previous experience in governance – either as Prime Minister or Head of State, is that the ruling party may resort to negative campaigning to tarnish the image of the opposition leader.
That is why the APC ‘hand-to-mouth’ soldiers had been rehearsing their failed negative campaigning strategy: that Maada Bio has a baggage, such as the allegation of ‘extra-judicial killing’ of Bambay kamara and others.
Well, although we have dismantled that baggage since Bio’s election, but let be generous and assume it is a baggage. In Jamaica, the defeated ruling JLP had campaigned on allegation that Portia Simpson Miller had ‘two baggages’ whilst she was in office in 2007.
Firstly, the defeated JLP accused her of poor response to Hurricane Dean in 2007, which accounted for the loss of lives of Jamaicans and about 3,127 houses damaged.
Secondly, she was also accused of being evasive of the Trafigura Scandal, regarding the Trafigura Beheer’s donation of $31 million to her PNP for alleged oil lifting agreement.
Despite these ‘two baggages’, which are by far heavier than the Maada Bio supposed baggage, the Jamaican voters made a choice not to give credence to character assassination. Rather, they focused on what really mattered: unemployment, economic hardship and poverty.
Hence, the lesson we can learn from the Jamaican negative campaigning strategy is that whilst no politician is immune from political scandals, during hard times voters do not care about ‘baggages’, but which leader can provide jobs, decent living conditions and life’s changing opportunities.
Therefore, if the Jamaican voters can evict the ruling JLP for their incompetence, which has caused economic hardship and rising unemployment, then Sierra Leonean voters can also evict the ruling APC for the economic hardship and joblessness they have created in the country.
Yusuf Keketoma Sandi BA (Hons), LLB (Hons) London