Political alliances or politics of betrayal in Sierra Leone? Op ed

Sorie I Kanu: Sierra Leone Telegraph: 3 May 2023:

Political parties’ alliances  and the movements of members from one political party to the other is not a new phenomenon in the politics of Sierra Leone. It has become a distinct feature of our political culture that is characteristic of the politics of the elites over the decades. In the process, the electorate are exposed to the dangers of voting politicians that have little or no regard for this nation and their constituents. This attitude of our politicians has inevitably betrayed the trust of the people as well as forestalling any formidable force to challenge the pre-eminence of the two major political cabals, the Sierra Leone People’s Party and the All People’s Congress.

A close look at such alliances portrays the selfishness of the political elite and a culture of betrayal of the people they claim to serve or represent. There has never been a case in which these alliances project the interest of the electorate and the nation at large.

As the people’s desire for a political change continues to dictate the political landscape, it is always hijacked by politicians who, more often than not, are a breakaway faction of the two political parties that have dominated the politics of this nation since Independence. It is even believed that these splinter political parties have provided the fertile grounds for the abuse of power by the successive leadership of this country even before Independence.

The first of such alliances with a major significance was that between the  People’s National Party, itself being a breakaway faction of the SLPP, and the SLPP in 1960. It witnessed a situation in which Albert Margai, for his personal interest, broke ranks with Siaka Stevens to join his brother Sir Milton on the promise of a senior position within the SLPP.

Both Siaka and Albert, then leaders of the PNP, agreed before leaving Freetown for Independence negotiation in London, on a platform of “ Elections before Independence”. On their way to the United Kingdom however Albert skilfully dumped his colleague and joined the SLPP delegation that wanted Independence before elections.

This culture of betrayal set the pattern of political alignments and events in the politics of this country for more than half a century. The first impact of this was the emergence  of a new Political party, the All People’s Congress.

In the subsequent contests between these two political parties, SLPP and APC, party alliances and movements of members from one political party to the other have become the order of the day. The attempt to challenge the hegemony of these parties witnessed the birth of the idea of a ‘Third Force’, a political party that will effectively challenge the dominance of the SLPP and APC in state governance. This has, so far, been a farfetched dream and as time progressed this vision is gradually thrown into oblivion.

Political pundits believe that  the ideal way in addressing the  social and economic development of this nation is by replacing the decades old political cabals, whose elites are largely responsible for the current plight of Sierra Leoneans. Several attempts have been made over the years to challenge these two parties but with very little success.

The emerging third force parties, mostly breakaway factions of either the SLPP or the APC, often lack national dimension and could not therefore challenge either of these two major political blocks. The new or splinter political parties often driven by one man, and as such they collapse following the death of their leader.

Some of these parties and their leaders faced intimidation and, in some cases, dealt with ruthlessly by the government in power like in the case of the United Democratic Party of Mohamed Sorie Fornah, a breakaway faction of the APC.

The search for a third force became increasingly prominent after the civil war with the emergence of the United National Democratic People’s Party of John Karefa Smart, the People’s Democratic Party of Thaimu Bangura  and a host of others.

The first major attempt by a third force party, UNDP, to dislodge the dominance of APC and SLPP in the 1996 elections was however thwarted by an alliance between the SLPP and the PDP. The leader of the PDP, Thaimu Bangura, joined the SLPP against the ardent desire for change by Sierra Leoneans because he was promised a senior position in the Ahmed Tejan Kabba’s  government.

Thaimu Bangura, like  Albert, went solo to forge an alliance with SLPP thereby preventing the victory of the UNDP. It was the closest challenge ever of a third force party against the SLPP and APC in an election in this country.

The 2007 Elections Run-Off also witnessed similar political party alliances, notably, with the People’s Movement for Democratic Change joining hands with the opposition APC. Although the PMDC Leader, Charles F Margai, did not take up appointment in the new government of Ernest Bai Koroma, some cabinet positions were given to members of the party as compensation.

It has often been a case of disappointment for the voters on one hand and a case of bounties and jubilations for the leadership of the supposedly third force parties on the other.

The third force factor even became more prominent in the 2018 elections with the emergence of Coalition for Change, of Samuel Sam Sumana and the National Grand Coalition of Kandeh Yumkella, both breakaway factions from APC and SLPP, respectively. Had these two new political parties  joined forces together they could have provided a formidable force to challenge the dominance of the APC and the SLPP in the 2018 elections.

The failure of opposition factions to work as a team to dislodge the two parties’ dominance, can only be ascribed to the selfish desires of the leaders of smaller parties.

I have mentioned these examples  of alliances not only as instances of political leaders alignment for the purpose of elections but also as instances in which such alignments, at every point in time, have always provided positive outcomes to either the SLPP or the APC and as well as providing instances in which these splinter or breakaway parties have indirectly facilitated the prolonged preponderance of these two parties in the politics of Sierra Leone.

With continued woes and deprivation, Sierra Leoneans have become increasingly disenchanted with successive government policies, and hence continue to look forward to a redeemer.

As we get closer to June 24, 2023, like in any previous elections, the people’s desire for change becomes central, but such desire is always overtaken by the personal and selfish desires of the political elite. With a worsening economy and poverty visiting the domains of the majority of the population, the political elite are at liberty in dictating the predicament and suffering of the people.

Alleged movements of members from either side of the political divide again resurfaces but, as always, at the expenses of the poor and impoverished Sierra Leoneans. The most recent of such movements is that of the leader of the NGC, Kandeh Yumkella who, until recently, is believed to have retired from party politics by quitting his position as Leader and Chairman of the party. In a highly publicised and dramatic move he eventually forged an alliance with the SLPP  in the run up to the June 24 elections.

Kandeh Kolleh Yumkella was once considered a symbol of change and with support from Sierra Leoneans in the diaspora, the NGC was conceived as a very formidable force to replace the old political parties and their elites. To many, and in the midst of escalating prices of basic foodstuffs and the growing anxiety for voting a regime change among all cadres of Sierra Leoneans, the alliance has finally nailed the coffin of a third force, at least, in the foreseeable future.

It cannot be considered as an isolated event but rather a calculated ploy by the political elite in this country to continue to deceive the electorate in promoting their personal agendas. It is the continuation of the politics of deception and betrayal of the people by the decades’ old political elite.

It has therefore become apparent that the political elite in this country do not have the nation at heart but rather an elite that ganged against its people to pursue their personal interests. It concludes the history of the betrayed trust of the people of this country by the political elite and thus ushers in a moment of reflection on the challenges lying ahead for Sierra Leoneans.

As it is often said, “necessity is the mother of invention”, and in the seemingly remote prospect for a third force, the free choice of the electorate becomes very important in such circumstances. With the incumbent in a desperate mood and continuing to manoeuvre to place himself in a favourable position to the public and the international community, in terms of his popularity and that of his party, an alliance with the NGC is not a strange development. It only suggests the failure and  inability of the electorate to fully assess the quality of emerging leaders in the politics of this nation. This is due to the fact that the choice of political leaders by the average Sierra Leonean is mostly punctuated by tribal and regional affinities, the cankerworm of this great nation.

The alliance further exposes the vulnerability of the people in the midst of a chronic, corrupt and criminal political elite that continues to preside over the fate of this nation for no reason other than satisfying their personal egos.

To many, the alliance was not unexpected considering the fact that the leader of NGC was himself a presidential aspirant for the SLPP prior to the 2018 elections. But in all this there are certainly losers and winners. At party level, the SLPP is definitely on the winning side of events in the sense that Kandeh Kolleh Yumkella has been finally subdued to concede to  the candidacy of the incumbent, Julius Maada Bio, the very issue that drove him to form the NGC in 2018.

The NGC was a product of vengeance that emerged out of the struggle for leadership within the SLPP. Through this alliance therefore, KKY has finally been made to accept, as an option, not to contest against Julius Maada Bio in 2023 elections, something he refused to do in 2018. It is Victory for the SLPP and indeed, a victory for the incumbent, Julius Maada Bio. It is also an attempt by the incumbent and the SLPP to portray their popularity to the public as well as to the outside world.

At the national level however, it is not a good spell for the party due the public outlook of KKY who, after quitting SLPP in 2018, described it as a party that is not fit for purpose. In his words he described SLPP and APC as “ Alhassan and Alusine”, meaning they are birds of the same feather, in describing their  failures and incompetence to transform this nation from the level of decadence and abject poverty that her people have been subjected  since Independence.

His alliance with the SLPP has, by all indications,  compromised those political values he portrayed in forming the NGC. It is those values that indeed won him  the support of Sierra Leoneans from both  home and abroad to the extent that his party acquired five parliamentary seats in the 2018 elections.

Under the current dispensation, it is very difficult for the people, especially the electorate, to understand the sudden U-turn of KKY and perhaps the objective of the alliance. This sudden move by the NGC has the propensity to garner support for the main opposition  presidential candidate, Samura Matthew Wilson Kamara, being the remaining personality that continues to believe that the SLPP and Julius Maada Bio cannot provide the leadership that Sierra Leoneans are yearning for, as the government have failed to do in the last five years.

Granted that the SLPP Paopa regime has woefully failed Sierra Leoneans, the voters would therefore be casting their votes for the most trusted personality in the contest. In that contest an alliance between SLPP and NGC cannot  in any way provide the trusted leadership the people of this country, especially the voters, have been waiting for.

The destiny of Sierra Leoneans now lies in their hands and can no longer be determined by politicians that have continuously betrayed the trust bestowed on them for more than six decades.



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