Political tension in Sierra Leone

Elias Bangura: Sierra Leone Telegraph: 02 February 2018

After sports, politics is next in line to whip up’ drama in the lives of people. Good or bad, the hype that follows and surrounds politics has huge implications which should be well managed, because unlike sports, the consequences are often far reaching.

We don’t have to look far for examples about political tension in Sierra Leone – especially among the two leading political parties: the ruling All People Congress (APC), and the Sierra Leone People Party (SLPP).

Political tension has started between them since their formative years in the 1950s and 1960s – and that tension has had blood in its wake, including annihilation, imprisonment, and life-long hate.

Looking back, commentators say all of it was unhelpful as it has left the nation divided along tribal and regional lines, education and old school cabals, and the like. Worse still, these tensions have continued, and there are willing testifiers among those who have suffered from this unhealthy scenario of violence.

But relating the whole epic of political tension in Sierra Leone here would actually lengthen this narrative, and I prefer another to take that credit whoever will care to relate it in full; I prefer concentrating on drumming up support against the discontinuance of political tension, or at least its minimization.

And that appeal goes to the major players in our coming elections in 2018; an appeal that has a parallel notification of culpability, should they discard it.

Political tension as we all know emanates from our ideologies in how things should be done. In this context, it involves how a nation should be governed.

Our two main political parties, honestly, have no ideology. What they have are snatches of western democracy and eastern communism, tinged with African radicalism and crude animism.

This mixture has rendered Sierra Leone impotent to stand up and decide on anything rationally except in the context of colour and tribe and region. How sad!

This fate continues, regardless of the pedigree and exposure of those wanting to lead our two main political parties – the APC and the SLPP: they are two evils which at best needs to be excused rather than choosing one against the other, whether today or tomorrow. (Currently they are referred to as the two twins who should be voted against).

The APC, since day one, has been the bastion of dictatorship – and their constitution has been tailored to legitimise that dictatorship, when it declared selection and election as their mode of electing their officials.

With them, either of the two modes just fits fine to their line of mixed ideology (if one would call it that), which is an ideology that is executed by the strongest comrade whether he is at state house or he is at their party secretariat, that is, giving power to loyal stalwarts, regardless of their make-up or competence.

Whoever stands against this template of selecting their officials is branded with an anti-party scarlet letter, and hounded all the way to the land of no return. It’s why those who are sensible among their membership prefer keeping mum and perishing inwardly, like covered fire, than raising a grumble or a doubtful brow about it.

Take the selection of Dr Samura Kamara, for example, as the presidential flag bearer of the APC. Even he himself in his wildest dreams couldn’t believe that he would be chosen over any of the others – because he is not only an unpopular candidate, but one whose reticence stands topmost, as is his education.

Find a cat, if you will, and you will have a complete replica of the man! But by jolly, he is the man chosen by the almighty Comrade at State House, who predicated his choice of him with a threat to any who will say nay.

That’s the APC for you – it’s as if they have a spell over their entire membership, all of whom are always yes-men to whatever decision that comes from the First Comrade.

Thankfully for Sierra Leone, after their convention in Makeni, there was no violence, as no APC member dared to squeal about it, and even Dr Vandy Konneh who dared suddenly immediately went quiet with his grumble.

It was the ordinary supporters spread across the country that did the unthinkable in crying out the loudest, led by those in Port Loko, who claimed they had been promised the leadership long ago.

Their pacification is still ongoing, along with the remainder across the country but still, there are no reports of violence – the only ones reported were the burning of party t-shirts and tearing of posters.

That’s a remarkable thing though for the APC in managing their selection of a flag bearer although it is not a win for democracy at all – because their selection this time certainly didn’t have a consensus – oh no. And their rightness or wrongness of it would soon be tested at the polls in March this year.

Because Dr Samura Kamara has rivers and mountains to cross and climb before he alights at state house – along with all those contesting for seats at parliament and the local councils, many of whose nominations were against popular choice by the electorate; which, in fact, led to those who were unsuccessful to go independent – if only to prove a point, or at least to teach the APC a lesson in the coming polls.

That’s a small worry, strong APC supporters point out, because the APC has never lost an election to the SLPP before, regardless of the build-up to it. But these couldn’t disprove the 1996 and 2002 elections that they had lost to the SLPP, although it should be said that APC then was a fallen giant, with grave wounds still in its whole body.

The SLPP as the main opposition party of the last parliament, for a start, needs to be patted for the resolution of their myriad problems that has torn them apart since 2007. For a decade, they were the byword of division, lawsuits, violence, and one thousand besides. Even die-hard members had despaired, and couldn’t see the aspect of their uniting again at all.

At the moment, it is Rtd. Brigadier Julius Maada Bio that has emerged as their flag bearer. But there are many who will say, like Banquo, “I fear thou didst play most fouly for it.”

Maada Bio and violence are two synonyms, his detractors have said repeatedly. Like Stalin, he is disciplined and ruthless, although he appears calm and uncomplaining.

His supporters hail him as very loving and very patriotic, revoking his war-time memories when he laid his life as a soldier to bring peace to Sierra Leone.

Whether he is that or patriotism is still his mantra is yet to be seen, because his few utterances after he emerged as leader of the SLPP sent jitters down the spine of many people, that he won’t sit down and do nothing if the 2018 election is again stolen from the SLPP, as was those of 2007 and 2012.

Words like these, the more careful have insisted, ought not to be left lying alone: that Mr. Bio should be brought in for questioning. Surprisingly, the authorities haven’t pressed charges, maybe they prefer to wait or they think it would create an unnecessary tension – so let sleeping dogs lie.

Besides, charges can always be brought when the time is right, and now is certainly not that time for, if for example, the party’s PRO, Lahai Lawrence Leema, who was charged with misdemeanours against a staff of the Sierra Leone Broadcasting Corporation recently, revved up nerves, one wonders if it was Mr. Bio himself, a man who at the moment signs off his name with a flourish in whatever press release his party issues, if that wouldn’t mean chaos in capital letters.

You would think the APC and the SLPP are the only players in our politics, and even if they were, already you will know that political tension indeed has to be well managed for a developing nation like the Athens of West Africa.

But there are other players in our politics, players like Mohamed Kamaraimba Mansaray (MKM) and Dr Kandeh Kolleh Yumkella (KKY), including our former vice president who recently won in his matter against the Government of Sierra Leone at the ECOWAS Court following his removal from office in 2015 by President Koroma.

These political heavyweights – APC and SLPP, each have an opinion that would definitely plunge this nation into political tension, if it is not well couched or even avoided.

It is easy to push aside MKM’s Alliance Democratic Party (ADP) and treat KKY’s National Grand Coalition (NGC) as the third force in the next elections in March 2018.

But MKM has already had his baptism of fire in several by-elections and other political engagements, unlike the NGC which is nothing but an entity that is only being hallowed on paper. Its true worth will only be known in March 2018.

However, the NGC’s celebrity, KKY – the man with the magic touch, as his supporters describe him –  is someone with a curriculum vitae that is competing in length with the Encyclopaedia Britannica in terms of pages.

But he is a western democrat, who decries violence and chooses rather subtlety, lobbying, and cunning. Poor man, he was forced to leave the SLPP and goes to form the NGC, bringing along other disgruntled SLPPers.

Besides, all the shenanigan attitudes that they have decried in the SLPP’s way of selecting or electing their leaders is just what they themselves have fallen prey to. Their rhetoric across town, plus their wealth that has given them virtually every platform to sell their ideology, has made many people christen them as the third force.

The third force so far has met the threshold in getting many people’s respect because of their disdain for violence, and their high regard for political tolerance.

True, if this were an intellectual debate, the NGC would certainly be in the lead, but this is politics where the APC and the SLPP each, enviably, already has a traditional 30 percent base – the remainder 40 percent is what is up for grabs, and the NGC certainly can’t grab all of that alone.

This reality, it is true, has dawned upon all the political diviners and schemers, and they are now using all the weapons in their armoury, if only to place their party in the lead and hence become a candidate to enter Fort Thornton after March 2018.

We wish them well, but please we request that none of those weapons tends to lead this nation to any form of tension and violence. If they can afford a ticket to London and New York, once violence breaks out again in this nation, majority of us can’t afford it at all.

But, in closing, we implore the media, and the security sector, along with civil society and the rest, to lay aside emotion, and be sincere in their duty to Sierra Leone, the only country that we have. Let the coming elections be a win for the nation and not for any one party or region – because the things that hold us together are more than the things that should divide us.

Political tension and politically emanated violence is certainly not a commodity that anyone should buy – whether your wallet or purse is full of dollars or Leones. Please; otherwise you will be resisted till the end of time – just ask Foday Sankoh and his caboodle.

About the author:

Elias Bangura is the current Secretary General, Guild of Newspaper Editors-Sierra Leone; and is the immediate past President of the Sierra Leone Parliamentary Press Gallery.

4 Comments

  1. Two weeks ago I was in Sierra Leone and I left, taking my fiancée with me, fearing for her life. During my stay, when I lived in the slums in Freetown, 4 children were kidnapped from school and, as residents told me, they were murdered. They said it was a method of intimidating people not to go to the elections.

    Who can have an interest in it like the current president? There are burglaries in the inhabited apartments and there are raped residents and robbed. We left because I had the financial means to buy an air ticket for $ 1500 per person to East Africa. The police do not accept applications, claiming that they are not for us.

    Let some Western observers visit people living in extreme conditions in Freetown and listen to their drama. Horrible bandits can perform such crimes. I wish the people of Sierra Leone with all my heart a deep change in their country for the good of all the inhabitants of this beautiful country and many wonderful and friendly people of a good heart.

  2. You are right in all your description of the problem in Sierra Leone. The two major parties have torn apart for any hope of unity in the country.

    Since my days in Sierra Leone, towards any elections, people were intimidated and sometimes killings are reported. The APC government has always tried to do things most wrongly to hold on to power.

    We cannot do anything to eliminate these type of problems. I do believe the two major political parties will try hard to bring peace in the country. It is now time to eliminate the political garbage into the sea. Sierra Leone has never rested in peace since the APC took power.

  3. They shouldn’t make their selfish interest bring our lovely nation to violence and standstill.
    The country should be put first and not their personal selfish interest

  4. Interesting article. But the only man that holds the key to violence is president Ernest Koroma. It appears that in one way or the other, he wants to succeed himself by manipulating the elections process.

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