Politics – the theatre of deceit where ignorance is not a handicap

Abdulai Mansaray: Sierra Leone Telegraph: 04 November 2021:

Democracy, like the mind is a beautiful thing when left unadulterated. It is not perfect but can be the best form of government if promoted, protected, practised and implemented; and if it’s of the people, for the people, and by the people. Unfortunately, judging by what passes for democracy today is nothing short of individual ignorance masquerading as collective wisdom.

Democracy starts with the individual – the voter, citizen and electorate. The right to vote is a human right, and the duty to vote is a civic duty and a social sacrament. That is why, there is no such thing as a vote doesn’t matter. All votes or no votes matter.

The future of any nation lies in the hands of its voters. The right to vote is a central cog in any nation’s political and socio-economic well-being. But as we exercise our human right to vote, it is imperative that our nation’s leaders provide the theatre that is conducive, without let or hindrance, for our citizens to demonstrate and participate in their solemn civic duty.

It is obvious that every voter vote for a particular candidate and for a reason/s. It is a common notion that the ballot is stronger than the bullet, but the usefulness of ballot could depend on the character of the voter. That is why, the ignorance of one voter in a democracy can be an impediment to the security of all.

The question is, what do we vote for when we vote for our preferred candidates, leaders and representatives?  What are our hopes, dreams and expectations of them?

When we cast our votes, we entrust them with our future and the futures of posterity. We lend them our visions, our aspirations and in effect, make them shareholders of our destiny for a period.  Let us take our country Sierra Leone as a case in point to explore this rant further.

In the days of the One-Party state under the late Pa Sheki, our country had monopoly on voter apathy. It was not fashionable to be politically minded, especially among the youth. The elections were not only brutal and violent, but also forgone conclusions. There was freedom of speech, but no freedom after speech. We have moved away from that, or so it seems.

Sadly, though painful to admit, our choices of candidates today are increasingly based on tribal affiliations, geographical boundaries, fraternities etc.  These days, we tend to spend more time campaigning on the unsuitability of the opponent than the suitability of our own choice/s. Our leaders take full advantage of this, to promote “negative partisanship”. They trade our loyalties for hatred, anger and disunity. So, when they win elections, it is not because we vote for them, but largely because we vote against someone.

Do our leaders trade in “negative partisanship”, because they don’t have much to offer? Do they do so because they are tired of recycling the same old promises? Are they tired of promises to build bridges where there are no rivers or fed up with voters’ “we’ve heard that before?” Or are these two parties just too similarly different differentiate/decipher?

By default, it means that we no longer vote for what the individual can do for the community, the constituency or for the country at large. So, how can we hold a candidate, a leader, a representative to account, when we voted without expectations in mind? What local or national yardsticks do we use to determine our choices, other than our tribe, birthplace, our gender or fraternity etc?.

When we vote for our representatives, do we do so because of what they can do for the majority, or because of what they can do for me? Personal or communal? Private or public? Personal gain or national gain?

Sierra Leone has been blessed or cursed (take your pick) by our two ever present political parties, the APC and SLPP. Sadly, the only way we tend to hold these two to account is by simple negative comparisons. Thanks to the “negative partisanship”, we now use the failures of the APC as litmus test for that of the SLPP, or vice versa.

Try telling an SLPP supporter that President Bio’s government is tribalistic. He or she would not engage you in a meaningful conversation. Instead, he/she would give you a catalogue of similar examples from the former President Koroma’s government. To that individual, that is justification to be tribalistic. Try telling an APC supporter that the APC were a corrupt party that stole zillions from the Ebola pandemic. As expected, you would get references to The Africanist Press publications of theft and embezzlements by the SLPP. Before you contact your libel lawyer, I am just echoing what is usually whispered in “Keh kehs”, poda podas and cookery “baffas”. No to me say.

That is the sad situation that has lulled us into the servitude zone of “how for do-ism”. As a result of such “partisan negativity or antagonism”, we are no longer able, as a nation to hold our leaders to account. We give them a pass, insulated in tribal and regional dichotomies. So, when we vote, do we vote for the governments to solve the nation’s problems? Do we vote for the governments to work for the common good? Do we vote for the governments to solve my problem or our problems? The governments don’t have to solve everyone’s problem.

For the sake of discussion, let us agree that we vote for governments to deal with the common good, irrespective of tribe, region, gender, religion or fraternity etc. Should we judge our political parties according to their record on national issues like healthcare, infrastructure, education, cost of living, standard of living, employment, social care and the economy? Should we do so based on their records on the fight against corruption, disease, the rule of law, justice and equality? Or should we do so based on my personal gain from the government?

Our country is prominent on the corruption Richter scale. It is very convenient to lay this blame of corruption squarely on the shoulders of our leaders. As citizens, we are all partners in crime. Either way, we all partake in the nation’s perennial disease of corruption. For starters, we elect our officials for personal reasons more than for the general good.

When voting for a particular candidate, we tend to do so with the hope of benefits for the concept of “me ism”. Do we vote because a government has improved electricity in the country? Do we vote because of the development in food production, increased health facilities, educational standards, cost and standards of living?

So, when we vote because that representative is from my tribe, or because we share the same birthplace, what do we expect our representative to do? They feed our sentiments, egos and follies. Our political leaders will only know our priorities if we tell them. One of the best ways to tell them is at the polls. We must bear in mind that voting is not all about casting a ballot. when we vote, we make a commitment to ourselves, our families, our communities and country. Such commitments should be made with ourselves and posterity in mind.

Voting or politics in general can be emotional. Our right to vote is the only power we have; to make our governments fear us rather the other way round. So, should we complain if we vote because of tribal or regional affiliations. At the end of the day, the price of petrol, high cost of living, a poor health service, a rundown school building, high inflation etc cannot tell the difference between an SLPP or APC supporter after the election. (Photo: Author – Abdulai Mansaray).

May be, just maybe, our two political parties are so similarly different that the only way we can differentiate them is by their tribal and regional differences. And that is doom and gloom for our nation and recipe for disaster. But should we dance in the theatre of deceit, where ignorance is not a handicap?

Next time you vote, ask yourself………” what am I voting for”?

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

7 Comments

  1. Only the South Eastern SLPP party has elevated a Northerner , late President Ahmed Tejan Kabba to the Statehouse. So the people of Sierra Leone are still waiting on the Northern APC party to even nominate a presidential candidate beyond the Bombali District let alone in the South East or Western area.

  2. In my opinion, I think Mr. Mansaray nailed it by stating that “In the days of the One Party under the late Pa Sheki, our country had monopoly on voter apathy. The elections were not only brutal and violent, but also forgone conclusions.” The reality is, most of APC members and voters believe in “Gbose Gbose and Hala Hala”, while most SLPP supporters “lek Kase or Court Wahala.” This explains why most election violence occurs in so-called APC strongholds which supposed to be a no go area for any other party. Since independence, most of the independent candidates in parliament are from SLPP strongholds based on the fact that candidates are free to contest against the SLPP and this propelled APC to power in 1967, when some South Easterners switched their support to Pa Shaki’ s APC party. Even the 2007 APC election victory was orchestrated by a member of the SLPP Southern stronghold. So which party is more TRIBALISTC ?. Unfortunately, even the 1991 constitution was written under the one party APC government which is the crux of our current problem as compared to the USA constitution that was written after the Civil War and was based on Electoral College which empowered even voters from the smallest state.
    Finally, I don’t believe that any elected president of Sierra Leone will be willing to tamper with the constitution based on the fact that they are above the law.

  3. One man one vote is the principle where by every individual or citizens of a state is able to participate in the democratic dispensation of their country as is written in their constitution, by casting a ballot to choose their leaders at the end of an election campaign.. In the United States, many African Americans communities use to abstain from voting because they think their votes will not make any difference to the out come. One common misconceptions held by many minorities across the Globe. Regardless of your voting intentions, when the laws are made by the elected law makers, the laws passed by ACTS of Parliament will affect you one way or the other. Therefore shutting yourself out from the decision making process of your country is no brainer. Acoording Andrew Sullivan on Tribes “To live beyond tribal identities is always an extremely precarious endeavour.Tribalism, Its always worth remembering is not one aspect of human experience.

    It comes naturally to us than any other way of life. Most tribes occupied their own familiar territory with wide spread sharing of food and no private property. Overwhelmingly majority of our time on this planet, the tribe was the only form of human society. A tribe had its own leaders and a myth of its own history “And it is this affinity with the tribe that our politicians have mastered and to certain degree manipulated for their own selfish ends. Iam guilty of this natural affinity to the Fulani tribe. But not to the expense of my choice of leadership of our country, or God forbade hating my Fellow Sierra-leoneans that belongs to other ethnic groups . For instance when some Fulani herdsmen were killed in Bokina Fasso the first thing that came to mind, maybe is because of their cattle. Same with attacks of Fulanis in Mali, Nigeria, or South Sudan.

    Naturally I feel offended by this attacts on my tribesmen even though Iam not a citizen of those countries. Or closer to home when during 1982 election, Hon. Thaimu Bangura went after Fulanis in Fula Sanda in Bomabli District, it makes your blood boil. We have to learn to live together and see ourselves first as Sierra Leoneans before our ethnic make up. Is the only way we can overcome tribalism and move our country forward. Of course the magic words here is EDUCATION and recognise each others as fellow humans not as the other. Or in a polarised society like ours as terrorist as Boi the divider in chief like to say.

  4. This is an excellent piece of political analysis zeroing in perfectly on the voting habits of people living in a chronically polarised ethno-regional political space. The APC/SLPP duopoly that has been in place since independence does not leave much room for a viable third political force. Minor parties such as the current NGC and C4C do not as yet stand a chance of making a much-needed significant dent in the apparently unbreakable carapace of governance by the two major parties. This debilitating political reality is here to stay until voters decide to put an end to it one day, saying enough is enough, the electorally asphyxiating duopoly must go and something new and fresh ought to be given a chance to grow and flourish for the common good.

    Voter education is obviously key here. A crucial aim of such education will be to raise the level of voter literacy and general political awareness. The role of civil society is of the essence in this case as one cannot expect ethno-regionally minded APC and SLPP and the governments they form to knowingly and deliberately undermine their own interests and goals by putting in place sensitisation programmes that will enable voters to reach an informed decision about who to choose come election day. Indeed, what civil society, encompassing all forms of voluntary collective activity (charities, community self-help schemes, trade unions, inter-religious associations, human rights campaigners, women’s organisations, independent news outlets, schools, colleges and universities, etc.) can do is to work together and create an awareness that responsible, productive, and, ultimately, effective national governance has nothing to do with ethnicity and region; that political talent is ethno-regionally blind, and that our nation can only survive, grow and thrive if voters accept that we are more than just an aggregate of our regions and ethnicities and that we are above all a nation, a country whose well-being is dependent on our choosing the best among us to lead and govern us.

  5. Indeed a soul searching piece here by Mr. Mansaray, hitting at the very core of our nation’s political dilemma. Tribalism, regionalism has engulf so much of our political space that, majority of our electorates , be it educated or not, cares nothing about the fitness, qualification, or wherewithal of a certain candidates, what matters to a majority of our electorates is the tribe, region, or party the candidate belong.

    With such understandings, corrupt and crooked political elites on both sides of the divide, wielding influences to assign party symbols to would be candidates, will always choose to go with gullible individuals with very little substance, that they can easily manipulate for their own personal gains. One just have to take a look at the current makeup of our parliament, how many of these representatives that can actually contribute to meaningful debates, other than cheering, banging on tables or simply being nuisance whenever deliberations are taking place in the well of parliament?

    Here in this glorious intellectual platform, we have individuals who parade themselves as educated, yet their assessment of our political parties are shrouded in blatant tribalism and regionalism. They are quick to point fingers at the opposition for the ills of the society, however, whenever their own tribesmen and party are found wanting for the same undemocratic acts, they suddenly find excuses or simply turn a blind eye. One just have to reflect on a few ignoramus commentators here, who despite the current worst economic conditions, with ever increasing hardship in the past 4yrs, and a tumultuous political climate, have the audacity to constantly declare in this platform that, the current regime is the best we have ever had as a nation. There you have it Mr. Mansaray.

  6. Even in the west, there is political parties strongholds. What really matters in this discourse is for the authorities concerned to totally de-politicize our institutions. Former president of the United States of America. Barrack Obama once said ” Africa doesn’t need strong leaders, what Africa needs is strong institutions”.

    • Depolitisation of Sierra Leone will requires cutting the ethno-regional pattern of voting and the supports enjoyed between the two old parties. But this can never be achieved when the people of North and South agree that they have no sustainable future and collectively decide to give power to a new political party and leadership outside of the SLPP and APC. Since breaking that ethno-regional affinity, is to my mind, the key to changing the country’s fortune by ushering in a new political dynamism of inclusive and consultative governance that focuses ideologically on national unity and development,a situation that has proven elusive for both APC and SLPP .

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