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.