21 December 2012
Few will doubt the fact that the ruling APC party won the November elections, which saw president Koroma back in office for another five years.
What is certainly in dispute and has been contended is the margin of victory, largely accounted for by tribalism and a small dose of ballot rigging, especially in the country’s capital Freetown and many of the constituencies in the president’s northern districts.
But the dark spectre of tribalism is not exclusively a ruling party problem. That the country’s main opposition SLPP was able to muster over 70% of votes in its southern ethnic constituencies, suggest that voters in the south of the country too, have voted according to their tribal lineage.
Will president Koroma this time around serve as president of all Sierra Leoneans, ensuring that everyone – irrespective of tribe, has the opportunity to participate in nation building, wealth creation and share of the prosperity?
Politics in Sierra Leone is heavily polarised by tribalism and poverty. Hence one expects, in the absence of a well informed and educated majority across all tribes in the population, for electoral outcomes to be largely determined by tribal affiliations and cash for votes.
That the ruling APC party with its roots buried deep in the north won the elections by 58%, does not come as a surprise. The northern tribes not only form the largest ethnic block in the country of 6 million people, but historically are the most nomadic.
In the capital Freetown, northerners now comprise the largest segment of the population. In the south of the country, similar migratory pattern has ensured their strong presence in many districts where their collective voting strength exceeds 25% of the total votes.
But the same cannot be said of the main opposition SLPP, whose roots are entrenched mainly in the south and parts of the east of the country. In the northern districts, the party finds it impossible to win more than 20% of the votes and in some northern constituencies saw its popularity down to less than 3%.
To be recognised once again as a truly nationally representative party, the SLPP has a lot of work to do in the north of the country and in the capital Freetown, if it is to win the 2017 elections.
But until then and in the meantime, president Koroma is back at State House with his new ‘Agenda for Prosperity’, promising to do better than he had done in the previous five years, which by all accounts have made very little impact – if at all – on the economic and social wellbeing of the people of Sierra Leone.
And as the opposition SLPP leader – Julius Maada Bio travelled to neighbouring Guinea to air his grievances about the unfairness of the election results; the majority of Sierra Leoneans have moved on and are focusing on where the next meal is going to come from.
Threats by the opposition SLPP to boycott parliament would have boomeranged if carried out. With an overwhelming majority in parliament, the temptation now for the hawks and anti-liberal democrats within the ruling party, is to declare a one-party state.
Although president Koroma may be tempted to contemplate such a retrograde step, using his parliamentary majority to change the multi-party constitution that has served the country’s fledgling democracy so well since the end of the war in 2001, his profound sense of realism will tell him otherwise.
But how far is he willing and prepared to meet the opposition’s demand for a more inclusive and cohesive politics and society?
Speaking at his swearing-in ceremony in parliament just weeks ago, president Koroma appeared first of all to be offering a fig leaf to the opposition SLPP’s leadership, whose dogged refusal to accept the election results is threatening to undermine the legitimacy of the government and his chances of achieving stability and attracting increased foreign investment.
He said that: “The time for politics is over, the moment for continuing the transformation has come. This is the time for all of us to embrace each other. In the name of Mama Sierra Leone, let all APC supporters embrace every SLPP supporter and supporters of other political parties.
“I am inviting the leadership of the SLPP and other political parties to join the leadership of the APC in moving this country forward. The job at hand requires the goodwill and positive energy of the membership of all political parties.”
Cynics would say that they heard the very same sentiment expressed by president Koroma in 2007, when he was elected for the first term, that he “will govern as president of all Sierra Leoneans” and had failed to do so.
But if economic and social indicators are to go by, it is true that each region in the country has its own story to tell about rising abject poverty, youth unemployment and the lack of development. The country is still classed as among the poorest nations in the world and one of the most corrupt.
The government of president Koroma has presided over five years of economic stagnation, with GDP barely rising above 5% in 2011. Adult mortality still stands at 47 years; one in eight women dying during childbirth; child mortality also one of the highest in the world; and unemployment, especially youth unemployment rising to more than 65% of the adult population in 2011.
High inflation – an annual average of 20% in the last three years has made life miserable for most Sierra Leoneans. High interest rate has crippled small and medium sized business and their capacity to grow the economy and create jobs.
Yet despite this worrying trend, the president succeeded in gaining a second term, largely because of a disorganised and parochial opposition, tribalism and widespread illiteracy in the country.
But nonetheless, there are many in Sierra Leone who genuinely believes that the president would do better in his second term in office, and to whose hearts and minds the president spoke, when he said that:
“This is my new contract with you. We will focus on creating jobs for the youths, and on training our youths to seize the immense employment opportunities we are creating in the construction, mining, agriculture and other sectors.
“We will continue with our infrastructural development programmes; we will continue to attract investment; we will continue to fight corruption; we will continue to protect and promote the rights of every woman, every man, youth, child, journalist, and civil society activist.”
Less than 20% of the electorate in the south voted for the president and already there are calls among senior APC party executives and sympathetic media editors calling for “a winner takes it all policy”.
But will president Koroma this time around listen to his conscience and remember the oath of office he took on the 23 November in parliament and the promise that he made?
This is what he said:
“Fellow Sierra Leoneans, democracy respects divisions; good governance transcends divisions. I will make sure that the fruits of the Agenda for Prosperity are equally distributed in every district and region of the country.
“Our creation of jobs will be for youths all over the country; our focus on skills for employment will be for the youths of every political party; we will construct roads in every region, continue to bring electricity to every district; develop agriculture in every chiefdom and provide free healthcare for the mothers and children of every village.
“Let us be mindful that the work starts today, and every Sierra Leonean, from all political parties, regions, ethnic group, age, and religion is central to our Agenda for Prosperity. We must therefore embrace each other as we march forward with action, bravery, commitment, discipline, empathy and fortitude.”
The proof of the pudding is in the eating. Soon the president will name his new list of cabinet ministers and his finance and economic development minister will announce his budget for the year ensuing.
How representative will his ministerial cabinet be and to what extent will it reflect the national character of the country; and how much funding will his government allocate in terms of spending on decentralisation and devolution of power to the regions?
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