Sierra Leone – democracy by thuggery and politics of patronage?

Author: Mohamed Bahr: Sierra Leone Telegraph: 7 June 2018:

The sickening spectacle of chaos and mayhem that unfolded in the well of parliament during the sitting of the fifth parliament of the second Republic, seems to have been conjured from a gangster movie of dim –witted desperados and bovine bandits.

The tension generated is a direct fallout from the stifling and toxic atmosphere that characterized the just concluded elections. The whole imbroglio left millions of television viewers dumbstruck. And to say that this was a damning indictment of where we are as a nation, is an understatement.

Thankfully, it was on a week day and the offending scenes happened during school hours, sparing the blushes of our school –going children.

Sadly too, it was all so avoidable if only cool heads across the political divide had prevailed.

The fact that both the outgoing speaker of the House of parliament and the newly- appointed clerk of parliament were quoting the same constitution to justify their entrenched but conflicting positions, should be a cause for concern.

Assuming they were both doing so with honest conviction, devoid of any partisan chicanery, then we must address the issues of ambiguity in our constitution.

We must no longer allow this sacred law of the land to be bastardized and manipulated in the interest of a powerful but insecure executive and a pliant partisan legislature.

Ironically, the very state security forces that were called upon to restore sanity in the well of parliament when our aspiring law-making candidates of the now opposition APC chose to cut their noses to spite their faces, were only few weeks earlier at their beck and call when they were in governance: a classic case of the chickens coming home to roost.

While we must not fail to condemn violence of any form, the fact remains that any lack of professionalism on the part of our men and women of the security forces must be laid on the doorsteps of the administration of the ex -president, which had over a decade to fix the unprofessionalism and the politicization of the police and military.

Cynics will be quick to say that what goes around comes around. True. But experience has also taught us that what comes around goes around. Meaning we must address the issues of political interference into state institutions.

Our forces cry out for fundamental reforms of constitutional proportions. Issues like the composition of the police council need serious scrutiny.

If the caliber and character displayed by the present crop of aspiring law-makers is anything to go by, then it becomes imperative to forestall the possibility of the abuse of power by all three arms of government.

The administration of former President Koroma will be remembered for a few positives, but the reality of life seems to suggest that these are becoming dimmer by the day as they are being “interred with the bones” of the erstwhile administration.

On the other hand, the failures, lost opportunities and “evil” will live after them. Perhaps, what will linger most is the almost carefree and abrasive toying with the country’s Constitution; notable examples being the sacking of the constitutionally elected Vice President and the issues of dual citizenship, commonly referred to as “two-sim” in our local parlance.

Ex-President Koroma came to power on a crest-wave of almost unprecedented popularity. But, sadly, he failed to capitalize on his encounter with destiny, and as a result finds himself needing “something to expiate.”

A lot has been said and written about why the APC lost the elections. Most after-the-event analysts or political commentators seem to lay the blame squarely on the very broad shoulders of the ex-president.

While the leadership style of the ex-president is far from faultless, the character and political grit of most of his lieutenants leave much to be desired. In a previous piece entitled “World’s best scores own goals”, I adequately addressed that issue.

The lackluster campaign strategy of the APC and the absence of any substance to their message of continuity is part of the gloomy narrative of failure and defeat.

Where the SLPP’s slogan of ‘Change and a New Direction’ inspired confidence and hope, that of continuity as espoused by the APC rang hollow. In the present state of economic downturn and biting austerity, the concept of continuity became a hard sell. Against the backdrop of the Ebola and mudslide realities, the government’s fate was sealed.

Subsequent attempts at intimidation and judicial maneuverings, especially attempts to slam an injunction on the run-off elections, quickly undermined the APC’s chances of any victory. The bungling raid on the SLPP’s elections tally centre at Goderich, before even the close of polling, underlined the desperation and ineptitude of the ruling party and their “dogs of wars”.

The timely intervention of International observers led by the Ex-Ghanaian President John Mahama and the brave response of officials within the ranks  of the SLPP – notably their campaign manager Alie Kabba, emboldened the SLPP support base and attracted floating  voters, whose voices become decisive in the subsequent run-off.

That was the moment the SLPP drew first blood. And it was only a matter of time before they went for the jugular. The response of Alie Kabba (Photo), in particular on social media, and his smart and deliberate attempts to equate the present APC with that of the 70’s and 80’s resonated with voters. This proved to be as timely as it was poignant.

It would be interesting to note that this is the very same Alie Kabba who stood up against the APC during his days as student union president at Fourah Bay College  in the mid- eighties.

Surely anyone bold enough to challenge a dictatorial one-party APC will not be cowed by a democratically –elected one?

Alie Kabba and Julius Maada Bio therefore have something in common: they each have two victories against the APC under their belts. No mean feat. Their destinies seem to be intertwined and only time will tell where they are headed.

The APC therefore, to a very  large extent, dug its own grave. Their campaign lacked substance and verve and their naïveté to be content with the singsong rendition  of “De Pa Don Wok” turned out to be untenable and was  quickly countered  by the more potent melody of “ Good Do”.

A significant number of voters seemed to have matured and evolved  politically, whilst their politicians had stagnated and festered in  a cocoon of backwardness .With a voter turn- out of over 80%, people were determined to have their voices heard. It was no longer business as usual; and just as every vote counted, so did every vote had to be earned.

No amount of Chinese T-shirts and cheap Indian alcoholic beverages and simplistic tribal messages  can  be a substitute for a well  thought -out strategy that is predicated on sound policies and a strong manifesto.

All the tension generated by the ruling party – before and during the elections, and the overly  active involvement of the then  incumbent president in the election campaign, proved counterproductive.

The ban on vehicular  traffic on polling day, the flooding of the streets with military personnel occasioned by the invocation  of Mac –P, created an uncalled-for sense of siege and curfew, reminiscent of the dark old days of civil war and rebel interregnum, with those  in control  appearing  to be high-handed in their use of power.

This quickly heightened the sense of natural justice of the majority of the voters. And their anger  crystallized into a complete  and total rejection of the powers that be. Then came the injunction that postponed the run-off elections. Already exhausted and fatigue- stricken by months of politicking and electioneering, this proved to be the final straw for most voters. Enough was enough: something had to change.

But what we saw in parliament on that faithful day was certainly not the change we expected. When men in suits and ties, when the highest law-making institution  in the land, churn out scenes reminiscent of wild –west gangsterism, then we have reason to worry about the  quality of our men and women in authority.

Even more worrying is the recent whimsical and totally unwarranted pronouncement of a so-called ministerial-edict by Dr Dennis Sandy on national cleaning day, when at that material time he was not even a minister. This embarrassing development raises questions not only about  the temperament of the  said individual but, more seriously, on the chain of command vis-à-vis government protocol  and good governance practice.

The days of little men flexing their tiny muscles to feed their big egos are numbered. Gone are the days when self-serving, headline grabbing government officials can imagine for one moment that they are running a parallel administration and can therefore go unchallenged. Those days died with the advent of social media and internet penetration.

Now compare this with the recent interview of Sahr Lahai Jusu, the newly –appointed Financial Secretary. For a man who spear- headed the raising of over 300 Billion Leones  in  less than three weeks in April, he sounded  not only humble but almost self-deprecating.

His display of fiscal and financial knowledge was surpassed only by his humility not to flaunt it. Those in the media seeking to denigrate his reputation by associating him with the fiscal indiscipline of the erstwhile administration, seem to forget that what we have here is a hard-working government official and not a politician. And that interview on Radio Democracy was proof enough: I have never seen a more consummate and fact-laden interview on YouTube.

Let  us hope that other appointments by his Excellency Julius Maada Bio can live up to their billing. If, for instance, Dr. Alpha Wurie can replicate the success story of his sojourn in the Ministry of Education during the Tejan-Kabbah era, then we have a lot to look forward to in the Ministry of Health and Sanitation.

Anyone with the vision and ambition to conceive a project like the “Sababu Education Project” surely has something to offer. Hopefully, we should see the same determination and work ethic from Alpha Timbo who leaves his mark everywhere he treads, from his days at SLTU to his days at the Ministry of Labour.

At this juncture of our history we must seek to exploit the quality of the best and finest  men and women the nation  can offer. The President has a clear mandate and is lucky not to be limited and laden by shady political alliances.

The fact that the NGC and C4C  parties refused to endorse  him in the run-off elections has after all proved to be a blessing in disguise. He now has the unbridled opportunity to fulfill his very ambitious, but achievable elections manifesto.

Contrary to Barack Obama’s argument, emerging economies with fledgling democracies  need strong leaders. While strong institutions eventually define the successes of countries all over the world, the fact remains that they can only be created, nurtured and promoted by leaders strong on vision and discipline.

Which brings me to the presidential inauguration and the palaver and mini-scandal surrounding its planning with accusing fingers pointed at the first lady. While the fact of who chaired or co-chaired the committee that was responsible is no longer relevant, the fact remains that the ceremony had a pedestrian and lackluster feel to it.

Subsequent pronouncements by the Minister of Information Mohamed Swarray on SLBC to the effect that the first lady was an integral part of government and by Lahai Lawrence Leema on Radio Democracy that she was part of the presidency is misleading and inaccurate.

The logical position is that her office is not an elected one and not sanctioned by the constitution. First ladies play more of a social role than a political one and our first lady should by all means be  encouraged to perform public but ceremonial duties.

Hers is an office of honour and not one of power. With her infectious charm and energy, she can be an invaluable asset to her husband, the nation and the ruling party, but that asset can quickly metamorphose into an Achilles heel and therefore a source of “own goals” if the lines delineating her functions are blurred. We need a first lady in the mould  of Michelle Obama and  not Grace Mugabe.

Another talking point of the inauguration has been the participation or lack thereof of the ex-president. With the release of his 36-page handing-over notes, political analysts must now hold fire and direct their energies to analysing this document for what it is worth.

Considering the length of the handing-over notes, perhaps it is better that they  were not read after all. The occasion of the inauguration is principally about the incoming president and so any lengthy distraction would have  taken the shine off the occasion – taking into account the gloomy and pessimistic  outlook of the whole document.

Perhaps it was predictable that the outgoing president would choose to open his notes with the scourge of the Ebola outbreak and the catastrophic tragedy it left in its wake. The prominence he accorded to what he termed the “Ebola interregnum” underlines the leadership challenges or, rather, the challenges of leadership that the APC administration grappled with throughout its decade-long tortuous tenure in office.

Sometimes great leaders are born, sometimes they are made during periods of cataclysmic  social, political or economic  upheaval which the Ebola outbreak certainly was. But in Sierra Leone’s case, what the Ebola upheaval  did was not only to expose the sad state of the health  infrastructure, but also the dearth of leadership quality and the intellectual mediocrity of the administration.

On the whole, the 36 –page document was a litany  of excuses and sounded so apologetic that the ex-president seemed almost overwhelmed by the office of  president of the Republic. Take, for example, his conclusion: “Finally, Your Excellency my government like all governments, was not perfect. For a variety of reasons, I did not achieve some of what I wanted; especially because of the Ebola interregnum.”

The first few pages of the document were also almost exclusively dedicated to the Ebola outbreak. The enduring impression we have is of a lame attempt to use the Ebola outbreak that lasted for only  two years to justify a decade –long governance characterised by fiscal indiscipline and  egregious incompetence.

Ironically, the ex-president considers the creation of two new administrative districts as one of his greatest legacies. No matter how robustly he may want to argue this position, the fact remains that his APC party has been the principal beneficiary of this presidential largesse, prompting accusations of gerrymandering  from some quarters.

Perhaps it is against this background that we should understand the  panic and desperation of the APC party on that dark day of shame in parliament. The ugly scenes inflicted on us that day represented a microcosm of the theatrics and hysterics of delay and drama that we saw throughout the elections.

While not downplaying the courage or strategic planning of the SLPP, the hand of God was evident  in the denouement  and outcome of the elections as the APC was ignominiously consigned to the opposition  with fatalistic inevitability.

Now the storm has passed, tempers have simmered down. It is now  the turn of His Excellency Julius Maada Bio to show the stuff he  is made of as his own encounter with destiny dawns.

He has the team, he has the slogans and the manifesto to match. Above all, he now has the backing and support of over seven million expectant but desperate Sierra Leoneans. His success will invariably depend on how he rises to the challenges of leadership, as well as his ability to navigate the leadership challenges strewn along his path..

2 Comments

  1. The core flagship programme of President Julius Maada Bio is ‘free and quality’ education from primary to secondary level. Is it going to be free in the true sense of the word, or is it going to be in the form of an ‘affordable and quality’ type of education?

    There is a choice between free and low quality education, consequently breeding a type of care-free population without any aspiration to output, as they don’t have any competitive edge; or, the provision of an affordable and quality education geared towards a value-for-money population with a progressive outlook.

    Wedged against the first choice is the free-rider problem. A situation that will lurk its head from three fronts: the pupils, the parents or guardians, and the teachers. The product is a society dependent on the ‘public good’ – whereby, people will have no incentive to achieve education, since they are indifferent to whether they participate, or not. This will have the effect of a stagnating economy coupled with adverse social problems.

    There would be a tendency for the teachers to shirk their responsibilities, because they will feel they are just in the middle of a routine process of delivering a public good – that even the consumers are indifferent of. They will be asking for more money for their marginal output if they were to increase their efficiency levels.

    The teachers should be recruited by using the simple market model of demand and supply to determine their price of labour. If the price is right, a lot of graduates will flock to the teaching profession.

    The policy of enticing people to choose the teaching profession, in as much as, promising a guaranteed free university education for three children of any teacher that has spent a certain amount of time in teaching profession, has the implication of creating a relatively small privileged middle class society, in an already ethnically and regionally divided north-south society.

    It may be possible for President Bio to go back to the people of Sierra Leone, and say, you know what … I am going to build more primary and secondary schools, and, I will provide free uniforms and books. But, parents or guardians should be thinking of making modest contributions in the form of ‘affordable school fees’ … in order to avoid the free-rider problem. And, that education up to the age of fifteen is compulsory.

    As it looks, President Bio is very enthusiastic to do the job, and should be given the opportunity and environment to deliver. He may be inclined to leave a legacy of progressiveness by not falling into the trap of devising counter development frameworks, as witnessesed from SLPP (Sierra Leone Peoples Party) and the APC (All Peoples Congress) governments since independence. It’s like the APC navigating north and the SLPP steering southwards whenever there is a change of government.

    Even in developed economies, a change of government between parties with different ideologies, does not entail a shift from the nation’s core values, and internets. In that context, President Bio may like to acknowledge the legacy left by the previous President – Ernest Bai Koroma and the APC party; that is, infrastructure development. This realisation is like a reference point that would clearly define President Bio’s legacy – without any compromise on his ‘new direction’ philosophy.

    A well designed infrastructure can induce many benefits, including a dynamic business culture and a boost to interactions and social integration. Another valuable benefit will be the attraction of tourism in a diversified and larger scale. There is also the need for good infrastructure in order to optimise the benefits of international investment.

  2. APC have always ruined the country for nothing worth than the expected outcry of the population, but the crude manifesto of their long ruling and staying in power for so long, determined to bring Sierra Leone into communist agenda.

    What has Sierra Leone ever got tracking the mischievous behaviour they have put the people in, as well as, their legacy?

    Can you really digest what the last president tried to put the country in? We have seen a lot of problems since late Steven´s days. It was the same situation the last president wanted to do putting the country in disgrace, amidst the cry of the population looking to survive the political burden posed on them.

    We must all pray for the incumbent president to succeed in all his undertakings and plans. He is the true leader we have been hoping for, to liberate the country from tyranny, corruptions, theft and worst of all separating a small country like Sierra Leone into tribal lines. How can we remember the APC in the future?

    It is the party which had separated and divided the country into mayhem. I will never trust such a party in my life, meddling with everything and doing nothing to clean and make it good for the downtrodden. Oh Allah or God save Sierra Leone again from that APC party.

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