Abdulai Mansaray: Sierra Leone Telegraph: 28 July 2022:
With President Bio’s official first term in office ticking down, to the average SLPP supporter or sympathiser, President Bio is a “sure ball” for a second presidential term. The APC supporter will tell you that the sabbatical leave is over, and that it is time they signed a new tenancy agreement for State House, come 2023. Both would plausibly fantasise until the ballot box speaks. The whiff of negativity wafting in the political atmosphere is nauseatingly putrid.
In 2018, the National Grand Coalition (NGC) and Coalition 4 Change (C4C) entered the political fray as new kids on the block. Both shared DNAs as coalitions, but at birth as protest parties, and scions of SLPP and APC respectively.
Sam Sumana spearheaded C4C after the APC forced him out. SLPP closed the door in Yumkella’s face, and he started his NGC movement, sorry party. Most people doubted their stamina for the bruising long haul. So where are they today? What has become of these parties?
Have both parties grown since their inceptions?
The C4C party’s influence does not seem to stretch its sphere beyond Kono District and Walayhun; its boundary with Tonkolili District. Its founder Alhaji Sam Sumanas has been oscillating between the APC and C4C, much to his supporters who felt aggrieved by the treatment he received from the APC. Does he command the same 100% support he enjoyed from his kinsmen in 2018?
The NGC threatened the APC with a replacement theory in the last election cycle. Its whirlwind popularity sent the shivers up the APC’s political spine. It came at a time when the voters’ appetite for politics was apathetical, with many yearning for an antidote to mitigate against the political asphyxiation served by both APC and SLPP.
The Voters wanted a political cannula to inject a new treatment into our political blood stream. Unfortunately, and in its determination to cull the misguidedly perceived threat from the NGC, the APC focussed all its attention and resources on contesting the validity of Kandeh Yumkella’s “two-sim” status. It declared “two-simmers” ineligible and inadvertently scored an own goal by ruling out its diasporan sector from contesting. Talk about cut your nose to spite your face. The rest is history. Selecting Samura Kamara as flagbearer seemed like the last nail in the coffin.
With barely months away from the cyclical jamboree, there is every indication that the election would be between the two usual suspects. The NGC seems to have undergone some political alchemy since the formation of the COPP. Is the NGC fast becoming a political bridesmaid? Many seem to see the party as the symbol and mouthpiece of the COPP these days. Has the NGC lost its identity, or swallowed by the political sands of time.
The COPP is not a political party but a political tent for the politically aggrieved. Judging by the negative partisanship clogging our political bloodstream, is it plausible to conclude, that the election would be decided by the voters’ preference for the least desirable party, and not the best?
Remember that in politics, candidates win elections not because they vote for them, but because they vote against the other person. So, would it be like two wolves and a lamb voting on what to have for lunch? Just like the NGC, some people received the COPP as the New Order. It sent the jitters through the SLPP, which led Bio to offer the hand of political extreme unction to Kandeh Yumkella. Bio offered a “bidi, bi deemia”handshake and a prodigal son-esque invitation. But as we go to press, Yumkella still “hold word”.
While others see the COPP as a polygamous marriage among the parties, some political wordsmiths already see a coalition of crisis. Some interpreted the APC’s vows in this COPP marriage as a sign of self-doubt and political hara-kiri. Was this an act of the APC’s admission that it was no longer capable of unseating the SLPP single-handed?
Does the APC need a political “Osu-su” to challenge the SLPP? Was there a feeling that the SLPP is perceived as so entrenched and immovable, that it would require a monumental and concerted effort from a consortium (pardon the pun) to deny Bio a second term? Others saw this as an overblown estimation of SLPP popularity.
With few months to go, the elections would be upon us. Many of us share a firm belief and faith in the need for an unadulterated democracy to succeed. This is borne out of our convictions that there are extraordinary possibilities in ordinary people. It will soon be the season for oratory, and our politicians will never pass on the opportunity to over-simplify our complex issues.
Sadly, our politicians and their political merchants will do their utmost to appeal to our weaknesses and ignore our potential strengths as a nation. They will be ready to seek our loyalties and trade anything and everything in exchange for it. It is rather unfortunate, that such loyalties are never built on honour, but blood, region, tribe, anything and everything that differentiates and divides us. They will wear their rainbow coats and smiles, but the agenda will be the same.
Instead of telling us what they have done for the country, instead of telling us how they would improve the lives of our people, improve infrastructure and basic developments, hate, divisions, distrust, tribalism, regionalism, suspicions and fear would be the political currency of the campaign.
As voters, we should know our priorities. Our political leaders know our priorities too. Sadly, they would ignore them. However, one way we would let them know these priorities is, if those priorities begin to show up in the polls. Lest we forget, each time we vote, we express our commitment to ourselves, to one another and to our country.
Sadly, “the ignorance of one voter in a democracy impairs the security of all” (J.F. Kennedy). Does that make it imperative as voters, that we know our priorities? Is it time for us to show those priorities in the polls? Should voters be concerned about issues instead of personalities? Should elections be about developments, projects, innovations, policies, infrastructures, schools, better wages, OR your tribe, region and religion?
Sadly, the tendency to oversimplify our complex issues will see our politicians focus on our weaknesses, differences and the base instincts of humanity. Our votes and loyalties would be the exchange rate for tribalism, regionalism, ethnocentricities etc. on the political stock exchange.
Do our politicians trade tribalism because they have nothing better to offer the electorate? They tap into our emotional attributes of tribe, region, etc., as biological loopholes to instil fear, create a “them and us”, “predator and prey” political and social ecosystem. They make it feel like it is a treasonable offence to be Mende, Themne, Fullah, Mandingo or Krio. What happened to our inter marriages?
President Bio married a Mandingo, Samura a Mende and EBK a Kono woman. Sounds like when it comes to tribalism, carnal considerations do not qualify. Belonging to tribe should add flavour to our culture, and it is not criminal to belong. What is criminal is when we weaponise, politicise, and use it as a Weapon of Mass Divisions within a particular framework.
As Sierra Leoneans, let us remember that tribalism only succeeds when invested in ignorance. Didn’t we learn anything from Korthor Yehrroh, Lord Bongo, Bankura and Dan Dogo? I yearn for those afternoons on SLBS radio.
With the campaigns set to commence, our politicians will try to blow out the others’ candles, hoping that it would make their own candle shine brighter. They will play the tribe card, but we should remind them that we are citizens of a nation of one people with a common goal and purpose. Like many other African democracies, Sierra Leone faces the existential threat of politicians using identity politics to promote narrow-minded tribal interests.
Instead of competing in terms of ideas, they exploit our tribal loyalties and use such identities to engender sycophancy, cronyism, favouritisms, blind loyalty, and patronage. There can be no better incendiaries for internal strives and interregna.
In Sierra Leone today, we are increasing losing the ability to see the good in others, thanks to political persuasions or tribal constructs. This makes us feel like the essence of our democracy is about choosing the best person to take the blame. Politicians oppose one another because of the verb “to oppose”; we sabotage projects, programmes, and developments at the expense of the common good; hoping that their candles will shine brighter if they blow out the other’s candle. They want us to distrust one another but place our faith in them our leaders. When such happens, it’s tyranny.
It is democracy if we trust one another more and our leaders less. As citizens, we should be able to think and work independently together, irrespective of our tribal affiliations, for the common good.
So, the next time a politician comes to your doorstep, ask them what they have done for the country. The APC should account for what it achieved in the recent 11 years. The SLPP needs to give us a report card about their achievements in the last four plus years. It is up to us voters to define our national priorities.
Before you vote for a politician on tribal or regional lines, remember that the price of petrol, a good university, good medical care, better road infrastructure, our GDP, minimum living wage, better nurses, rice from Vietnam, or the cost of an Okada has no regard for tribe. A Mende Nurse is no better than a Themne Nurse, but better training for all will make the difference. The rate of the Dollar or Euro does not depend on your triable persuasions. The mosquito will never ask for your ID card before it infects you.
Is the access to and quality of education based on tribe? Is your EDSA bill dependent on your tribe? Do you pay different fares from Freetown to waterloo because of your tribe? What does your tribe have to do with free education or your BECE results?
If we fail to develop our country, we fail together, irrespective of whether its APC, SLPP, or One Man Geng party. Let us vote for ideas, systems, and policies for the good of all. It is the responsibility of us all to vote. However, when we do so, let us identify ourselves as citizens of a nation and not as members of a tribe.
By the way, what happens to the people, the Okada rider and the Pillion, now that former Inspector General of Police Savola has been relieved of his duties? One thing is sure though, he won’t be on LAJ’s Christmas list.
Don’t forget to turn the lights out when you leave the room.