Sierra Leone telegraph: 14 January 2018
Observers from Mars must be thinking why on earth, a country as small as Sierra Leone – after seventeen years since coming out of a brutal civil war, just cannot get its acts together by ensuring that the most basic tenet of human existence – law and order, is discharged by those in power, as reasonably and fairly as possible, without chaos.
Take the current constitutional crisis, which many now believed to have been engineered by the ruling APC, to prevent their fellow Sierra Leoneans that are in possession of dual nationalities from contesting elections and be appointed government ministers.
This is a crisis that need not have happened, especially so close to general and presidential elections which are due on the 7th of March 2018 – less than eight weeks.
The ruling party, perhaps sensing that it is about to lose the elections if the people of Sierra Leone are granted the freedom to vote, has resorted to invoking sections of the country’s Constitution – which itself as a government, has failed to uphold since coming to power in 2007.
Section 76 of the Constitution says that anyone with dual nationality is ineligible to contest parliamentary elections and cannot also be appointed government minister.
But in 2006, the government of president Ahmed Tejan kabbah legislated new laws granting Sierra Leoneans the privilege of possessing dual nationality, in recognition of the fact that during the war, hundreds of thousands of Sierra Leoneans fled the country to seek refuge and a better life abroad.
In addition to this massive sacrifice, Sierra Leoneans living and working abroad are responsible for remitting hundreds of millions of dollars back to Sierra Leone, which is helping to cushion the abject levels of poverty in the country that the government is failing to address.
Since 2006, successive governments of Sierra Leone and the country’s electoral commission have respected the changes to the citizenship laws introduced in 2005, as many Sierra Leoneans return home to successfully contest elections as parliamentarians, whilst others are appointed to ministerial roles.
But successive governments have grotesquely failed to ensure that Section 76 of the constitution was removed, so that there will be no conflict or inconsistencies with the 2006 Act, which could prejudice the right of citizens to hold dual nationality and contest elections. This is slothful governance.
As a result, not a single political party has ensured that its application and vetting process for all those expressing an interest in becoming a member of parliament, includes proof of nationality and declaration that they do not hold dual citizenship.
So what we have today is a constitutional crisis which many Sierra Leoneans in and out of the country say, is a manufactured blunder by president Koroma and his ruling party, hoping to deny opposition parties whose funding comes largely from Sierra Leoneans living abroad, the lifeblood needed to succeed at those elections.
Why did president Koroma refuse to accept the recommendations made by the constitution review committee for a new constitution?
The answer is now clear. After spending millions of dollars on a constitution review process, conducted by a committee chaired by Justice Edmund Cowan, president Koroma failed to honour his promise of a national referendum in 2017, which would have resulted in massive changes to the 1991 Constitution, including curtailing the powers of the president.