Sierra Leone Telegraph: 5 July 2017
If ever there has been a public occasion for the opposition SLPP party to show restraint and professionalism in the face of a major internal crisis that has brought it into serious voter disrepute, it was at today’s emergency press conference.
Today’s press conference was a defining moment for the party, after one of its main contenders for the presidential flagbearership – Dr. Kandeh Yumkella last Monday walked out on the party, accusing party bosses of failing to control and discipline extremists within it ranks that have been intimidating and inflicting violence on his supporters.
Yumkella said he will now concentrate on building a grand coalition of liberal progressives in the country that are willing to put Sierra Leone first, rather than their narrow and selfish personal and party interests.
Responding today to Yumkella’s decision to walk out on the party, a cross-section of its aspiring presidential candidates – not all, presented a signed joint press statement. Though many would say it lacked authority, especially as the statement did not carry the signature of the party chairman, It was a matured and measured statement, though full of philosophical rhetoric.
It was a statement designed to show an accommodating group of aspiring SLPP presidential candidates, who appear willing to tolerate a broad church of views and opinions within its ranks. Critics would no doubt accuse them of failing time and time again at matching rhetoric with decisive action.
But if today’s statement by the SLPP was meant to keep the door open for the estranged presidential aspirant Yumkella to come back home, it was short on carrots and promise of reform. Its unlikely that it will entice Yumkella back into the SLPP party.
It seems it would take more than a few paragraphs of what one Yumkella adviser today referred to as “nothing but flowery and meaningless words” to see the return of Dr Kandeh Yumkella to a party in which, he said he and his supporters have been subjected to harassment, intimidation and violence.
This is what the unusually, though not surprisingly short statement, titled – ‘standing together to affirm our common bond’ said:
“In light of recent developments, we, as Flag-bearer aspirants, wish to hereby declare and affirm our unwavering commitment to the unity and success of the Sierra Leone Peoples Party. (Photo: Maada Bio, speaking at the press conference. He is accused as the man behind the violence and intimidation).
“We remain fully aware of the fact that, like any other political party, we have internal challenges. History has taught us that there are always periods of strain and stress in the evolution of established organizations or parties, which are usually followed by a meteoric rise beyond the limiting holds of past uncertainties.
“The challenges in our history have always served to increase our determination, in the spirit of our noble party, to weather the storms no matter how rough the tides.
“We stand together in the firm conviction that ours is a quest to live up to the ideals of our party, and we are steadfast in our commitment to resolve any and all issues through internal dialogue and engagement of stakeholders.
“We are hopeful that we shall overcome the identified challenges in our way and work to perfect the practicalities of our political promise to the nation.
“Together, we will continue to widely open our doors and warmly stretch out our arms to all Sierra Leoneans with the best of intentions for our party and our nation.
“To the general membership of SLPP, we express our heartfelt appreciation for keeping faith with the party. More than ever before, now is the time to keep the fire burning even stronger and keep the hope shining forever brighter.
“The democracy that we all so rightly crave needs our party to continue to serve as the platform of national unity and progress, for SLPP is the real barrier to prevent another sad chapter of de facto dictatorship in Sierra Leone.
“SLPP may not have all the solutions to national issues, but we certainly have the best answers for now and for the future to prioritize the needs of the people and restore public trust in government. One Country, One People.” (Photo: Presidential aspirant Alie Kabba speaking at the press conference).
The statement was signed by a selected group of SLPP presidential aspirants, namely: Maada Bio, Alie Kabba, Alpha Timbo, Jonathan Tengbe, Ernest Ndomahina, Francis Lahai, and Bond Wurie.
Notable by their absence were the signatures of the SLPP chairman – Chief Somano Kapen, presidential aspirants – John Oponjo Benjamin, Munda Rogers, and Andrew Keili.
SLPP may have today sought to present a united front in the face of Dr Yumkella’s departure from the party, but there is little doubt it fell short of achieving that objective today.
The aspiring presidential candidates and the party executive officers – including chairman Kapen, may need to go back to the drawing board. But time is of the essence. General and presidential elections are just eight months away. Can SLPP stem the rot that is threatening to destroy its chances of ever winning a general election anytime soon?