Sierra Leone Telegraph: 12 August 2017
Political parties in Sierra Leone are preparing for their respective national convention, where they will elect their party’s presidential candidate as well as administrative officials.
Both the ruling APC party and the main opposition SLPP will hold their convention next month, though there are serious questions about their varying levels of readiness.
National conventions do not come cheap. Cost may range from anything to hundreds of thousands of dollars, excluding the cost of ‘palms greasing’ – or as some would say – ‘vote buying by those seeking political office’.
There is a lot to be done between now and presidential, general, mayoral and council elections in Sierra Leone next March. First, parties must go through the nomination process for the respective offices.
And it is during this process of nominations, that a lot of skulduggery can take place.
The dishing out or allocation of party symbol to those eligible for nomination is complex. It is fraught with all sorts of unjust and undemocratic biases – such as the financial standing of candidates and their backers, tribalism, regionalism, sexism, nepotism and all the other ‘isms’ one can think of.
As the dates for party conventions draw closer, both the ruling APC and the main opposition SLPP are in a quandary about their choice of presidential candidates.
Despite talk of the communist style, centralist leadership and control of the APC administrative machinery, few will envy president Ernest Bai Koroma, who is also the party chairman, for his power of veto.
What this means is that no matter the popularity or otherwise of those seeking to replace him next year, he is the final arbiter as to which names must go forward to the party’s national delegates convention next month.
And the problem for president Koroma is that almost every ruling party candidate for the presidency, seriously believes that he has received ‘the nod – good word’ from the president. In other words, he or she has been promised the presidential flagbearership by the president.
But there are at least six main contenders for the ruling party presidential flagbearership, including John Bonoh Sisay – former rutile mining boss – said to be the president’s nephew; Victor Bockarie Foh – the incumbent vice president -who is the longest serving politician in the party aspiring for the presidency; Alpha Kanu – the former minister of information – a close and loyal friend of the president, said to have been largely responsible for Koroma’s victory at the 2007 polls; Joseph Kamara (Photo) – the attorney general and former Anti-Corruption Chief who has every politician’s financial secret and corrupt records in his back pocket; Minkailu Mansaray – the minister of mines who is yet to find a buyer for Sierra Leone’s $50 million diamond; Kelfala Marah – the former finance minister and former head of the Bank of Sierra Leone.
Last Thursday, there were rumours that the ruling APC National Advisory Council (NAC) – the party’s most powerful organ, met to decide which of the aspirants should be nominated for election at the convention.
Whilst there is no official confirmation as to whether this decision was made, the rumour mill continues. Today there are reports about the outcome of that meeting, including this from what is believed to be from the former sacked vice president Sam Sumana:
“The All People’s Congress (APC) party held a National Advisory Council (NAC) meeting on Thursday, August 10, 2017, for the pre-selection process to choose a flagbearer for the upcoming presidential elections. Two NAC members confided in me that the Vice President of Sierra Leone – Mr. Victor Foh was pre-selected yesterday as the APC flagbearer for the March 7, 2018 election.
“The choice for running mate will be selected sometime in November 2017. The eight leading candidates for the running mate position are: Alpha Kanu, Zainab Bangura, Kemoh Sesay, Alimamy Petito Koroma, Momoh Konteh, Joseph F. Kamara, John Sisay, and Minkailu Mansaray.
“Starting today Friday, August 11, 2017, I am going to go public with my patriotic duties for my country. I will publicly announce my political stance after the ruling of the Ecowas court in November.”
But responding to these rumours yesterday, a senior ruling APC stalwart – Chernor Ojuku Sesay who currently works at the Sierra Leone Embassy in Brussels, said this:
“My first task this morning on arrival at my office was to place a telephone call to the APC National Secretary General, Ambassador Dr. Alhaji Osman Foday Yansaneh to give me a summary of the key decisions reached last night at the NAC meeting; and most importantly to put to rest the rumour doing the rounds that the National Delegates Conference scheduled to take place in Makeni on 5th – 6th September, might be postponed to October.
“As always, Dr. Yansaneh was readily available to respond. Here are some of his key responses:
“- The APC National Delegates Conference will go ahead as scheduled on 5th and 6th, September 2017 in Makeni.
“- The Accreditation of Delegates will commence on 4th September 2017.
“- I’m advising all those coming from the Diaspora to take at least three weeks Leave. This is because this Convention is a very important one and so many issues must be discussed and thrashed.
“- The main reason for the NAC meeting yesterday, 10th August 2017, was to strategize on how to carry out the sensitization programme to educate our membership on the new boundary delimitations of the new Region, Districts, Chiefdoms, Constituencies and Wards. This sensitization process will start on 20th August and ends on 30th August 2017. The sensitization will go side-by-side with the Conventions for the regional, district, constituency and Ward executives.
“- Remember that the new boundary delimitations instrument has now become law as from today, Friday, 11th August 2017. The required twenty-one-day notice for any objection since it was laid in Parliament expired yesterday, Thursday, 10th August 2017 and there was no objection.
“- Those of you who will be contesting must try to be in the country now to help in the sensitization programme.”
So, while president Koroma’s headache over the ruling party’s choice of presidential candidate continues – at least for now, it is worth pointing out that according to senior party sources talking to the editor of the Sierra Leone Telegraph, love him or hate him – Victor Foh is the man thought by many in the APC NAC to be the best option for the party flagbearership, in what is fast becoming a chaotic and highly charged competition among the plethora of younger presidential aspirants.
It may seem like Foh will get the flagbearership by default, but one thing is evidently clear: President Koroma is shrewd and is passionate about ensuring that his legacy is upheld by his successor, whom he would expect to have trusted pair of hands. And the only candidate President Koroma appears to trust most is Victor Foh.
Also, Foh is the one candidate that many regard as the man who can most successfully deliver the south, if the ruling party is to win without a run off in 2018.
Rationality would seem to dictate that where there are many fiercely competing young testosterones aspiring to lead, you give the baton to the most experienced hand, who may be older but capable of steadying the ship and unify the camp to victory.
Critics of vice president Foh say that he cannot woo over the south to the APC. “Certainly, vice president Foh has the experience, etc, but I honestly feel that Sierra Leoneans cannot go for any presidential candidate that is older than Ernest Bai Koroma. The Vice President is a loyalist to the president, but what Sierra Leone needs is a self-decisive leader that has absolute legitimacy and can take decisions on his own.”
But ageism should not be allowed to get in the way of rationality, if the key criteria for the presidency is simply about experience, maturity, grit and battle hardened political conviction. Not sentiments.
One may disagree with Victor Foh’s politics, but must admire his over 40 years of loyalty to the ruling APC party and experience at the top of the party administration. APC may fare worse if they ignore this fact.
So, what’s happening across the Green Line – the opposition SLPP?
All seems quiet in the SLPP, after months – if not years of internal fighting, chaos and disorder.
But it is an uneasy quietness which many outside of the party are now wondering whether it’s the proverbial quiet before the storm, or an indication of the peace and order that has eluded the party for so long.
The party is currently busy conducting its internal district and local level elections, with very little sparks flying. Once these have been completed, the party will head to one of its southern cities for its national convention to elect its 2018 presidential candidate.
Until a few months ago there was only one issue dominating the SLPP discourse: who will lead the party into the 2018 elections. But that question is somewhat moot right now, as the former military junta leader – Julius Maada Bio, who contested and lost the 2012 presidential election, appears to be enjoying the full support of the rank and file members and the executive committee of the party.
Maada Bio is expected to be elected flagbearer of the SLPP, perhaps not so much because of his leadership skills and ability to galvanise and govern the whole country, but because over 70% of the party membership are from his tribal southern region, his critics argue.
But is this enough to take SLPP to State House and assume full control of parliament in 2018?
The fact is that no political party can win national elections in Sierra Leone, without winning more than 30% of votes outside of their political heartland.
In 2012 Maada Bio and his SLPP party were unable to achieve this. Over 70% of the overall 37% votes polled by SLPP nationally in 2012, came from their southern heartland – not a single seat was won in the electorally critical constituencies of Freetown and Kono.
In 2018, the SLPP are hoping that their northern based grand patrons of the party, such as Alie Kabba, Alpha Timbo, Bond Wurie and Abass Bundu, will help deliver the 20% of northern votes that could take the party to State House and parliament next year.
But political arithmetic and logic are not as simple as that. Several of the constituency boundaries have been redrawn by president Kororma in the last few months.
Also, Maada Bio may be popular in the South, but deeply resented in the north of the country, where many are refusing to forgive him for leading a military regime that executed dozens of civilians, military and police officers, in what has been described as ‘extra-judicial killing’.
Furthermore, many in the north of Sierra Leone and elsewhere, regard the SLPP as a ‘Mende-man party’, an image the party bosses are struggling to cleanse.
So, how the SLPP party conducts its affairs between now and its national convention in September, will determine the extent to which it has succeed in metamorphosing into a truly national party.
And northerners are looking for evidence of tribal integration. They say it is time for a northerner to lead the SLPP party – a wish the SLPP has not fulfilled in its sixty years of existence.
The ruling APC has not fared any better. They too are yet to be led by a southerner. Perhaps the election of Victor Foh to lead the APC into the 2018 elections may break that old, traditional and tribalistic spell.