Sierra Leone Telegraph: 29 October 2016
Next Saturday, 5th of November, 2016, the Sierra Leone Peoples’ Party (SLPP) UK and Ireland, will celebrate the sixty-fifth anniversary of the grand old party of Sierra Leone – the SLPP. (Photo: Sir Milton Margai’s last cabinet)
Despite a long and sometimes turbulent history, the SLPP party has throughout post-independence Sierra Leone, managed to rule the country twice: In 1961-1967; and 1996-2007, respectively.
Since gaining independence in 1961, only two political parties have ruled Sierra Leone – APC and the SLPP, until 1992 when the APC, after imposing a one-party rule and transforming the country into a failed, despotic state, were banished into a fifteen-year long exile by a group of young soldiers, led by Captain Valentine Strasser.
But after dominating Sierra Leone’s politics from its founding in 1951 to 1967 when it controversially lost parliamentary elections to the APC party, SLPP’s return to power in 1996, and its attempts thereafter at keeping hold of governance, has proven difficult.
Since losing the 2007 elections to the APC, the opposition SLPP has struggled to find its feet. It has lost the last two consecutive general and presidential elections to the ruling APC, although controversially. Can it recover?
As the next elections slated for February 2018 draw closer, there are fears the party may not be able to pull itself together in unity on time, to regain power from the now unpopular ruling APC.
The SLPP party appears divided, and sometimes rather dysfunctional. It will need far more than the goodwill and legacy of its founding fathers, to succeed in regaining the trust of the people of Sierra Leone to take control of parliament and State House in 2018.
But the rank and file, and the executives of the SLPP party – both at home and abroad, are hopeful. They believe there is plenty of time to put the affairs of the party in order, and galvanise the support of the almost three million Sierra Leoneans that are likely to vote in 2018.
Can the party look back into its history, and the vision laid down by its founding fathers, in order to find its way into State House in 2018?
“We look back on 65 years with mixed feelings. On the one hand, we take pride in the high ideals that guided the founding fathers of our party. On the other hand, we need a critical assessment of how far we have deviated from those noble core values and the effects on the party,” Mr. Ansu Momoh – the Secretary General of the SLPP UK and Ireland Branch, told the Sierra Leone Telegraph.
This is what he has to say about the colourful history, fortunes and prospects for the SLPP party:
After preliminary talks in Freetown, a group of Sierra Leoneans assembled in Bo on the 27th April 1951. And after deep and careful consideration, they resolved to form a new political party. Its aim included, but not limited, to work for the political unification of the Colony and Protectorate.
Ten years later, Sierra Leone ended British colonial rule and became independent on 27th April 1961, a date that also marks the anniversary of Bai Bureh’s Hut Tax revolt against British rule.
As an historical context, it is very important to recall that British rule divided the country into two geographical parts: a colony and a protectorate. The reason may have been benevolent, but the divide quickly became contagious: it raised and expanded intolerance as never before.
For example, the firebrand Krio politician, the late Herbert Christian Bankole-Bright likened the division between the colony and protectorate to “two hills standing opposite each other that can never meet’’. He was not alone. Some protectorate intellectuals similarly advocated naming the SLPP the ‘Sierra Leone Protectorate Party’.
Both sides echoed affections of personal and ethnic prejudices in fashion those days, all stemming from perverted notions of social class.
They resolved to constitute themselves into the Sierra Leone People’s Party. They chose the anti-separatist motto of ‘’ One Country, One People’’.
This motto reflects its mission to unify the country and its people, and in particular to remove the division then existing between the colony and the protectorate.
By adopting that motto, founders of the SLPP wished to emphasize the need for removing the ethnic divisions and rivalries that existed between the various ethnic groups.
An underlying theme that runs through the vein in the formation of the SLPP is unity and cohesion of the country, an essential ingredient in maintaining the peace and stability of the country.
The Bo meeting was an amalgam of three quasi-political groups, agreeing to act together as one, because that was the best and only way they could overcome British intransigence and win freedom for their people.
The first group was the People’s Party – and this is where the PP in the SLPP comes from. The famous Krio intellectual, Lamina Sankoh, whose personal experience of racial discrimination in England and whose passion for forging solidarity with the protectorate, induced him to change his name from Reverend Eldred Jones to Lamin Sankoh.
He had in his group very prominent persons of Alhaji M.S Mustapha, A. G. Randle, Abdul Fattah – Rahman, R.G.O King, J.C.O. Crowther, Mrs. Constance Cummings John, Mrs. Zainabu Kamara, and Haja Kai Dumbuya, to mention just a few.
The second group was the Sierra Leone Organising Society (SOS). Formed in 1946, it comprised mostly of Sierra Leonean graduates from American universities, including names like John Karefa Smart, Doyle Sumner, Frank Anthony, T.M Williams, J.D Manley and William Fitzjohn. They were joined by Kandeh Bureh, the Temne Tribal Headman in Freetown, Siaka Stevens and Albert Margai.
The third group was the Protectorate Educational and Progressive Union (PEPU), which was also formed in 1946 and brought together Milton Margai, H.E.B John, A. J Momoh, Benka Coker, Amadu Wurie of Gbinti, Y. D. Sesay, R. B. Kowa, and Reverend Paul Dunbar of Kono.(photo: Reverend Paul Dunbar)
In their midst also was an impressive entourage of Paramount Chiefs which included P. C R.B.S Koker, P.C Bai Farima Tass 11, P.C Bockarie Samba, P.C Kenewa Gamanja, P.C Alkali Modu, P.C Jaia Kaikai, P.C Bai Kurr, P.C Shebora Yumkella, P.C Kai Tungi, P.C Julius Momoh Guluma, and P.C Koblo Pathbana.
These were the Founding Fathers of the SLPP. They came from every corner and from every ethnic group. The North was represented just as much as the South, if not more. It is therefore important to emphasise that the Founding Fathers saw their creation as non-tribal – a party which does not differentiate between Temne, Limba, Mende or Creole.
Rather they viewed it as national party to promote the aspirations of all the people of Sierra Leone, not just of those in the protectorate.
To this day, their party, our party, stands out as the only national party there is, promoting the values of unity, freedom, social justice and equality of opportunity for all Sierra Leoneans.
Sir Milton Margai was the first national chairman and parliamentary leader, Paramount Chief Bai Farima Tass 11 was deputy leader; A. J Momoh a retired civil servant was vice-president; and Kandeh Bureh, a teacher and a Temne tribal headman in Freetown was national treasurer.
Sir Milton Margai, the most influential political personality among protectorate Africans did insist however, that the SLPP at least attempt to function as a national political party at the leadership level.
Consequently, two creole leaders of liberal persuasion were given senior leadership roles in the SLPP: Lamina Sankoh became a second vice president of the party; and H. E. B John, a teacher who like Sankoh, had supported the protectorate cause in the post war constitutional dispute was appointed National General Secretary.
It is very important to note that the pattern of organisation and the political orientation of each association, influenced the character of the SLPP.
The SLPP formed as an association of interest groups from divergent power bases and each of them had to be satisfied- it was a fragile structure kept as a unit only by pragmatism, compromise, cautious, and negotiations for the common good of the country.
Those who founded the SLPP believed it to be the glue that would hold the nation together. On two critical moments in our nation’s history has the SLPP been placed in the unenviable role of directing our national destiny.
It championed and won independence for Sierra Leone from the then colonial power Great Britain through peaceful negotiations. This was a remarkable feat given that many countries at the time resorted to violence and bloodshed to gain independence. (Photo: Group of Sierra Leoneans at Lancaster House in Great Britain to secure Independence for Sierra Leone)
The SLPP government from 1996-2007 can be credited for ending a decade long rebel war in the country, restoring peace and implementing Sierra Leone’s peace consolidation strategy the results of which we are enjoying today as a nation.
We look back on 65 years with mixed feelings. On the one hand, we take pride in the high ideals that guided the founding fathers of our party.
On the other hand, we need a critical assessment of how far we have deviated from those noble core values and effect on the party. Whilst we celebrate this anniversary, this should also be a period for sober reflection on what the next 65 years will be for us.
As we move forward, it is important to always remember that the Founding Fathers had adopted as their motto ‘’one country one people’’, they were showing us a vision that we are one community; that we should use the power of community and combine it with tolerance; justice and that the liberty, opportunity and prosperity we seek must be not just for a few but for all.
I firmly believe if we follow this principle – one that had served us so well in the past – then we should re-energize the SLPP to capture governance in 2018.
In any democracy the main business of a political party – an opposition for that matter is to win elections and form a government.
As we approach the next general elections it is important to bear in mind that the SLPP has always contested and won elections by adhering to those core values of unity, cohesion, tolerance and equality of opportunities for which our founding fathers had fought.
Mr Ansu Momoh is the Secretary General of the SLPP UK and Ireland Branch.