Sierra Leone Telegraph: 10 July 2017
When key stakeholders of the ruling APC party resolved in April 2007 that the party must not be torn apart by internal struggle for the leadership and presidential candidacy, what became the top priority was their desperate need and burning desire to win control of parliament and State House in August 2007.
And after five years of internal feud, power struggle and court battles, the party came to its senses that reconciliation was not an option, but the one and only goal it needed to achieve, if it was to win the 2007 elections.
But first the various factions and those fighting to lead the ruling APC had to accept that to pursue peace and reconciliation did not have to involve a determination as to where and with whom the truth lies.
They had to accept that one man’s truth was another man’s falsehood, and that any attempt to adjudicate and apportion right and wrong was not only doomed to fail, but would have kept the party in political wilderness for another generation.
Hence in April 2007, the main protagonists in the APC party – Messrs Koroma, Turay, and Kamal, forged a peace deal, based on real-politic and expediency, with one common goal in mind – to win State House and take over the Houses of Parliament. (Photos: Courtesy of Awareness Times).
The APC campaign train was set into motion – full speed ahead, with all hands on deck. Money, especially from abroad, came pouring into the party’s campaign fund.
And at the 2007 general and presidential elections, SLPP with its huge power of incumbency, was unable to stop the opposition APC’s march to victory at the polls.
What lessons for the embattled and divided opposition SLPP, after losing two consecutive general elections to the APC?
General and presidential elections in Sierra Leone are due in March 2018, and the opposition SLPP is far from ready to hold its national convention, where it will elect the party’s presidential candidate.
There are at least ten contenders for the SLPP flagbearership. But the depth of years of internal divisions and chaos; and the severity of infighting, have almost crippled the party.
Accusations of political intimidation, tribalism and violence – even allegation of murder, have transformed the party into an unattractive government in waiting, prompting the formation of alliances – power blocks and independent movements within the party.
The party’s foray in and out of court chambers to settle one accusation of injustice after the other, reached a new level last month, when the party was accused of breaching internal election regulations laid down by a previous court decision and the country’s Political Party Registration Commission (PPRC).
Last week, another volcano erupted within the party, when one of the main contenders for the SLPP presidential candidacy – Dr Kandeh Yumkella withdrew his interest in the party’s flagbearership. He threatened to join or form a cross-party national coalition of progressive liberal politicians to fight the ruling APC at the next elections in March 2018.
If successful, this will further damage SLPP’s chances of stopping the ruling APC from winning a third term victory.
Within days of Yumkella’s separation order, a group of presidential aspirants within the SLPP party, seized the opportunity to close the leadership vacuum, by forming a new alliance around the man accused of causing much of the division, tribalism, violence and chaos in the party – former military junta leader – Julius Maada Bio.
Since losing the 2012 general and presidential elections, Maada Bio has failed to galvanise the party into a strong and formidable opposition, despite claiming to be the most popular leader in the party, and the candidate most capable of defeating the ruling APC in 2018.
Instead, his presence in the party is seen by many as a toxic magnet for internal divisions and squabbles. But Bio’s supporters say that he is being unfairly branded as a war monger.
Those calling for Bio to relinquish his stranglehold of the party, are accusing him of fuelling the party’s rapid decent to electoral defeat at the polls.
But there is a bigger elephant in the room for SLPP, which, if not tackled quickly, will most certainly sink the party’s 2018 electoral chances. And that elephant is the SLPP UK and Ireland branch.
As it stands, there are two parallel SLPP executive committees in London – each claiming to legitimately represent the more than 2,000 members of the SLPP in the UK and Ireland. There is the Chairman Yongowa (Photo) faction and Chairman Ansu Sillah Committee.
Each of these two executive committees say that they have been elected at elections duly convened for that purpose, and in accordance with the SLPP party national constitution. But perhaps somewhere in the middle lies the truth.
What is certain is that, neither is willing to back down after two years of fighting for legitimacy.
This has been compounded by the paralysis of the National Executive Council at the SLPP party office in Freetown, to resolve their differences and bring sustainable peace through reconciliation.
Last weekend each faction convened a meeting to discuss the present impasse and to review the way forward – but they once again failed to sit and talk with each other to find common ground.
Politics within the SLPP UK and Ireland branch has become seriously tainted and polarised by the very same divisions and internal conflicts that have characterised the party back home in Sierra Leone for over five years.
And the task of finding a common ground towards reconciliation has been made all the more harder, after party bosses in Freetown took the erroneous and miscalculated decision to recognise one of the two UK factions as the legitimate group, without due process and regard for constitutional jurisprudence.
Once again, it is the group perceived as pro-Maada Bio – the Yongowa executive, that has been granted legitimacy by the SLPP NEC in Sierra Leone, much to the chagrin of the Ansu Sillah executive committee that is also claiming legitimacy.
Today there is threat of court action by the Ansu Sillah (Photo) executive committee and branch of the SLPP UK and Ireland.
Documents seen by the Sierra Leone Telegraph makes for an ominous outcome and a political disaster for the SLPP nationally, if this UK fiasco is not resolved quickly and out of court.
On the 8th of November 2016, this is what Chairman Ansu Sillah and his executive wrote to the NEC in Freetown to protest their indignation at the party bosses’ decision to ‘unfairly take sides’:
“We respectfully wish to register the SLPP UK & Ireland Executive and the MAJORITY of SLPP UK & Ireland members’ profound disappointment over your continued unconstructive, unhelpful and glaringly partial role in this impasse.
“We have NO faith in your ability to be impartial, mediate and / or to adhere to the SLPP UK & Ireland constitution which is of paramount importance. It is also with grave dismay to note that you as Acting National Secretary General have never acknowledged neither responded to any of our correspondence.
“We have consistently requested that a fact finding mission be sent to the UK to ascertain the true picture of the situation on the ground and speak to various stakeholders and members.
“Sir, rather than issuing out dictatorial letters to well-meaning members of the SLPP UK & Ireland you should use your good office as Acting National Secretary General to chart a road map to electoral success for our party in 2018, rather than meddling in affairs that you know absolutely nothing about since the evidence is clear that you have not engaged anyone in the SLPP UK & Ireland.
“Let us now address your past two letters that focused on the legitimacy of our Executive. You may not be aware, but legitimacy in modern political discourse is not conferred upon, ascribed or attributed gratis, as you wish to do in this instance, but generally earned and derived through free, fair and credible elections.
“Since November 2015 our brothers on the other side of this impasse have been provided umpteenth opportunities to submit themselves to the will of the SLPP UK & Ireland membership through the ballot, but they have consistently and repeatedly avoided doing so and continue to so do. One wonders WHY? Imagine if our opponents in the APC were to behave in like manner!
“Our point Sir is that in a genuine democracy, “legitimacy” derives from those you wish to lead in the first instance before recognition is sought from some “other” entity. Kindly be informed that during the election of our SLPP UK & Ireland Executive:
· 80% of the SLPP UK & Ireland ordinary membership voted,
· 60% of the legally elected SLPP UK & Ireland Council of Elders presided over the entire electoral process,
· 100% of the SLPP Chapters and Steering committee heads (Bristol, Birmingham, Manchester, and Reading) signed-off on the process and their constituents also participated.
“You cannot say the same for the crop of executive upon whom you wish to illegally bestow legitimacy. This amounts to a gross violation and negation of the expressed wishes of 80% of the SLPP UK &I membership, and it signals a nefarious imposition that this noble membership has decided to respectfully set aright until constructive and dispassionate attempts are made to address or redress this unfortunate impasse.
“While on the issue of legitimacy, we also respectfully draw your attention to the veritable SLPP National Chairman and Leader Chief Kapen’s Letter of the 31st of March 2016 addressed to the then Chairman of the Council of Elders (Mr. Stephen Swaray) which explicitly stated that the Electoral Committee elected on the 5th March 2016 that eventually voted for the executive upon whom you wish to confer legitimacy on was illegal and deemed their actions null and void.
“If the electoral committee that elected the so called executive that you say is “legitimate” was deemed illegal, it logically follows that the ensuing action and outcome (their election), has no effect and should therefore be nullified and put aside. How can you render a verdict that was already nullified by no less a person than the Chairman (the letter is here attached for ease of reference)?
“You have repeatedly referenced NEC’s decision of the 4th June 2016, recognising that other executive and even referred to it as sacrosanct. In our humble view, for anything to be “sacrosanct” in the context you employed, the presumption is that it meets the due diligence and due process test.
“However, it is sad to note that the circumstances, processes and procedures that gave rise to that decision were fudged, utterly and totally flawed, patently undemocratic and unremittingly ultra-partisan and cavalier paying scant attention to the overall best interests of the SLPP UK & Ireland brand.
“How can any serious political party summon an emergency meeting for an unrelated expressed reason and on an ad hoc basis table a motion of such significant import under AOB? Little wonder the Sierra Leonean electorate is sceptical about our preparedness for governance.
“Furthermore, you are no doubt aware that Political Parties operating in Sierra Leone are required by law, and in practice to embrace and exercise fundamental democratic principles and tenets. When however, there occur an apparent disregard of those principles, a membership should not feel bound to undertake an illegal biding just because it issues from NEC.
“It is the desire of our humble selves, that of my executive and our wider membership to comply with NEC directives. However, in this instance we must regretfully state that we cannot in good conscience comply with this illegal directive because certain fundamental democratic and conflict resolution principles have been egregiously breached.
“We are resolved that we shall protect our collective interests whilst we strive for the return of genuine internal party democracy in our region.
“We remain open to any genuine attempts to constructively engage and resolve this unfortunate set of circumstances for our Party might move forward in unison.”
Despite those strong words from the Sillah Executive Committee, the NEC in Freetown remains intransigent. They have not budged. “They continue to show utter contempt for the legitimacy of the votes that elected the Sillah committee to take responsibility for the UK and Ireland Branch,” an SLPP elder in London told the Sierra Leone Telegraph.
The Sillah committee has today, 10th July 2017, written to the PPRC to protest attempts to present the Bio supported UK faction as the 27 legitimate SLPP UK and Ireland members, whose names shall be on the party’s delegates list for the forthcoming national convention where the party’s presidential candidacy will be voted upon. Mr Sillah told the PPRC:
“I wish to refer to the above subject matter and most respectfully, draw your esteemed attention to the fact that the hitherto delegates’ list of 27 members; that was circulated in local newspapers (here attached for ease of reference) purported to be representative of the Bona fide SLPP UKI membership was fraudulently derived and is a misrepresentation of the true facts.”
The Sillah Executive Committee have also now commenced legal action in the courts in Freetown, possibly seeking an injunction at the High Court prohibiting the SLPP in Sierra Leone from conducting its affairs, until it has resolved the SLPP UK and Ireland debacle in line with the party’s constitution and facts surrounding the disputed legitimacy claims of both sides.
Should SLPP fail to resolve this issue very quickly and equitably, it is difficult to see how the party can contest the 2018 general and presidential elections, if it is once again weighed down by another court injunction.
The missing jigsaw in SLPP’s 2018 electoral puzzle is its UK and Ireland Branch, where peace remains as elusive as ever.