Three legged democracy

Raymond Dele Awoonor-Gordon

2 January 2012

Every Sunday a pastor asks his members to pick a chorus. A rich member of the congregation was always the first to respond every time, with: “It shall be permanent; it shall be permanent, what the Lord has done for me, it shall be permanent.”

This went on, to the annoyance of one poor member of the congregation who one day jumped to his feet first and started singing: “Do something new in my life, Lord, do something new in my life; do something new in my life today.”

It might sound funny, but the rich man represents our political class, and the poor man – the teeming masses, whose continued poverty in the midst of plenty is getting to the stage of mild embarrassment.

They are forced to watch and bear, playing second fiddle in what is supposed to be the house of equality, while watching the willy wonka mentality – a secret feeling of superiority of our politicians, who behave as if they are on a unique God-given mission to annihilate the people.

No matter how much we want to bury our heads in the sand; no matter how much colouration we put on everything, our political class represents the darker side of our democracy and their selfish attitude – the main clog in our wheel of progress.

Many find the idea of offering even mild criticism or assessment of government and our politicians, an abomination. I understand that sentiment. I also share some of it. But the bigger picture over-rides any emotion.

Because if we persist in retaining our age-old beliefs and practices, we will keep on getting what we are getting now.

But hang on a minute. Why are we as a society so scared of addressing the elephant in the room?

With our politicians blatantly finding ingenious ways of massaging their accounts and keeping the people in perpetual servitude, why do we just continue to rap knuckles and cower in the face of political and socio-economic failures?

Why are we too overawed by the mystique of those we elected to serve us, as to ask simple questions, such as: “Do you know whose money this is; whose power it really is?”

What is it about our leaders, political jobbers and hangers-on that make it look as if any criticism or outcry by the hard-pressed majority is a conspiracy against them?

Could it be that, more than four years after our desire for true change, they feel that exposing whatever we might perceive as their failure is unfair rewards for their inability to achieve the desired goal?

Or is it that given the realities, our politicians, who mouth platitudes and slogans about erasing poverty from the land, have played a cynical game?

Could it be that the way they practice their politics and their conduct in office seems designed to confuse us, even when we, who bear the brunt of their disappointment are meant to be the king makers?

Or is it that having failed to get the people distracted by their sleigh of hand in the show of monstrous greed, they appreciate that the populace are no longer interested in clichés that are bound to leave them feeling once again bamboozled?

Something has changed in people’s perception of expectations, and it is simply impossible for the political class and their accessories in iniquity to maintain that their behaviour and output are indications that they appreciate where we are, especially when they lavish in vast riches at the same time that the substantial poorest are finding it hard to make ends meet.

Relationship between citizens and the state is fundamental to democracy. But in our own case, the continual disproportion between the advantaged life of the political leadership and the increasingly struggling many has continued to expand, simply because the relevant checks and balances have been effectively crippled by corruption and the voice choked off by ethnic and religious sentiments.

There is no gainsaying the fact that many of the prevalent dysfunctional failings of our political system can be traced to the misconduct of democratic layers of governance; the misplaced sense of confidence as well as the premature belief by politicians that most of the electorates are mugs and they can ride roughshod over them or pull the wool over their eyes, especially at election time.

Democracy has some tenets that are universally recognised and it is the anomaly in our own practice that is one of the reasons we lack behind countries, which are less endowed or which have been through the same experience and even had less international assistance for their recovery. Rwanda, Liberia.

So let us not kid ourselves, the democracy on our blasted political landscape cannot as it stands, deliver the required dividends for the generality of the people of Sierra Leone, unless we begin to make a conscious effort to rip apart the status quo and make those who aspire to lead us accountable.

In our deficient political situation, those who are paramount to the sustenance of democratic ideals have since, by their collective failure, allowed the devil to perch on our noses and prowl the grounds of the nation, to the extent that the entire system has been totally disorganised.

We need to look at our practice of democracy to see why we are still at the bus stop of failure: executive recklessness, legislative apathy and judicial rascality; defective personnel, institutions and structures of state.

The list is endless, but the change by the people of Sierra Leone in 2007 was effected because of the yearnings for these absurdities in the system to be addressed.

Today however, the dividends of democracy are far from the horizon because the indicators above have failed the very people the system was meant to protect. We know it; we know what to do but we all bury our heads in the sand crying foul only when we are either directly affected or our interests and supports threatened.

But democracy is meant to be government-based, and if you examine our practice of the system critically, what lies underneath the rock is why we are on the brink – of being labelled once again ‘a failed state’.

It is why there is anti-system backlash amplifying the voices of protest and wider anti-establishment sentiment. It is why there is gross disaffection expressed through polling apathy and like in 2007, when anti-incumbent voting was the mood music.

Take the executive – a wieldy club of cliques, where some of the members are as anonymous as aliens from outer space and the others appear not to know their right from the left unless their leader wipes their nostrils for them.

This branch of the realm has also successfully ensured that the other arms are made ineffective, thus giving it a free rein to run amok at the expense of our future.

Its insistence that its way is the only way, despite evidence to the contrary as well as its continued intolerance of other views and the inability to recognise for example, that the economy isn’t some abstract entity, but something created by the operators’ thoughts and behaviour, or errors of judgement.

So we have the blame game instead of morality check. But leaders should have the ability and ethical strength to accept responsibilities for their actions, instead of apportioning fault or living in the cloud.

As for the legislative arm, No doubt the legislature is an important arm of government. Its effectiveness or otherwise, determines how vibrantly a government performs. If it is weak, the executive hijacks its functions and manipulates the system to its advantage.
Most of our legislators are firmly in the pockets of the executive and party hierarchy.

Their oversight duties compromised by taking crumbs from their sponsors and party loud mouths. Oh! Yes. The saints expected to point out the vagaries and baffling inconsistencies of our leaders in this unpredictable world of our brand of politics are lost in the cathedral of silence.

Our outgoing legislature has not done much because it’s always either mired in unnecessary controversies and other acts that have made it vulnerable, or totally oblivious of what is going on in the country.

As a matter of fact, they’ve made themselves look as if they are answerable to the executive and tied to its apron string. This perceived weakness, eroded their ability to make laws in strict compliance with powers conferred on them by the constitution.

Take for example the following facts from available records: the parliament passed only three laws in 2011, five in 2010, and twelve in 2009 and 2008. This is against the twenty three that sailed through in 2007.

Instead of putting on the hood of seriousness, our lawmakers are robed in the garment of pettiness as they allowed partisan politics to so poison the system that unpleasant noise and perception became their only way of life and merely just changing the channels of their own greed, the music from their orchestra.

On the next rung of the ladder is the judiciary which can promote good democratic ethos but as it is, our legal system is mostly populated by lazy, corrupt, incompetent officials with doubtful integrity in the hallowed chambers where they are cocooned.

The current generation of politicians is reinventing the wheel, but there is no progress that is going to happen through pessimism.

We have to forge a new Sierra Leone, but not at the price of our politicians’ comfort; not at the price of their greed or at the price of their dictate, but at the cry of those to whom power really belongs.

I know politicians breathe mysterious air that frequently muddles their thinking, but this is no reason for our leaders to consequently continue to worship in the ‘basilica’ of the deaf and dumb, and to continue to blindfold the same people who placed their trust in them.

Agreed that in a dysfunctional system, people behave in dysfunctional ways, our leaders and politicians have got to start taking responsibility for what happens on their patch and on their watch.

We are tired of excuses that blame everybody and everything else. The president for example should realise that the buck stops at his desk – whether in State House or at Hill Station.

He chose the men that were sanctioned by those we call our elected representatives. President Koroma should remember he is supposed to rule in the national interest – not just the interest of the APC ideologues and the minority clique insulated by ‘stolen’ wealth and backed by foreign and local factors.

Our continued reliance on hard-headed assessment of interests; ethnic, religious and political – to the exclusion of ideals, is what has lumbered us with an incomprehensible style of democracy and political culture that is incapable of absorbing criticism or carrying out its basic functions.

The consequences are evident in the halting progress of the country.

Have you ever wondered why the masses seek solace in churches? One reason is that the loss of confidence in governance has created a socio-ideological vacuum.

This has sent people seeking spiritual succour, because the nation is still replete with a number of economic, political, religious and social contradictions and constraints, which have given rise to the mood of despair that permeates the polity.

So we need to address the impediments to progress and confront those interest groups that are hell bent on the retention of the status quo – the lifeline of the corruption, inequality, social, political and economic malpractices, that have shackled our beloved country.

If we are serious about redistributing power, those with hidden agendas and selfish anti-people interests have to be shunted aside and a level playing field for equity and social justice needs to be established.

To look ahead, we must look back. Our political weather has stormy clouds gathering overhead.

Regardless of what might happen in 2012 elections, it is imperative that our take-away lesson from the past is that: we as a people need to let go of our habits and be more progress conscious – something we demonstrably are not at this point in time.

But above all, most of the political clots who claim to be leaders should today hang their heads in shame, as they examine their promises, delivery and resources against expectations.

Creating the media-frenzy of panic is just adding to the stress of the people, who are already in trance from the repetitive chorus of the need to be grateful, for the small mercies that have so far come their way.



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