Dr. Fodei Batty: Sierra Leone Telegraph: 14 January 2018
The last fifteen years have provided the clearest evidence yet that the two major parties in Sierra Leone, the APC and the SLPP, do not possess the intelligence, requisite ideas for public policy, drive, or the imagination to move this country forward, not to mention the political will. This is not a partisan claim, it is an empirical fact. They say “never get angry at the facts!” So let’s examine the facts.
For the first time in the history of our beloved country we have had a period of a decade and-a-half of uninterrupted governance in which the two major political parties, the APC and the SLPP, have succeeded themselves – from 2002 when the first post-conflict elections were held, until now.
Throughout this time, significant indicators of good governance, such as the rate of inflation, maternal child mortality, the provision of electricity and water to the population, have all remained virtually the same under both political parties or barely budged given a few degrees of variation.
Indeed, both parties may take credit for one or two significant achievements: the SLPP and the revered Pa Kabbah of blessed memory for bringing peace to Sierra Leone, reforming governance, establishing the National Revenue Authority, NASSIT and other agencies that greatly stabilized and strengthened the administrative and revenue generating capacity of the government of Sierra Leone.
The APC? Well, they might take credit for “their roads.” The advertised costs for which the roads were constructed and the quality of the final products we see across the country are another matter that suggests a massive inflation of the prices and another sad short changing of the ever-suffering Sierra Leoneans. The evidence suggests we may yet pay an even heavier price for “those roads.”
In the main, however, both parties have largely failed on the most important task of transforming the lives of average Sierra Leone given the resource potential of this country.
It is on this fact that they stand indicted in the courts of public opinion and the basic moral expectation of treating your fellow human beings the way you would like to be treated.
Instead of governing on behalf of the average Sierra Leonean, some of whom they constantly con with cheap alcohol and food around election time to vote them into office, only to promptly abandon them while in office, both parties have created two of the best patronage political systems the world has ever known to reward their party bigwigs.
The best jobs and other appointments to the vast government bureaucracy are reserved for their party hacks and immoral girlfriends while qualified college graduates are left to rot in the hopes of their dreams.
Law and order, property rights and the honoring of basic contracts are nonexistent throughout the length and breadth of the land. Justice is hardly obtainable in the courts if you are not connected to the political machinery of the two parties when they are in office.
Like a slow motion horror show, time has basically stood still for the average Sierra Leonean under both political parties, and some may argue, perhaps, more so under the APC which has governed this country for the vast majority of our post-independence years.
When I attended Fourah Bay College over two decades ago, we use to stand by “The Wall” for endless hours waiting for transportation to take us downtown.
Today, years later, students still wait in the same spot we did for the same few and unpredictable means of transportation that ply the route. Under the tenure of both political parties, there has been hardly any changes or improvements to address what should be a relatively easy fix for the students.
Coming downtown from college, we use to walk past crowds of kids sent to fetch water from the few public taps along Circular Road that run during the mornings and evenings. Years later, similar crowds of young children, some barely older than two years, are still seen with their yellow Havoline containers fetching water for their families in the daily ritual of hardship and drudgery that is characteristic of the lives of many ordinary Sierra Leoneans who are not connected to powerful politicians in the two major parties.
In spite of the best political spin, the images of stagnation or retrogression are evident everywhere you look across Sierra Leone and the city of Freetown in particular – from the dilapidated main Post Office building at Siaka Stevens Street, Connaught Hostel to the derelict city hall; it is as if time came to a screeching halt in this country under the so-called governance of both major political parties.
As I mention above, the most significant evidence, however, is that the basic condition of the average Sierra Leone who is not connected to the political class or “the system,” in some form, has consistently depreciated with each passing year during which the two parties have alternated in power.
The years of constant and grinding economic hardship have certainly taken a heavy toll. Across the countries of West Africa, except, perhaps, for the citizens of Guinea Bissau, you cannot find a more downtrodden, humiliated, and miserable people than the average Sierra Leone who is not connected to someone in political office.
Many now walk the sad streets of the country like emaciated zombies looking for handouts for their next meal. Their personal dignity and confidence as human beings all but eroded by the callous neglect of their political leadership.
Thus, there is no greater evidence of the incompetent stewardship of the two major parties than the humiliation that has been heaped on Sierra Leoneans.
It is the main reason why even the casual observer cannot fail to note that the APC and the SLPP no longer have serious appeal among neutral members of the genuine electorate, which constitutes the vast majority of honest, hardworking Sierra Leoneans. Both could be charged with the same crime of gutting the soul of Sierra Leone in the squandered promise of our country’s vast potential mineral wealth.
As one observer jokingly put it, the two major political parties are like the left and right feet carrying the same person in our country. Another likened both parties to cancer or heart attack. Pick your poison! Both will kill you anyways, one might just be a little bit more painful than the other one – which one?
Everywhere you go across this country, the stories of everyday struggles for survival are all the same regardless of whether you are in an area in which the incumbent party wins elections or in another region where the opposition holds an advantage. Ordinary people everywhere in the country are miserable, hungry, sick, and fed-up.
Some people erroneously believe that the north of the country has seen more “development gains” since the APC won the presidential elections in 2007. They could not be more wrong in their assumptions except if in their view development stops with repaved roads. Otherwise, there is hardly any factor that separates the average person in Makeni or another in Kenema.
Sierra Leoneans are mostly going to bed hungry at night or with half empty stomachs. Ebola also came and indiscriminately decimated families, whether in the south or west of the country.
Their children are still not getting the type of education that progressive West African countries such as Ghana and Senegal have been offering their populations for decades now.
After driving through Port Loko District in the north, Bo in the south, and Kenema in the east, it is quite clear from the numerous informal conversations I had with people everywhere that they are yearning for real change.
Many are fed-up with the empty promises of the two major political parties and nearly all mentioned that they will be looking elsewhere for hope come the elections in 2018.
Although I have not systematically collected and collated this informal data of public opinion, my knowledge of the country from my research years coupled with my discussions with key individuals in civil society leads me to believe that the brands of the two major parties, the APC and the SLPP, no longer have appeal among average Sierra Leoneans.
Both parties might hold certain segments of the populations and the country hostage through intimidation and their patronage networks, but the vast majority of Sierra Leoneans are open-minded enough to reassert their stolen dignity in their votes for a candidate in 2018 who offers them hope and, most significantly, who is not on the party ticket of the “watermelon politics” of the two major parties –the APC and the SLPP.
All that remains to be seen is whether the coming elections will be held in a fair and free atmosphere devoid of intimidation and the political violence of the past. If such an atmosphere prevails, from everything I have gathered, Sierra Leonean voters will show the world that they are not sycophants beholden to the failed promises of supposedly co-ethnic parties.
They will vote for real change in 2018, if their ballots are not stolen, and that change can hardly be found in the records of the two major parties that are, essentially, birds of the same feather. Mark my words!
About the author
Dr. Fodei Batty is an associate professor of Political Science at Quinnipiac University in Hamden, CT., USA.