Sierra Leone Telegraph: 27 January 2018
Elections in Sierra Leone are less than six weeks away, and already the ruling All Peoples Congress party (APC) has began to show its ugly anti-democratic credentials and thuggery.
Few in Sierra Leone now believe that the elections will be free of violence and fair, let alone provide the opposition parties the space to campaign and fully participate without intimidation.
The APC is poised to massively rig the ballots and cause chaos in the country. This could see president Koroma declaring a state of emergency to prolong his stay in power, beyond his constitutional two terms mandate.
But what lessons are there to be learnt from Sierra Leone’s contemporary political history, in particular – the role of the APC party in thwarting and destroying the country’s democratic process and developmental progress?
This is Dr. Jimmy Kandeh’s analysis:
The APC has a long history of exclusionary and anti-democratic politics that dates back to the banning of the United Democratic Party (UDP) in the early 1970s and the imposition of a one-party constitution in 1978 which criminalized peaceful opposition to the APC dictatorship.
Unopposed candidates in parliamentary elections (1973, 1978, 1982) and imprisonment and execution of political opponents, including some of the party’s more authentic and patriotic leaders (Mohammed Forna and Ibrahim Bash-Taqi), set the APC and our country on a disastrous path toward armed conflict in the 1990s.
It is precisely when the APC is at its most unpopular (late 1970s and currently) that its leaders resort to exclusionary and repressive measures to hang on to power.
Today, Ernest Koroma‘s version of the APC is once again scheming to manipulate the rules to prevent Sierra Leoneans with dual citizenship from fully participating in the political process.
This move is so divisive, anti-democratic and profoundly discriminatory that the blowback against the lame-duck President may well seal his party’s fate in the coming elections.
The APC’s politics of exclusion targets both individuals (inside and outside the party) and groups in equal measure. It is no secret that the party’s contrived epiphany on constitutionalism was set in motion by its determination to disqualify Yumkella from contesting the presidential election.
The party at first did not want Yumkella to be the Flagbearer of the SLPP, preferring the unelectable Bio instead, and it went out of its way to prop up Bio and sow discord in an already weak and disorganized SLPP opposition.
Now that Yumkella has left the SLPP and is seeking the presidency as a third-party candidate, Koroma and his supplicants like Frank Kargbo are invoking provisions of our constitution they had routinely violated to keep Yumkella off the presidential and parliamentary ballot.
To go after and exclude Yumkella from running for office, the APC is prepared to disenfranchise an entire sub-set of citizens (dual citizens) but no hiding behind or cherry-picking of our constitution is going to thwart the irrepressible will of the people in the March elections.
Keeping Yumkella out of the race at this late stage in the process can only trigger the type of protracted crisis that’s likely to land the Supreme Leader at the International Criminal Court.
Diaspora voting and the dual citizenship issue have provided the first test of KKY/NGC commitment to a politics of inclusion and national cohesion. Yumkella has long favoured diaspora voting for the simple reason that extending voting rights to citizens residing outside the country expands and helps deepen our fragile electoral democracy.
Opportunities for voting should be expanded, not limited, and national politicians should be accountable to our citizens regardless of where they reside.
Diaspora voting, or voting in the country you reside, can also potentially dilute the impact of ethnicity and vote buying since citizens in the diaspora are less likely to be influenced by ethno-regional solidarities and more difficult to buy over with petty cash than the average voter residing in Sierra Leone.
It is worth reminding ourselves that dual citizens did not destroy our country, nor should they be viewed as any less patriotic than in-country residents lacking dual statuses of convenience.
Those running our country into the ground bear the greatest responsibility for where we are today, not dual citizens, and it is not surprising that the APC and SLPP have closed ranks in opposition to diaspora voting which can help hold them accountable and make it more difficult for rogue politicians to rise to the top.
Dual citizens are part of the solution to our problems, they are not our problem, and we are doing our country a huge disservice when we discriminate against any group of Sierra Leoneans.
Exclusion by the APC is not limited to participation but extends to who benefits from the exercise of state power and the recipients of state largesse.
Late President Kabba was very inclusionary and had many northerners serving in his cabinet and top echelons of government, including the current APC flagbearer Samura Kamara (Photo).
The late President took a lot of flak from southerners who did not embrace his policy of reconciliation, but our country was far less polarized under him than it is today with the Supreme Leader’s Northernization agenda.
Southerners feel disadvantaged and generally excluded from appointments to important public offices, award of state contracts, scholarships and grants unless their ethnic identity is cross-cut by APC loyalty (Victor Foh is an illustrative example).
A party that discriminates on the basis of ethno-regionalism and party loyalty simply lacks the vision, commitment and potential to bring us together as one nation.
Kandeh Yumkella and the NGC are providing a historic opportunity for our people to move away from a politics that thrives on dividing us to a politics that works to unite us. For those having difficulty differentiating the NGC from the other two main parties, you may want to consider the following:
The NGC is fundamentally inclusionary. Support for KKY/NGC is broad-based and cuts across ethnic, region, religion, class and gender. Support for the APC and rump SLPP, on the other hand, tends to reinforce rather than offset communal and regional cleavages. KKY’s appeal to all demographics positively sets him apart from Samura and Bio.
NGC is a national party, APC and SLPP are ethno-regional parties. Given the growing national appeal of its presidential candidate, the NGC is the only party that stands to be competitive in all regions, if not in all twelve districts, and our country’s best chance to rise above ethnoregional party politics resides not with the APC or SLPP but the Yumkella-led NGC.
The NGC rejects ethno-clientelism and seeks to curb patronage and other parochialisms that inhabit public institutions and undermine their effectiveness; the APC and SLPP are unreconstructed patronage outfits that are incapable of reforming our public bureaucracy and delivering regime change.
No one, as is presently the case under the APC, should be denied a job, scholarship, contract or other opportunities because of party affiliation and ethnoregional identity and of the three main presidential candidates only Yumkella is likely to push for an end to such discriminatory practices.
The NGC adheres to the letter and spirit of the constitution as demonstrated by its presidential candidate who renounced his American citizenship to run for President; the presidential candidates of the APC and SLPP are said to respectively hold British and Ghanaian citizenships but neither aspirant has addressed the issue as they continue to aim their barbs not on each other but at Yumkella.
Constitutionalism and the rule of law are more likely to prevail under Yumkella than with Samura or Bio at the helm.
To the degree that elections function as mechanism for changing governments, the only party and presidential candidate in the March elections that can deliver regime change is the NGC and Yumkella.
Neither Samura, who pledges fidelity to his political benefactor, nor Bio, who has in the past received handouts from the Supreme Leader, can be remotely identified or fancied as potential change agents.
The NGC is a peaceful party that embraces tolerance, moderation and political pluralism. It is committed to doing what is right for our country and its people and none of its leaders have been associated with acts of political violence.
The APC, by contrast, has had a violent history that has attracted emulation by the Paopa rump of the SLPP. That the APC and what’s left of the SLPP are essentially operating out of the same play book says as much about the anti-democratic character of these two outfits as it does about the threat posed to the status-quo by Yumkella’s candidacy.
NGC crowds and supporters at rallies are not rented or paid; rather, people come out in droves to show genuine support for a presidential candidate that has captured their imagination of a better future for all. Our people have been held back for too long by bad leaders and they yearn for a credible alternative to the present order.
Bio (Photo) is not a credible alternative and Samura has openly promised more of the same. More of the same under Samura means a third term for Ernest Koroma, and Sierra Leoneans simply cannot afford such a hellish outcome.
As a new party the NGC is not burdened by an indefensible track record and is better positioned to make a fresh start in running the affairs of our country.
The APC and SLPP have had their chances to govern and they have both done a terrible job.
If either of these two parties was up to the task of good governance our country will be light years ahead of where it finds itself today.
The NGC does not carry the political baggage of the other two main parties and Yumkella, not Samura or Bio, best represents any hope for a decisive break from the discredited policies and practices of the incumbent APC leadership.
The pivotal role of leadership should not be discounted when comparing the electoral and governance potential of the three main parties. Yumkella is not only highly credentialed and professionally accomplished, his vision and sense of mission to help transform our country into a better place for all sets him apart from the other two contenders.
Samura and Bio lack vision, dynamism, gravitas and a sense of purpose that has anything to do with the wellbeing of our people or the progress of our country.
On the issue of corruption, neither the APC nor the SLPP has been able to rein in this problem. Both parties are soft on corruption and are opposed to mandatory jail sentences for public officials found guilty of corruption.
Officials in both parties can do as they like when in power knowing the other party is not going to hold them accountable.
Samura is already a key player in the most corrupt government in our country’s history and Bio was neck-deep in rent-seeking activities during the NPRC era. Neither Samura nor Bio is likely to do any better than Koroma on the issue of corruption.
Yumkella is determined to hold government officials, past and present, accountable (Photo: The nation wreckers – President Koroma and his corrupt co-conspirators).
Just a fraction of our looted wealth, or the unexplainable wealth of politicians and bureaucrats, can provide clean drinking water and electricity for our entire population.
The future of our country under Yumkella and the NGC will be based not on a politics of exclusion but on inclusionary mobilization and participation that does not favour one group over another, or discriminate against fellow citizens or seek to privilege parochial, party and other interests over those of the country.
Neither the APC nor the rump SLPP, as presently constituted, are inclusive outfits and parties that are not inclusionary cannot be expected to promote good governance.
Weak on inclusion and constitutionalism, the APC and rump SLPP are incapable of promoting national cohesion, curbing corruption and patronage, delivering development and protecting the rights of the average citizen, including the right to vote in free and fair elections.