There is a universally held notion that democracy is the best form of government, thanks to the definition that it is the government of the people, by the people and for the people. As a concept, democracy carries its own inherent imperfections. However, many see it as the nearest societies can come to a perfect form of government. It is one thing to profess democracy, but an entirely different case to practise it. Democracy is rooted in the rule of law, which forms the bedrock of national constitutions. However, “The strength of any Constitution lies entirely in the determination of each citizen to defend it. Only if every single citizen feels duty bound to do his share in this defence are the constitutional rights secure.” (Albert Einstein).
So, how do we defend the constitution of a nation?
This brings us to the recent seismic shift that took place in the British parliament last week. Boris Johnson, the British Prime Minister quit his position as the Leader of his Conservative Party, and in effect Prime Minister of the nation. Although many see this seismic shift as a forgone conclusion, it is alien to many other countries. Like Britain, African countries profess to practise democracy. Boris Johnson quitting his position illustrates the fact that “the right thing to do” and “the hard thing to do” are usually the same thing”.
Boris Johnson’s reign as the British Prime Minister is well documented. Many would have fond memories of him, as the man who took Britain over the Brexit line, presided over the deadly Corona virus pandemic, and most recently took a detour via Ukraine, to stand up to Vladimir Putin. Despite that, his colleagues took a dim view of his personality, behaviour and many other issues to get rid. His colleagues did the “right thing” and forced him out. Boris did the “hard thing” and resigned; proof that “the right thing” and “the hard thing” are usually the same thing.
Those who questioned Boris’ fitness to continue in his job are his friends; colleagues, and friends, schoolmates etc. and many owe their current or past political positions to him. Irrespective of their shared political DNA’s, the interest of the nation reigned supreme to any party political interests; albeit reluctantly as some would say. Sycophancy, a common feature of African politics had its limits. It was the members of his own party who made the unkindest cuts of all, as they queued to jump ship. In the end, Boris had no option but to quit, knowing full well that his political walls were collapsing around him. He did not wait for a referendum, the next election, a military coup or a mass demonstration. He was shown the door marked “Accountability”, as the political fire exit.
What is accountability in politics?
Accountability is the measure of a leader’s height. What happened in the Wells of the British parliament is a demonstration of governments working, as trusts and their officers as trustees. Trust and trustees should be created for the benefit of the people. If the constitution is the building blocks of any democracy and if the strength of any constitution lies in the determination of each citizen to defend it, individual citizens are therefore duty bound to do their share in this defence, to keep the constitutional rights secure. As Sierra Leoneans, such a duty makes us accountable to ourselves. The success of such a duty would be the result of what we do. Can anyone, any leader, any Prime Minister, President or any individual defend a nation, if he/she is not held accountable to its laws?
This is exactly what is missing in the kind of democracy we practise in Africa. It is hard to admit it, but our sense of accountability is lacking. We fight for our rights but forget that our rights come with responsibilities. It is unthinkable that what happened to Boris would ever happen in an African country. We see leaders continue in their positions until The Almighty calls them to roost. Others only leave by the barrel of the gun. We aspire to practise democracy but neglect the concept of accountability as safeguards.
In the USA today, the January 6 Committee is in situ, to hold all those responsible to account for their roles in the insurrection. Many see the former President Donald Trump as the chief architect of this sad spectacle. He was the most powerful man on earth, but even he could not escape the request to account for his actions or inactions in this regrettable saga. Do we have the same in our African countries? Some countries including Sierra Leone, have asked previous leaders to account.
Let us take a simple example in 2018. President Bio, like previous leaders embarked on the Commission of inquiry. According to the Bio administration, the outgoing APC government left the national coffers empty. The commission was set up, so that members, officials, politicians etc. could account for their tenure in office. Instead, it was translated as a witch-hunt, revenge politics, rikishi, etc. although we all agree that corruption is the bane of our nation. Although we all agree that corruption is the single most killer in our country, yet, and sadly enough, we disagree on how to tackle corruption. We oppose accountability for our responsibilities and take no responsibilities for our accountabilities.
What could have been beneficial to nation would have been to allow a fair, honest and transparent COI to follow its natural path. Irrespective of the outcome, which would have set a benchmark for the country moving forward. That would have been a point of departure and send a message to all public officials about the need for accountability. Considering that Sierra Leone’s political cycles are a merry go round past time or pass the parcel affair, the APC party would have the same opportunity to conduct a process of accountability, if and when “their turn comes” round. That is why some critics in President Bio’s circle were fearful that he had made a rod for his own back, by implementing the COI. Because we are blinded by corruption, we become fearful of the unknown should power change hands. What goes around, comes around. Is it fair for those who fight corruption that they must fight the aggressiveness and impunity of the corrupt?
So, when Chernoh Bah and the Africanist Press were running a series of stories about corruption in President Bio’s government, where was the moral high ground for the APC to stand on? How can we condemn corruption if we do not acquiesce to scrutiny ourselves? Have we lost the opportunity to make accountability a priority in our country? Did the APC miss a trick? So, what would the APC say, if they attempt to do the same in the future. Sadly, our politicians think of the next election, not the next generation. Have we missed the opportunity to declare corruption illegal? Or did we normalise corruption by opposing the very attempt to tackle it? Criticizing the COI as a witch hunt, revenge, illegal etc did not wash with everyone. To all intents and purposes, the targets could have been selective, with some logic though. However, if you had nothing to hide, what was wrong about being asked to explain how you spent the national cake? Interestingly, it was the very people whose interest the COI was supposed to protect that were used to oppose it, thanks to the big deception. When plunder becomes a way of life for a group of men in a society, over the course of time they create for themselves a legal system that authorises it, and a moral code that glorifies it.
Since Boris Johnson resigned, many have been looking at similarities and wondering how, if any, this would affect the Trump comedy show in America. Both men share common political DNA, not least the same hair salon. Throughout his premiership, Boris has been saddled with accusations of lying. Even Boris cannot recall the number of times he has apologised and said sorry for what Americans euphemistically call “misdemeanours”. Like Trump, many accuse Tory grandees of enabling him through his treacherous path to the top. It was a long time coming, but may would be wondering whether this would serve as a wake up call for the Republicans in America. Boris pales into comparison with Trump but had to go. In biblical terms, he could pass for a saint, in comparison to D.J Trump.
Would this be a wake up call for the Republicans? In the meantime, Trump is considering running for the 2024 Presidential race. He preached “America First “and became the first American President to be impeached, not once but twice. He led an insurrection to overturn the election of a democratically elected American President. He tried to lean on other politicians, using threats to toe his line. Trump illegally tried to seek favour (quid pro quo) in exchange for a senate approved support for a foreign country. He perfected the art of lying and ironically christened it fake news. Despite such a rap sheet, Trump is ironically still hailed by a good percentage of Americans who see, hear and speak no evil of him. Is he the president that Africa never had?
So, how can we defend, promote and secure democracy if we are not prepared for accountability? Where are the safeguards for our democratic institutions, if we are not ready to give account of our actions? How do we maintain a sense of sanity if we shirk our responsibilities? Responsibilities without accountability is tantamount to nonentity. Accountability is the glue that ties commitment to results. Political responsibility is meaningless if we cannot commit to accountability. We cannot achieve any political growth, if we do not account for our responsibilities. Responsibility and accountability are two sides of the same coin that engender each other.
When government appoints people to positions, such positions come with responsibilities. It is therefore the responsibility of the government to hold such people to account for responsibilities bestowed on them. Like wise, citizens bestow the right for political parties and governments to lead and rule their citizenry. Such governments are therefore accountable to their citizens. Therefore, the next time a government, a political party, etc. embarks on an inquiry, an investigation, etc. for accountability; please give peace and the process a chance. This way, we do not only become accountable to ourselves, but also enhance government effectiveness and transparency. Only in Africa will thieves be regrouping to loot again and the youths whose future is being stolen will be celebrating it.
As we aspire to practise, live by and promote our democratic credentials, it is imperative that restoring accountability is a priority for any government. Without accountability, the dream of lasting democracy will remain but a fleeting illusion to be pursued…………but never attained.
Don’t forget to turn the lights of when you leave the room.