Sierra Leone and Rwanda may be diametrically placed on the globe, but share an unenviable common history that many would choose to forget. Both countries achieved the gold standard for personifying humankind’s propensity and penchant for barbarity. The Rwanda war lasted for four years (1990-1994), took 100 days to kill 800,000 people and achieved the notorious tag of genocide. Sierra Leone’s civil war lasted for 11 years (1991-2002), and left over an estimated 70, 000 people dead. The Rwandan war was largely tribal in make up; while many saw the war in Sierra Leone as a “resource curse” and a revolt against a long-standing dictatorship. Some elements tried to lace the war in Sierra Leone with tribal sentiments but failed. The UN declared Rwanda a “never again” lesson, while Sierra Leone settled for the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC).
That is where the similarities fade out. Among its numerous mandates, the TRC in Sierra Leone was tasked with the root cause analysis, outcomes and more importantly, lessons on how to prevent a repeat occurrence; our own version of “never again. Millions of dollars rained into Sierra Leone, to rebuild the infrastructure, provide support systems and promote the rule of law and democracy. Words and phrases like capacity-building, stakeholders; NGOs, etc. became part of the local parlance in both community and government circles. Sierra Leone, like many other countries including Cambodia, Vietnam, Liberia etc., was expected to be a phoenix, to rise from its ashes, just like Rwanda.
Has Sierra Leone recovered from it ashes?
There is no doubt that Rwanda has successfully recovered from its ashes. Here is a cursory report card for your reading pleasure. The average life expectancy in Sierra Leone is 60 years and 65 in Rwanda. GDP per capita is $1,600 vs $2,100, 70% vs 39.1% living below the poverty line, 43% vs 73.2 % literate, 20% vs 43% with access to electricity in Sierra Leone and Rwanda respectively. The list goes on and it is disheartening. It is obvious that in spite the common denominator of war between these two nations, one of them has moved on, and it is not Sierra Leone. Rwanda has moved so fast, that Britain ironically likens it to Europe for refugees and asylum seekers.
Nevertheless, to summarily condemn Sierra Leone as stagnated will be dishonest. There have been some visible strides made in certain areas including education, road construction, electricity and agriculture, etc. Some of these development projects might be in their embryonic stages for now, and only time will tell. It is a start. However, have we learnt our lessons from the civil war? Is our country at risk of making the same mistakes that led to the civil war? Are we witnessing another breakdown of law and order? As a nation, what is our relationship with the rule of law and democracy as political concepts? Have we weaned ourselves from the barbarity of the civil war, or are we experiencing withdrawal symptoms from it? Is there a risk that our nation is slowing exhibiting our craving and penchant to attract chaos?
If truth were told, our country has enjoyed a relatively peaceful period since the end of the war. Our democracy remains embryonic, constantly tested and desperately pulled at the seams by old habits. Despite the constraints, recent SLPP and APC governments under late President Kabba and Ernest Koroma have presided over “relatively peaceful elections. Those familiar with the reign of the late Pa Sheki would testify that our democratic atmosphere have in comparison, been freer, fairer and more peaceful. Nevertheless, if recent events are anything to go by, we cannot deny that our country is not at risk of erasing all those positive strides we have made as a nation. Our nation’s political bloodstream is afflicted by a new political phenomenon called “negative partisanship”; the tendency to support a political party or candidate primarily based on one’s dislike for the opposition. That is our new political disease.
It would be dishonest to assume that this negative partisanship is a recent outbreak, but there is no question that it is slowly becoming an endemic, if not a pandemic. Our country and communities are slowly being defined along tribal and regional lines. I once saw someone shamelessly describing himself as an “SLPP Imam” on social media. I can hear you say, “There are APC Imams as well”. Let us hope that their political credentials will stand them in good stead when they meet their maker. Our country’s political canvass has largely always been a North and South affair, with the East and West periodically oscillating between the two polar Regions. It has always been an affair between Santigie and Vandi. The divisions have been subtle and insidiously demonstrated. However, since President Bio took over in 2018, these divisions have taken a more dramatic, visible and more sinister potential for our country.
Who is to blame for the divisions in our country today?
When President Bio took over in 2018, he initiated the Commission of Inquiry (COI). His administration charged the outgoing APC with corruption and that the coffers he inherited were empty. Like any political leader, the Ernest Bai Koroma’s (EBK) administration was loaded with party leaning and card-carrying loyalists. If politics had any logic, it was therefore logically plausible that the target of the COI would largely be members of the outgoing APC administration. The APC saw this as a witch-hunt and a politics of revenge. APC declared a policy of non-participation and non-cooperation with the COI. SLPP described this as the APC’s agenda to make the country ungovernable under President Bio.
When President Bio launched the mid term census recently, not only did APC members refuse to participate, but also rallied their supporters not to do so. But did EBK not conduct a mid term census in 2016? Did the SLPP boycott or told their members to boycott? Nations conduct censuses to provide information for governments to develop policies, allocate funding to plan and run services. However, it looks like Sierra Leone is one of the few countries that conducts censuses primarily for political advantage: delimitation of boundaries. In English, that means giving the ruling party a numerical voting edge.
Interestingly, and after canvassing its members not to participate in the census, the APC has just rediscovered its knack for statistics, calling the provisional results of the census a fraud and misrepresentation. So, when the APC gave up the right to be counted, did they forfeit the right to comment on the result?
Recent events in the country have put our law enforcement agencies, and especially our police; a “force for good”, left, right and centre of all political controversies. We have seen opposition members, journalists, teachers, “celebrities” teachers and even “madmen” invited to CID headquarters and Pademba Road. We have also seen political campaigns by the opposition party halted for “safety” and “security” reasons. Party political campaign days were scheduled and relatively carnival in atmosphere. If we cannot campaign peacefully, can we vote peacefully?
As the APC and SLPP continue to blame each other, what is the price at stake? In addition to the negative antagonism, we have now added the politics of revenge to the menu. The APC and SLPP have been the only participants in our political musical chairs. If these parties should continue with the toxicity of negative partisanship and revenge politics, who stands to lose out here. If the SLPP should win the next election, does this mean that our country will continue to be polarised further. Is the APC waiting in the wings to wreak revenge in “turn det” politics?
In a press release dated 7th march, 2019, the APC catalogued a list of grievances against the SLPP, ranging from the imposition of the speaker of parliament, setting up the COI, the appointment of the NEC Commissioner (South), killings at Mile 91, Tonko Limba etc. You can bet your bottom dollar that the SLPP also has a report card on the APC.
So, did we learn anything from the civil war?
The war in Rwanda may have been tribal in DNA, but divisive nonetheless. The SLPP’s mantra is, “One Country, One people”. But are we “one country, one people today”? The APC is an acronym for All People’s Congress. Is it a congress for all peoples? It is sad that the founding convictions of these parties have become quite narrow in comparison. As a nation, did we learn anything from our decade long war?
We only hope that our politicians would remember that we are of one land and one national family. We hope they remember that we voted for them to serve the people, not a party or ideology. With their political differences, the least we expect from them are healthy debates. Interestingly, did you notice that in spite of their negative partisanship, their revenge politics, their perceived hatred for one another, but they all agreed on one thing? THE WELFARE BILL =SALARY INCREASE. Sadly, the ordinary voter is ready to fight, stab, or even kill his neighbour, because he belongs to the party opposite.
Don’t forget to turn the lights out when you leave the room.