The general election in Sierra Leone has come and gone. The drums may appear to have fallen silent, but like a swimming duck, there’s on going diplomatic gymnastics bubbling underneath the surface as the APC and SLPP parties embark on the charm offensive, to court the favours of the International Community, and precisely the USA. In his Op ed published in the Sierra Leone Telegraph (20/08/23), the editor of the Cocorioko Newspaper, Mr Kabs Kanu gave his readers a pertinent lecture on “international diplomacy and geopolitical realities”, and urged the SLPP to understand what it means. Mr Kanu is no stranger to diplomacy, having served as Minister Plenipotentiary at the Permanent Mission of Sierra Leone to the United States and Coordinator of the African Union Committee of 10, between 2009 and 2018 under former president Ernest Koroma.
In his lecture, he outlined the duties, remits, and broad-based responsibilities of ambassadors in their host countries. He declared America as the world’s policeman and the mother Theresa of the world’s underprivileged. Mr Kanu wished SLPP supporters good luck, if they hope that with the coming of Ambassador Hunt, “the US will accept the results of Sierra Leone’s June 24 multi-tier elections which she considers rigged and lacking credibility and drop the conditions she has given President Maada Bio or resume the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) Compact”. Some declaration. Since we’ve learnt so much from Mr Kanu’s sermon on diplomacy, it might be worth taking another look at some finer points here.
So, what is diplomacy?
According to Wikipedia, “diplomacy comprises spoken or written communication by representatives of states intended to influence events in the international system. Diplomacy is the main instrument of foreign policy which represents the broader goals and strategies that guide a state’s interactions with the rest of the world”. Definitions from Oxford Languages describe diplomacy as “the profession, activity, or skill of managing international relations, typically by a country’s representatives abroad”. On July 14, Mathew Miller, the spokesperson for The US department of State issued this press statement:
“The United States continues to be concerned about irregularities in the election results announced by the Electoral Commission for Sierra Leone (ECSL). Independent parallel vote tabulations and analyses by accredited national and international observation missions raise questions about the integrity of the official results. We call on the government to institute an independent, outside investigation of the elections process and integrate observer recommendations to improve the electoral modalities for future elections.
We are also disturbed by the reports of intimidation – including death threats – against domestic and international observers, civil society organizations, and ECSL personnel. We call on all actors to exercise restraint and engage in peaceful dialogue to resolve disputes. The resolve and determination of Sierra Leoneans who went out to the polls on June 24 to make their voices heard was inspiring. Free and fair elections are essential for any democracy. The government and political parties must commit to strengthening democratic institutions to better protect the rights and reflect the aspirations of the people of Sierra Leone.”
Mr Kanu asked his readers to note “that ambassadors are trained and oriented to be very tactful and economical with what they say and to always project positive outlooks of the diplomatic relations between theirs’ and host countries”. This is where Mr Kanu’s “ambassadors are trained and oriented to be very tactful and economical with what they say” gets interesting, when you juxtapose Mathew Miller’s “the international observation missions raise questions about the integrity of the official results” with the APC’s “rigged” and “stolen” elections.
There is no question that the election result has left a trail of controversies and a bitter taste on some political palates. With tact and economy of words, the response from the International Community generated more innuendos and “draw your own conclusions syndrome” than called things by their names. The opposition, like many others concluded that the election was rigged. How many people will argue with that, when the ECSL’s stiff-necked recalcitrance to publish the disputed aggregated results remains unresolved?
However, did the APC get ahead of itself in calling things by their names? Did the APC overestimate the response from the USA and Co? Is that why the APC went ahead to demand a rerun of the elections and went as far as saying that President Bio will be removed from office? Did the APC expect the outsider to cry more than the bereaved? Did the APC do the right thing by boycotting parliament, and did they expect the International Community to give them a pat on the back for doing so?
In response to the APC’s threat to boycott the government, Ambassador Reimer on 12 July 2023, “urged the APC not to boycott the government, emphasizing the importance of a robust opposition in a vibrant democracy. He expressed the need for the voices of those who voted for the opposition to be heard. So, has the APC betrayed the trust, the confidence, the belief, sweat, blood, hopes and dreams of its supporters? Is that why SLPP supporters accuse the APC of living in a trance of propaganda? Has the party backed itself into a political cul-de sac?
So, why is the international community concerned about democracy in Sierra Leone?
In comparison to some African states, Sierra Leone’s democracy is still embryonic. You cannot deny the fact that one of the main triggers for our decade long rebel war was the spectacular mudslide of our political landscape. The rule of law and good governance were not part of our political vocabulary. With More than half of the population breast fed on the one-party system, the country was fertile enough to sow seeds of discord. Is it any wonder that the rebel war was initially received by many as the road from perdition?
The dawn of democracy was not only a welcome path but a departure from type. It is obvious that the recent elections was seen as a litmus test for our country’s democratic resilience. It was therefore not surprising that the controversies prompted joint statements from our partners like the UK, France, Ireland, Germany, and the USA, expressing concerns over “the lack of transparency in the tabulation process”. However, they urged all stakeholders to engage in ( not boycott) dialogue, to resolve disputes.
If truth be told, the fallout from the June 24th elections poses an existential threat to our democracy. When you deprive one man of his rights, freedom, security etc, you deprive every man. Whether a political party is in government or opposition, it is not in anyone’s interest for us to practise a contaminated and adulterated version of democracy.
So, was the APC right to boycott parliament?
Many people find the APC’s discontent understandable. The APC can even qualify as the society for the preservation of the aggrieved. However, some accuse the party of lacking emotional intelligence for boycotting parliament. There is nothing wrong to combine commitment and scepticism in a democracy. However, we need to remember that democracy is a slow process of stumbling to the right decision, instead of going straight forward to the wrong one.
Lest we forget, not everything about the elections was doom and gloom. Yes, we know that the SLPP tried to deny the APC political breathing space to conduct their campaigns. It is no wonder that Samura Kamara went juvenile and said “baboo yai o” in Kono. The intimidation, threats, abuses, and violence from both sides were disheartening. Both parties had reasons to feel aggrieved, though in varying degrees.
But in his statement, the Chair of the Commonwealth Observer Group, H.E. Prof Yemi Osinbajo said “we were impressed by the significant turn-out of voters and the largely peaceful conduct of elections- a testimony to the will of the people to consolidate the democratic gains of Sierra Leone. Should those gains be junked in a fit of anger? Should supporters be fed on the diet of hope that another round of elections will be conducted, or that President Bio will be removed from office? Is that the best aphrodisiac on offer?
Despite all the innuendoes, intrigues, and semantic gymnastics, NOT ONE of the observers or International Community members used the words “rigged” or “stolen “in their press releases. No one is questioning the opposition’s political licence to use these words to describe the outcome or vent their angst. You can clearly see the International Community tip toeing its way through the political landmines on semantic stilts. Diplomacy is an art. It is “the profession, activity, or skill of managing international relations”. That is why some people describe “diplomacy” as the art of telling someone to go to hell in such a way that they look forward to it.
Should Sierra Leoneans be worried about our democracy?
You can feel a resounding yes to that question. After the rebel war and the ensuing democratic process, many Sierra Leoneans had hoped that the country had crossed the Rubicon from political perdition. There is no doubt about the growing sense that our nascent democracy is at risk. This is not only about the stiff-necked recalcitrance of the ECSL, to publish the disputed aggregated results. In truth, June 24th was the political nadir of the culmination of the political atmosphere that was perpetuated by both parties over years. The politics in our country has become one of partisan antagonism, wrapped in revenge blood sports; (U do me, ar do you). A policy of non-participation is now vogue, though undesirable. Any healthy democracy demands an opposition party. However, such opposition should be built on mutual respect, respect for excellence and not hatred. It shouldn’t be about blind opposition to progress but opposition to blind progress. We don’t throw our toys out of the pram because things didn’t go our way.
Sadly, our politics has always been fuelled by a culture of indifference. When one party is in power and in the majority, we see them flout the rules with near perfect impunity. Why is it that our political parties never ask for constitutional changes when they are in opposition? They become constitutional words smiths overnight, on assuming power. That is when they bring out their legal minds to carry out their political alchemy to suit their purpose. In doing so, both parties develop temporal amnesia, and forget that it could be the turn of the party opposite one day.
What we have today is two political parties mirroring each other and fighting to outdo each other, in the fight to win hearts and minds. Is it any wonder that whenever you call out one party for doing something wrong, the party opposite will become a reference point for precedence? If Santigie says that ECSL refused to publish the disputed aggregated results, Ngor Manna will remind you that Christiana Thorpe voided the votes of a whole district in one party’s stronghold. If Minkailu says that Maada removed/disqualified MPs from taking office in 2018, you can bet that Vandi will remind you that Ernest sacked a whole nationally elected VP. When a government becomes a law breaker, it doesn’t only breed contempt for the law, but also invites every man to a become law unto himself; a recipe for anarchy (L. brandies). The only thing necessary for evil to triumph in the world is that good men do nothing (E. Burke).
This is the kind of indifference that our country has sleep-walked itself into. We don’t right the wrongs. We normalise them because they carry presidential ascent, we are now in power, it is our turn, and we can do what we want. They become precedents and reference points to calibrate our political sanity. No chance. So, what happens when the shoe is on the other foot? Where do you get the moral audacity to call out the other, when you are two seeds of the same pod? As for our judiciary, I am not saying “Fin”. There is something called “contempt”, and I have a serious contempt for contempt. Dis Kompound Ya So…….
Don’t forget to turn the lights out before you leave the room.