Sierra Leone Needs Statesmen, Not Politicians.

Abdulai Mansaray, author

The European Union Election Observation Mission has finally published an 83-page, long awaited report on the Sierra Leone Election, 2023. The report catalogues the good, the bad and the ugly sides of our recently concluded elections and made recommendations as political guardrails that should be implemented, if our country and its citizens should wish to demonstrate, promote, protect, and maintain any semblance of democracy and our democratic credentials. The report gives us a lot of takeaways to reflect on and provides a verdict that any well-meaning Sierra Leonean would struggle to argue with. The report does not only attest to “Sierra Leoneans’ strong commitment to democracy”, but also highlights the hazards, risks, and threats to our hard-earned political landscape. The report evenly lavished praise on institutions where praise is due, and condemnations on those responsible for undermining “voters’ trust in the credibility of elections by lack of transparency during critical stages of the process, particularly during the tabulation process, and by significant statistical inconsistencies in the results”.

A cursory analysis of the report can be summed up as a national cry for statesmen who think of the next generation, rather politicians who only think of the next election. The report could hardly catch anyone off guard, as it shows what many already knew. It noted some of the following that: “Counting of the ballots was largely transparent, yet the planned electronic transmission of results from polling stations did not take place. Against the backdrop of insufficient explanation and action by the ECSL, the tabulation and announcement of results proved to be the tipping point for the credibility of the elections.

The commission further noted that the entire process was opaque, meaningful observation was impeded and the declaration of winners was not followed by publication of disaggregated results per polling station. These inconsistencies, combined with the ECSL’s decision not to publish disaggregated results, undermined the credibility of the tabulation process and voters’ confidence in the outcome of the polls. It also observed that in the run up to the elections, even though fundamental rights of freedom of assembly and movement were largely respected, the campaign was more of a personality contest that was conducted in polarised theatres of ethno-regional alliances at the expense of the real and burning issues facing the country and its citizens. Where there any policies given to the electorate?

The report made recommendations not only to promote but to protect our democratic credentials. In effect, these recommendations are the clearest indications of the call to “move on”. The ECSL’s lack of sufficient explanation for several statistical inconsistencies and mathematical improbabilities of the results total published was the most damming indictment. Pythagoras will be squirming in his grave, and you would be forgiven to think that the ECSL should be disbanded. Violence and the disproportionate use of security forces, the tight corner space for political participation, one sided TV coverage battling with disinformation campaign, the abuse of incumbency all threatened Sierra Leoneans’ commitment to democracy. In effect, the report highlights the urgent need for “further reforms focusing on transparency, trust-building and inclusion”.

So, where do we go from here?

Now that the political autopsy report is out, the court of public opinion is no doubt gone into overdrive, as both parties turn on their charm offensives for the hearts and minds of the people. However, Sierra Leoneans should no longer be held ransom, and it is unfair that we are reduced to pawns on the political chessboard. One of the conclusions we can draw from this political autopsy is the clarion call for statesmen, rather than politicians. Politicians think of the next election. Statesmen think of the next generation. The modus operandi of our political landscape is not sustainable. Like all past elections, the atmosphere has perennially favoured the five-year political lifespan of incumbency, much to the detriment of posterity. Our constitution has always suffered from the political scalpels of incumbents with alarming prognosis.

Like many previous elections, we continue to go round the cycles of recommendations after every election. “How long pan dat?”. If every election is followed by recommendations, it stands to reason that we don’t follow or adopt these recommendations. Does that mean therefore, that every election should come with hazard warnings of recommendations to follow, prior to conducting them? People learn to live and live to learn. Do we? Why do we need VAR, after every election? Most of what the report entails is nothing new, as the report feels like a recycled product. Where have we heard those concerns before? Where have we heard those recommendations before? And where have we heard those allegations and accusations before. Nothing is new. The only thing new here is the continuous change of the accused, but the accusations are the same every five years. “Leh we yeri far bo”

Sierra Leone needs Statesmen rather than politicians. Unlike statesmen, politicians tend to think and concern themselves with how to win the next election. This means that they would do whatever it takes to do so. If it takes the abuse of power, rigging elections, fracturing the constitution or any means possible, a politician would do it, “just to win the next election”. Ironically, these politicians forget that their tenures are cyclical, and they develop selective amnesia when the shoe is on the other foot. We know that blowing out someone else’s candle does not make yours shine any brighter, but is there anything new in this report?

Since time memorial, all these allegations and recommendations have been the mainstay and themes of our elections, irrespective of which party is in power. This is because, when our politicians engage in their political gymnastics in their pursuit for power, they forget that every dog has its day, and that the party opposite will one day be in power. They bastardise our constitution with near perfect impunity. Both parties are partners in crime, as we have seen over the years. That is why many consider it rich, when the APC tries to serve as a referee for the SLPP. It is the same when the SLPP tires to preach to us about the 99 tactics of the APC.

This is why we need Statesmen who think about the next generation and not the next election. Our politicians should remember not to interfere with our constitution, as it is the only guardrails of our liberties. Our constitution cannot protect us unless we protect our constitution. Our leaders, like all citizens are not masters but servants of our constitution. As statesmen, our politicians should know that whatever they do today has implications for future generations. The great difference between the real statesman and the pretender is, that one sees into the future, while the other regards only the present: the one lives by the day and acts on expedience; the other acts on enduring principles and for immortality. (Edmund Burke)

Our country should seize this moment as a watershed. Our politicians should learn to self-reflect and measure their actions as mirror images of their opposition. They can always calibrate their actions by asking: “What if the other party does what we are doing”? What if the other party ignores the court route and decides to boycott parliament if we win the next election? What if we engage in favouring a particular region or tribe in our administration? What would we say, if the opposition unceremoniously dismisses the Accountant General without due process? What if the other party swears to make the country ungovernable when we are in power? What would we say to the opposition, if they acquiesce to citizens engaging in “mammy cuss”, because of our political differences? What would we say, if the opposition employs so many presidential advisers for everything and anything at State House, while the country is at risk of economic asphyxiation?  You don’t need Gibb’s reflective cycle module to do this. Just humanity and civility.

As citizens, we should stop allowing these politicians to convince us that we are fools. Both are two peas in a pod. Our politicians should stop acting as politicians and start acting like statesmen. They should stop these childlike tantrums. If that fails, perhaps the people need to start looking for adult supervision. Does that include a third way? A third party? Worth a try.

Don’t forget to turn the lights off when you leave the room.


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