Sierra Leone Politics: Do we Need Adult Supervision or A 3rd Way?

Abdulai Mansaray, Author

The Republic of Sierra Leone recently celebrated its 58th year of independence, but many have been left wondering whether it was worth all the fuss in the first place. And this is largely thanks to the recent events that have been plaguing both the political and social fronts. The highlight of the celebrations was the opening of an 80 meter long bridge at Lumley. There is no question that the bridge, with its four lane extension has eased the congestion to a large extent; but thanks also to the presence of military and law enforcement officers.  Interestingly, the talking point at the time was not only the “record time”  in which the bridge was constructed but also the alleged estimated amount that was quoted  for the construction under the previous government. In effect, the mantra was that the SLPP constructed the bridge in record time and for less money. I call it efficiency and value for money; so I heard.  If that was the case, I take my hat off to the government. The name may have been changed for historical reasons. Sadly, that was also translated along tribal lines. What a sad state of affairs; that even well-meaning acts are reduced to tribal chinwags.

But hey, after 58 good years of trying to determine our own destiny, and if all that we can show by way of celebration is a newly constructed 80 meter bridge, we might as well go home. Many folks had wondered whether such an occasion required the full presence of the President to cut the ribbon. Many felt that this was for a local councilor or at best, the Minister of Works to do so. But no.  Others may have seen this as a big political statement of intent. After 58 years of trying to figure out what we want, it was logical for his Excellency to be there with all the gravitas it deserves. Ok, agreed, but as a nation, and if this was our level of accomplishments, the bar has been set so low. The construction of such a bridge was not only overdue, but should be a run of the mill stuff.  Call me kill joy, but that jamboree was over the top.

What gave this occasion its gravitas was the fact that, it was done against the backdrop of the “comparison to APC syndrome”. It is rather unfortunate that the ousted APC party appears to be the yardstick of every action or inaction of the government. It is very obvious that in order to weigh, judge or measure the actions of the government, there is a tendency to compare.  But this should not be in all cases. Such comparison has become so prevalent these days, that even our constitution is now interpreted, translated and implemented by the standards of the previous government. While some use it as justification, others try it as an excuse. But that is the sad bit in all this. Our country should not be ruled by the evils or mistakes of the past. We should aspire to judge our governments by the standards of other well governed and more prosperous countries. You don’t move forward by looking backwards. We should not be spending time looking at the door that is closing, for we may not notice the one that is opening. If the SLPP should make any lasting positive impact in the country, should the APC serve as its yardstick?

Many will say that the elections results were a reflection of what the people thought of the APC Party at the time. That should be the simplistic opinion, and I am not asking for your appeals against my view here; for you cannot arrest my opinion with “fake blood”. But just for discussion sake, let us agree that the electorate chose SLPP because it wanted change, a new direction, new blood etc.  In that case, the expectation is for the incoming government to aspire to higher heights. Someone should be reminding us about how countries like Ghana, Rwanda, Ethiopia and many others have turned the corner. It is a really sad state of affairs when a government is reportedly comparing itself to the very political party it replaced; as if that is the standard bearer. When that happens, the perceived vote for change defeats the object. You don’t aspire to imitate the very person you replace; especially when the electorate voted to oust the APC.

We are all aware of the government’s intention to do things differently. The drive to tackle corruption has been one of the remarkable signatures of the Bio government. We also know that in trying to do so, the ousted APC government has played its part in trying to gridlock to road map. Unfortunately, and in trying to override the gridlocks, the government has unconsciously become a shareholder in this sad debacle. It is no wonder that many see the SLPP, to all intents and purposes, as an entity bent on payback. Let us take for example the sacking of some civil servants. It is no secret that the civil service is loaded with personnel employed by virtue of tribal and political persuasions from previous governments. Nepotism and favoritism are no strangers in African politics. America is just learning the ropes in this art.

The civil service has always been littered with party loyalists or card carrying members. It is understandable if an incoming government embarks on cleaning up such acts. But in doing so, such feats should be undertaken with all the sensitivity, transparency and accountability that they deserve. It should be a jut and meticulous affair. But the speed with which this was implemented has left many accusing the government of ethnic or geographical cleansing, which in itself could be suggestive of nepotism by the previous regime. But is that the level to which our political system has sunk? Has it been reduced to a relay event or pass the parcel?

The irony is, if you try to raise a critical eyebrow to such perceived behavior, there will be no shortage of historians to remind you about similar deeds of the previous government. It is no secret that the APC took a scalpel to the bowels of our constitution when among others, Sam Sumana was sacked. The SLPP is now replacing Parliamentarians who have purportedly lost their positions, thanks to recent ruling by the courts.  But should the “winners” be sworn in, when there is still a legal option to appeal the decision of the courts?  Should the vanquished not be allowed to exhaust their legal right to appeal first? But you can bet your bottom dollar that the historians will quote you a precedence; as if that makes it right.

So how do we expect to grow politically when our two main parties seem locked in this kind of political gymnastics.  Our political landlords have fondly been referred to as “Alusine & Alhassan”; suggestive of two peas in a pod.  But Sierra Leoneans should be able to tell the difference between these two parties, not only by their names or their unfortunately perceived tribal nomenclature, but by their very essence to the people.  We cannot afford an “eye for an eye situation”; for it will only make the nation go blind.

Sadly, this is what most Sierra Leoneans believe that they are facing today. Where such a situation is prevalent, the people become the first casualties. When two elephants fight, it is the grass that suffers.  And it is this kind of feeling that has set tongues wagging; and questions about whether it is about time for Sierra Leoneans to choose a 3rd party.  When two political giants remain determined to mimic each other in the race for bad governance, the electorate will be short changed.  Should Sierra Leoneans start looking elsewhere for redemption? As calls for a 3rd way continue to grow louder, is it time for Sierra Leoneans to move the debate from “poda poda talk”?.

With the APC party increasingly presenting itself as a party that is bent on making the country ungovernable on the one hand, and with the SLPP party increasingly been seen or accused as tribalistic, the stage seems set for a Paopa vs Gbagbati debacle. The kind of brinkmanship that is been served here is nothing short of unpalatable to the political taste buds the electorate. The APC is on record for saying that it will not allow its members to be subjected to a kangaroo court. During the opening of Parliament recently, the APC made a partial appearance, only to boycott the main business of the day. Funnily, a lot of fun was poked at the party; that it boycotted parliament, only to watch it on TV at home.  When the APC, like all other stakeholders was invited to the Bintumani conference, a gathering that was supposedly aimed to promote national cohesion, the APC officially refused to attend. Some of its prominent members like Ahaji Alpha Khan attended the conference on an individual basis. In the meantime, social media podcasts were doing the rounds showing the Secretary General, Alhaji Yansaneh asking the party’s foot soldiers if they should attend. The response was a resounding “No”. That is how you get a party policy right?

The APC may have its own reasons for its stance on many political issues. Unfortunately, the party is unconsciously making itself look like doing all it can to gridlock the SLPP government. On the other hand, the majority of people that have come under the SLPP hammer appear to have a specific denominator. That is why the government has been accused of fueling the flames of tribalism. This piece is not aimed at adjudicating between these 2 political landlords. But if truth be said, there is a blatant disrespect for the electorate here. It seems that the majority of the parliamentarians forget that they are there to represent the people. Most of these decisions may not be reflective of the wishes of the electorate. Their egos and lack of foresight kick in, even before they conclude their searing in ceremonies. With these two political demagogues eyeballing each other, is there an argument for a 3rd political party, proper?

To all intents and purposes, is the country descending into a “you do me, ar do you” musical chairs?  Many have accused the APC of refusing to accept defeat, while others believe that the SLPP is dividing the country along tribal and regional lines. If Sierra Leone is to get a 3rd party proper, should asset declaration be a prerequisite for membership.  As Sierra Leoneans, there is no running away from the fact that our country has never been so divided. But equally, it will be preposterous to conclude that such a division happened overnight. From time immemorial, our politicians have successfully governed on this basis. Power has never been equitably distributed. The national cake has always favored the usual suspects.

Does the politics in our country today require adult supervision? Or should the electorate start dreaming of an alternative party? Have the APC and SLPP been in charge for far too long that they have become symbiotically different?  Are they just mirror images of each other?  Have they been around for far too long? Are they really different? Or is this just a whole new ball game of some political mirage? Chew on it.


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