Every day in recent weeks, I have found myself confronted with the question of who should be the next Mayor of Freetown. In many of the discussions that follows the question I must confess, people tend to spend their time examining the present Freetown regime, rather than look to the future.
And what I noticed is that in spending time looking at the present Freetown regime, one feels like censoring letters in the army during war or (I fancy) like hearing confessions if you are priest. Beforehand it seems interestinga curious vantage point from which to look into the minds of a whole crowd of people as if we were God’s spies; but it turns out to be cruelly dull.
Ten minutes into several letters, the censoring officer usually finds out that every man in his platoon says the same thing in his letters home, and the priest, no doubt, finds that all his penitents confess the same sins, so is the discussion about the Mayor of Freetown and the present regime,(the same old talk), it’s like an examiner, who also finds out that of hundreds of girls and boys of all social classes, scarcely a dozen make themselves memorable either for original ideas or amusing answers.
Two of the “front runners” for the Mayorship of Freetown, I gathered are claiming that they qualify for selection by the Sierra Leone Peoples’ Party (SLPP) and the All Peoples Party (APC), because they happen to be “Creole” and that the Mayor of Freetown MUST be a Creole.
Freetown City Council remained ineffective and some would allege corrupt as well. In recent years, changes in the Capital city have not lessened corruption or quickened the pace of economic development. Personally, I don’t think ignorance and lack of capacity are the main causes.
Some people put the persistence of mismanagement down to lack of capacity for good governance. One result of this view is the explosion of capacity building programmes initiated by the National government, donors and multilateral agencies. The aim of the schemes is to help the Mayor and the City Council put in place structures and reforms that will strengthen the Authority of the Council, support local democracy and promote greater accountability and transparency.
Underlying many of these programmes is the notion that poor governance is due largely to incompetence, ignorance and inadequate infrastructure. Certainly, the Freetown City Council has suffered from poor administrative, inadequate local infrastructure and insufficient numbers of expertise. But these short-comings cannot explain the abuse and misuse of the Council’s power and funds and limited infrastructures.
Listening to one of the Council’s official on Radio Democracy Wednesday morning, it is beyond any doubts that the Council has a large number of highly-trained professionals, including accountants and lawyers. Of course there are laid down budgetary procedures, including provisions for checks and balances that are adequate. But the fact remains that Local Authority Chiefs have ignored the provisions of the Local Authority Bye-Laws and laid down administrative procedures are irrelevant to the actual working of local government.
Abuse and misuse of power and authority by local government politicians have not been largely due to lack of capacity for local good governance. For obvious reasons, I cannot talk much about the present Mayor, he is now in court, what can I say however, is this; the local authority politicians have not been ineffective because they are incompetent or ignorant. Neither has the lack of administrative or intellectual expertise to formulate and properly execute growth enhancing policies for Freetown been the major problem. Quite simply, the local government politicians like their counterparts in the national government over the years have acted in their own selfish interests in total disregard to existing rules and laid-down procedures.
My elder brother is presently a Labour Party Councilor in the United Kingdom. I think he is on his second term and still remains one of the very few African in an area of London dominated by the Jews and Asians. And I gathered recently that if he is interested, he will be heading for the European Parliament (one of the most corrupt political institutions in Europe) next elections.
What this tells you is that my brother, Charlie (Ojukula as many will remember him in Freetown) has been doing his homework since he was first elected many years back. He always respond to the local needs of his constituents, he is close to the local MP, despite the fact that he is Conservative (Labour lost the Parliament Seat in the last election), and he does not chose who to help or where to extend help. He simply represents the people. That is what has been missing in Freetown, both locally and nationally.
Looking at what is going on here in Sierra Leone both locally and nationally, I can attest that the popular image of politicians as bungling buffoons is not helpful. We are all guilty. This approach obscures reality. Anyone who has observed the way politicians conduct themselves would agree with me that they are no fools. Indeed, the recent Press Statement by the SLPP Presidential candidate and the reply from the APC show that they are all quite adept in the art of gaining or retaining political power.
The opposition, with remarkable political skill is working on undermining the ruling party, creating fear and mistrust all in white gloves-“we want a peaceful elections, we are concerned about the security of the country and we are in a democracy.” On the other side of the coin, the ruling party, (forgetting their past misdeeds when in opposition) replied-sowing confusing in the ranks of the oppositions, and make them look, unfit to govern and for the leader to lose credibility in the eyes of the people.“they have to show this proof and that proof, invitation from the police, the leader of the opposition is this and that, and of course, the intimidation and unwarranted prosecutions of opposition members.
Funny how the court can give people charged with murder and other serious crimes bail whilst a stabbing offence does not warrant bail for weeks. LAW NA FUNNY THING EH…….
The other day, I tried to explain this to one of those dancing around Freetown, talking about the Mayorship of Freetown. But he is busy going around talking about the market women at Abacha streets and other places. That is going to be his first priority if he is elected as Mayor. When I asked him about the provision for the market women, his reply confirmed what I thought alone. There are enough spaces now, but we will build more markets, when people start paying their council taxes. He had no other means of getting money. No brains as to how to generate more money, just money from the council taxation. And oh, I almost forgot the other national anthem, “foreign investors.” God Help Freetown.
We should not see reactionary economic policies and practices of these politicians (both local and national), as stemming mainly from lack of knowledge of economic theory and management. Many of the economic policies and actions that have entrenched in this country’s economic under-development were deliberately carried out to serve the interest of those in power. The elites have benefited enormously from the economic misfortune of Mother Sierra Leone. Not surprising, they prefer to maintain the status quo as chaotic and depressive; there is reason in the confusion going on now about ex-combatants, double registration and inviting and refusing to cooperate with the police. And some of the media playing the guba with the hope that people will dance with their eyes closed.
Frankly, when I listened to those talking now about wanting to be parliamentarian, local councilor or Mayor, and consider those in power now, I reach this conclusion; we should stop seeing them as amusing windbags. The failure of democracy and economic development in Sierra Leone are due to a large part to the scramble for wealth by the ruling classes and their patrons, friends and families. They see the state as the only source of personal wealth accumulation. There is high premium on the control of the state, which is the biggest and most easily accessible source of wealth accumulation.
Unlike western democracies and most of Asia, Sierra Leone is not an industrial society. It is a political society. The ruling classes and those they bring alone to seek power use all means to attain their goal. This includes fostering ethnic tension and political repression with the help of the judiciary. Competition for control of the state, whether between political party and families, is invariably ferocious and generates instability as is creeping now.
Franz Fanon in his book ‘The Wretched of the Earth’ published in 1961 eloquently described the character of the class that inherited power from the colonialists. It is “a sort of little greedy caste, avid and voracious, with the mind of a huckster, only too glad to accept the dividends that the former colonial powers hands out. This get-rich quick middle class shows itself incapable of great ideas or inventiveness. It remembers what it has read in European text books and imperceptibly it becomes not even the replica of Europe, but its caricature.” This class, said Fanon Prophetically, is not capable of building industries “it is completely canalized into activities of the intermediary type. Its innermost vocation seems to be to keep in the running and to be part of the racket. The psychology of the national bourgeoisie is that of a businessman, not that of a captain of industry.” The description, my dear brothers and sisters, aunties, uncles and of course grandmas’ and grand-pas’, remains the same today for those have governed recent years and for those ruling nowwhat we have is a bunch of people whose only consideration is a personal one; from the civil service, to the police, the military, the judiciary, the business community and of course the political class.
That is why I am worried about the present bunch who wants to come in November 2012.
”Good governance is the effective exercise of power and authority by government (local and national), in a manner that serves to improve the quality of life of the populous. This includes using state power (not to intimidate) but to create a society in which the full development of individuals and their capacity to control their lives is possible. A ruling class that sees the state as means of expropriating the nation’s limited resources is simply incapable of governance. More specifically, such a class will by its character and mission abuse power.”
Need I say more to you when you go to vote in November 2012? Please think of Mother Sierra Leone, and indeed, Freetown. We are tired of complaining and running away.
John Leigh should run for Mayor