Those of us that survived the late 70s and 80s era will recall being politically breastfed from a single teat of a one party state in Sierra Leone. Those were the days when the George Bush-esque “you are either with us, or against us” was invented. The battle cry, “Or wa-eee, Or sa-eee” was the currency with which votes were bought, sold and cast. Those were the days of “selections” and not “elections”, because the APC party then, which showed a low threshold for tolerance was the only cowboy in Texas. Although the SLPP was the older, by the time Pa Sheki finished with metamorphosing our political DNA, we were left with only two options; vote for APC or vote for APC. The SLPP was a distant memory that had suffered from a terminal nosedive in political terms.
In those days, brute force was a synonym for politics; courtesy of the late S.I. Koroma and his cohorts. Politics was not for the faint hearted and it was the exclusive domain of adult demagogues. The youth was marginalised and any semblance of youth participation in the political life of our country was reduced to a mere cheerleading and spectator sport. Youth part were apolitical to anything and everything political.
But what has changed over the years? For starters, the youth have occupied the central berth of politics in our country today. This can only be good for the political life blood of our society; considering that the youth embody the umbilical cords of our past, present and future. In the current political climate, dismissing the views and contributions of the youth will be a costly joke for any politician, and by any standards. Is it any wonder that the social media is fast attracting the attentions of our politicians these days? They know of the running commentaries, campaigns and performance tests being carried out in the social media. No wonder many have been promoting their own pages on Facebook.
Interestingly, there seems to be a complete sea change in the approach to politics these days. It looks like the APC of old has swapped places with the SLPP of today. What bothers the writer is the significant shift of attitude that is permeating the corridors of the opposition SLPP. The once near docile and tolerantly inclusive SLPP is at risk of becoming the most intolerable political entity in the history of our nation. It is no secret that the internal squabbling, intrigues and backstabbing have become the party’s Achilles heel.
If these insults were shares, the number of insults traded among party members and sympathisers would have been enough to send the New York Stock Exchange into meltdown. And this is just in house. The level of political infighting is so blatant that some conspiracy theorists believe that, the SLPP has been infiltrated by those who declare their support for the party and at the same time, by devious means, serve and promote the interests of the oppositions. This kind of theory can only be reflective of how far the level of distrust has seeped through the party’s political spinal cord.
In days gone by, the party would take criticism and differences of opinion on the chin. It encouraged dialogue. In the past, the party recognised the strength in differences. These days, any difference of opinion is not only frowned upon, but will attract busloads of insults. Why? For instance, just because you choose a different aspirant of THE SAME SLPP PARTY is enough to earn you a treasonable offence. Let’s face it, the level of invectives, insults of a maternal description and other unprintable utterances we hear and see among SLPP members is nothing short of pathetic and disgraceful.
We know that talk is cheap and the social media has provided an unintended platform as a consequence, for such unsavoury behaviour. Although some have danced themselves lame even though the main dance is yet to come, I shudder to think of what it would be like, come 2017/18. The SLPP needs some serious soul searching and very fast at that. Questions as to why such a party, which once branded itself with very admirable and lofty ideals has degenerated into a cesspit of political amnesia, should be on every flag toting and chest beating member these days. Hardly a day goes by without being treated to a fiesta of “mammy cuss” among so-called SLPP members in the social media.
The current blockbuster is the one regarding the party membership and identification card of an aspiring candidate, Kandeh Yumkella. Questions have been raised as to the impropriety of how he got his SLPP membership card. To all intents and purposes, the least expected would be a decent exchange of views among its members. Sadly but not surprisingly, the merchants of depravity have taken the meaning of “friendly fire” to a different level. This is a very sad state of affairs, and if not arrested can only serve as a political repellent.
In a recent post I saw on Facebook, a lady asked the salient question, “Why are we fighting one another in the same party?” That was food for thought but any attempt to give a well-defined answer will run the risk of generating another drone war; by SLPP standards. Nevertheless, let us make the attempt. Sierra Leone’s current political discourse has never been so vibrant. Among other factors including the social media, it is plausible to conclude that this is largely down to the fact that the youths of today have decided to no longer stand by as spectators of the political game.
In Sierra Leone today, there is mass awareness and participation from the youth wings. They have taken ownership of the political machinery that was once the main past time of the aged. When the APC expelled the VP Sam Sumana, we saw how protests were organised from Britain, USA, Bangladesh, Holland, Iraq, Belgium, and Germany, and even in far flung regions as Australia; all because of what many saw as the desecration of our constitution. Most of the protesters did not do so because of their love for the VP, but as a matter of principle and for political sanitization. During the One –Party era of Pa Sheki, no one could even bat an eyelid when he annually reshuffled his cabinet ten times over. For God’s sake, that guy had 2 Vice presidents and 2 Second Vice presidents in one parliamentary sitting. No questions asked.
In those days, only a few good men like the then student leader Ali kabba, journalists like Pius Foray and Bunting Davis embodied any semblance of opposition to his hegemony; which earned them a few trips to Hotel Pademba Road. With the mass awareness and participation of the youths of today, no sitting government will expect to get away scot-free, with fidgeting the constitution
This piece is not an attempt to provide a psycho-analysis of the reasons behind the intolerance and war like atmosphere that is threatening the very essence of the SLPP. Rather, it is an attempt to second guess possible psychosocial factors that may be inherent in the DNA of today’s SLPP. Let us recall that the youths of today, who form the bulk of all political party membership and activities across board are also the by-products, victims and perpetrators of our unfortunate decade long war. It goes without saying that the majority of this generation had never tasted or smelled democracy or multipartyism. If anything, they were either weaned off the vestiges of the One-Party state, or breastfed on a diet of the violence during the decade long war. The language of “tolerance”, free speech, democracy etc. was never a linguistic currency. It was all about violence, violence and more violence.
It is over a decade since we confined that era of violence to the dustbins of our history. The first time most of these youths witnessed democracy at work, was when Rtd. Major Maada Bio, some say reluctantly, presided over a peaceful and democratic transition to democratic rule. Is it any wonder why the majority of this group fondly refer to him as the “father of democracy”? With that in mind, will the current atmosphere of intolerance and the propensity for violence be a reflection of the residual trauma that characterised the period of interregna? Is it possible that the trauma of violence is so embedded in the psyche that harmony within the party is an intolerable requirement?
What are the past and present aspirants or flag bearers like Maada Bio, Kandeh Yumkella, Andrew keilli, Solomon Berewa, Ali Kabba, to name but a few doing about this cankerworm that is threatening the very essence of the SLPP? Is it in recognition of this sad state of affairs that one of the SLPP aspirants is preaching the gospel of “everyone in, no one out. Everyone up, no one down”? As a party, the SLPP and its members should learn to accept contradictions and correction cheerfully, and be gentle even under provocation. They should show the sensitivity of a blunt axe, and pay the high price of growing up; that is called maturity. If the SLPP cannot get its house in order, what hope is there for a viable opposition or democratic discourse on our political landscape? The SLPP should realise that until their house is in order, it risks returning our hard fought democracy to a One-Party state by default. Is the SLPP ready to subject our country to a political life support machine; at the expense of hard earned democracy?
I have an opinion on the candidate I believe could present an all-inclusive approach to our politically terminally ill modus operandi. Thankfully, I do not belong or subscribe to any of our political parties, partly because of my allergy to politics. I will stick to my political anti-histamine; one tablet a day. Irrespective of our political persuasions or non-alignments, what most Sierra Leoneans would like to see is a viable opposition that is fit for purpose. If nothing else, you owe it to the nation and that is the least we can ask for.
The need for a self-critical diagnosis has never been greater. Remember, what insults your state insults you. As a continent, Africa has shamelessly squandered the golden opportunities of independence. The PARTY should COME FIRST and its members should rise above pettiness and mediocrity. The Party should be the rallying point of your political activity. It is supposed to be the vanguard of the people, the active organ of the people and the force through which to focus the needs and desire of the people. The SLPP needs to come under the searchlight of an ideology that will promote political cohesion. It is a noble and glorious challenge that calls for the courage to do, the courage to believe, the courage to work, the courage to envision and the courage to achieve the highest excellences.
The next general election is light years away, and it will be wise “never to insult an alligator until you have crossed the river”. SLPP needs a political renaissance or risk slipping into a more familiar and comfortable position; like a political coma. To those who have a low threshold for tolerance, ever wondered why the SLPP has had a shorter political shelf life; even though it is the oldest party?
Don’t forget to turn the lights off before you leave the room.