When the devil incarnate Corporal Foday Sankoh launched one of the most barbaric acts against his countrymen in 1991, Sierra Leone was in the grip of dire hardship that characterised the era of late president Momoh’s leadership. It was not surprising that a lot of Sierra Leoneans welcomed the thug with open arms during the early stages of the rebel war. The hardship faced by many at the time was so severe that people preferred the promised changes that was spewed out by the rebel leader in preference to president Momoh’s. The status quo that was galvanised by the absence of a viable opposition party created a political vacuum that was conducive for the need for change. Anything was better than Momoh’s government. The rest is history, as many would admit that it proved to be a monumental misjudgement on the part of a significant number of Sierra Leoneans at the time.
During the peace talks that followed the cessation of violence and rebel activities, the late President Ahmed Tejan Kabba went to insurmountable lengths to accommodate Foday Sankoh’s demands. Foday sankoh had the temerity to demand his involvement in the mining industry, ironically the very oxygen that triggered and sustained his relentless greed for power. Following the Lomé Peace Talks, many Sierra Leoneans were left aghast at the amount of leeway and indulgence the late President Kabba acquiesced to Foday Sankoh. Many Sierra Leoneans saw Kabba’s political horse-trading as a betrayal of and dishonour to all those who lost their lives and property to such barbarity. He was criticised as an appeaser of brutal people.
So, why did the late President Kabba accept Foday Sanko’s demands?
Despite the criticisms and recriminations, President Kabba stood firm in the interest of PEACE. Despite the number of lives and properties lost, President Kabba saw the pursuit of peace as a small price to pay for the stability and security of the country. President Kabba became the adult in the room. What President Kabba demonstrated during those trying times was one of the basic tenets of negotiations. He showed that you cannot shake hands with clenched fists. He taught us lessons on compromise that it is better to bend a little than to break. The art of negotiations and compromise does not mean cowardice, but where everybody makes a contribution. This involves a give and take situation that eventually proves to be the cheapest and best lawyer. With time, many Sierra Leoneans got round the idea that peace was paramount to us all, if we were to recover from the doldrums of inhumanity. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) was set up as a prescription to help heal the nation.
The Commission was mandated under Section 6 of the TRC Act among other things to “create an impartial historical antecedence of the war; keeping records of violations and abuses of human rights and international humanitarian law related to the armed conflict in Sierra Leone, from the beginning of the conflict in 1991 to the signing of the Lomé Peace Agreement; to address impunity, to respond to the needs of victims, promote healing and reconciliation and to prevent a repetition of the violations and abuses suffered”.
So, has Sierra Leone learnt anything from the TRC mandate and its recommendations?
If the current political landscape is anything to go by, it is not difficult to conclude that as a people, as a country and a nation, we have not learnt much from our turbulent past history. We cannot dismiss the fact that the current status quo, like a dormant volcano has been bubbling in the political crust of our country for some time. Unfortunately, we are now witnessing the potential for volcanic eruptions, as the political magma between our two parties slowly but surely forces its way upward and break through our weaknesses as a people. Politicians have always tried to convince us that they are in it for the good of the people. It is a sad state of affairs, that the politics in our country has been reduced to one of anger, hatred, chicanery and divisions. Instead of focussing on the things that hold us together as a nation, a people and a country, so much energy is dedicated to what makes us different. It is not surprising therefore, that our political culture has been celebrated and relegated to the Politics of Revenge.
Revenge and the fear of revenge has insidiously become the driving force that is taking over the narrative in our country. It is beginning to feel like the fear of being a victim of political revenge has become the life blood of our political parties and politicians. While in opposition, any attempt by a sitting government to implement a policy like fighting corruption is seen as a tool for victimisation. The oppositions play the role of victimhood for all its worth to generate and energise their bases. While in opposition, they promise to pay back, if and when they regain power. Donald Trump has already laid out his grand plan to wreak revenge on his political opponents if he gets back to The White House. The fear of such an outcome is currently coursing through the political veins of democrats. Any wonder why efforts are made to disqualify him from the race altogether?
What does Revenge Politics mean for Democracy?
As a result of the fear of revenge, politicians are becoming more desperate for power by the minute. In the world that we live in today, we are slowly but surely witnessing how nasty, vicious and horrible politics is becoming, thanks to the vogue of revenge politics. While those in opposition seek and promise to revenge when their turn comes, those in power are powered by extra determination to hold on to power by any means possible. Why? Is it the fear of revenge that drives political agendas these days? Is it revenge politics that has made election denying fashionable for our politicians? Is it the fear of what the party opposite will do, that is making incumbent leaders more desperate to hold on to power? Is that the same reason why some can’t let go even after retirement? Is revenge politics the way forward? With the kind of atmosphere whiffing along our political corridor, can you imagine what the APC party will do if it came to power. Can you imagine what would happen if the SLPP holds on to power? Where does such political equations leave the ordinary Sierra Leonean? The vice grip of revenge politics.
What happens when two elephants fight?
The African saying that “when two elephants fight, it is the grass that suffers” is becoming ominously very real for our country. As the average citizen increasingly becomes a pawn on the political chessboard, it is obvious that we are equally becoming the sacrificial lamb on the grass. Revenge politics is an existential threat to our democracy. In the absence of any democratic advancement, most politicians busy themselves with telling us everything and anything that is bad about the party opposite. Many citizens would like to hear what a political party hopes and intends to do to improve the lives of Sierra Leoneans. Sadly, some of our politicians believe that dimming the light of the other party will make their light shine brighter. Our politicians are busy turning us against each other, to distract us from turning against them. That is when the grass suffers.
After the chaos that followed our recent elections in June, many Sierra Leoneans prayed for a peaceful resolution to the political impasse that followed. Thanks to some diplomatic and domestic gymnastics, a tripartite committee was set up with guidance to facilitate this. The sigh from peace loving Sierra Leoneans for the return to parliament of the APC party was palpable. Sadly, what happened on November 26th threw the spanner right into the works. It would be presumptuous, if not contemptible to comment on the ongoing investigations of the November 26th saga. I am neither a fan, nor have any intention to sign a tenancy agreement for Pademba Road Correctional Centre. Meanwhile, some have called the episode a failed coup, some say it was stage managed and others have called it a witch-hunt. Irrespective of the political hat you are wearing, irrespective of the outcome of the investigations, many Sierra Leoneans hope that the search for peace would not be derailed.
So, what did November 26th tell us?
Irrespective of your perception or perspective of the saga, what happened on November 26th was a rude awakening of previously dormant experiences of our decade long war. Thanks to the resilience of the average African to endure pain and suffering, the traumatic effects of the decade long war remains unseen and unspoken. The physical and psychological damage done to many civilians hardly makes the front pages of the rag tag brigade. Interestingly, the stoicism displayed by victims of our barbaric war is deeply rooted in our concept of fate and faith- “how for do-ism”. However, that does not in any way indicate that the scars of the war are fully healed.
If anything, November 26th was not only a reawakening, a peeling off of old psychological scars or a re- traumatising experience, but a clear indication of the fragility of our hard earned peace. One can only imagine the fear, anxiety, hopelessness and frustration that gripped many Sierra Leoneans on November 26th. That day no doubt brought back memories that many had struggled to bury and keep buried. Many would be inclined to consider it a mockery of, if any, lessons learnt. Despite the hidden effects of the war on our national psyche, there is an undeniable fact, that one of the visible vestiges of the rebel war has been our acquired capacity for violence. As a nation, our penchant to attract chaos, our propensity for violence, and our love affair with divisive politics is increasingly becoming common place. When we consider what we went through as a people, as a nation and as a country, DO WE DESERVE IT? What happened to NEVER AGAIN?
What is your wish for the New Year?
If you had access to Santa’s bag of wishes, PEACE would rank high on the bucket list of many Sierra Leoneans. Sierra Leoneans would wish that our politicians’ New Year resolution will be about the pursuit of peace and happiness for all. Our country is too small to be and remain divided. We are too interrelated to fight one another. There is no other Mama Salone. Is it time to give peace a chance? Is it time to put our country above our political party parapets? Is it time we lived together as one? Our politicians must realise that it is not enough to talk about peace. They must believe in it. It is not even enough to believe in it, they must work at it. After all, it is the season of good will. Show it.
Wishing you all a merry Christmas and a happy New Year.
Don’t forget to close the door when you leave the room.