The outcome of the June 24 multitier elections left the Sierra Leonean electorates in limbo as the main political rivals, the ruling Sierra Leone Peoples Party (SLPP) and the opposition All Peoples Congress (APC), viewed the results announced by the Electoral Commission of Sierra Leone (ECSL) from conflicting perspectives. Based on results pronounced by ECSL, the SLPP claimed victory and began appointing or reappointing key government operatives. The APC resorted to boycotting governance, demanding disaggregated results by polling stations, claiming that the results announced by ECSL were skewed and flawed. What even added more salt to the wounds were the negative opinion expressed by the National Election Watch (NEW), diplomatically authored joint press releases by major Western allies, including the UK, USA, Germany, France and Ireland, the Carter Centre and the most recently published EU Election Observation Mission`s report overwhelmingly questioning the announced election results. Voices of some civil society organizations were puzzling – some maintaining neutrality and others hastily announcing support for or against the conflicting parties. The general electorates remained split between the conflicting parties. Those with IT knowledge and undeterred access to social media embarked on biased campaigns including dissemination of forged press releases and media clips for or against either party, which only exacerbated the political impasse. However, what remained unchanged is the Sierra Leonean citizenship identity, which we all share by nature destined by God, the Almighty. The future of our country became uncertain as some of us who know how to think out of the box knew that a common ground was needed to bring the political stalemate to an end for the greater good of our nation.
The diplomatic intervention of ECOWAS and the Commonwealth, which has transcended the impasse into signing a communique between APC and SLPP, should be welcomed by every well-meaning Sierra Leonean. Many sympathizers of the two parties parties think the mediation lasted for only three days and that the two parties have naively signed a very unfair and ambitious communique that they thought would have required thorough consultations. But this is far from the truth. As a conflict scholar and development professional, when I heard that the mediation delegation had started visiting major stakeholders, including President Julius Maada Bio, Dr. Samura Kamara and ex-president Ernest Bai Koroma, I knew that the stalemate was going to end very soon for the mediation/negotiation started the very day they began those visitations. They had applied the “Caucus” or “diplomacy” method of conflict mediation. After the consultative visits, many things might have happened behind the scenes, including telephone conversations. This method allowed them to familiarize themselves with the conflict properly and understand the positions of each party. The three-day session at Bintumani was just a recapping moment to collate what they had heard from them behind the scenes, gain public confidence in the peace process, take the opportunity to discuss it face-to-face and agree to a formidable solution.
If keenly analyzed the communique signed by the two leaders, a logical thinker could realize that both parties have made enormous sacrifices for the sake of peace in our country. The communique paved the way for the impasse to end in a transcendent manner that could benefit every Sierra Leonean, regardless of our post-election and pre-mediation expectations. The theory of transcending conflicts was developed by the Norwegian sociologist and peace researcher Johan Galtung, and it has been used in several conflict-affected communities and organizations across the globe. The ultimate goal is to facilitate a self-sustaining process that brings parties together instead of allowing a single party to sweep the board. Transcendence entails rethinking the circumstance to make what formerly appeared incompatible possible and create a new environment for them to grow as positive partners. Transcendence goes far beyond just a win-win solution.
Imagine a relationship in which the husband wants to send the kids to one school where he thinks they will get the best education, and the wife wants to send them to a different school where she feels they will develop better social skills. Unquestionably, both parties want the best for the kids in different ways. A good mediator may either propose another school with high-quality teaching and social skills included in the syllabus or send them to the father`s favourite school on the precondition that the father would pay for extra social skill classes for the kids. The kids will then end up acquiring both “high quality education” and “social skills”, while the parents remain a happy couple.
Relating the above to the APC/SLPP rivalry, both parties are posing to be our ultimate saviours who want to take us to the promised land of success and prosperity with countless jobs for the youths, human rights and justice for all, abundant food on our tables, unstoppable electricity, affordable medical facility, free quality education, safe drinking water etc. Those promises can be found in both APC and SLPP manifestos. So, if they are honestly committed to what they promise, we only need a common ground to understand ourselves since the objectives are the same.
What is absurd, however, is the intellectual dishonesty and unpatriotic tendency being demonstrated by some supporters of both parties who are questioning the signed communique. While some APC protagonists think Samura Kamara has betrayed them by granting SLPP another five years in governance, many SLPP protagonists believe the price paid for the peace, especially the quashing of what they called “ongoing politically motivated cases” against APC and its supporters, is too high. But wait for a moment: what assurance does the APC have that rerunning the election would grant them victory? On the other hand, even if APC can emerge victorious in such elections, what assurance do we (the electorate) have that SLPP would not challenge the result and call for another election, eventually bringing us back to where we are now? Or, for argument’s sake, since APC is primarily challenging the presidential result, let’s assume that SLPP allows them to take the presidency; how can they run the country with SLPP controlling more than 50% of the parliament? Have you ever considered what could become APC`s fate, including that of Samura Kamara, Ernest Bai Koroma and all those you refer to as political prisoners, if you drag SLPP into an election rerun and eventually lose? Is someone thinking out of the box?
Have we ever considered how many potential investors we are chasing away by having a boycotted parliament? Did you know that only Russia and China can invest in a country with only one party or none in parliament? Did you know that all development proposals we write are grounded on our firm commitment to and solid support for peace and democracy, which are impossible without a functioning parliament? If we genuinely love Sierra Leone and are not only interested in our personal gains, please let us loudly say “BRAVO” to APC and SLPP for signing that communique and encourage them to implement it honestly.
It is also a known fact that most of those who have been fueling the impasse from the diaspora did not even register or vote in the past elections. Some of us who witnessed the electioneering process from the beginning to the end can categorically state that APC did not get closer to SLPP in the past elections. Meanwhile, what we as ordinary citizens can’t confirm without evidence is the 56% allotted by ECSL to SLPP. So it was shameful to hear APC telling anyone they had won the elections. I want to believe that they had intentionally proclaimed victory to make their case more compelling. I visited many polling stations on election day and can categorically confirm that APC did not even have representation in many localities either due to a lack of proper coordination or the required resources.
The signed communique calls for a healthy, peaceful atmosphere for political rivals to thrive; our existing electoral system and framework to be adequately reviewed to meet the international standard; recommendations of electoral observer missions to be acted upon as quickly as possible to ensure more transparency and accountability in future elections; those who have been arrested in the wake of politically motivated demonstrations be set free, and those who are accused of corruptions be set free all for the sake of peace in the land that we love.
If it require us to have Samura Bio or Julius Maada Kamara for the sake of national peace and unity, what`s wrong with that? In my own opinion, this communique shouldn’t be seen as any deal more significant than the Lomé Peace Accord, which allowed the RUF rebels to roam free after 10 years of atrocities against innocent Sierra Leoneans. If SLPP had signed by then for the sake of peace, why not now for the sake of maintaining that same peace?