Protecting The Vote: African Politics. Is Africa rising? Are the opposition parties in Sierra Leone prepared for the election soon to come? An advice on what they can do to prevent the incumbent party from fraudulently claiming victory.
For the most part, incumbent political parties in Africa are notorious for returning to power even when the ballots are not in their favour. The most important reason behind this is the blatant fear that African dictators have: that once they leave power, the incoming government will come after them for the malicious acts they committed during their time in office. These may include money laundering, misuse of power, unjustified killings, to name a few. As such, they believe that luring one of their cronies to the presidential seat will spare them the justice they deserve.
In the Africa of today, the practice has become so commonplace that incumbent presidents try to do all they can to make sure that a close relative of theirs occupy the presidential seats that they themselves vacate out of their own volition or at the expiry of their mandate. Why should they not, when their time in office has been spent enriching themselves and their relatives while promoting cronies. It has gone to such a height that these cronies, in wanting to keep afloat self-serving governments that promote their interest by feeding them with morsels while they keep the greater share, are ever willing to die for just that cause.
On a fine note, a good number of these cronies are failures who had previously hit a brick wall. Their only means of survival is to keep alive those hands that feed them, which are the predator presidents. They have done no better in life, so they know no better. Such is life in old Africa, such was it, and such will it be until an African Spring, such as it happened in the Arab world, surfaces. Is this far-fetched? Definitely no; in fact it is likely to start anytime if it hasn’t already started. The African masses are so downtrodden that, pretty soon, they will come to realize that not to exist at all is better than to exist in pain, dearth, and hunger. At present, most are facing gruesome deaths in the Mediterranean Sea as they scramble to flee to the safety of European lands. Survivors who brave it to stay in their countries will sooner or later rise up and kick out the masters who have been suppressing them. Remember the animals’ revolt in George Orwell’s “Animal Farm”? Such is what is currently going on in the East African nation of Burundi and will obviously soon spread to countries that have been docile for years, especially in the west of the continent. The unbearable fact is that African leaders care less about their people.
As you know, what the so-called great men do, the lesser ones will prattle about it. Therefore, it is being rumoured that a number of African leaders want to circumvent their existing constitutions (the written laws of their countries) and try to rule beyond their time limits. While this might be far-fetched, considering what they see is happening in Burundi, some featherheaded ones may still try their luck. What they must not however forget is the fact that in this age of technology, their repressive acts may never go unpunished. It will be wise for them to consult with former Ivorian president, Laurent Gbagbo who, though a fool, might teach them to be wise. Or they may even consult with former Burkina Faso president, Blaise Compaoré, whose attempt to amend the Burkinabé constitution to extend his 27-year term caused the Burkinabé uprising in 2014 that made him flee the country like the coward he is.
The blame for Africa's progressive decline lies on Africans themselves. Besides dictators wanting to hold on to power everlastingly, tribalism plays a greater role in African politics. The masses will rather vote for a candidate who comes from their tribes, even though they may be aware that he is worthless, than vote for a progressive candidate from another tribal group who is far capable of solving their numerous problems. During election campaigns, the candidates make false promises and provide food as bait for the starving masses. This is enough to make them forget their past sufferings, thus giving their votes to the same Con-men who had left them to wallow in abject poverty and belly-grinding hunger for five consecutive years. This said, Africans who desire to become presidents add to their names and claim to be part of a major tribal group just to gain votes. The masses never stop to inspect how authentic their claims are. After gaining the coveted votes, the winner goes back to be his old self, and revert to looting the economy as best as he can. At the same time the uneducated masses that fall for his ploy will go back to being hungry, neglected and even suppressed.
While most African countries remain heavily indebted by way of the huge sums of monies that their leaders borrow from the World Bank for social and infrastructural developments, the streets are all but potholes, with no hospitals to take care of the sick, no pipe-borne water, and no electricity. Drinkable or potable water is uncommon in Africa regardless of the fact that a greater part of the continent has several major rivers and some of the largest fresh water lakes in the world. While some African countries blessed with visionary leaders are making gains in the right direction, most are not.
A case in question is the Republic of Sierra Leone where the current president came to power admitting that before him, the masses had suffered a lot, and that with him, they can be sure that their sufferings were over. Seven or eight years on, he has added more to the sufferings of his people. The picture of Sierra Leoneans in the capital city (Freetown) queuing for water that appeared in a WhatsApp posting a while ago was heart-wrenching and unbearable to look at. Freetown is in total and perpetual darkness because there is no electricity; it is like a picture from the days of Charles Dickens. The old hospitals that were built by the colonial powers are in a state of dilapidation and appear non-functional. The recent spate of the Ebola epidemic can serve as a testimonial to this. As if this was not enough to learn from, it is rumoured that the Ebola funds that were donated by friendly countries were severely misappropriated with impunity. It is unbelievable that those in the ruling class will choose to enrich themselves with funds donated to save the lives of helpless citizens. God help us! While successive governments had failed to construct modern buildings to facelift the city, nothing is being done to refurbish old ones. The Youyi Building at Brookfields that was donated by China in the early ‘80s and houses most ministries has remained untouched since the keys were handed over to the Sierra Leone government. It is now full of cobwebs, cockroaches and rats.
Over 80% of the population of Sierra Leone lives in abject poverty, with a majority of the population living on less than a dollar a day. Though diamonds, bauxite and other minerals bring a lot of wealth to the country, the wealth remains with the ruling political classes and little, if any, trickle down to the ordinary citizens. It is indeed sickening to face the fact that the hills in the west-end of the capital city are full of mansions belonging to the ruling political class and their supporters, while the poor in some parts of the east-end of the capital co-habit with pigs. What more can be worse? The citizens of a country as wealthy as Sierra Leone deserve better. The question is how long will this go on while the international community looks the other way?
Having traveled broadly in the universe, I can attest that Sierra Leone is the least developed country in the world when it comes to infrastructure. Even countries that depend wholly on donations look a lot better. Reputable education in Sierra Leone is verily a thing of the past. Unlike in the past, students today graduate out of high school highly ill-prepared and ill-equipped. A few Sierra Leonean students that I was lecturing in my college classes were so low-performing that I was forced to hold a meeting with them to see what their problems were. When I tried to know why they performed so badly in class, their confessions of how they passed their high school certificate exams were horrible. That part I will keep for the future. It was however so disheartening to know that a country once known as the Athens of West Africa can have a government that cares less about the quality of education the children receive. The question is what are the funds from the vast mineral resources and the IMF loans spent on? Those benevolent countries giving out the funds to the government will do much better by looking into how such funding is spent.
Funds that have been donated to fight the Ebola epidemic, if properly maintained, can go a long way in building modern medical facilities. This way, the nation will be sure to keep future viral infections at bay. Ebola failed to make inroad in other countries because they were well-prepared and had good medical facilities that the three most-infected countries lacked. While Sierra Leone should be having the best of infrastructures, schools, and medical facilities in the region, considering its mass mineral wealth, it is lagging far behind in every aspect of the word. Even countries in the sub-region that rely solely on tourism or animal husbandry fare better. Is this enough to make our political leaders feel disappointed in themselves and bow their heads in shame?
I have been to some African countries with less resources than Sierra Leone and yet there are no blackouts, no water shortages and no public transport problems. An example is the Republic of Mali, a desert country in West Africa that is landlocked and boasts only of animal husbandry and a few gold mines, yet the masses have what it takes to survive: potable water, 24 hours of electricity, and good roads. Politicians in Sierra Leone need to start loving their country and the people they are elected to serve. While a man can take to the grave good deeds, accumulated wealth stays behind. I would like our political leaders to read this article and go to bed waking up as completely transformed humans, mind-polished and rejuvenated that are ready to give to the masses what belongs to them.
While it is a fact that Sierra Leone’s economic malaise is self-perpetuating because of the types of leaders that the uneducated voting masses choose to put in power or because of the types of leaders that propel themselves to power by rigging elections, the world at large and a credible opposition party can go a long way to rein in a complete change by embarking on the below proposals:
a) Introduce mass literacy in the country. This can be done by making education a right not a privilege. All children in Sierra Leone must have the right to free education. K-12 education must be free, while opportunities must be opened to top performers for scholarships to study in the universities. While some may argue that scholarships do exist for university education, I know it is on a ‘who knows who’ basis. You have to know a politician or someone in their circle to get a scholarship; best still bribe your way. The right people don’t get it. I was once a victim of this, so I am reporting first-hand. If there is one thing that I will change in that country, it is fighting the cause of the poor masses. When I went to the United States in the late 1980s, I was introduced to a lot of Sierra Leoneans who were relatives of politicians and civil servants that went there on scholarships, but dropped out because they were incompetent. Those scholarships could have been better utilized by competent students that could become productive citizens. This trend has to stop. Every Sierra Leonean is a son of the soil and must have the same rights and privileges as the sons and daughters of politicians and civil servants. Education is the foundation of a society. This means that with mass education comes development. That is the answer to the developments in western nations.
b) The voters or masses also need sensitization when it comes to casting their votes. They must be taught to disregard the tribal or regional origins of the candidates. Being a Temne, Mende, Loko, or Limba matters less. If a Fula of Sierra Leonean origin can do the job better, vote him in. What matters in the end is a prosperous Sierra Leone with everything it takes to live like a human being. Your brother or sister is one who seeks the general interest of the country, not one who enriches himself, his relatives and his cronies.
c) While BVCs or Biometric Voter Cards are good, they are not enough to make election results credible. The APC party has been long known as the party that grooms thugs to help rig elections. At election time, these thugs are provided with everything that impair their thinking ability and are tuned to behave like zombies, to destroy those perceived to be opponents of a politician. The United Nations and the opposition party must do all they can to provide enough manpower as observers and, if possible, even UN forces to counter any such negative occurrence during the up-coming Sierra Leone elections. Otherwise those elections are set to be rigged. There seems to be everything in place to point to this. Rigged elections help repressive regimes to stay in power or to bring in leaders to continue on the same path. Organized election observers can greatly help to record how the election progresses and seriously curtail rigging. Make technology and activism the tools to help secure a free and fair vote. There is nothing better than making voters aware of how many of them are accredited to vote at each polling station, and by them witnessing their station’s vote being counted, while they take pictures of the results sheet and report it to the media. This will prevent maneuvering of the votes to change results.
d) Freedom of speech is a vital component of a civilized society. Unfortunately, it has hit a dead end in Sierra Leone after former President Kabba. A civilized society ceases to exist when people are punished for expressing their opinions. Why jail a journalist, a lawyer, or an ordinary citizen for expressing their opinions? People must be given the right to come together and demonstrate peacefully. It is only by doing this that a government is made to know where it is going wrong, and what it must do to pacify the masses. Cutting this off is nothing short of dictatorship. This must be amended immediately.
In conclusion, the notion that Africa is rising is as yet a far-fetched dream. Until Africans understand that being a political leader means a servant to the people and being ever ready to listen to them and fulfill their wishes, Africa will not rise. It is incumbent on all Africans, young or old, male or female to bring the notion of ‘Africa Rising’ to fruition. As a great continent with great people, this is within our reach and can be achieved if we change our mental image from selfishness to selflessness. Kenyan president His Excellency Uhuru Kenyatta’s recent statement urging Africa to be economically independent was quite in place. I hope many will think like him. There is nothing belittling or demeaning like panhandling. How do you expect to be respected when you are always at the doorsteps of colonial masters, with cap in hand, begging for help?
During an encounter with His Excellency Dr. Yakubu Gowon in a hotel in Paris in the summer of 2003, I learned a lot from a statesman who governed Nigeria when I was yet a bambino. One advice he gave me as a young man was to develop an unconditional love for my country and my people. He further added that the secret to the rise of Africa rests with Africans themselves and that such a continent with vast wealth and sharp people has no limit when it comes to progress, but only ifit is the wish of the people.Factors such as mismanagement of land, misused money, lack of infrastructure, disease, and conflict, to name a few, that are responsible for Africa’s regression are not at all unsolvable.