It is often said that a week in Politics is a long time, but so is a day in politics that could be twice as long. January 6th will join the very short list of dates in American and Sierra Leonean histories that will live in infamy forever. When Sierra Leoneans woke up on January 6th, to remember all those who died on that fateful day in our country, little did any one know that the same factors that led to the culmination of events in Sierra Leone that day will be replayed out on the big American world stage. The events of 6th January 1999 was the result of a failed state in Sierra Leone. In America, could the events at the Capitol Hill make such a claim?
Democracy is not a fail-safe political process but can be the best form of all political processes available. The election of Donald Trump in 2016 was not only a manifestation of white grievance but paradoxically, democracy perfected; giving credence to the adage that “anyone can be President”. But the events of Wednesday have left many thinking whether it’s time to admit that “Anyone can be President” has gone too far. We saw further glimpses into “white privilege” and “entitlement”; a central cog in wheels of America’s problems on Wednesday. Just watch the response from the law enforcement.
The symbolic attack on the very essence of American democracy deserves every condemnation imaginable. But the striking abhorrence is the collective hypocrisy from the main architects; as if they didn’t see it coming. The storming of capitol lies squarely with Trump. The signs have been there, but the Republican Party as a major shareholder, the media and all the enablers watched as Trump sleepwalked the country onto the precipice of self destruction. They watched him hijacked and transformed the Republican party in his own image. A tacit admission of such calamity was unconsciously summed up by VP Pence, when he said “lets get back to work” after rubber stamping Biden’s Presidency.
Paradoxically, it is nauseatingly pleasing to see how all of a sudden, his Republican enablers have woken up from their slumber of political inertia, to undergo bypass surgeries of their conscience. With extreme unction, their attempts to redeem their souls with resignations, and condemnations only confirms how they sold their souls to gain the world. They committed political adultery in their marriage to the American constitution and the people. For evil to triumph, it takes the good to do nothing.
Before the events of 6th January 1999, the government institutions in sierra Leone were in ruins. Democracy was substituted with one party autocracy. The rebel attacks in March 1991 were initially received with open arms; surprisingly by the majority of Sierra Leoneans which saw them as redeemers from the EKUTAY gang. Not until they started undertaking unanaesthetised surgery of limbs, that it dawned on us as a bad idea. January 6th should not be a lesson to be forgotten so quickly. It is a reference point for sombre reflections and reckoning for us all. But have we learnt our lessons?
With more time spent on what divides us than unites us, the currency of our politics is today is one of hatred, suspicion, paranoia, lies etc. Every political issue is interpreted along tribal or political Party lines, because the expected outcome did not happen. Today, we refuse to see the good in others and even wish and pray that our leaders fail; forgetting that their failure is our collective failure.
Amidst the plethora of diagnostic tests, hero worship and sycophancy contribute significantly. We embolden and bring out the worst in our leaders by allowing sycophancy to prevail. Because of sycophancy, our country loses the essence of checks and balances. We saw that with Ernest and most recently with Trump. And President Bio would not be an exception if we are not honest with ourselves. Sycophancy leads to autocracy, despotism, and tyranny.
Like Trump, we watch our leaders cull the civil service; with job security or promotion guaranteed only by one’s allegiance to the ruling party at the time. As a young democracy, we should be able to tell Retired Brigadier Julius Maada Bio when he is wrong. If his government tries to indulge in fanciful projects like building an airport in Bo, among others, we should be honest enough question and say so.
Equally, we should be able to acknowledge the good, the bad and the ugly as and when they happen. We should be honest enough to acknowledge Fatima Bio’s philanthropy and condemn any excesses or short falls. But we cannot hail Fatima Bio for dishing out aid, supporting our girls, promoting women’s issues, but invite Sylvia Blyden to justify why she bought fuel for several Okada riders; especially during the season of goodwill to all men.
So, how did we get here in the first place?
In 21st century politics today, the inclination to judge the fairness of democratic processes are no longer based on facts but the outcomes. The success of a leader now depends on how much hate, suspicion, paranoia, distrust, lies etc they can infest the electorate with. In recent times, we have seen especially our youths being urged, encouraged and incited to cause wanton destruction. In Makeni, it took a difference in opinion over a generator to lead to avoidable loss of lives. A generator. What happened in Makeni was not a riot. Riots are usually spontaneous but the one in Makeni was “intentional protest” for “structural violence”.
Bio made fighting corruption his signature policy. Like others before him, former President Ernest was required to account for his tenure of office by way of an interview. When he was spared the indignity of attending the interview at the CID like others, the mountain came to Abraham. The rest is history. Imagine if the ACC had not withdrawn from the combustible atmosphere that had been generated then? There is no doubt that there would have been more “Makeni Lives Matter”. A voice clip emerged later, purporting to show how badly Ernest wanted that interview with the ACC; after the youths had been exposed to harm’s way. Sadly, APC does not have monopoly over these kinds of behaviour; to manipulate the electorate. The SLPP is guilty as well; hence the difficulty to decipher these two political entities.
But is that not where the role of the media comes in? The intrinsic role of the media, which is fondly referred to as the Fourth Estate, is to inform, educate and entertain the masses. In America today, the media has been defined into Left and Right Wing, Liberal and Conservative; with each piper singing to the tune of their paymasters as echo chambers.
With CNN, NBC, MSBC and FOX, Newsmax, etc diametrically opposed, what passes for news these days is “Infowars”. We are now constantly fed from cradle to grave on diets of divisions, suspicions, hatred, paranoia, lack of trust etc; right in our living rooms. The ensuing cancel culture has categorised the media into “fake news” and “conspiracy theories”. The adage “never believe everything you read” has never been so apt. But with “TRUTH” as the first casualty, we are trapped in their ratings wars. We are now billionaires in information but paupers in wisdom. The erosion of traditional media filters by direct mail, talk radio, cable and most powerfully social media has led to rise of potent ideological movements on the right and left alike. Twitter has banned Trump, a demonstration that filters have a place in political communication and to claim the lost voices in public legitimacy. Is it too late, too little?
In Sierra Leone, we have the Red and Green Rags, with little in-between. The temptation to become political griots has not been helped by the economic situations; where media allegiances can be bought and sold at any price. With social media becoming the playground or fool’s paradise for unfettered and alternative truths, we have never been exposed to a worse national hazard. But what is the truth and who has control of the truth? It now depends on who you listen to.
Have we learnt lessons from 6th January 1999?
Unlike America, we have a young democracy. But like America, our democracy was painfully born through the barrel of the gun. America’s democracy is over two centuries old while ours is still in nappies. If this centuries’ old democracies can succumb to 21st century political hazards, where is the vaccine to immunise us against similar or a repeat prescription for 6th January 1999? An informed electorate is essential to the functioning of a democracy, and It is the role of the media to keep us the electorate informed.
As Sierra Leoneneans, do we need a double consciousness; to process the events of 6th January 1999 ourselves, and help the young people process it as well? Is it time to action civics; to give students a curriculum that offers the tools to choose the issues they care about? Is it time to teach them about the policies and governmental structures so they can use their voices and actions to make change? How many people could name the three branches of government?
Africa is familiar with the playbooks of leaders who refuse to concede defeat, carry out coups or incite violence. Where is Lauren Gbagbo when you need one? Interestingly, with the exception of Goodluck Jonathan, no other African leader reprimanded Trump. But Zimbabwe is crumbling under the weight of American led sanctions for not being “democratic”. Iran is being suffocated with sanctions, denied life saving treatments even in the face of the deadly pandemic; all in the name of promoting, protecting and sanctifying democracy. Does America still have the moral authority to preach democracy to the converted?
Sadly, the events at Capitol Hill will not only give comfort but also a reference point for our thuggish leaders. Just keep an eye out for the upcoming elections in Uganda. With the USA losing its moral monopoly on democracy, countries like Iran and Moscow seem to enjoy a good slice of schadenfreude at its expense. China will see its charade in Hong Kong as a toy story, while Venezuela’s Maduro, Karma; and that due to travel restrictions this year, the USA had to organise the coup this time at home. One good thing from the MAGA debacle is that, they have smashed the political futures of the Trump kids. Thanks to Senator Jon Ossoff, for his compliments on the role of Sierra Leoneneans for his victory in Georgia. Who said nothing good comes from our country?
By the way, well done to Fatima and President Bio for the free sanitary pads for the girls. But did President Bio need to put his face on it? That’s a woman thing, and its better left at that.
Don’t forget to turn the lights off when you leave the room; for politics can be too important to take seriously.