Sierra Leone is gearing up for its forthcoming elections in June this year, and there is no running away from the fact that the politicking and political gymnastics are in full swing. However, it is the events leading to the climax in June that have caught the eye of some political connoisseurs. There is no doubt that the political harvest season has been littered with controversies in the form of injunctions, criminal court hearings, accusations of tribalism, and the perennial DNA of corruption. It is an open secret that many see politics as a pastime that is too important to take seriously. Ironically, it is these controversies that seem to fire up both parties and put pay to any hint of political apathy from supporters of both camps. While the SLPP is trumpeting a landslide and “no run-off” outcome, the APC is quietly boisterous about their “back to power”.
In the run-up to the APC convention in Makeni this year, the APC Party was relieved to get the all-clear for its flag bearer aspirant to conduct a rally in Makeni. The police had reportedly declined a previous request, allegedly due to the ongoing court case in the Chancerygate affair. Interestingly, some APC members misread this to mean an acquittal for a case that was yet to be tried in court. The police need to give clearance for any gatherings in the country. To deny Samura such an opportunity could have translated into a guilty verdict for many. Emboldened by clearance, an injunction by one Songu from Kono District seemed to throw a spanner in the works.
Many accused Songu as acting in revenge for Sam Sumama, who seems to find himself in apolitical limbo, thanks to his political oscillation. The country held its breath as an injunction to stop the long-awaited APC convention was issued in the eleventh hour. Rumours had it that it took some diplomatic muscle to reverse the request, which many believed would have been the blue torch paper for serious civil unrest in the country. Despite any legal merits to the injunction, the APC thought that it had the fingerprints of the SLPP written all over it. Did the SLPP press the panic button?
Did the SLPP Score an own goal?
Our judiciary is legally institutionalized to be neutral. Is it? Do people see our judiciary as independent as it should be? No. Many see our judiciary as the invisible long arm and cloak of all sitting governments. They see it as an important tool our successive governments have used in the dark arts of politicking. If so, was lifting the injunction an own goal by the SLPP? Therefore, the accusation that the SLPP was behind the injunction was not surprising. The convention was eventually held amidst a raucous fanfare in Makeni. The turnout was colossal, leaving many APC supporters confident that the Party is on the verge of a return to power. Unfortunately, the outcome of the convention has left a bitter taste on the political taste buds of many observers.
Did the APC score an own goal?
No one needs muscle memory to recall the APC’s perennial accusation of the SLPP as tribalistic. No sooner had the APC concluded a well-attended and organized convention that resulted in the nomination and selection of Dr. Samura kamara to lead in the coming elections than the accusations of tribalism started flying about. The nomenclature of the APC executive was painted as wholly made up of “Northerners”. In a recent video clip on social media, the First Lady Fatima Bio said that a large percentage of the APC executive came from only one street in Kamakwie in the Northern part of Sierra Leone. With “northerners” making up the bulk of the APC executive, did the Party score an own goal by giving President Bio and his SLPP a boost of whataboutery? Does the APC have the moral rectitude or high ground to lecture the SLPP on tribalism any longer? Can the APC continue to accuse the SLPP of tribalism? Is the APC tribalistic? If so, has the APC killed the concept of tribalism as a focal point of criticism on our political canvas? Would the issue of tribalism be a question of the pot calling the kettle black?
But as comedy goes, the government postponed the Army Veterans Day, which coincided with the return of Samura Kamara from
Makeni to Freetown. Irrespective of your political persuasion, you cannot help but accept that Samura Kamara’s return to Freetown was not only triumphant but had all the trimmings of Palm Sunday. It was messianically refreshing for the Party that had endured weeks of legal and political hurdles and gymnastics. Some saw the coincidence of his return to Freetown with the Army Veterans Day as a deliberate attempt by the government to rain on his parade. Others saw it as an act of panic, a vivid reminder of how Ernest Bai Koroma panicked and became obsessed with Yumkella’s “two-sim” syndrome. Did the SLPP panic then?
So, what did we learn so far?
If we look at the turnout that accompanied Samura to Freetown, it is plausible to conclude that the injunction to stop the APC convention might have energized the party base. Contrary to the intended outcome of the injunction, such a move backfired spectacularly. Rather, it created a siege mentality that was grounded in a culture of grievance and a gnawing sense of encirclement in the APC fold. To the independent voter, Samura might have looked like a victim, which in itself could provoke some sympathy for him. Did some see this as President Bio’s Yumkella moment of panic or obsession? Although the APC remains boisterous about the rally that accompanied Samura to Freetown, many are questioning the percentage of registered voters in the APC entourage. Most SLPP supporters believe that most of those who attended the rally were not registered voters. In politics, it is one thing to have large rallies, but an entirely different case for registered voters, who go out and vote on the day. Did the APC ensure massive Party leaning voters during this period? Time will tell.
During the mid-term census, the APC predominantly advised its supporters to boycott the exercise. Will that come back to haunt the Party? By advising their supporters to boycott the mid-term census, did the APC induce a stance of non-engagement with the government among its supporters? If so, did these supporters register during an exercise that was overseen by the same government they boycotted? Did the Party create voter apathy in their camp? Did the APC ensure that, unlike the advice given about the census, their supporters registered in large numbers for the election? Many political parties rely on census data among others, to calibrate their electorate and their chances of winning. Does the APC have access to the census data, which they boycotted? Is that why most SLPP supporters are not worried about the palm Sunday-esque rally that greeted Samura in Freetown? Will it be a question of the rally crowd versus the registered voters’ crowd?
Are Sierra Leone and America Siamese political twins?
Like the Republican Party in America, the APC lost power to the Democrats and SLPP, respectively. Both losing parties have since lived on a culture of grievance for oxygen. The republicans believe to this day that the election was stolen, while the APC believe that the sticky fingers of the international community fixed the election in Sierra Leone. With Donald Trump increasingly looking like the 2024 candidate for the Republican Party, Samura Kamara’s candidature has been signed, sealed and delivered. However, both candidates are currently embroiled in legal conundrums bordering on the criminal side. Unlike Samura, many see Trump’s quest for nomination as a ruse to insulate himself against any probable indictments. With Samaura visiting or frogmarched to America for the Chancerygate affair, the question many are asking is whether he would be disqualified if found guilty. Unlike Samura, Trump has already predicted his indictment and “imminent’ arrest; in a bid to wind up his supporters for anarchy.
In layman’s terms, the law of the land in Sierra Leone stipulates that one cannot run for public office if they are involved in state affairs. With Samura Kamara facing allegations and court hearings for corruption, did the APC take a risk in nominating him for the flag bearership? That was the dilemma the APC might have grappled with; to be or not to be. If the APC had decided against nominating Samura on the off chance (I repeat, off chance) that Samura would be indicted, it would have been a self own, finding him guilty even before a trial. Making him the flag bearer means that the die has been cast, and the Party would have to live with the possibilities.
Good governance requires working toward common ground.
Don’t forget to turn the lights off when you leave the room.