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2016 SLPP-North America elections: An analysis

27 October 2016 at 01:58 | 3043 views

By Phodei Ibrahim Sheriff, USA.

There is no doubt that the outcome of the just concluded regional elections of the Sierra Leone People’s Party’s (SLPP) fifth region of North America in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, is a strong portrayal of the deep divide within the party, and a strong confirmation of the political instability within Sierra Leone’s oldest political party in opposition.

The theme of the 2016 SLPP North America annual convention was “Peace and Unity”; and all speakers at the convention articulated that theme. It was clear that members of the party are aware of the brutal internal disunity and lack of peace and unity that have taken a firm grip of the party – and the need to counteract that very dangerous and ugly trend in the party. The problem that remains, and which was blatant at the just concluded convention was the costly hypocrisy displayed by party members. The activities at the convention were hypocritically sentimental and against the honest objective of the SLPP. Many believe that if the current political trend in the SLPP is not swiftly reversed, the party stands to lose the national election again to the incumbent All People’s Congress (APC).

Since the 2012 elections, the main opposition SLPP has been grappling with very bitter internal disunity – where the party’s core values have been gravely violated. Before then, the party’s core values included respect for elders, free, fair and transparent internal democratic processes, financial probity, accountability and fairness were respected by members. Today, the party grapples with actions by people that are in direct violation of those core values. It has been evidentially clear that the core reason behind the party’s internal disunity is the presence of camps created by the party’s flag bearer aspirants – either by the flag bearer aspirants themselves, or by their supporters. The issue of "campism" in the SLPP is so bad that many now believe – based on their actions, that the officers of the National Executive Council (NEC) of the SLPP have themselves failed to stop the malaise as they are widely perceived to be associated with flag bearer aspirants. There then exists the issue of conflict of interest, lack of trust and respect for those who are charged with the responsibility of administering the party. Henceforth, the party has consistently failed to be focused, and present itself as a better alternative to the people of Sierra Leone. That failure has now trickled down to the fifth region (diaspora) and the economic backbone of the party.

Prior to electioneering in North America, various flag bearer camps had envisioned their individual strategies for the elections in Sierra Leone since the region is entitled to 20 delegates at the national convention in Sierra Leone. Well, there are four automatic delegates out of the 20: the regional Chairman, the Secretary General, the Women’s Leader and the Young Generation Leader. The rest of the 16 delegates are to be shared among the chapters. Well, it turned out that one of the flag bearer aspirants in the person of Retired Brigadier-General Julius Maada Bio, former military leader of the country who returned the country to democratic rule has strong support in the United Kingdom. His main competitor in the race for the party’s presidential ticket in the person of Dr. Kandeh Kolleh Yumkella has been bent on amassing similar support in North America. However, Yumkella doesn’t have the monopoly to make that happen so easily in North America as Hon. Alpha Timbo, former Minister of Labor and Industrial Relations, who is considered to be the most focused, respectful, dignified and result-prone candidate for the party’s presidential ticket also has strategic and considerable support in North America. So how could Yumkella amasss support in North America compared to Maada Bio in the United Kingdom? Indeed, the strategy had to be by getting more regional delegates to vote for his own supporters who vied for several positions on the regional executive.

According to the SLPP North American constitution, each chapter in the region is entitled to base delegates of 3, and an extra 1 delegate per every other 15 members. In essence therefore, for every 15 members, the chapter gets 1 delegate; every 30 members, a chapter gets 4 delegates; and if a chapter does not have up to say 30 members, it is required to pay $500.00 for each additional delegate. Hence, to gain control of the regional executive, the Yumkella camp had to take advantage of the delegate system by buying delegates at the cost of $500.00 per extra delegate. Using this method, the Yumkella camp was able to have a considerable number of delegates in the following chapters – Washington DC Metro Area (largest membership), the Delaware Valley Chapter (second largest membership), the New England Chapter, the Ohio Chapter and the North Carolina Chapter. The Bio camp downplayed the importance of using the delegate system, and hence, did not strategize on it. The Timbo camp was strategic enough to target the automatic delegates, with the high possibility of getting more from chapters when the day comes.

Breaking this down further, the following regional candidates were broken into the following camps: Regional Chairman: Lawrence Sandy was in the Kandeh Kolleh Yumkella (KKY) camp, Mrs. Seray Dumbuya in no particular camp, but strongly associated with either the Bio or Timbo camps, the Vice Chairman: Musa Kamara not associated, Mrs. Martha Tsgali associated with the KKY camp, Secretary General: Emmanuel Allie – KKY, but who is reportedly not enthusiastic about KKY anymore after his observation of KKY’s viability during his last visit to Sierra Leone, Ibrahim Sheriff – Timbo camp. Women’s Leader Kadie Ballah Jalloh went unopposed – Timbo, Young Generation Leader also went unopposed – not associated, but likely in either the Bio or Timbo camps. The rest of the candidates were mainly from either the KKY or Timbo camps, with the Bio camp concentrating more on the politics on the ground in Sierra Leone. By these sentimental demonstration of how people vied for the various positions, it was clear that the entire internal democratic process in North America was not about the SLPP, but rather about flag bearer aspirants – especially the KKY camp, pursuing their own personal agendas. This was clearly demonstrated by the indirect support that was demonstrated by Chairman Lawrence Sandi in his first administration for KKY. Many of the regional members questioned his offering of the SLPP membership card to KKY in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania at a time when the regional membership did not have party cards. KKY himself had a cloud of doubt that hung over his true allegiance to the SLPP after his consistent denial in radio interviews in Sierra Leone to be a member of the party, and finally registering with the party in January, 2016.

The KKY camp also silently came to terms with what many believed about their candidate and his supporters – that they are arrogant and playing dirty APC politics in the SLPP to clinch the party’s presidential ticket, and that many of his supporters are strongly linked to the APC. Many even believe that most of the supporters of the KKY who were accorded delegate slots wouldn’t have as they are very new in the SLPP. So how KKY played the politics? Well, they played tough politics. The Timbo camp was strategic enough to play by the rules, but quietly entrenched its grips on the automatic delegates: Women’s Leader, Secretary General, and possibly Young Generation Leader that gives them a total of 3 automatic delegates out of the 4. There is also the likelihood that Timbo would get some delegates from the chapters. That is strategic and legitimate.

So from the analysis above, it is clearly noted that the party’s internal division trickled down to the fifth region – though with membership resident in the most advanced democracy in the world. So the question then is asked as to what the result of the elections turned out to be for automatic delegates. Well, it turned out to be this way: Regional Chairman Lawrence Sandi – KKY, Secretary General Emmanuel Allie – KKY with a question mark, Women’s Leader Kadie Ballah Jalloh – Timbo, Young Generation Leader Mohamed Bah – Bio/Timbo or not associated. The rest of the delegates will be from the various chapters in the region. On the overall though, about 85% of the regional executive is made up of supporters of KKY, and if the decision of that executive influences any votes at the SLPP’s national convention, KKY will have an edge – but that is not likely.

The above analysis therefore conforms to individualistic and self-centered politics within the SLPP. The burning question that remains is, “Does the SLPP North American regional elections contribute positively to the election of SLPP back to governance?” The ultimate answer is certainly “NO”, and in fact widens and deepens the disunity in the party. Taking us back to the theme of “Peace and Unity” at the 2016 North American annual convention, one can conclude that the theme was a lip service to the party, and the real actions of the party functionaries in the region and abroad were deceitful and mostly against the real interest of the party. That message of peace and unity can be realistically enforced by an inclusive executive, and not an executive that is perceived to be one-sided. No matter which way this executive tries to convey its message, the regional executive of the SLPP North America elected at 2016 annual convention is predominantly KKY, and would hardly get others to trust them with any critical decision. Implicitly, the other factions on the ground, where the true politics of the party is, are now galvanizing to turn that tide. This trend will ultimately turn out to be ugly and not in the best interest of the party.

It is therefore very important for the party to think strategic at this time, as sentimental reasoning is dangerous for its survival. The party must do a serious SWOT analysis of its strength, weaknesses, opportunities and threats to determine the best way forward. In the SWOT Analysis, I bet that it will discover that the flag bearer aspirants who are deviating from the core values of the party, who fail to follow legitimate traditional norms of the party, but rather inject APC-style politics to gain an edge, are the threats; and that the inability of the long-standing members of the party to stop the non-traditional trend present serious weaknesses.

The opportunity left is to elect as flag bearer someone who plays by the rules, who is not in the mix of all of these manipulations, and who has the potential of dividing the APC votes in the northwest of Sierra Leone. Other than that, the election of a regional executive of the SLPP-North America at the 2016 annual convention in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania is a confirmation of the entrenched instability in Sierra Leone’s oldest political party – the SLPP.