Opinion

How to Choose the Right Politician in Sierra Leone

13 May 2009 at 01:47 | 873 views

By Christian Sesay, PV Correspondent,Texas.

I think it was Winston Churchill who once said: “A politician needs the ability to foretell what is going to happen tomorrow, next week, next month, and next year: and to have the ability afterwards to explain why it didn’t happen.”

With that in mind, I went with my colleagues to hear a campaign speech from now President Barack Obama at the Fort Worth Convention Center in Texas several months ago hoping that he will foretell the end of the global recession. One of my colleagues asked: "What does it take to succeed as a politician?"

My direct answer was: "Smooth talk! Smooth talk! And, a heap of lies!"

In some ways, my colleagues were lucky: They got a blunt but honest answer from me. Those without the skills of an eloquent speaker did not bother; those with some sweet words and a gift for lying knew what kind of culture they’d encounter if they did.

I consider them lucky because few people will be that frank about their outlook. Instead, the rhetoric of President Obama and the lavish suits and wardrobes such as those of Sarah Palin which were designed to seduce voters and the general public alike would have pulled the wool over their eyes.

A lot of effort goes into making these politicians including those in Sierra Leone look inviting, saintly and successful. But it is all a publicity stunt! The art of leadership goes deeper than that. The task of the leader is to get his people from where they are to where they have not been.

The same is true for their policies as well. Most politicians now espouse a wide array of policies and government programs with the hope of seducing voters when they sincerely know that they can’t deliver. They place great verbal emphasis on a brighter future for their subjects and a civilized society where accountability is often cherished as the “so called” watchword. Campaign speeches and pledges will all suggest that they will keep your best interests at heart.

Yet the question I am most often asked is: How can I tell whether a particular politician will be a great servant to his people? Somehow the great speeches, elegant palaces and the policies don’t seem to answer that question. Most often, I’m asked the question by the poor and the hopeless who are constantly trying to read between the lines to find out whether a particular politician will be a friend to the needy or just another arrogant jester.

We’ve learned the hard way that what you hear is not always what you get. But for anyone who cares about their land, Sierra Leone, and that’s just about everyone — it seems to get harder and harder to get a true picture of politicians. Majority of Sierra Leoneans will tell you that they will stay out of politics if they could- unfortunately though, Aristotle, quite often than not, will tell them that “Man by nature is a political animal” and Sierra Leoneans are no exception. And so, a lot of us are trying on how to identify a good politician when we hear and see one.

Of course, everyone wants something different from those in power. But the Great Minds will dictate that there are common denominators of being happy with your government. These are trust, pride, and results — trust that the government and other leaders are reliably, fairly, and openly informed; pride in one’s government and leaders; results seen from the process of governance. Politicians are not about smooth talking, flamboyant lifestyles, flashy suits, motorcade rides, and all the other juicy government perks the position comes with; they are about great commitment to serve its people and make a difference in their lives.

So what does a great politician do? How can you recognize one when you hear one? Here are some thoughts from Tolbert Small on a good politician:

When the power structure squeaks, “Right is wrong.”

The Good Politicians shouts out, “Right is right.”

When the storms of unjust wars rain down upon us,

She fights for the peace found in all of our hearts.

She knows that once the seeds of peace have been planted in blood;

They will always sprout forth again and again.

When the clouds of death hover over us,

The Good Politician stands strong against the winds of tyranny.

She speaks the truth when lies roam the land.

She strives for the mountain tops for the poor and helpless.

She fights for:

Healthcare,

Education,

And economic justice.

She fights for

The end of racism

And religious bigotry.

She fights to end hunger, greed, and poverty.

She bows to neither kings nor presidents nor princes of wealth.

The Good Politician only bows to the people she serves.

One of the most promising and popular governments in Sierra Leone was the NPRC government under the stewardship of Valentine Melvin Strasser and his cronies. They came in at a time when the country needed redirection. They promised the nation heaven and earth. They succeeded in mobilizing the youths to support them. Fourah Bay College students were misled when they marched down Mount Aureol dancing in anticipation of a brighter day. But even the most senior leaders among them succumbed to power, greed and injustice - As our Creole brthren would say, “Di rest nar history.” By contrast, they made Joseph Saidu Momoh’s “Palm wine drinking Ekutay” government looked like the best even though it was one of the worst in the annals of Sierra Leone.

Now, 17 years later, some of these same old NPRC, APC politicians are hanging around with little or nothing left to show. The same can be said about some of the past SLPP government politicians as well - more of the same. They had a choice between the good, the bad and the ugly. They chose the ugly and they paid for it on Election Day.

In assessing past government politicians, perhaps the greatest single indicator of all is to examine the nation’s development index: What amount of progress has the nation made? What is the rate of literacy? What is the infant mortality rate? What is the unemployment rate? — What’s the point if you can’t show anything for it? These are some of the questions that Sierra Leoneans will ask themselves when they enter those polling booths. Yes, it is true that most Sierra Leoneans might not have heard about the annual UNDP development metrics but what is also true is that they surely know it because they can feel it. He, who wears the shoe, knows where it burns.

Mr. President, Dr Ernest Bai Koroma, the people of Sierra Leone cannot make a cumulative judgment of you right now because it won’t be fair to you as you are still at the helm. Don’t be a politician like those old APC and SLPP rogues before you. Instead, choose to be the greatest leader you can be and set yourself apart from the rest by doing what is right for the people of Sierra Leone.

For in the words of John Kenneth Galbraith, “All of the great leaders have had one characteristic in common: it was the willingness to confront unequivocally the major anxiety of their people in their time. This, and not much else, is the essence of leadership.” The ball is in your court.

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