Salone News

If only the SLPP and Tejan-Kabbah had listened

7 November 2007 at 19:06 | 1110 views

Commentary

By Edison Yongai, Sydney, Australia.

If the SLPP leadership had listened to the voice of the people since it came to power a decade ago, there is no doubt they would have ruled the country for many more years to come. Unfortunately, their over-confidence that the crown would always be theirs in spite of all things, and their under-estimation of the will of the people, laid the foundation for their demise.

Many people think Tejan-Kabbah himself was not a “bad leader”; the problem was that he found it difficult to wriggle out of the cocoon he found himself in. His choice of ministers and other officials to help him run the government was too poor and one-dimensional to call for any commendation from any sane political analyst. Party loyalists and over-ambitious politicians and business people, with smiles wider than a volcano, milled around him to win his favour. Overwhelmed with his sudden and unexpected rise to the highest seat in the land, Tejan-Kabbah forgot the old adage that your best friend is the one that is kept at arm’s length.

Right from the start, right-thinking individuals and newspaper editors gave salient pieces of advice to the former president, especially on his choice of ministers and the placement of his priorities. If those pieces of advice were heeded over the years, the SLPP would have smoothly emerged as the winner of the recent elections in the country. Instead Tejan-Kabbah’s government took those advisers as enemies of his government and so they were hounded and “silenced”. The government was now run not on cautionary words from outside but on praises within itself, which more or less became a pick-axe to dig its own grave.

I can remember very well when The Point newspaper (of which I was editor) and a few other outspoken and patriotic newspapers in Sierra Leone singled out some ministers of the SLPP government who had very poor records of probity and were thus known to be overtly corrupt and whose ambition of joining the government was nothing other than trying to satisfy their insatiable greed. Those ministers were identified in various newspaper reports at the time (I find it needless to mention the names of the affected ministers here). The then president Tejan-Kabbah either knew it was not mere criticism but the truth and failed to accept it or didn’t know much about what the newspapers were trying to tell him, thanks to his long years of absence from the country.

As a result those corrupt ministers were retained in his government until the truth of what the newspapers were saying dawned on him and he began to “sack” those whose shameful actions were no longer a secret and were becoming an embarrassment to his government. It was then too late; the cankerworm had already eaten too deeply, but the government still wanted to show the world that it was serious over the fight against corruption. Those who could see with a third eye knew it was more of a cosmetic cleansing than the actual act of clamping down on corruption.

A minister relieved of his ministerial post because of fraudulence was rewarded either with cash or given a new appointment somewhere else. No serious punishment was meted out to corrupt officials and business people either because of kinship or party alliance. Corruption then became a fashionable enterprise so that honest but poor Sierra Leoneans, who found it shameful and sinful to plunder and enrich themselves with public funds, were termed by corrupt officials as slothful sluggards.

Right-minded Sierra Leoneans saw all that and began to think that the SLPP was not being serious on cleaning the country of the rampant corruption that was institutionalised by previous governments; only die-hard SLPP government supporters and short-sighted people thought otherwise. A funny but serious situation was then created and a wedge placed between one section of the press and the other so that while one section opposed corruption, perhaps as a means of safeguarding the said democracy, the other section became praise-singers so much so that the government failed to see where and how it was going wrong. The country’s poor and ignoble situation then continued and the government continued to bask in the self-satisfied illusion that everything was all right.

Even the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) that was set up was a mere window dressing and it might have well not been set up. It became a clownish ensemble than a viable entity and the end of the string tied to its waist was in the hands of government officials. As a result the corrupt activities of prominent government officials and friends and supporters of the ruling SLPP party became invisible in the sight of the commission.

Many analysts believe that Tejan-Kabbah would not have remained president beyond his first term in office due to his shallow understanding of the country and its politics. His mind had been clogged up with UN bureaucracy and “sweet talks” and he thought he would apply that same phenomenon in Sierra Leone’s politics, which eventually contributed to his ineffectiveness as a leader of a country torn apart by a devastating war and poor political leadership, coupled with the lack of morality in high places.

What however helped Tejan-Kabbah was the war which, while prolonging his government’s stay in power, was eating the poor and helpless people at the bottom of the ladder. His government drew sympathy from the international community partly for being an experimental democracy harassed by a gruesome war, but then the international community’s trust in the SLPP government began to wane as they saw no improvement in the lives of the people after the war, even though huge aid money was being poured into the country.

The government kept feeding the people with rhetoric (like “food self-sufficiency in 2007”) instead of performing. As a result those that were poor and hungry continued to be poor and hungry and those that had fattened themselves on fake contracts, diamond-smuggling, etc. continued to blossom. The vicious circle (or the replication) of Joseph Momoh’s government became evident. The hungry people became angry people and the country’s more radical musicians began to sing; what they sang was obvious. By then the undertakers were working desperately to put the finishing touches to the coffin prepared for the SLPP government.

One good thing politicians in Sierra Leone have failed to realise is that Sierra Leoneans had long been in slumber but the reality of the war had woken them up. The scales that had impeded their vision over the years have fallen off and their blocked minds have been cleared up. The result of it all was the outcome of the last parliamentary and presidential elections which saw an indolent government dishonourably booted out of office. That was a rare occurrence in African politics but it happened in Sierra Leone with a lady (thanks be to God) steering the election wheel. Would it ever have happened if a man had been at the wheel? That’s the big question Sierra Leoneans and the world at large will continue to ask themselves. Long live Sierra Leone and long live Sierra Leoneans everywhere.

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