Let’s end the politics of begging for mercy

3 October 2007 at 23:06 | 755 views

By Sheka Tarawalie (Shekito) in Manchester,UK

“What emerged in the last ten years, however, has been a pathetic and painful picture of socio-economic decline, corruption and generally poor governance. The challenge of any incoming government in 2007 will be to reverse this trend, by establishing proper governance and sustainable development, and generally breaking the depressing cycle of poverty.... This 2007 APC agenda for change is our manifesto....In its 24 years in governance, the nation experienced relative peace and stability, as well as remarkable socio-infrastructural development. These achievements were neither by accident, nor were they by dint of good fortune. They were the result of carefully calculated and prudent policies...It is on this well established tradition that the APC presents itself for the 2007 elections as your new government” - Preamble to the APC Manifesto 2007

“Solomon Berewa has been shoulder to shoulder with me, as we set ourselves to achieve the goals for constructing the foundation. He is the best foreman to guide this country as we embark on the next phase...” - Outgone President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah in his ‘Foreword’ to the SLPP Manifesto 2007

It was that forthright and controversial British political theorist, Edmund Burke, who gave a very succinct description of a political party as “a body of men (and women) united for promoting by their joint endeavours the national interest, upon some particular principle upon which they are all agreed.”

Burke insisted that the ultimate objective of this group is to gain political power as against all others. To do this, parties have different manifestos or platforms upon which they stand to convince the electorate to support them. Manifestos are not voted for in a vacuum, the people also look at the men championing the campaign - their character, their calibre, their commitment - in order to entrust them with the state ship.

With this, it is clear that political parties are the palm-oil with which we eat democracy. Without the existence of a ruling party and an opposition, democracy is absolutely dead. Burke is famed for his declaration that men should stand by these principles and there could be terrible consequences.

In the pre-Conservative/Labour politics of Britain, Burke (as an ‘Old Whig’) was in opposition to his long-time friend Charles Fox, who was a ‘New Whig’, on the issue of the French Revolution. Fox , after a long debate, said that even though they had differences still “there was no loss of friends”. Burke however quickly rose up to say indeed there was a loss of friends - that people who hold fundamentally different political ideologies cannot be in the same boat.

Just have a look again at the quotations above and see whether there’s the need to belabour the point that the elected APC government does not need any SLPP activist in its government - whether as home-front officials or diplomats. Now, this is not an indictment on the very laudable step of President Koroma allowing all former SLPP government functionaries to stay at their positions awaiting a smooth transition. I for one suspected that the President would not go ahead to form and announce a Cabinet when he had mandated a transition team to collate government work and submit findings on October 5th. If anything, a Cabinet should be named either on that date or thereafter.

My take is on those die-hard SLPP supporters who are currently dreaming wild dreams of either being retained as ministers or diplomats or as self-styled cum chameleon-like APC advisers. Politics is a game, and political parties are teams - the winning team gets the trophy, and the losers should make-do with a consolation prize called the ‘opposition’. It therefore beats my imagination that SLPP die-hards can even think of working for the APC - after what they had said and written about the party.

In my long, sustained ideological battle with the SLPP, I have had to undergo terrible experiences (imprisonment, name on a death-list, losing loved ones, harassment etc.), and I had to deny accepting any form of bribery and an opportunity to get an appointment because, from the beginning, I knew the SLPP was not good enough to govern Sierra Leone. This is not to mean that I hated President Kabbah. I had no reason to. But our political differences were so fundamental that I could not possibly see myself working under a Kabbah administration.

I had many friends within the SLPP government. Dr Kadi Sesay and Julius Spencer were my lecturers and, especially the former, we had a very fraternal relationship; George Banda Thomas and Thorlu Bangura (former Information Ministers under Kabbah) were all very friendly to me - Banda Thomas used to call me to his office for intellectual chats; Abbas Collier and I were both teachers at Lebanese International School, and up to the time I left Sierra Leone our relationship did not hit the rocks; Prince Harding also was a close friend; I had a cordial relationship with Information Minister Septimus Kaikai; and Solomon Berewa entered my family through an amorous relationship.

I use my discretion in not saying who among these approached me to take a position in the SLPP government and I turned it down - in fact several times. When in 1997 the SLPP failed to woo me over and decided to jail me first, they then approached my benefactor, Rev. Y.M. Kroma (may his soul rest in peace) and made all types of offers to him so he could withdraw his support to kill my newspaper. The end of it was that they got the old man, gave him a ministerial position, and then sacrificed him for slaughter by the rebels with the least form of protection - Kabbah did not even attend the funeral of his minister!

I had then made up my mind that I would remain opposed to the SLPP until it would be removed from power.
That opportunity presented itself in 2007. After I read the APC manifesto with its ‘Agenda For Change’ core principle, I threw my hat in the ring. I received all sorts of insults, blatant lies and even threats to get me extradited from the UK in the event of an SLPP victory, but I stood my ground - by my principles, as against the SLPP’s - to put things in perspective. And now that the APC has won, we are looking for nothing less than the agenda for change that was propagated.

We must be patient enough to give President Koroma time to pick his team - those that have shared the same political dreams with him prior to his election to the highest office in the land. A government of national unity, as the President has proposed, is a fine idea; but this is different from an all-inclusive government as being bandied by those whose lust to continue to stay in the corridors of power is insatiable.

My advice to the SLPP cohorts is for them to be men enough to say ‘we lost these elections, let’s see how we can gather ourselves to win the next ones’. This was what Ernest Koroma did in 2002. This is what political parties are expected to do - and not for failed politicians to start theorising on how they should be retained.

The Conservative party, which is in the opposition in the UK, has just ended its annual conference in the seaside city of Blackpool. For over ten years, they have been in the opposition, but they are not daunted. After all, Labour, now the ruling party, remained in the opposition far longer than that before Tony Blair’s victory in 1997. You enjoy the politics when people are opposed to the principle of leading opposition members trying to get a job in the ruling party. That is the essence of democracy. That is the essence of political parties.

Now, there are times when the need arises for political parties to align with each other to achieve a particular national or international goal. After achieving that goal, then they could form an alliance government. This was the type of government that Kabbah formed with Thaimu Bangura’s PDP after the latter helped the SLPP to gain power (he never included any leading member of the APC). Such party coalitions are common in Israel. This is why we would expect President Koroma to include members of the PMDC into his new government because they virtually accepted the APC manifesto when they lent support for the run-off victory.

Also, there are those, either SLPP or PMDC or PLP etc., who switched to the APC before the run-off. These too, if qualified for appointment, should have a share in government. It will however look abhorrent, even in the eyes of the international community who have seen the dismal performance of the SLPP both at home and abroad, for any member of that discredited party to be given a position or retained in any political appointment. The agenda for change should be implemented by those men and women who, prior to the elections, saw Ernest Koroma as the best man for the presidency - not by those who would only realize this after having been defeated. In the words of a British writer on political alignment, “ a broad church is one thing, but a church where people believe in God and others do not will not prosper.” The APC and the SLPP, since the beginning, do not believe in the same principles.

In fact, not changing these personnel would be self-defeatist and a clear undermining of the APC manifesto itself as quoted in the opening lines of this article. These people were the very ones that berated the APC by saying if it comes to power then there will be a one-party state; so what they are doing now by trying to stay in government is the virtual creation of a one-party state. No, that is not the change we campaigned for; that is not the change the people voted for. These people were the ones that said running an insurance company was not the same as running a country; so why do they now want to work for the insurance broker who has become president? These people campaigned that Berewa should be voted in as president during the run-off, so that there would be real democracy through a vibrant opposition; so, why don’t they want to be in the opposition? Appointing SLPP members in government will be like supping with the devil. It will be like lending credence to their pre-election assertion that the APC is made up of a bunch of illiterates who do not know how to run a country. It will also mean that the APC is actually not a national party. But we know the APC has supporters from all tribes across the country that is why it fielded candidates in all constituencies.

Come to think of it, I now know what influenced Siaka Stevens to create a one-party state in Sierra Leone. Stevens was man enough to form the APC in 1960 after a sharp disagreement on the Independence arrangements with the SLPP, refusing to join the SLPP again until he got victory in 1967. But SLPP die-hards are always afraid of being in the opposition. All they care for is their personal aggrandizement, how to be part of the system. So, long before the APC declared Sierra Leone as a one-party state, the opposition had all but disintegrated for selfish perpetuation into power. They just fulfil one of Edmund Burke’s famous quotes that “those who have been once intoxicated with power... can never willingly abandon it.” Certainly, if I were in these SLPP die-hards’ position, I would have tendered my resignation ever since. But they are waiting for the marching orders. Well, expect them soon.

As for actually naming who should be appointed to a particular position, I can only say I trust President Koroma to make the right decisions as to creating the balance between the old and the young, the home-based and the diasporans, the intellectuals and the common-sensers. Their common ground will be to work according to the plan that was presented to the people before the elections. And the president will indeed make it clear that unlike the “pathetic” SLPP, anyone caught in corruption will not survive. After all, there are many APC/PMDC supporters waiting in the queue. We want true - not SLPP-skewed - democracy to thrive in our country.

But, Mr President, I really like the way you’ve done things. There’s nothing as sweet as having your opponent to work for you and beg for a job. From the look of things, from the way these power-hungry ministers and so-called diplomats are behaving, it is clear that you’ve finally killed the SLPP (never to rise to power again), but please encourage the PMDC to be a credible opposition party that aims at gaining power one day.

The Ernest Koroma I have known, both personally and professionally, has always been his own man. And he does not need turn-coat advisers to tell him that. It even smacks of an insult. You have just eaten your cake; why do you think you can have it back?

God bless!