May God Save Sierra Leone

5 July 2006 at 10:36 | 721 views

"Until the day when human rights are guaranteed to all, democracy respected, moribund laws expunged from our law books and our constitution upheld, Sierra Leone will continue to wallow in political decadence because of lack of accountability, transparency and responsibility."

By Mohamed Bangura, Toronto, Canada

As Sierra Leoneans brave themselves for yet another round of presidential and parliamentary elections in 2007, many political pundits are predicting the demise of the ruling Sierra Leone Peoples’ Party (SLPP) as the electorates are poised to give the leadership a run for their money. This rife speculation is demonstrated by daily newspaper reports indicting the government of one form of corruption or the other, coupled with its thin-skinned approach in defending the human rights of the very people it claimed to represent.

Agreed, the government came to power in 1996 at a time when the kleptomaniac National Provisional Ruling Council first under Valentine Strasser and later his successor, Maada Bio, virtually had a field day in depleting not only the natural resources of the country, but resorted to a competitive and frenzied quest for fancy cars and outlandish life styles to the disgust of the populace.

This, to say the least, was not only a scandal to the international community, but exposed the immaturity of the young, semi-literate military guys who ended up making mockery of the criticisms of corruption they leveled against the All Peoples’ Congress Party it ousted in a military coup in April 1992.

By the same token, the SLPP is indicted of no longer having the moral authority to continue to govern the country because of its embroilment in the same economic corruption manifested by its predecessors. The economy is utter rubbish, to say the least. Examples for this are abound but prominent among them are corruption allegations against former Marine minister and an erstwhile deputy minister at the Finance ministry, among others.

Whilst the former was punished by a transfer to a less “lucrative” ministry, the latter was nominated to the Anti Corruption Commission (ACC).

Established in response to pressure and threats of withholding aid by the country’s financiers, particularly Britain, the ACC is so far another public institution that barks but never bites because its operations are virtually incapacitated by accusations of selective justice and the withholding of relevant information by government officials.

On the political front, although the government is credited for bringing peace to the country by virtue of the fact that it happened to be the party in power at the time, yet the way it managed the security of the country is just too abysmal.

First, it was in 1997 that the president kept information to himself about an apparent coup in the making by the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council headed by fugitive Johnny Paul Koroma. Caring only for the safety of himself and his power base, president Kabbah ran away to neighbouring Guinea even before the coup could materialize. If for anything, where moral conscience would have spoken to the actions of the president, Kabbah should have resigned his position or by now facing charges of “misprison” of treason.

Instead, the opposite happened. He lobbied the international community, and even clandestinely contracted the services of the notorious British military outfit, Sandline International, to restore him to power at all costs. Upon his restoration, his thugs resorted to the vandalism of properties of alleged “anti democrats” and others burnt to death in a typical Machiavellian political style.

Up to the time of writing this piece, the Kabbah government lacked the knack to bring to justice anyone in those state sanctioned killings of perceived opponents. Rather, it hastily arrested and tried members of the AFRC and their supposed supporters in a controversial kangaroo court and hastily executed them.

Furthermore, although the SLPP government provided the tacit and uncontested support for the formation of the Civil Defence Forces (CDF) and then deputy Defence minister and Special court indictee, Sam Hinga Norman, appointed by the president to command such a force with instructions to work closely with the West African peacekeeping force, EECOMOG, to restore the government from Guinea where it found sanctuary, yet when it came to the crunch, the government hastily disassociated itself from the actions of chief Hinga Norman and the activities of the CDF.

This is nothing but daylight betrayal that deadened the moral conscience of president Kabbah and his political cohorts pretending to rule a country.

The worse for the SLPP came again in January 1999 when it was so much ensconced in politicking that it sacrificed the security and safety of Freetown residents. In spite of repeated notifications by residents in the East end of the city that rebels had infiltrated the city, the government dismissed this as mere speculation not until after six thousand innocent and unsuspecting citizens were killed. The looming question then is why should there not be a mass lawsuit against the SLPP government in general and president Kabbah in particular for carelessly compromising the security of the state and the people both in 1997 and 1999?

In recent times, hired thugs of a sitting SLPP Member of Parliament ordered the beating up of the late editor-in-chief of the For Di People newspaper, Harry Yansaneh who later died of his injuries. Whilst the government keeps on ranting about defending human rights, Yansaneh’s assailants are yet to be brought to justice because the Attorney-General is contesting the findings of the Coroner’s report. This potentially makes the government difficult to escape criticisms that its actions are not too different from a military government, only that in the case of the latter, the peoples’ mandate was not sought unlike in the case of the former.

In retrospect, this reminded me of the day I was arrested along with colleagues of the defunct “New Breed” newspaper in 1993 by the NPRC government over an article culled from Sweden’s “Sunday Expressen” newspaper in which Valentine Strasser was implicated in the sale of about 43 million dollars worth of diamonds.

The NPRC, like the SLPP, immediately rounded us up and incarcerated us for over a month at the notorious Pademba road prison. One of my battery of defence lawyers then was no other than the vice-president, Solomon Berewa.

“This is a case of gross human rights violations, and we shall fight this case to the fullest in order to ensure that justice prevails in this country”, I vividly recalled Berewa tormenting the khaki boys in power.

But alas! Thirteen years later, this same human rights “advocate” in his capacity as the number two man in government is now presiding over the daily abuse of prisoners at Pademba road, the imprisonment and killing of journalists, and scores of others sent into exile with impunity. Did I hear someone say only fools don’t change? If so, then where is the moral conscience of our leaders who would shamefully take the podium and spew political promises that mean nothing to them?

Until the day when human rights are guaranteed to all, democracy respected, moribund laws expunged from our law books and our constitution upheld, Sierra Leone will continue to wallow in political decadence because of lack of accountability, transparency and responsibility.

Added to the above is the fact that the press, the fourth estate, is under serious attack by the SLPP government. It is this state of affairs, therefore, that has convinced most Sierra Leoneans, both at home and abroad, and foreign observers and commentators to unanimously come to the conclusion that the SLPP has lost the moral authority to continue to govern the country. God save Sierra Leone!

Photo: The author,Mohamed Bangura.