Measure for measure

20 January 2008 at 23:34 | 2289 views

By Moses Massa, Freetown.

In one of Shakespeare’s masterpieces, Measure for Measure, we see an apt dramatization of hypocrisy, abuse of power and authority.

This play has been considered a dark comedy because it does not fit into any niche characterized by Shakespeare’s plays. It is not a comedy since the main theme of the play deals with a serious issue not intended to make the reader or audience laugh.

Nor is it a classic tragedy because nobody dies at the end or a romantic play because there are no love speeches. In short, because it resists easy interpretation and titillates our senses, literary critics consider it a problem play.

Without wasting time, let’s summarize this play and see what lessons it has for us:
In Measure for Measure, the King of Austria left his country for a brief journey and authorized his most loyal official, Angelo, to rule on his behalf. Angelo is the main character in the play and soon after his appointment he faced a difficult case to handle.

A young man, Claudio, pregnated the woman he had engaged. According to the law, any intercourse with an unmarried woman was punishable by death. Claudio had a beautiful sister, a nun, Isabella, who decided to save him. Thus, she had an audience with Angelo to plead for mercy for her brother. Angelo had had a strong sexual feeling for Isabella but because of her chastity he could not have his wish.

Now it was time to get what he had always craved and he presented Isabella with a difficult condition: to have sex with him for her brother’s release but Isabella refused.

Ironically, Angelo had a very strong reputation as a decent and upright man and he threatened the woman that nobody would believe her if she decided to make it public.

However, after Isabella realized her brother was in danger she agreed to the demand of Angelo but on her own terms; she decided to execute it at night. Surreptitiously, she made a ploy with a maid who had been engaged to Angelo but was dumped by him. The night came and this woman came in disguise to Angelo and the two had sex. When Isabella later asked Angelo to free his brother he refused to fulfill his own part of the deal. Here was a man who had a very austere reputation, a strict ruler without mercy but who, like a normal human, had his own weaknesses but was full of hypocrisy.

The King later returned and Isabella knelt before him asking to be heard so that she could claim justice. The King asked her to speak but told her to ask Angelo as he was the one who could give justice. Isabella accused Angelo and exposed all his hypocrisy before the King and his company. She explained the ordeal she went through with Angelo but the King who had arranged all this pretended not to believe because of Angelo’s reputation. The witness, the woman Angelo had had fun with was called to come forward and explain. She told him of the engagement between herself and Angelo and how she had slept with him in place of Isabella. Angelo admitted that he broke the marriage contract and that he was right in doing so.

He then wanted to manipulate; he alleged that these women were lying and that they should be punished. Interestingly, when he realized that he was caught with his pants down(literally) he knew he was faced with the same fate (death) that awaited Isabella’s brother. The play ended in a somewhat dark and funny way; if Angelo was to receive mercy he had to marry the woman he slept with, which he did.

Claudio, Isabella’s brother, married the woman he had pregnated and the King then married Isabella. In short, this play epitomizes the stark contrast between perception (appearance) and reality; it also portrays how our laws and perhaps our morality are arbitrary, hypocritical and relative. It again shows how we ought to temper power with mercy and exercise moderation over things we otherwise would have done in similar circumstances.

Now, what is the objective of this brief digression? In short, it has to do with the hypocrisy, lies, insincerity and the sanctimony (self righteousness) of some of our politicians; the ramifications as well as the political conundrums of the opposition.

It is exactly a week when the SLPP had, let’s say, its 1st annual National Executive Council meeting among many to come. The issued communiqué and the letter to the Sierra Leone President made some interesting reading, which we shall address later, and also popped up some serious or what others may consider mediocre concerns. We should not think the latter than try to understand what was rightly or wrongly intended by our own individual interpretations. It is with great trepidation that one writes this piece since one does not want to be misunderstood.

It is fitting to say that although one is not an aficionado of any political party ,one feels he has the right to express his concerns no matter how insignificant or untimely it may seem. Interestingly, the opinion expressed here is sure to generate emotions and confusion, of which, one is convinced rather than intensifying the confusion, it will try to dispel the simmering emotions.

What seems like a somewhat post election defeat reminiscence is still mind boggling. The defeat of one of our most respectable parties, the SLPP, should not be a thing of concern as the election’s conduct was free and fair and the party lost. The ignominy is why some cannot still accept defeat, lay their broken hearts to rest and try to strategise ways to win the next election.

All great political parties do lick their wounds after any electoral defeat. Depending on the scale of defeat, they try to see where they had gone wrong with their people and then improve on their weaknesses. They don’t whine or grope in the political dark with unnecessary excuses and cast aspersions on others for their failure.

It is time our leaders, or those who claim to be, realize that politics is not milk and butter, which contrarily it seems, in the sense that those who lead will always have to face an accountability test in the ballot box. As a country and a nation, we need strong characters and an able leadership who put the interest of the nation first.

When the former US Vice President Al Gore lost the 2000 Presidential election against George Bush (Jnr) he put up a legal fight but as the case seemed to pull his nation apart, he said although he disagreed with the decision of the US Supreme Court he would concede defeat for the sake of his nation.

That was and is what a good statesman is all about. The inverse is seen in Kenya, where both leaders claim to love their country, yet in the name of democracy, are killing their own people. If one’s guess is right this was the path some people or without any prevarication, say the SLPP, wanted to take us in the past election had Sierra Leone’s Supreme Court been naïve to have upheld the subpoena( to challenge the result) filed by the drowning SLPP.

In fact, such an idea, dangerous as it were, was a shame to the intelligence of the people of this country who through out the past decade have been with the SLPP through thick and thin against the RUF, NPRC and AFRC madmen.

There is a shadow of bewildering amazement as to why respectable people of this country, mainly from the opposition, are still talking about election fraud with the aim of discrediting the hard won good reputation of NEC and its officials.

The case of those two Electoral Commissioners is just a sham. It revealed a lacklustre performance in their inability to do what was expected of them; if rigging was part of this performance package. It was not a well thought plan. It is like an individual, say a good student, who has been bamboozled with the promise of leakage by a fifth columnist, went to take the exam only to realise that the questions have been changed. If this is the case, do you think the student would say what happened or simply not put the blame on the lecturer or some remote factors?

Let me tease a bit more, say an athlete whose trainer has given him/her performance enhancing drugs and fails the doping test, who gets the blame?

To bring to your notice, after the 1996 election, which the SLPP won amid a glaring display of mass rigging and annulled results, the opposition did not put up a fight. It was clear at the time that rigging tool place but it was not contested for the sake of peace. We were then fed up with the men in green (the NPRC). If the opposition had stood their ground, the outcome of the election would have been compromised and the khaki guys would have stayed in power.

A similar thing happened in the 2002 general election with the infamous ‘wuteteh’ victory; an election without void votes in areas where the literacy rate is less than 30%. True, the opposition grumbled but let the last morning sleep pass.

In other words, they allowed the result to go unchallenged. Sorry, one should say, but if that is what has become of the opposition’s turn now, please do likewise; however, it is important to reiterate that if you do likewise (stay silent) that does not mean the past election was rigged by the ruling government except for the desperate attempt to rig by the SLPP, which turned out to be a futile one.

In this life, which is like a sport, especially football, there are controversial decisions that could go against a team with undesired consequences. Even in such situations the team affected does not go after the referee or the football association; instead it disciplines its players with the required physical fitness and ethical concerns of the game.

This is what politicians like you should do to win back the respect and confidence of the people’s of this country. It’s a pity that you have still not learnt from your past mistakes. Life is not so simple to understand; it’s complex to comprehend and if this may seem to confuse. It is called tautology: a statement that seems true regardless whether parts of it are true or false. An example is “All crows are either black or they are not black”.

The art of politics is not something people rush into; although we sometime say it is not a trade that needs any special training or qualification. On the contrary, it is a profession that requires those involved in it to have respect for people regardless of their status, age, sex, skin colour, beliefs or language.

As a group of citizens or a political party we (including the so-called opposition) have to respect the decision of the people at all times because as we all claim, democracy is about the people, by the people and for the people, and not about selfish, corrupt, proud and even blood thirsty individuals who often kill their own people in its name and freedom. Significantly, democracy is not all about election (voting) but the availability and efficiency of resources and institutions that provide people with their basic needs of life regardless of who is in power. Its time we wake up.

Somehow one does not intend to blame the SLPP’s Secretary General but his so-called ‘talking tough’ was a remote cause in his party’s defeat. Either as present or future public figures, people like him should be cautious or slow to speak as they say.

Before the election, he spoke pompously not considering the effect of alienating Mr.Charles Margai and so what came out of it? He knows the answer. As a Secretary General, he should learn the art of spin or what is called good public relation etiquette, meaning, he should know how to win the hearts and minds of the ordinary Sierra Leonean who would have to vote for his party in any election the party hopes or wants to win. He should not antagonise people by merely trying to please some of those whose interests he purports to serve.

Even in our daily life, it is easy for people to think they are intelligent, rich, famous, and powerful or whatever, but we often fail to understand that we are what we are by the support of others. No man is an island, they say. For example, if a scientist is to win a Nobel prize there is a committee which sits to determine the chances of award; also celebrities depend on their fans or those who read the magazines that provide them with the millions of dollars they have at their disposal.

People like Bill Gates, David Beckham and the rest depend on consumers (i.e. people) for their success and wealth. The more, the better; the more, the merrier if we have respect for people, and know how to sell our trade to the ordinary folks who determine our success.

So people like this Secretary General and Dr.Sama Banya, fondly called Puawui, should behave appropriately. However, it is sad to say that the recent comments made by these pollytrickians (coinage) in certain newspapers are not in the interests of the country. Is it huff and puff or a simple lot of gibberish?

It seems that some are seething with rage; they are like a volcano waiting to erupt and spew out its lethal molten magma. Ironically, this is what their recent activities suggest. Writing a personal letter to the President is not wrong if the claims or complaints are credible.

However laudable the intention was or justifiable some may say, we have not seen (correct me if I am wrong) the opposition over the past decade doing this. We say in Krio ‘komra foll no de jomp fire’ (a hen with chicks does not pass through the fire).

The seriousness of the SLPP letter and the communiqué was what seemed or could be interpreted like an open threat to resort to violence if certain conditions are not met.

Sadly, when things go bananas or berserk we (the poor) suffer and experience the pain of their madness; the hang over of their power drunkenness and the quenching of their blood thirst, not their immediate family. It is also a shame that some of these so called politicians do not seem to care for their poor relatives who are sometimes caught in the madness.

It was stated in the letter that the Chief Electoral Commissioner has unilaterally ‘removed from the Commission certain staff and replace them with surrogates perceived to be loyal to the ruling APC. Such actions depict that the Commission has compromised its neutrality and impartiality’.

Thus, if the allegation that NEC has removed or dismissed certain junior staff could be supported with tangible evidence, thus it is a contravention of Section 33 (Chapter IV of 1991).

Thus, for space, one will somehow repeat the error of the Secretary General in a mild fashion by summarising what Section 33 says. It states, subject to the provisions of this Constitution (i.e. Chapter IV of 1991), the Electoral Commission shall be responsible for the conduct and supervision of the registration of voters for the purpose of all free and fair elections or referenda. However, the Constitution itself is not clear as to whether it is the Chief Electoral Commissioner or NEC that is responsible for the appointment and removal of junior staff as inferred in the provision of Section 33. But for the sake of clarity let’s explain further.

It is always easy for one to cry foul but sometimes difficult to understand how and when the rule has been broken. However, the problem with some aspects of this sentence is the malicious intent to defame the character and integrity of the CEC and the Electoral Commission of appointing people the Secretary General insipidly called ‘surrogates’ loyal to the ruling government.

It is a shame when people of assumed intelligence just use words blindly or out of context to confuse in the guise of impression; it often portrays the reality that none is as dangerous as a fool with a cause. Now, for those of us who have neither read nor have the said Constitution, let’s see what the Constitution says about the Secretary General’s other claims.

It is ironic that he mentioned but never quoted what Section 33 says at least to give us a brief idea of what he wanted to communicate, and if it seems that he is now the Director of Communications and Public Relations, we as a public are kindly asking him to make us read whenever he quotes from the Constitution in any future press release. Now we turn to the issue of appointment and removal of members of the Electoral Commission.

For the appointment of members to the Electoral Commission, in Section 32:2 (Chapter IV of 1991), it reads: “The members of the Electoral Commission shall be appointed by the President after consultation with the leaders of all registered political parties and subject to the approval of Parliament”.

Thus, it is clear that the present Electoral Commission was appointed by ex President, Dr.Ahmed Tejan Kabbah, approved by both the SLPP and APC members in parliament. It is even laughable that the Secretary General now calls for the reappointment of the sacked Electoral Commissioners (if true, is it constitutional?), or how could he ask for the fresh appointment of another technical staff when the present one has not fully served its term of office.

Note that in the same section, 32, sub section 7 (a), it reads that a member of the Electoral Commission shall vacate his office ‘at the expiration of five years from the date of his appointment’. Please help us, Mr. Secretary General, with the calculation as we somehow understand that you are a very intelligent economist and a former World Bank employee.

In removing an Electoral Commissioner, in Section 32: 8 (Chapter IV of 1991), it reads: “A member of the Electoral Commission may be removed from office by the President for inability to discharge the functions of his office (whether arising from infirmity of mind or body or any other cause) or for misbehaviour”.

If it is true that these Electoral Commissioners were sacked by the President, then it is fair to say that their action of disassociating themselves from the announcement and publication of the final result could be interpreted not only as their inability to perform but gross misbehaviour and lack of professional ethics.

Also as a moot point, which some may discard as irrelevant, any future Constitutional Review Committee should also consider including the opposite female pronoun (Her) to the masculine pronoun (His), since we then had or now have both female and male serving as members of the Electoral Commission.

Again to add some salt into this political soup, it is clear that the Secretary General does not know his role. If he does not have any legal background, there are a lot of legal heavyweights within the party that he should always consult before dangerously trekking on legal minefields.

This is not the kind of behaviour or expertise expected of people who are involved in a sensitive occupation like politics and we only hope Mr Secretary General will understand the limits of his professionalism. Politicians with this kind of character need to show people respect because the power they crave and are hell bent on regaining was given to them by the people of this country through the ballot box.

This so called tough talk is as hollow as a net; so dumb and pathetic like the dead; short lived like pleasure and so illusive like an unaccomplished dream. Stop!!!! What is wrong with your tongue? Why is it that many of your statements are so acerbic and full of polemics instead of cajoling the voters? Do you think you appointed yourself to that respectable office some of you once enjoyed, and why would you want people to respect you if you do not show respect in return? Such people should go back to school so that they could learn how to speak in public as well as in private.

With all due respect, some of these people now blowing the whistle of annulled election votes were part of the system that conducted the SLPP hotchpotch delegate election at Makeni, paving the way for our then Honourable Vice President, Mr Solomon Ekuma Berewa as the flag bearer of a failing army (may his restless soul now rest in the peace of political oblivion), and the alienation of one of the party’s most loyal, trustworthy and passionate member, Mr Charles Francis Margai , with the emergence of his political party, which became the Tsunami of their defeat in the political sea of an inept leadership.

It was no secret that many of the party’s supporters were angry over this and even when they (Sec. Gen & Puwai) were convinced that the conduct of the election was a mockery of democracy, did they ever write a letter of protest about its fairness and constitutionality to our former President, Dr Ahmed Tejan Kabbah? Sadly for many readers, this paper is not a court of law for them to argue their case but in the court of a somewhat objective public opinion (i.e. the juror) they did not. But will this kind of double standard surprise anybody? I guess not.

These same people now talking about the rule of law in an election they knew they lost and hassling over the irrelevant issue of annulled results; which is like, say an aborted foetus, if they had faced a similar position they would not have done what they now demand, instead they would have spurned the opposition with conspiracy theories. If we are to digress, it is like what is happening in the current US Presidential primaries, when Hilary Clinton was leading in the early opinion polls; of course, she was exuberant with self confidence, but as she received her first shock of defeat in the Iowa primary to Barrack Obama and later won her first primary, things have heated up.

Sadly as the popularity of Obama continued to soar, the ugly mask of race politics emerged when Clinton made some sarcastic remarks and innuendos about the black civil right activist, Martin Luther King, Jnr. This is a reflection of the world of politics with its lies, hypocrisy, ego, hate and conspiracy theories to always bring down the other just to gain power. Such an attitude of insincerity and utter defiance of reality by these political glass breakers, including some of our own politicians, is an apt description of what Shakespeare once said in his play, Measure for Measure:

But man, proud man, drest in a little brief authority
Most ignorant of what he’s most assured,
His glassy essence, like an angry ape,
Plays such fantastic tricks before high heaven
As make the angels weep; who with our spleens,
Would all themselves laugh mortal.

When a new government decides to change some of the key officials from the outgoing government would we in an honest manner call it mass sacking or witch hunt? Except the opposition show us anywhere in the world where a change of personnel has not occurred when a new government is elected , one is right to say that their letter, press release and comments are but a rant and an epitome of sewage politics.

Again, if their claims of the continuous harassment of SLPP supporters are but true, why has the local or international media not reported it? Do you think these other supporters (i.e. the opposition) will be so timid of this government not to have retaliated on its own supporters who reside in their own space or districts? Come on! If politics is all about filth and lies then clean and moral persons like you (Sec. Gen & Puawui) should not be involved in it.

Finally, the lesson opposition politicians should take from this defeat, as said earlier, is for the party to take a stock of what one may call its political assets, liabilities and see where it all went wrong that caused the burst, then start the process of political therapy that will make a political health recovery or turn over. It may suggest that the just concluded national meeting intended doing this, however, to some neutrals, it seems to be the start of a wrong dose of political prescription.

Why are you threatening not to participate in any future democratic elections until all your preposterous, unrealistic, insensitive, polemic, acerbic and portentous demands are met? All is not lost yet my brothers; we have to take heart; be graceful in fair defeat (don’t be angry over the word fair, which I know you will) and be grateful in victory. If you work hard as opposition in the true interest of the people of this country, our people are not and will not be ungrateful to give you another chance of power when time and circumstance demands it ,as it was the case of the APC’s recent victory that people like you are still sulking over. History is always there to give us hope that no man or party can remain in power forever. As a party you should learn that ‘experience is what you get when you did not get what you wanted’.

I leave you with this: Cheer up SLPP!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Photo: Solomon Berewa, the SLPP’s presidential candidate in the last election. He now lives quietly(some would say not so quietly) in Bradford, United Kingdom.