Salone News

Open Letter to President Ernest Koroma

17 October 2007 at 13:00 | 3481 views

Dear Mr. President,

Our leaders are so used to hearing either their own voices or to flattery and insincere sycophantic statements that their reaction to genuine honest truths and criticisms, which deviates from the usual you-are-the-greatest pap, is usually to seek to silent critical voices. I should start by advising you sir, for obvious reasons, against such practice.

I don’t need to remind you that opposition parties seldom win elections - it is the ruling parties that lose them - and surely you and your party didn’t win the 2007 elections per se, it was the SLPP that lost them! What this means is that you benefited from the people’s discontent with the SLPP. Your recent victory is no different from the SLPP’s victory in 1996. Such victories, and the support which bring them about - and this could be seen in the case of the SLPP - are always tenuous, ephemeral and fluid and could easily be lost. You can however build on and consolidate such support by good deeds and genuine efforts at improving the lot of the masses and initiating progressive programmes that makes us Sierra Leoneans happy and proud of our country and its leadership. That the SLPP lost in the last elections, is an indication of how they may have squandered an opportunity given them to get the country out of the quagmire that is characteristic of its existence. You and your party have been given a historic opportunity, and we are watching.

Some people might think that it is too early to start criticising you. I come from a school that believes the contrary. Criticism is an essential part of political and social life. Rather than seeking to silence, target or dismiss them, a wise leader takes his critics serious. If you want proof of the consequences of not taking your critics serious, ask the SLPP. Your administration, some will say, might still be very young, still trying to find its feet, but there are already signs (which are not very encouraging) that you are heading down the path of previous administrations in this country, and that is not a very good sign, it could only be a recipe for failure. Be reminded sir that we are watching and listening, and will judge you by your pronouncements, actions, achievements and failures.

I hate to remind you sir that you already have started reneging on some of the promises you made during the elections campaign. You did say, for example, that you wouldn’t appoint to cabinet any person elected to parliament for the simple reason that your party wouldn’t afford to be distracted from the task of governing. I wonder how you would explain the inclusion, in your cabinet, of persons who were duly elected to parliament in the last elections. I also am not sure whether you have separated the offices of Minster of Justice and Attorney General. If you haven’t then that is also another promise that you have reneged on. These might be considered insignificant issues by some, but to me, they are fundamental since they were part of the election package you presented to this country, on the basis of which you triumphed at the polls. It is too early to start reneging on promises, no matter how insignificant they might be considered. I do not know the circumstances that led to such U-turn, but if political pressure in your party is one of the reasons for such a change of heart, it shows that you are susceptible to pressure and that’s not a good thing.

I also cannot help but notice the composition of your cabinet and its somewhat blatant Northern preponderance. Don’t get me wrong, I am neither an ethnicist, nor a regionalist. I believe in the best people serving in government, regardless of which ethnicity they belong to and which regions they come from, as long as they can perform their duties well. I also do not believe in so-called “governments of National Unity”. I believe that if a political party wins an election, it should be allowed to govern, based on the programmes it has for the country, that it presented to the electorates during the elections campaign period. But your party, like every other political party in this country, is also a national party. That national character, regardless of where the bulk of your support comes from, must be reflected in the character of the government it forms. One might say whatever they like about Siaka Stevens, or even Tejan Kabbah, but their governments were always national in character. Do you mean to tell us Mr President, that you could find candidates of different ethnicities all across the country to contest all 112 constituencies in the past elections, but cannot find competent people from those same places who are loyal to your party to serve in cabinet? I guess the point I am making is that your cabinet is not reflective of the national party that the APC claims to be. It looks dangerously regional/sectional in my view, and that does not augur well for national cohesion. For you to succeed, you’ll have to lead a united country, and your proposed cabinet is not the right step in that imagined unity.

Moreover, some of the names are also suspect. I don’t mean to cast aspersions on anybody’s character, but a party like yours, which carries a huge historical baggage, has the burden of proof that it is indeed a new political outfit. You did well in constructing a new image for your party and in predicating your continued existence on a clean break with the past. However, a new image is nothing if it cannot be matched with deeds that reflect that image. The inclusion of some names which are linked to past scandals is not good for a party that is trying to clean its image. I am not debating the guilt or innocence of those linked to scandals; I am just concerned that they are included in a government that would do things differently. Don’t get me wrong, I do respect age and experience, and I believe in the presumption of innocence until found guilty in a court of law. I also believe that if anyone is qualified and has the right credentials, they should serve. But why wouldn’t you find people with clean records, people who are not linked to any scandal, so that you can clear any doubts that people might have, if your interest is really cleaning your image? The inclusion of certain names has just made some of us suspicious of what is really going on.

There are also reports of an internal shift taking place in the police, in which high ranking police officers who hail mostly from other regions of the country and who hold positions high up in the police hierarchy are being moved down that hierarchy and replaced by officers of Northern origin. The only two people who have not been touched so far are the first and second in command. These shifts (which might appear as demotions and promotions depending on how you see it), coupled with the composition of your cabinet would, if you are not careful create a perception that you have a regional, if not an ethnic, agenda. Be mindful sir that perception is everything in politics and no matter how good your intentions are and no matter what you do, if by your actions and policies you inadvertently or otherwise created a situation where people perceived you as a closet ethnicist with a hidden regional and ethnic agenda, you would lose credibility and your reputation would suffer as a consequence. What this means for a politician that seeks elected office in a multi ethnic society or a president that has as one of his foremost priorities uniting a fractured country, is anybody’s guess.

I have observed since I returned to this country about two weeks ago that various interests groups, individuals, based both at home and in the diasporas, have been, and still are, pitching their tents, jostling and jockeying for positions and influence in their quest to break bread with the ‘gods’. There is nothing wrong, of course, with anybody wanting to serve their country, and I applaud anyone, especially those who have returned from the diasporas, that genuinely want to make a difference in this country. But you should also beware and be careful with those that are always smiling in the face of the power, those for whom the ‘gods’ can do no wrong; those sycophants and low-life self seekers who would stop at nothing in order to benefit from any given situation; those who see your election as an opportunity for personal aggrandisement. If you really are interested in genuinely moving this country forward - and believe me Mr President, I understand the enormity of the task that any head of state of this country has - then you must deny these people that opportunity.

Our people have suffered for far too long, they have placed their faith in you and your party. The only thing that gives me hope, despite all that we have been through as a people and country, is the resilience of the average Sierra Leonean who negotiates hardship, poverty, hunger and disease everyday. It is that hope that one day things will get better, that somehow somewhere someone is listening to their cries for help, which as you might know have been going on for over four decades now. Will you be the one to heed their cries or will they be disappointed and betrayed once again? Is this a new dawn in this country or another missed opportunity for social transformation? The ball is in your court. Your actions and decisions would have real consequence on people’s lives and we are watching to see how the drama unfolds and we would continue to observe the actions and listen to speeches in the acts and scenes in this new play in the political life of Sierra Leone. 2012 may be far away, but is it really?

I thank you for your kind attention.
Zubairu Wai

*Zubairu Wai(photo) is the Features Editor of the Patriotic Vanguard. He is in Freetown doing research for a PhD in Political Science. He is a student at York university in Toronto,Canada.