From the Editor’s Keyboard

Political Consciousness and Democracy in Sierra Leone

20 August 2007 at 22:44 | 586 views

Commentary

By Abdul Bayraytay, Deputy Editor, in New York,USA.

Sierra Leone is again at the political crossroads as elections held on the August 11th, this year failed to produce an outright winner for the presidency in the West African nation.

The country is bracing itself for yet another round of voting in a presidential run-off as the opposition All People’s Congress (APC) Party under the leadership of Ernest Bai Koroma could not or may not garner the constitutionally required 55% votes after the abysmal performance of the ruling Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP) with vice-president Solomon Berewa as flag bearer.

As the possibility of a run-off becomes real, the PMDC party, formed barely months before the elections, has been largely seen as the real winner in this year’s polls. This was clearly demonstrated by the not too surprising political beating the ruling government suffered in some parts of its traditional strongholds of the south and east of the country.

Even though the electorate could be non-western educated, the message they have succeeded in sending to the government was that they should not be taken for granted all the time. This view could not be divorced from the SLPP insulting people by allegedly dishing out bags of rice, sugar, constructing local court houses and dishing out financial remuneration to a cross-section of traditional rulers as a way of “buying” their votes and those of their followers.

With Charles Margai and his PMDC party declaring its unflinching support for the APC in the event of a run-off, the ruling party has been given triple beatings; first by the APC, second by the PMDC in its traditional strongholds, and last but not the least, by the PMDC allegedly out rightly rejecting offers of lucrative ministerial positions including those of the Information and Foreign Affairs ministries. In essence, the SLPP is now changing the song from the PMDC being a “group of ants”, courtesy of SLPP scribe Jacob Saffa aka JJ Blood, to one that now really matters now that the policy of continuity is at stake or gasping for breath.

The overwhelming support the APC received in the just concluded polls and the decision of the PMDC to join ranks with the former did not however come as a surprise to the electorate and political observers. The SLPP has over the years been indicted on several charges of corruption both locally and by its multilateral donors including the British.

In response, the government succeeded in establishing the Anti Corruption Commission, an institution widely seen as a dog that barks but lacks the canines to bite. No wonder individuals like Dr. Abass Bundu who was found wanting in the sale of our country’s passports and had to repay well over one hundred thousand United States dollars was given a red carpet welcome by the SLPP in what was dubbed “political reconciliation”.

As such, corruption thrives among a cross-section of politicians and their cronies, civil servants and rogue government contractors having a field day in a vile competition of displaying the wealth of the nation not in the construction of bridges and roads, but in building palaces in particularly the west end of Freetown complemented by the sordid display of luxury cars while the people wallow in abject poverty, perennial power outage, lack of basic medical facilities and pure and clean drinkable water.

Also, the arrest and trial of late deputy defense minister Chief Sam Hinga Norman by the UN backed War Crimes Tribunal with the tacit support of the government that created the Civil defence Forces (CDF) to ward off rebels during the height of the civil war was nothing more than the betrayal of a hero to his death in prison under murky circumstances. Symbolically translated, it means the SLPP could not be trusted as it has the tendency to betray friends once the political status quo is at stake.

However, while the just concluded polls cannot escape criticisms of regional politics, the fact that Charles Margai has declared for the APC inspite of his “rejection” in the north of the country could go a long way in submerging hopeless politicians preaching tribal and regional politics as a means to gain political power. This was exactly how it went in the 1996 presidential run-off elections when the late Thaimu Bangura and his People’s Democratic Party (PDP Sorbeh) declared their support for Tejan Kabbah and his SLPP to the displeasure of the United National People’s Party headed by veteran politician Dr. John Karefa Smart.

As the country marches towards true democracy and the resolve of the people, all patriotic Sierra Leoneans both at home and abroad should be seen to give their unfettered support to the chief electoral commissioner Christiana Thorpe for being credible and unbiased so far in the electoral process.

Indeed, democracy and the will of the people will triumph in Sierra Leone as no form of contemplated vote-rigging and intimidation will make the people renege in determining who should rule them.

* Deputy-editor Abdulai Bayraytay(photo) holds a Bachelor of Arts with honors and a master’s degree in political science from Fourah Bay College, University of Sierra Leone, and Wilfrid Laurier University in Canada respectively. He is currently doing another master’s degree in the Faculty of Social Work at the University of Toronto in Canada.

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