Prelude to the next political catastrophe in Sierra Leone?

24 July 2007 at 21:36 | 518 views

By Dr. Soule Funna
New Jersey, USA.

It is unfortunate that even as we approach one of the most crucial presidential and parliamentary elections in Sierra Leone’s history, we are distracted by non-substantive discussions preoccupied with finger pointing and blaming the “other side” for everything that has gone wrong in our country. That some well-educated people have been drawn into this futile exercise, using their knowledge to “justify” their positions is even more disappointing. The fact is that there is enough blame to go around, irrespective of which of our previous and current administrations one considers. This matter, though of historical importance, should not dominate the campaign. Time and again we have been distracted from the real issues and made the wrong choices in leadership only to be disappointed when those who “win” fail to deliver on their promises.

At the root of this malaise is our tendency to judge political candidates not on merit and commitment but on other considerations, like ethnic affiliation or what we personally expect to benefit if the candidate were elected. This issue, by no means unique to Africa, owes a lot to the way in which the present African states were created. Be that as it may, we must endeavor to make our uncertain and unstable democracies work better. As individuals, we should transcend our narrow interests and focus on the big issues of nationhood, such as what to look for in our next leader. I would be surprised if I am the only person who, even at this point, has no more than a vague idea of what the key political parties and their presidential candidates really stand for. Their manifestos and speeches are long on promises but short on specifics. They would drastically reduce poverty; raise our pathetic literacy rates; revitalize our crumbling health care system; provide us more water supply; end electricity shortages; fix our roads; etc. etc. etc.

Shouldn’t we be pressing the candidates to tell us more clearly where they’ll find the money to do all these wonderful things? Will they raise taxes? Will Sierra Leone continue to depend on foreign aid? Are we not worried that our country is now too dependent on foreign aid and that this has compromised our sovereignty? If so, shouldn’t we press the candidates to reassure us that if elected, they would use foreign aid to supplement, not substitute, our local efforts? Has any party really talked seriously about what strategies it would use to ensure success where others have failed to turn our under-performing economy around? Restore public services? Reduce poverty? Fight corruption? Address smuggling? The candidates could be excused for sweet-talking us to get our votes, but should we let them get off so easily?

There’s very little time left to make this debate more productive. It does not seem wise to assume that the presidential candidates and those working for them, focused as they are on winning, are equally focused on these issues. But if we ask the right questions, perhaps we might get them to do so. If, on the other hand, it’s all about applauding your side and denigrating the other side, then I’m afraid all this acrimonious campaign debate would turn out to be no more than a prelude to the next wrong choice and the next political disaster in our country.