President Koroma’s speech and the challenges ahead (part 1)

10 October 2007 at 13:46 | 787 views

By Ibrahim Seaga Shaw, EXPO TIMES, Bristol,UK.

Let me start by welcoming the election of Ernest Bai Koroma as Sierra Leone’s new president, and to extend my appreciation to the people of Sierra Leone for massively voting for the APC/PMDC alliance on a clear-cut platform of change, and above all to NEC chief Dr Christiana Thorpe for making all this to happen in the name of true democracy. I am very happy that this time around people have heeded my call, and those of many other like minds, to vote on issues of who is going to make a difference for the better in their lives and not on tribal, regional, clan or other sentiments. The people have voted-spoken-for change, and to echo the words of President Koroma in his address to the nations Third Parliament, and those of his vice, chief Samuel Sam-Sumana, they are indeed very impatient to see results of this change.

I appreciate President Koroma’s reference to the ups and downs of democracy in his address: “ when a government fails in its principal duties of good governance, reneges on it promises to effectively serve the people, and neglects to provide for the basic needs of its people, that government is destined to be rejected by the people. This ominous prospect, my government will avoid by working hard to fulfil our campaign promises to develop our nation.” I am confident that if President Koroma makes this warning his key political sermon, the sky would be his limit in delivering his campaign promises. And so moving from rhetoric to reality as far as these campaign promises are concerned should arguably be the key challenge of the APC- led Koroma administration.

For all you know, except for very few omissions and additions, President Koroma’s latest speech appears to be a re-echo of his campaign manifesto. A fundamental omission that readily comes to mind is the absence of any direct mention of plans to review, or completely eradicate, the Public Order Act of 1965 which criminalises libel and which places undue restrictions on freedom of expression in general, and on press freedom in particular, restrictions which are manifestly inconsistent with his pledge to uphold freedom of expression, separation of powers, transparency and accountability, and above all good governance. On the contrary, a review of this obnoxious press law was very much included in President Koroma’s presidential campaign manifesto. We can only hope that this omission was an oversight and that President Koroma would not go back on his words to make this particular Public Order Act history.

Let us hope that Ernest Koroma’s government would work closely with development partners in translating his big words into big realities so that Sierra Leoneans would not regret in a hurry their decision to vote him into office. It is good that Koroma is echoing his pledge to improve his country’s human development knowing fully well that it is the failure of the former SLPP government in this area that mobilised people to massively vote them out of office. In my opinion, most people voted the APC back to power because they saw them as the only viable alternative to the SLPP whose back they were clearly in a hurry to see because of its failure to deliver on their basic human needs. This should serve as a wake up call for the APC to know that the people are desperate to see results way ahead of the next elections, failing which would see them turning their backs for another alternative. The SLPP had their chance and they wasted it thinking that people were going to continue making the mistake of voting for another five years of misery.

It is indeed in the context of the people’s desperation for quick results that I urge our new President to cut down from 36 months, he mentioned in his manifesto and repeated in his first address to parliament and nation, to 6 or 12 of his presidential term for people to begin to see results of his policies if he wants people to take him seriously. People would of course not expect President Koroma and his APC-PMDC-led alliance to perform miracles within the first six or twelve months of his presidency but I am sure it would make a lot of difference if they begin to see some very concrete u-turns in the running of the country. Any serious new government should be able to begin to make its presence felt positively among the people who gave it the mandate to govern at least between its first six and 12 months in power.

In the 1996 General Elections my newspaper Expo Times openly endorsed SLPP’s Tejan Kabbah’s bid for the presidency because at the time we believed his exposure at the UN where he had served for about 15 years would help him make a difference and turn things around in Sierra Leone . Being at the time the largest circulation and best selling newspaper in the country, it was clear that we made a significant contribution to Kabbah’s election victory. However, we gave the Kabbah led SLPP/PDP alliance government a six-month honeymoon period after which we conducted a national survey of their performance; the findings revealed a sixty percent dissatisfaction of the people of Sierra Leone, most citing the continuation or worsening of corruption in high government places as a very troubling concern. The publication of those findings was supposed to be a big reminder to the then Kabbah government not to let the people down by going against its campaign promises. Unfortunately however, our newspaper was ostensibly declared as a public enemy by the government following that publication and I must say it opened the floodgate of harassments of that paper by the government. As a newspaper we had no choice but to stand up with the people whose yearnings for change were treated with contempt by the powers that be. And for this we paid a heavy price at the Expo Times with constant imprisonment and torture, albeit with no regrets.

I have referred to this brief anecdotal aspect of my journalism experience in Sierra Leone to send a warning message to President Koroma to note that if he strays away from his fundamental campaign promises of change, it would not be long for him to see some of the newspapers and media outlets that endorsed or supported his bid for the Presidency changing course. (To be continued)

Source: www.expotimes.net.