From the Editor’s Keyboard

President Koroma, the Zimbabwe Crisis and the future of Democracy in Africa

3 July 2008 at 09:00 | 533 views

By Abdulai Bayraytay, Policy Analyst and Researcher, Freetown.

“The people of Zimbabwe have been denied their democratic rights. We should in no uncertain terms condemn what has happened”.

That was the bombshell Sierra Leone’s President, Dr. Ernest Bai Koroma, sternly and uncompromisingly delivered to his colleague Heads of State gathered at just concluded African Union summit held at the Egyptian resort of Sharm El Sheikh.

The conspicuously lackluster approach a cross-section of African leaders have taken in dealing with the political impasse in Zimbabwe is however not surprising. This is because a host of leaders like Omar Bongo of Gabon, Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi, among others, are surely bound to reamin mute or say little, taking into consideration the donkey years they have dominated their respective countries political landscape with little to show in terms of democratic governance and human rights.

And this is where Ernest Bai Koroma has received silent kudos from his colleagues and loud applauses from the rest of the international community for mustering the courage to call on particularly the South African Development Community (SADC) to take leadership albeit under the auspices of the African Union to find an amicable resolution to the Zimbabwean political stalemate.

Some political observers have however come to associate President Koroma’s open criticisms of Robert Mugabe as playing the underdog role by echoing the views of the West, especially the United Kingdom and the United States of America, two countries vociferously calling on the Zimbabwe leadership to respect the will of the people.

The above view could however be debunked on the grounds that part of the reasons for the outbreak of rebel wars in post-colonial sub-Saharan Africa was (is) as a result of political exclusion and the politics of winner-take-all. And, this is exactly what Robert Mugabe is doing by oppressing, harassing, intimidating and detaining members of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) and its leader, Morgan Tsvangari, under the guise of re-appropriating land to majority of his black brethrens.

President Koroma, to say the least, is playing the statesman’s role. This is inspite of the fact that Sierra Leone has just recuperated from a ten-year-old war, yet it has something to offer in the search for peaceful post-elections stalemate.

And the lessons are just too obvious: the culture of political tolerance in Sierra Leone could be seen in the post elections of 1996 wherein the Chief Electoral Commissioner, Dr. James Jonah, admitted to the world that indeed 70,000 of the votes cast could not be accounted for.

In the name of peace and national reconciliation, Dr. John Karefa Smart and his United National Peoples’ Party (UNPP) conceded defeat with little or no rancour. The same could be said of the Sierra Leone Peoples’ Party (SLPP) that painstakingly but peacefully conceded defeat amidst controversy over the results of the Kailahun Court Barray and elsewhere after the 2007 presidential elections that ushered President Koroma and his All People’s Congress (APC) party to power.

Indeed, President Koroma’s has made Sierra Leone and Sierra Leoneans proud by virtue of his moral fortitude to out rightly condemn the elections in Zimbabwe in which Africa’s latest dictator scrumptiously declared himself the outright winner. His clarion call perfectly resonated with what one of Africa’s greatest statesmen, former President Nelson Madiba Mandela said in his inaugural speech in 1994 that: “...I dream of the realization of the unity of Africa, whereby its leaders combine their efforts to solve the problems of this continent...”.

Indeed our President’s brilliant performance is partly in fulfillment of Africa’s commitment to bring about lasting peace and security across the continent as part of the Millennium Goals espoused by Tony Blair at Gleneagles in 2005.

By this token, the President has, whether inadvertently or not, also set himself high political stakes: Sierra Leoneans and the wider spectrum of the international community are keenly watching Sierra Leone with regards to political tolerance especially under the presidency of Ernest Bai Koroma.

Congrats, Mr. President.