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Sierra Leone: Democracy, ethnocentrism and regionalism

23 August 2008 at 19:35 | 1177 views

Commentary

By Teddy Foday-Musa, Freetown.

Sierra Leoneans once again demonstrated their political maturity under the auspicies of democracy in their country’s local council elections which took place on the 5th July 2008.

The voter turnout was low but according to election observers, the process itself was relatively peaceful though there were petty skirmishes in certain parts of the country. This is what one of our local newspapers reported:

“Election Observers from the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) have commended Sierra Leoneans for their patience, tolerance and determination exhibited in the just concluded local council elections. "This is a testimony towards the deepening of democratic culture in the country and a clear signal that Sierra Leone is a good example of the promotion and consolidation of credible electoral process in the ECOWAS sub-region," Ambassador J. J. Lewu, head of the nine men Observer Mission said..... Salone Daily press Review..8th July.

Indeed democracy now has a dwelling place in Sierra Leonean society. However, it is no more a secret that ethnocentrism and regionalism are now complementing democracy in Sierra Leone. Democracy is now working hand in glove with ethnocentrism and regionalism in the country. The democratic voting pattern of Sierra Leoneans is now based on these two concepts. No doubt, our once ignored fact that there is no ethnocentrism in Sierra Leone has now become the truth and a reality that we are currently living with.

Ethnicentrism, the once sleeping giant, is now awake and doing business with our politicians. This we saw with our naked eyes even during the last Parliamentary and Presidential elections. Voters are now having a field day exercising their franchise under the influence of our greedy politicians in the name of ethnicentrism and regionalism. Our politicians have now become “salesmen”, selling to voters not their party policies, but ideologies geared towards enhancing ethnicity and regionalism.

Today, the mere pronouncement of your family name or surname is enough for people to align you with either a political party or a certain region in the country.

The opening line in our National Pledge which says: "I pledge my love and loyalty to my country Sierra Leone, has now been replaced with; I pledge my love and loyalty to my ETHNIC GROUP, REGION and PARTY. And it is played as a tune by our politicians to which our voters are dancing. This has left our country a divided unit and at the same time throwing Sierra Leoneans apart. These politicians take advantage of their party regional affiliations including their own individual ethnic backgrounds. They offer this as a ticket to voters in order to promote their own selfish political gains.

The Local Council Election is now history for the past and has gone down the tarmac road of our history books with the legacy of ethnocentrism and regionalism. The lines of ethnicity and regionalism have now clearly demarcated our small country with a population of just five million. The two traditional leading political parties (APC & SLPP) manifested in their victory results a division of our country into two halves in favour of ethnicity and regionalism. Whilst the APC claimed victory in the North-west, dominated by the Temnes, the SLPP secured victory in the South-east the traditional base of the Mendes.

Yes!...democracy is at work here. But is this democracy based on REASONING or SENTIMENTS? Most Sierra Leoneans are with the opinion that our 21st century democracy is one that is coated with sentiments and emotions overflowing with bad expressions of greedy and unpatriotic politicians.

Furthermore, they have argued that such activities around our democracy are not healthy for a country like ours that has just graduated from the ashes of war. And there are those with the opinion that this was not actually the kind of democracy the late Vaffie Konneh (RIP) and the other student activists, who perished in the August-18 student demonstration for the restoration of democracy against the AFRC regime, sacrificed their lives for.

Yet political parties have now added ethnocentrism and regionalism to their manifesto policies as a means of gaining political power and victory in all elections. Some of their party stalwarts are already gearing up for the 2012 general elections and ready to use these same ethnic and regional strategies for their victory. This is definitely not healthy for our national cohesion.

Ethnocentrism will divide our national loyalty with our patriotic efforts directed only to our ethnic groups instead of our country. Ethnocentrism will throw us apart and the youths of today who are the future leaders of tomorrow, will never be able to act as a united front even when it comes to defending our nation against external aggression. Ethnocentrism will undermine our fragile peace and eat into the fabric of our democracy. Ethnocentrism has the tendency to once again open the doors of another civil war in our country, something nobody will want. So let us allow democracy to thrive in our country but it should be a democracy devoid of ethnnocentrism and regionalism.

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