Sierra Leone: Great expectations and the waiting process

29 October 2007 at 03:36 | 633 views

By Moses Massa.

Scanning through the hard drive of historical data since the idea of political territories in the form of empires, kingdoms, and states was born, it has always been the responsibility of the socio-political establishment to lead, control and inform.

It is the sacred task of leaders to keep their people satisfied and gain their total support. This was and is still no easy task. In doing so, they either win the support of some or alienate others; albeit citizens and subjects.

In the tool kit of political leadership in the classical period, the art of persuasion,now called Mass Media, was carefully used. Medieval leaders like Alexander the Great, King Darius of the Persian Empire and the Great Pharaohs of Egypt had massive constructions, images, statues created in their name, not only to create honour but also to inspire awe and fear among the people.

Ironically, coin money was developed not only for trade but to keep the flames of the philosophy alive; telling the governed that the ruler was there to stay. In short, it is no wonder that all these leaders in question created a personality cult of themselves; i.e. as gods to be worshipped, which sadly though, they never lived long to experience.

Strangely, there was no form of mass media as we now know it, say newspapers. Interestingly, these humongous edifices became the TVs of that age. From their era to the later 19th, 20th and 21st century, leaders like Napoleon, Queen Victoria of Britain, Lenin, Stalin, Chairman Mao, the art of public spinning became the tool of political brinkmanship and survival. It has been and is still used with considerable consequences.

In this essay, we shall briefly attempt a discussion of what the late American journalist and academic, Walter Lippman, called the public philosophy. The intention here is to make a somewhat historical silhouette and connect it to the considered spirit of our time. In the history of every political state, there has always been (and there will be) a Zeitgeist (i.e. prevalent idea) affecting and shaping the social and intellectual constructions of people.

In the case of S/L, from 1991 to date, it has been the issue of socio-economic and political transformation. Painfully, this Zeitgeist led to the horror of our avoidable attrition; the brutal civil war, which was given many pejoratives. Sadly, I don’t want to waste time here, but this act was never a characteristic of violence peculiar to S/L. It is common in all nation-states or places where people fight or have fought. See present Iraq, Lebanon, Sudan or peer back in time, the French revolution’s reign of terror, the English civil wars, the European 1st & 2nd world wars, and the Balkan wars of Slobodan Milosevic.

Let’s change course and see what this public philosophy is all about. During the political campaigns was the phrase ‘national unity’, which is a metaphor in this Zeitgeist chapter of ours. Interestingly, the phrase meant different things to the various political actors and identities.

I have deliberately avoided the use of the word ‘ethnic groups’, which I believe has the uncanny interpretation and reality that is bedeviling our beloved nation. Let me explain why. The word ‘ethnic’ in essence has a racial connotation. It was a colonial nomenclature and a lens through which the Europeans reduced the civility of the colonized people. It was associated with incivility, and hence the word ‘tribe’ was often used in its place. Although the notion has somewhat changed, yet the psyche still remains. The sociologist Max Weber once said that “the whole conception of ethnic groups is so complex and so vague that it might be good to abandon it altogether”.

In this country the commonly held perception is that two language groups have the majority, i.e one in the south and the north respectively. To me, this seems preposterous and it needs some study. Some of the colonial statistics we still use could have been not impervious to the demographic shift in our population.

This essay is not an iconoclastic ebullience against the conventional wisdom but it’s worth a rethinking. Does it mean that because the majority of people speak Krio in this country, then Krio is the majority group? It may seem so but that is not the case. The predominant language used by the other groups in these places is merely to aid their socio-economic values and daily transactions. However, it does not deny the fact that other smaller groups might have been hegemonised. This is just a moot point.

Our political leaders and their supporters have spoken of national unity as a societal issue; for instance, it was given the utmost attention it deserved during the election campaigns. Simply put, if they won the election they would ensure that the country be ruled in the interest of every Sierra Leonean. But was this a catch phrase? As mentioned inter alia, within the shade of this political chiaroscuro (painting), one group preached continuity simply to remain in power and the other asked for change to remove the former from power. Great synergy of efforts was used in achieving this and the latter won the day.

After the victory, the people of this country and others waited to see if this would become a reality. However, the announcement of this much awaited cabinet caused some stir. Of course, to those of us who are not so brilliant to understand the semantics of language or the phrase national unity, I guess it meant at face value including or forming a government with all the different language groups in the country. If so, then how do we deconstruct our argument in support or against the cabinet? The question is how we conceptualize the phrase, ‘national unity’.

One might have a very poor ability to decipher the demography and recognizing groups based on their language, which is to say that one does not know when a different language is spoken. To be honest, when it comes to the political representation of the various language groups in this country, both the SLPP and the APC have claimed to represent all these groups. There is no denying of this claim but the question is how truly are these groups represented; in other words in terms of percentage, and herein lays the problem.

Thus, if national unity from a general perspective meant inclusion of all the language groups in the country, then we need to see if this is the case of the cabinet list. It is easy to see the present cabinet at first glance as being dominated by one region, say the north; however such a lens can disfigure the image of what is actually represented. If by common logic, the demography of this country shows that the northern region is heavily populated, with many other language groups followed by the south east, then, there should be no stone throwing. It’s abhorrent to use this identity of language demarcation because it tortures one’s conscience of beating the drum of group polarization in the country.

Interestingly, the main concern is how the opposition sees it. Do the PMDC and its supporters welcome such a seeming disparity of representation? The late British historian, David Thompson, once said that ‘coalitions tend to disintegrate when the common enemy disappears’. This is a common phenomenon of human experience but it should not prevent us from helping each other when some events demand it.

In the early European wars it happened, where for instance, the Allies, after the defeat of Napoleon 1814, became polarized over the division of his empire. After the end of the 1st W.W in 1919, the Allies were divided over the treatment of Germany, the Austro-Hungarian and the Ottoman Empire. Next, after the 2nd W.W in 1945, the Soviet Union and the West were bitterly divided over Germany resulting in the cold war. The question is whether this is a wrong footing for the government. It is too early to make a judgment on the cabinet; only time will tell.

To reiterate, if national unity could be interpreted as demographic representation, then we need to be objective. Subjectivity is easy to spot, however, objectivity is not a territory easily delineated, which should not hinder one from trying.

Max Weber once remarked that "statements of fact are one thing, statements of value another, and any confusing of the two is impermissible”. It is highly probable that since facts are one thing and values another, our analyses could be influenced by our values. This raises a lot of questions; like what is the relation of objectivity to values? Or does objectivity apply only to the analysis of facts? Does a person’s value perspective come from our human nature, views about the universe, personal identity, or is it just as likely that they are a mere construct of culture? It seems the attempt to distinguish a statement of fact and a statement of value is like asking the seemingly ridiculous question, which two organs every human uses to eat. The obvious answer is the hand and mouth; it has no alternative except otherwise.

Thus, another school of thought with the proposed cabinet is why some men elected to parliament are bent on becoming ministers. This school of thought raises the suspicion that some of them were/ are not sincere with the people of this country. If they were so confident of victory, then they should not have barred others and wasted the voters’ time. For them, these people should know that serving a nation does not necessarily mean to lead or be at the center of things where there is the scent and presence of sweetness. This school believes that these men could still have a similar chivalrous mission to accomplish if they remain in parliament.

It is perceived their desire to become ministers depict that some of them want to have their granary filled with grain for the rainy season. However, it is unfair to cast early doubt on them; it is the right of every man to do what is considered obtainable within an acceptable space and time. It is a somewhat political Darwinism where one takes the slightest opportunity of chance to achieve one’s end. Let us hope they perform as expected or that we have a robust Anti Corruption Commission; future events do cast their shadows.

My next point of departure from regional representation is gender identity, which has become the razzmatazz of modern politics; more so in Africa and Asia, where the traditional male chauvinism has dominated and is still paramount. As a moot point, some women have shown the equal leadership qualities misconstrued as intrinsically male.

A recent case is Dr. Christiana Thorpe, who amidst the thick and thin of political gerrymandering and undue pressure conducted one of the laudable elections in our country’s history. Using the lens of gender, we see from time past to date, the relationship between gender and power has been the outright domination of women by men. The history of nations as a mirror reflects how power struggles, authority and national decision making have been the work of men. Gender involves power structures and economic relationships; its identities are plural, divided and mutable.

In terms of state matters and political representation men far outnumber women in every area. It was not until the 1st half of the 20th century that women from the western countries, excluding Scandinavia and New Zealand were given the right to vote. The women in the newly independent states of Africa and Asia never had this problem but their state, past and present, is worse than those of the industrialized countries. Although women are allowed to vote and contest for political offices, many are not voted for by men and even their fellow women; some face threats, scorn and snobbery from men in many countries.

According to data evidence, 93 % of all cabinet ministers in the world governments are men. To cite a few examples, since independence, the USA has not elected any female leader and only one woman has been appointed a federal supreme court judge; in Europe only Norway, Britain, and Germany have had female prime ministers; in Asia only Pakistan, India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Indonesia had had female leaders; Africa (Liberia) and Latin America (Chile) have only got one respectively.

So the inclusion of three women in the new cabinet in Sierra Leone is not an unwelcome event; however, it leaves much to be desired. It is possible that if all the politicians, generals, civil servants, health and legal personnel been women, this world would have been a peaceful place to live in. This is a normative submission.

In conclusion, as mentioned in the introduction ,it is not easy to please all the people at once, and as individuals all we need to do is wait, observe, learn and act when its time. The waiting process is not easy but there is a lesson to learn here. Life is an angle whose sides are not few and we should not think of just satisfying our Eros. This government needs time and not pampering when it does not perform.

It is hard to make sense of what this governments intends or what our future holds, as one of the 20th century’s greatest Jewish political philosophers , Sir Isaiah Berlin once said: ‘Life can be seen through many windows, none of them necessarily clear or opaque, less or more distorting than any of the others.’ For Martin Luther King, Jr. : ‘A genuine leader is not a searcher for consensus but a molder of consensus’, and that ‘An individual has not started living until he can rise above the narrow confines of his individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity’.

We only hope that this is what President Koroma seems to copy and the latter is what we as citizens must do; ‘Not for self always but for others sometimes’.

Photo: President Ernest Bai Koroma: Sierra Leoneans expect much from him and his administration.