From the Editor’s Keyboard

Sierra Leone - One Country, One people.

24 September 2010 at 22:23 | 415 views

By Randolph Gorvie, Guest Writer, Winnipeg, Canada.

What is relevant about the title of this piece? For starters, the title is the motto of the Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP), the official opposition party of Sierra Leone. However to understand what the party stands for within the context of party politics in Sierra Leone generally, a closer examination of the meaning of those four words: one country one people summarizes, in a nut shell, the party’s core values as a responsible political institution that believes in democracy, national unity and developing policies to help improve the standard of living for the masses.

The record shows the party’s policy position to promote socio-economic development in the country together with other challenging issues have been consistent with its core values. This is a tribute to the party’s founding fathers that saw the SLPP as a vehicle of national unity, a tribal blind premier political organization.

The founding fathers’ preoccupation with promoting unity among the various tribal groupings, rejected the name: Sierra Leone protectorate Party in favor of the more inclusive: Sierra Leone People’s Party; for they correctly concluded, a protectorate party sent the wrong message for those who wanted to create an institution to serve the interests of all Sierra Leone.

One can safely conclude that the party’s approach to politics has largely been defined by its motto of one country, one people philosophy. Whether in government or sitting on the opposition benches, it is no brainer that the SLPP’s behavior and conduct have been guided by democratic values and respect for human rights and for the socio-economic wellbeing of all Sierra Leoneans.

These simple words: one country, one people can be described as a profile in courage demonstrated by the founding fathers; for they correctly saw the whole of the country rather than the sum of its different parts. But what has gone wrong? I digress.

A very brief history lesson would be helpful to further elucidate the significance of those four words within the context of the party’s constitutional obligation to the people. It also helps to evaluate the party’s record on addressing the big contentious issues of our time, particularly the issue of national unity.

Once again, the reader is reminded, those famous four words are the Bible/Quran which guides the party as it beavers with the burden of developing policies and programs, deliver services on an equitable basis in all regions of the country. Under the philosophy of one country one people, the SLPP cannot be seen to discriminate on the basis of tribal configurations. It is instructive you check the record.

It is heartening to observe, past and present generations of SLPP leaders have not deviated much from this motherhood philosophy in their conduct and approach to nation building whether in government or in the opposition.

These are powerful words. These words often remind the leaders of the party about their contract with the people: To always put the interests of the people above the Machiavellian interests of the party in any given situation.

In his book (Origin and Philosophy of the Sierra Leone People’s Party), Peter L. Tucker reminds us, the SLPP was formed by the merger of three different semi political organizations each with its own separate agenda: the Sierra Leone Organization Society (SOS), the Protectorate Educational and Progressive Union (PEPU) and the People’s Party (PP)which was formed by Lamina Sankoh.

The merger of these three organizations to form the SLPP was a major political event at the time. It was equally consistent with the vision of the founding fathers to create a party that was totally to promoting unity of, for and by the people. This is what democracy is all about. Has the party fulfilled this vision over the years? Check the record.

According to Peter L. Tucker, the SOS consisted of Protectorate Professionals, chiefs and commercial agents representing the interests of foreign firms. While on one hand the PEPU represented a pressure group of Protectorate elites; the People’s Party on the other hand was an association of Creole intellectuals. These disparate groups formed the SLPP with a common objective of achieving self government as one country under a unitary constitution.

Now it is time for hard ball. Some may argue and indeed others have argued that the Party, which was founded on the principle of inclusion and to uphold democratic practice, is nowadays struggling mightily to assure some people that it is still a party of inclusion guided by the philosophy of one country one people, bar none.

It is unfortunate; the party that brought political independence to the country is having difficulties in certain parts of the country to sell its message of political and economic liberation.

Furthermore, a party that championed the mobilization of human resources, the best brains in every region of the country for national development efforts following the attainment of political independence, is been vilified over the years by its detractors as a Mende man party; certainly a negative label which may be responsible for the party’s electoral difficulties in certain jurisdictions in the country. No wonder politics is referred to as a blood sport. Has the party inadvertently contributed to this by allowing their political opposition to define them to the electorates?

What went wrong and where is the origin of this misleading label? The political leaders of the party and their advisers, it seems, have made no meaningful effort to debunk this myth. This snake has to be decapitated to assist the party overcome its electoral difficulties in certain regions of the country, notably the North and the Western Area.

The party cannot continue to bury its head in the sand as if the problem would go away. Town hall meetings in those regions have to be a part of a rebuilding strategy. It is imperative some thing is done fairly quickly before further damage is done to the image of the party.

It is important the party develops pro-active policies by appealing directly to people in those regions to win the hearts and minds of potential voters. Nobody seriously believes the party is only for the Mendes. But words have meaning. . With an invigorated APC party, the days for taking things for granted are over. Politics is still a street fight, figuratively speaking. This fight has to be taken to hostile territories before or during elections.

The party has the chance to rehabilitate itself in those hostile jurisdictions if it decides to move out of its comfort zone. People necessarily do not vote for the party that is constantly reminding them about the good old days. The party has to be strategic when talking about the good old days. To win the hearts and minds, the party has to persuade voters about the future benefits they will gain if they voted for its policies.

For starters the party has a golden opportunity now to make history in this election cycle commonly referred to as 2012. The inconvenient truth is that since the formation of the party, all the leaders have generally come from one region of the country. Some opponents would have interpreted this in a negative way, even though leaders have been elected democratically.

Has this contributed to the erroneous perception that the party is a Mende person party? Personally I don’t know. Or is it the failure of the party to adapt its policies and programs to address the demands of restless electorates who see their standard of living crumbling before their eyes?

Remember the electorates are not generally rational people in their understanding of complex political issues. In some cases they have voted against their interests. It’s so common all over the world. In view of new challenges, is it not the time now for the party to consider seriously the possibility to alternate the position of the leader of the party any time a vacancy occurs for the top job?

This can be done democratically. It needs only a form of agreement to allow for a change in policy. Certainly this should not be considered a revolutionary departure from the status quo. In Canada the Federal Liberal Party has used this method successfully to elect their leaders. Their leaders alternate between Quebec (French speaking) and English Canada. Unlike the north south political divide in Sierra Leone,

The Liberals similarly takes into account the French English divide when political decisions have to be made. This is what the Party of President Goodluck Jonathan, president of Nigeria practices. They rotate between the Muslim north and the Christian south. If the present trend in population shifts continues in Sierra Leone, it might possibly impact negatively on the SLPP, their base of support even in the long run. On the other hand, a new method of electing the party leader would mitigate this problem in the long term. The presence of PMDC is another problem.

Challenge number one: Perhaps in this election cycle, the party should give serious consideration for the next leader, the flag bearer, to come from the North or from the Western Area to proselytize those propagandists who want to devalue the value of the party as a party for the Mendes.

Such a development is consistent with the core values of the party: One Country One People. Besides, electing a party leader as it has been the practice almost always from one region of a country in a democracy is not likely to be sustainable in the long run. Also, this short sighted view of electing a leader from one region in every election cycle is also bad policy and bad politics in the long term.

Challenge number #2: In this election cycle the party has another opportunity to make history that produces tsunamic results: by electing a woman as its presidential flag bearer, a symbol of the party’s commitment to modernization. A reminder please! Since its formation several decades ago, the party has never elected a woman as its leader. 2012 is a perfect opportunity for the party to borrow a leaf from its revolutionary past to have the audacity once more to continue making history on behalf of the people.

And there are capable women in the party with the capacity, the know how, the experience and leadership skills to steer the party in a different direction, not only for the members of the party, but for the benefit of the whole country. Who can argue with this? There is a nice ring to (madam president). A woman president in my opinion is more suited in the current environment of high level of unemployment, widespread poverty among the masses to bring a different perspective to find workable solutions to those problems.

Historically, Sierra Leone had at one time boasted of women leaders who served the people with distinction. A woman leader paves the way and becomes an inspirational figure for many women who have until now played a marginalized role in political participation.

There are also indirect psychological benefits, as a growing number of women voters would gravitate towards a female candidate. This development alone helps improve the image of the party as a crusader in promoting equal opportunities for women and as well as for the disadvantaged members of society. Is the party ready for these revolutionary challenges at this time? And if not now, when?

We should not forget in a hurry that the SLPP has been a trail blazer in developing favorable conditions for ordinary folks to participate in political activities in the immediate period, following the end of colonial rule. The party has continued with this tradition of promoting democracy until this very moment by using the foundation laid by the Founding fathers who founded this organization as platform for political participation for all Sierra Leoneans.

The party was never built on the basis of an apartheid system. If that was the case, it is doubtful the political giants from the north to the south and from the east to the west would have worked together to achieve political independence under the results oriented leadership of the party. Unfortunately today, the once mighty and nation building party is seen by its political opponents as a mende man party.

The party is under tremendous pressure for these unsubstantiated attacks. Even though the reality on the ground says it differently, yet the party has to fight back vigorously to counter the lingering perception, it is dominated by a cabal consisting of mendes. It may not be obvious to many, but it is always problematical for a party to be defined by its political opposition. And yet this seems to be the case.

This development has definitely damaged the image of the party in some jurisdictions in the country to the extent the party is having difficulties selling its programs in those enclaves. As stated, this matter must be addressed now and pretty soon to make it easier particularly for those in the Diaspora to promote and grow the party in their respective jurisdictions. This is war. A piece meal approach is not the answer to winning this war of misinformation. A deliberate strategy is the key to resolving this issue. Let the conversation begin.