Sierra Leone: ONS Warning

21 September 2012 at 17:35 | 2948 views

By Alpha Rashid Jalloh, Freetown.

For decades entering parliament has been hinged on the party’s “main man”, but in recent years with the emergence of new generations, things are taking a different turn, and it was not surprising when the Office of National Security (ONS) found out, after a survey, that awarding symbols to the wrong candidates might likely invoke Gbongboshoro (Chaos or war-like situation) in the forthcoming elections..

I am very much occupied these days in making political and social analysis for news organs abroad. I still remember October 10, 2011, I was in my office rummaging through the papers, and there was one that attracted my attention so much. It was For Di People newspaper. There was a strap- head that reads; Security Sector Warns… and then the headline went as follows; Give Symbols To The Right People. The intro of the story states; “The security sector in the country has warned all political parties to give symbols to the right individuals for the 2012 elections so as to avoid any political skirmishes”. Over the past decades, it was those favoured by the powers that be that turned out to be the lucky candidates to enter parliament. That was exactly what was in my mind that I wanted to write an article on at the time. But you see, great minds think alike. By the time I wanted to put pen on paper, great minds at the ONS had thought of the issue long ago and had done their home work.

The issue of awarding symbols to party “favourites” led SLPP down the drain in 2007, and for those of us who studied Political History, we know it was the same sentiments that led SLPP down the drain in 1967 when Albert “Agbata” Margai thought it was his favourites, and not people like Matturi, LAM Brewa and Sallia Jusu Sheriff, that would make the party win. He learnt a bitter lesson, but SLPP as a party did not learn a lesson because they repeated the mistake in 2007 and were taught a lesson by the land lords. And that should not be a lesson only for the SLPP but also for the APC and even the mushroom parties coming up. For a long time the issue of proxy candidates had rocked party politics in Sierra Leone. Sometimes the party secretariat would want to give symbols to the most popular candidates but a minister, State House officials, top party executives or an influential person in the party would have their own candidates. In the past, it was such “lucky” candidates that got the symbol and whether they performed or not, they would have their own field day , and this was a contributing factor to the Ndogbowusui de facto war in Pujehun, the Kurbola massacre in Koinadugu, the violent clashes in the city of Freetown and the intermittent clashes that had characterized elections in the past.

Today, politics has changed and even the big Western powers led by Uncle Sam with their paternalization drive in African politics are adopting a pragmatic approach. You no longer see them blindly supporting unpopular governments. So, the issue of awarding symbols to the wrong people nowadays is not only a matter of violence but a matter of a party being buried with its “kwehkweh” candidates. But how would the party secretariat know that this is the popular candidate when the political dinosaurs have several tactics that they would implement to give the impression that a particular candidate (who is their proxy candidate) is the “people’s choice?” . One way of killing the spirit of a popular candidate is by calling an unexpected meeting in which the one who is favoured would be told to mobilize crowds who would put on T-shirts in support of the proxy candidate. The other candidate would thought that he was just invited to address a crowd that had been mobilized by the party secretariat in the constituency (which is actually their work) . On arrival, he sees many people wearing T-Shirts with inscriptions indicating support for the other candidate.. Such a scenario would give delegates from the headquarter or party secretariat in Freetown the impression that the man with the supporters dancing with T-shirts is the popular candidate. And in rural areas, where people are politically blind, they would put on a T-shirt without even knowing the implications of doing so. They would not know that they have been used to create mischief. All they know is that it is a way of manifesting support for the party.

So, choosing a popular candidate would be a Herculean task for the parties in the forthcoming elections. And they have to be careful because 2012 elections would be very crucial to the survival of the two political giants; SLPP and APC. Let me just reminisce on a quote from the ONS report that states; “Giving a symbol to the less popular candidate will provoke or ignite political violence as supporters of the best candidate will always feel aggrieved or cheated and such a scenario\will cause them to take the law into their hands”. Let us not forget what has happened and is happening in other parts of the world especially in the Arab world, specifically in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya.Yemen and Syria There is nothing truer than the assertion in the ONS report. This is what President Koroma should take note of.

I have been going around sounding opinions of people in some constituencies. What some are complaining about is the dual role of local executives who declare themselves as candidates for the forthcoming parliamentary elections. One such place is Koya Rural District (Constituency 95). The executives are expected to set standards so as to guide the people on what sort of candidate they should choose. They also have to collaborate with the candidates in selling the party to the people. But people are complaining that in Koya whenever the executives call meetings, it is to tell them about their candidature and they are claiming that it is they who would be given symbols! Can you imagine that? In the 21st century, a local party executive would be given preference over all other candidates in the award of symbols. So, the executives are the employers and applicants or players and referees at the same time. And they expect the candidates to trust them when it comes to screening them locally ? How would you feel when the man you are contesting with is an executive member of the party under which you want to contest and when executive meetings of the party are called to decide your fate you are not there, but they (the executives), are there and the same people would be taking part in the race with you? This does not augur well for peace in any constituency. Judging by the current trend of things in the country, such executive members are undermining their parties. Because, there is no way people would take it lightly when such things happen. It signals the death of a party in any constituency. That is why the Koya Rural issue should be addressed, more so when the executives are claiming that they have been assured that the symbol would go to executive members who have declared `themselves as candidates. The message they are sending is that whoever is the people’s choice should not throw his hat into the APC ring. By so doing they are signaling to all those who want to garner support for the APC that it would be a fruitless endeavour—go somewhere else.

Mr. President should know that there will never be a gbogboshoro unless the conditions have been created. That is apparently what ONS is warning against. Take note of this warning Mr. President! Sierra Leoneans are not the same as they were twenty years ago. The present generations have perceptions that differ from the older ones. That is why no one should be allowed to toy with their future. Five years added to the age of anyone does not make him younger. If it is wasted by a representative, it means five years of more suffering for the stone brokers.

Since the Quran and the Bible have promised that we, the “stone brokers” , (poor people) shall be the inheritors of the earth, we have to make positive moves now and it shall come to pass. In Sierra Leone we are 5.million out of a population of 6 million. So, who owns the land? (Democracy is about numerical strength).