Analysis

Sierra Leone Politics: Who is Leading?

13 September 2006 at 05:45 | 524 views

"Also, Ernest Koroma seems to be tied at the stake. He is currently fighting legal battles with dissidents on several fronts. Observers say this may apparently have psychologically affected him. Observers also say he is surrounded by people who are not au fait with the intrigues of politics and who are very egoistic. With such political novices and neophytes leading his campaign in the political arena, Ernest has been described as blind man groping in the dark."

Alpha R. Jalloh, Vanguard Freetown Bureau Chief

Analysts have predicted a runoff in the next election but the ruling Sierra Leone People’s Party has insisted that there will be no runoff.

When a blind man says "I will hit you with a stone", the saying goes,he already has it in his hand. The SLPP has detected the weaknesses of its rivals: the All Peoples Congress and the People’s Movement for Democratic Change.

Even though the APC leader Ernest Koroma has wide spread support, his lack of strategy and unpragmatic approach in handling the challenges that face the APC are causing a dwindling of support for the party.

Among the three leading candidates, Solomon Berewa of the SLPP has been observed to be armed with strategies and is the most pragmatic. The soft-spoken lawyer talks very little but does much to sweep his opponents off their feet. Recently over 60 traditional rulers in the North met and pledged their support for him.

His opponents have dismissed it as a deceptive pledge but observers say when Berewa was gunning for the leadership of the party the same thing was happening and by the time his opponents realized that the old man had surreptitiously broken their defence, he had mustered enough energy to score a goal. It left the others grumbling and threatening. But what has been done cannot be undone. The old man had the better part of the day. He became the new leader of the SLPP.

While the other parties are involved in series of litigations, Solomon Berewa is mobilizing support in different ways.

First, there are the Friends of Solomon Berewa groups that are mobilising youths right across the country. Reports say the groups now have affiliates abroad.

Second, teachers form a large percentage of the workforce in Sierra Leone. A group has been formed by some teachers to mobilize their colleagues to support Berewa for the 2007 race.

Solomon Berewa seems to have learnt a lot from his mentor president Ahmad Tejan Kabbah. This has been observed in his strategies. He has realized that one way of wooing northerners is to have influential personalities on his side. Go to the North and try to know why they support a certain candidate, they will tell you that it is because the eldest person in the family or an influential person in the community is in support of such candidate. Berewa knows the influential personalities and has already magnetized them. One thing he is sure of is that if people in the North do not vote for SLPP for his sake they will vote because of those personalities.

Apart from the above strategies, he has not rested his shoulders on the oars. He has been criss- crossing the country trying to make use of every advantage on his "sensitization" tours. In the 1996 and 2002 elections, Ahmad Tejan Kabbah used similar strategies and they worked. He is now thinking of going through the exit door and is leaving Berewa to step into his shoes.

Ernest Koroma on the other hand seems to rely on his perception. He is convinced that the crowds that turn up to welcome him wherever he goes are an indication that he is the most popular candidate. Observers say there has been no mobilization of supporters or even networks among them as is happening in the SLPP camp. And while his sheep are scattered Berewa is stealthily infiltrating his strongholds and luring them to his side.

Also, Ernest Koroma seems to be tied at the stake. He is currently fighting legal battles with dissidents on several fronts. Observers say this may apparently have psychologically affected him. Observers also say he is surrounded by people who are not au fait with the intrigues of politics and who are very egoistic. With such political novices and neophytes leading his campaign in the political arena, Ernest has been described as blind man groping in the dark.

Charles Margai, the son of the second prime minister of Sierra Leone late Albert Margai, is the man who has come on the political stage with a determination to change the status quo. While he symbolises change, Berewa symbolises continuity. The difference between the two is therefore is that of change and continuity. It has become a household debate across the country. But observers say he too lacks strategy.

He too has been observed to rely on what his perception indicates to him. There is a sociological significance in campaigning: people who are gregarious or have time to meet with people during events like funerals and social activities are more likely to win support than a man who has the best dreams for the country but has no time for such things. Margai is so reserved that he seldom gives an opportunity to journalists to interview him. African politics is not just about numbers but strategy.

Numbers may be lost when there is no effective strategy. And strategy in this context also entails being au fait with political intrigues. By the time Ernest and Margai learn the meaning of strategy in the African political context, the old man would have sat on the chair he has been dreaming about and would be beaming with smiles.

Photo: Ernest Koroma, fighting at the stake?

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