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Sierra Leone: The New Face of the NCD

By  | 12 November 2012 at 19:33 | 1358 views


The path to democracy in the coastal West African state of Sierra Leone, like all Third World countries, has been a long and rugged one with no institutions in place for the enhancement and sustainability of democratic tenets in pre-colonial and early post- colonial periods, but a turning point emerged in 1994, when for the first time, the National Democratic Commission (NCD) was born.

Paradoxically the birth of the NCD was at a time when a military junta (juntas are notorious for violating democratic tenets) the National Provisional Ruling Council (NPRC) was in power.

Declared a crown colony in 1808 by the British, the country became the first to experience “experimentation” by the colonial masters. By 1863 it had a Legislative Assembly in West Africa and by 1827 the first college in colonial Africa, Fourah Bay College was established and it produced elites who became the “experimental substances” for public and state administration.

It was the first to experience constitutional development and legal change in colonial West Africa. After the 1863 constitution another was implemented in 1924 which brought about significant legislative reforms. In 1896 the hinterland of the country was declared a British protectorate and had dual laws British and traditional laws were applicable as opposed to the colony of Freetown which was then only known as Sierra Leone.

By 1945 the need arose to establish a protectorate assembly for provincials to start acquainting themselves with democratic practices and the concept of representation. Among those who first represented in the Assembly were Siaka Stevens and Albert Margai, both of whom later became national leaders. In 1947 another constitutional reform took place and was implemented in 1951 in which the first national elections were held. It was this year that the Sierra Leone Peoples party was born. It was not elections in the strict sense of the word (according to Professor Marcus Jones in his Legal Change and Constitutional Development). Candidates were voted for by tribal authorities whose names were on the district council list. 1958 also witnessed constitutional reforms.

On November 1 1960, Municipality elections were conducted in Freetown. APC which metamorphosed from the elections before independence movement won two of the three seats

On March 22 1961 the House of Commons in London debated on the independence Bill of Sierra Leone. It was rushed within two hours which evoked apprehension in some rationalists in the House of Commons. One man who openly expressed the haste in which the country was allowed to go independent without the necessary democratic mechanism in place was Norman Powell. He said: “I regret the delay in bringing this bill before the house even more do I regret the haste with which the bill is being passed through all its stages. A colony with which we have had a connection for over 200 years is being, in a sense disposed of in a few hours. Where as yesterday, we discussed for the whole day a matter of transitory and trivial importance – the salary of one man ---today we are disposing of the destiny of two million people in less than half that time."

By 1960 there was a constitutional conference in London for Sierra Leone to be granted independence which came into effect in 1961. In 1962 there were also elections, but the elections of 1967 were of immense significance in the political history of Sierra Leone. After these elections there were a series of military interventions starting from Brigadier David Lansana’s intervention to the taking over of the national reformation council headed by Brigadier Andrew Juxton -Smith and later the Anti-Corruption Revolutionary movement which handed over power to a civilian government. (The APC).

In 1971 Sierra Leone became a republic in 1978 the country acquired a new constitution in 1991 that heralded the return to civilian rule, but there was a military intervention headed by the National Provisional Ruling Council. Within the junta rule the National Commission for Democracy was born.

In 1996, the civilian government of Ahmad Tejan Kabbah, through an act of parliament No.3 of 1996 (the NPRC decree No. 15 1994 was repealed).the name was changed to National Commission for Democracy and Human Rights (NCDHR). After the end of the war, the Truth and reconciliation Commission was established which not only examined the causes of the war but viewed the way forward, recommended that the human Rights commission be separately established which came into fruition in 2006 thus severing the human rights aspects from the Commission . It then reverted to it original name National Commission for democracy.

When Ernest Bai Korma was elected in 2007 he promised to strengthen democratic structures within the country. The commission then got a new face that made it look different to the public and more appreciating. A prominent academic, Dr. Abu Bakar Kargbo (photo) who had taught political science and international relations at Fourah bay college for decades, and later at the Milton Margai College of Education, a college established for instruction in Education (teacher training) but later advanced to the level of a polytechnic and offers various courses in the humanities and science, and later at the Njala University, was appointed to head the National Commission for democracy as chairman.

Apart from his background as a lecturer he has also been in the media for several years which made him au fait with the dynamics of mass communications in a minimally educated society like Sierra Leone. He says NCD is an independent, dynamic and decentralized Commission dedicated to providing civic education, capacity building and support to citizens of Sierra Leone in order to promote transparent accountable and responsive democratic processes and institutions, strengthen civil society and develop an engaged, informed and responsible citizenry.

According to him the Commission has over the years been exhaustively trying to sustain awareness within communities on fundamental constitutional principles that outlines their rights and corresponding obligations. They have also formulated and implemented programmes at different levels around the country. The Commission has also vigorously pursued objectives that instill a sense of nationalism, patriotism and loyalty to the state.

“We have awakened the consciousness of Sierra Leoneans on their rights. We educate and inspire the public to defend the constitution, inculcated in Sierra Leoneans the value and spirit of civic responsibility, prepare the framework for creating the basic institutions and norms for democracy at all levels of society “, he says.

As elections are approaching, the Commission has been making proactive approaches in fostering a harmonious relations between parties, dissuade youths and party supporters in general from engaging in violence, encouraging party leaders to commit themselves to the enhancement of a peaceful elections and provide a forum for dialogue and reconciliation.

In one engagement the Commission engaged Okada riders (commercial bike riders) to dissuade them from violence during the elections. Commercial bike rider are mostly within the age brackets of 18 to 35 and are from diverse backgrounds. Many were ex-combatants who had a penchant for violence in the past but have now reformed themselves and seen commercial bike riding as a good way to earn a living.

From all indications the national commission for democracy is now having a new face which has been more appreciable to many Sierra Leoneans who now interface with it at different times to gain some civic education.