SLPP fails to get it right

29 September 2009 at 04:28 | 531 views

By Ibrahim Phodei Sheriff, Darby, Pennsylvania, USA.

From my personal assessment of Sierra Leone’s Grand Old Party (GOP), the Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP), it is still very evident that the party hasn’t been able to grasp the reasons that culminated in its failures in recent national politics of Sierra Leone.

Some will say that those who are in positions of authority and who are responsible for influencing the party’s policies or implementing them do understand what the party needs to do to regain its past glory, but due to the chronic and dangerous problems of egotism and other personal reasons, they are failing to face the truth and redeem that party’s image and glory. On the other hand, some think that there is a seeming lack of understanding of what the party needs to do to regain the support of the people of Sierra Leone. Another school of thought is that the party is over confident about its return to power in Sierra Leone – the same confidence it had in 2007 which led to its failure to the incumbent All People’s Congress (APC). I had had high hopes in the future of SLPP after the election of Mr. John Oponjo Benjamin as the national chairman. Meanwhile, occurrences over the past several months are pointing to a looming problem the party may face in the near future.

I happened to have attended the inauguration ceremony of the newly elected executive of the SLPP Delaware Valley Chapter – and a dance organized by that chapter on Friday, September 25th, 2009 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA. The occasion was very successful as many Sierra Leoneans attended – including representatives from the APC. During that occasion, I sensed that all of us were cajoled by the frenzy of the night – an emotion that led some speakers into making political gaffes and sensitive misstatements. I was quick to draw my attention to the fact that though the SLPP made financial gains through the gate fees, but the party must have paid closer attention to the crowd mix and understand that some attendees were at the occasion to observe a political party that is realistically struggling to regain the people’s trust and confidence. Hence, my least expectation was for the party to have allowed any political blunder at any level at this time.

One of the speakers was the Chairman of SLPP, Western Area, Sierra Leone, Mr. Lansana Fadika. I was interested in listening to this very energetic guy whose enthusiasm and commitment to the party is remarkable – at least I could sense that from his energy. I was also interested in him speaking because he is one of the important national leaders of the party in Sierra Leone. Therefore, his position in the party makes him more knowledgeable about the party’s approach to addressing its problems; or, he was the appropriate guy who could represent the views of the party from the national executive point of view. Indeed, I concluded my analysis of his speech based on these perceptions about him.

Unfortunately, I was saddened by Mr. Fadika’s over-confidence and ‘downing’ of his brothers and sisters of the People’s Movement for Democratic Change (PMDC). Mr. Fadika presented the SLPP to the audience as a party that still commands loyalty from majority of Sierra Leoneans unlike the current feasible assessment of the party from the four regions of the country. As a Grand Old Party, I would expect more political maturity and less confrontation from anyone who represents that party of ours. Mr. Fadika’s over-confidence scared the heck out me about what is the future for this party. My scare and reservation will only probably go away if I see the SLPP regaining massive support from the people of our country’s capital city, Freetown; regaining control of the Freetown city council, healing the internal wounds among its members, bringing together the divide between its people at the party’s south-eastern base, addressing the issue of late Sam Hinga Norman, and regaining the trust and confidence of the Sierra Leonean people. Those have not happened yet, and do not seem to easily happen as evidenced by the lack of focus on those important issues.

On another note, I feel troubled to deduce from Mr. Fadika’s speech that the SLPP national authority still doesn’t know how to approach the important issue of the PMDC. What I saw in Mr. Fadika’s speech was a representation of an endless resentment and anger at PMDC. This is what Mr. Fadika said, “La tell oonu all, PMDC don die – en ee nor dae ever grap again. APC ful dem, sak dem man dem all, en don lef dem now. Den all geh for cam back to we by force”.

I was troubled by these statements as it represented to me that despite the well attended national convention of the PMDC recently in Kenema; despite the close links between that party and the ruling APC; and despite the party’s capability to take away votes from the SLPP, the SLPP has not grasped the simple concept that ‘politics is a number game’. While the APC is openly and untraditionally supporting the PMDC and its grass root members – further dividing the SLPP votes in its traditional south and east of the country, the SLPP which has closer relationship with the PMDC continues to play the blame game and fails to reach out to their brothers and sisters who were once members of the GOP. I am not sure why Mr. Fadika thinks that the continued split of the south-eastern votes between the SLPP and APC will get the SLPP back to power. I am not sure why Mr. Fadika thinks that with SLPP’s struggle with the electorate in the north, west, south and east of Sierra Leone will get the SLPP back to power. Well, some in the SLPP might say, let us just leave the PMDC to dissolve itself naturally. While that wishful thinking might make meaning to SLPP now, but PMDC seems to be running its normal organizational operations despite the fact that some of its members have defected back to the SLPP. However, some of their other members might still decide to go to the APC. Meanwhile, I am in total agreement with Mr. Fadika on his statement about the APC. I think that he was politically correct. But his over confidence is dangerous for the party, especially when it is observed to be held so highly by a man considered as one of the staunch national executive members. His current position on PMDC might be the same across the national executive – which worries me.

Being born in an SLPP family, raised with that party’s political philosophy and ideology, participated in the party’s activities in the Young Generation wing in Kenema and in the United States, I took a hard decision myself in 2005 to join other Sierra Leoneans to form the PMDC. Neither I nor any of those founders of PMDC did any wrong to anyone in forming that party. What we did was exercising our free democratic rights as free Sierra Leoneans because we felt something was going wrong in the SLPP which seemed irresolvable – an attestation which continues to manifest itself even today. We thought that strangers and people with political blemishes were clandestinely taking over the SLPP, and nothing substantial was happening to address the problem. We thought that despite his chronological age which was by far an age equivalent to our grand fathers, but that we were more of seniors in SLPP than Berewa who was selected by Kabbah and his cohorts. While in the PMDC, I held the position of Assistant Secretary General of the party’s USA/Canada region, Secretary General of the party’s Delaware Valley chapter, member of the Technology team, leader of the USA delegation to the 2007 conference held in Bo, and webmaster of the party’s website. Holding these positions, I got to know much about the PMDC starting from the leader down to the grass root members.

One thing I am certain about is the fact that PMDC is not ready to die yet as Mr. Fadika opined. That party, though the Sierra Leonean people are not yet ready to let it form national government, but will continue to be a force to reckon with despite how we view it: It will continue to take away votes from the SLPP. It will continue to keep the APC in power. This is just the plain truth. Members of that party are determined to continue and don’t buy into egotism and all of the other personal ‘stuff’ that naturally distract formidable organizations from their goals. So rhetoric like Mr. Fadika’s may even encourage those on the fence to stay back with the PMDC because they’ll certainly begin to feel that there is resentment against them even if they decide to come back to the SLPP. Can you imagine Mr. Fadika what it’ll mean to the SLPP if the APC including the President, Ernest Bai Koroma hears that a unity meeting has suddenly taken place between the SLPP and the PMDC? Do you understand the political advantage of that move?

I decided to return to the SLPP because I think that with the new leadership of the party, it may advance policies and implement activities that will positively influence national interest and support again. However, I have sensed that there is so much at stake in this GOP that if the whole of 2009 is wasted without making any policy statement on how it intends to progress, and making a realistic progress in achieving unity with the PMDC, but believes that PMDC’s natural death is inevitable, fundamentally, the party continues to weaken itself while strengthening the incumbent APC. Up to this minute that I am writing, there is nothing on record to show the effort of the SLPP in officially reaching out to the PMDC in resolution of whatever may have been the problem between the two parties. This further justifies the belief which many hold that the SLPP hasn’t still got it yet. This party just doesn’t understand the immense importance of “every man is important in a simple majority political system”. The whole of 2009 has been wasted lambasting each other either verbally, physically, or virtually on the Internet, on e-groups, or casting blames on PMDC for the party’s failure. Nothing has been done to address the issue of late Sam Hinga Norman and return that trust back to its base. Nothing has been done to find out the reasons that led to the party’s failure from different fronts.

Another very important problem I have physically identified within the SLPP is the problem of grudges among members for each other. I can cite an instance on the recent chapter election held here in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania to elect its chapter executive. While the elections were one of the best ever SLPP held elections in the diaspora, it left scars that are still difficult to heal. While there was a large turnout of the Sierra Leonean people (some of whom were SLPP members already, and some who registered with the party during that election period), and raising funds up to the tune of $10,000, evidences show that people were being intimidated and politically ostracized and marginalized for freely exercising their democratic rights. People faced and continue to face these out castings because they chose to support particular candidates in the past elections. This kind of action and reaction among the SLPP members is easily identified at almost all levels of the party’s hierarchy. Up to this moment that you are reading this article, people who consider themselves as members of the SLPP do not talk to each other because of these petty ‘stuff’. Similarly, if you happen to check into what discussions ensue among members of the SLPP on the e-groups, they mostly are about attacking each other, castigating each other, etc., other than suggesting strategies that may help the party re-surface again on the political front. These show signs of internal mayhem that the SLPP is grappling with.

Some of us living in the diaspora must have learnt some lesson from the USA political system after the September 11 attack on the world trade center, the pentagon and in Pennsylvania. After those attacks, the senate and congress formed a joined committee to investigate the reasons that led to those attacks – even though some of the reasons were known. When that committee identified the reasons, it came up with recommendations as to how such attacks could be prevented from recurring. Today, those recommendations are being implemented at the federal level of the USA government. Though different situations, but I personally was expecting the SLPP to have set up an independent committee to carefully and genuinely investigate the reasons that led to the party’s failure in the past national and local council elections. The results of those investigations may prevent a future failure of that magnitude – as long as the investigations are honest, reliable, genuine, neutral, and not influenced by any internal or external forces. The results of those investigations will not only be useful to the party in averting future failures, but rather, they will be an important asset to the party which could be useful to the future generations.

I am certainly aware of the fact that some people or cynics may view my assessment in a negative form, or begin to doubt my true return to the SLPP, but looking at the precarious nature of the SLPP internal problems and the impact those problems will create for the future generations of the party, it is important at this point that some young folks of our party start openly coming out on those problems. Some of us have suggested these points to authorities within the party, but our suggestions seem to be falling on deaf ears. We understand how the decision of few people will affect the lives of many people, even our unborn generations. We saw how we were affected by the poor judgment and decision of Tejan Kabbah and few people around him. The worst that SLPP will do at this nick of time is to allow a recurrence of the same problem that led the party to its current predicament. I would therefore again remind the SLPP to start a serious work on addressing the party’s internal problems, including reaching out to the PMDC openly without any reservation before the end of 2010. This party has no time in its favor and must not allow insensitivity to plague its people for another time. This is just my fair assessment and personal opinion of the SLPP. Don’t mean to hurt anyone.