Sumanguru’s War Cry: A Rebuttal

15 July 2006 at 04:48 | 531 views

"Between 1977 and 1997, there was not a student protest that I didn’t take part in, instigate, organize or lead. And for all that, I must thank the precedent set by my senior brothers and sisters of 1977 and for the inspiration of their actions during that period which remains even as I write."

By Kalilu Totangi

The story Olu Ritchie Gordon relives in his trilogy, “The Wheel Turns Full Circle” (PEEP NEWSPAPER, June 9, 2006 and following), is our story; that which has ruled our lives since 1977.

I was an elementary school kid then - must have been in my Selective Entrance year (Class 7). Truck loads of secondary school kids from Jimmy, Koribondo and even from our own Barri Secondary School in Potoru descended on our village and dragged us out of our school amidst song and dance. By the time we could ask any questions about what this was all about, I found myself throwing fireballs to help burn down the Local Court house, the Local Government offices and the market. Whatever it meant then, “No College, No School” sounded like a reasonable thing to me, although the examination that would send me out of the bounds of Potoru was about to be interrupted. It was my initiation at 10 years old.

Over the years, I grew up in constant reminder of 1977, and that was partly because I grew up in the shadow and camaraderie of some of the key players of the legendary 1977 “students unrest”, including the writer (Olu) to whom I must offer this rebuttal.

Between 1977 and 1997, there was not a student protest that I didn’t take part in, instigate, organize or lead. And for all that, I must thank the precedent set by my senior brothers and sisters of 1977 and for the inspiration of their actions during that period which remains even as I write.

By 1984, I was a member of the HQ study cell of the Pan-African Union (PANAFU) in Bo, the Eastern Province Coordinator by 1987, and the Njala University Coordinator by 1991. During those years, as I became more educated in the culture of Sierra Leonean “proletariat” political activism, I was as equally privileged and challenged to look at the senior “comrades’ with a new pair of more mature eyes and a bigger brain to perceive what I saw. And it is in that same spirit that I beg to differ with Olu Gordon in his sentiments about Hindolo Trye’s move to the All Peoples Congress (APC) party.

He says he was “extremely proud of Hindolo... He at least had the courage of his convictions”. What he didn’t tell us, however, is what those convictions are. Instead, what he has merely done is to invoke the memories of the “student unrest” of 1977 and Hindolo’s role in it and insinuate that the valor of the student selflessness of 1977 may have suddenly reincarnated itself in Hindolo Trye, leading him to join the APC.

That illogical big leap is either as a result of narrow-eyed observation or flawed journalism. To the extent that the events that history has recorded as the 1977 Student Demonstrations set a catalyst in motion, the realization of whose aspirations were to only bear fruits some 20 years later; and more importantly because the students of 1977 themselves became players during this period, it is only but correct that 1977 be seen within the broader context of those 20 years. And all of us who played our varied roles to get to where we are as a nation can lay claim to that history and interpret it in context.

A Brief Review of the History

In his piece, Olu Gordon conjectures that “1977 was the first struggle for restoration of Democracy”. He explains that “1977 was a cry of anger by a New Generation - a demand for basic rights and freedoms which had been stripped from Sierra Leoneans over an 8-9 year period (1969-1977)”. He touched on the relationship between the educated elites of Freetown and the Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP) under Albert Margai which he decried as a “budding dictatorship”.

He laments that the “creed” of the APC felt betrayed especially after 1975, in his words, “when mass corruption - worse than the SLPP ever perpetuated - stalked the land”. Olu points to the betrayal students of his age felt when “the SLPP and APC joined together to rape this country for over 14 years”. He is also firm in defending his generation against any claim that the student demonstrations of 1977 were a ploy by its “South-eastern” leaders to bring back the SLPP. He concludes that “the struggle of 1977 was a struggle against dictatorship; not a struggle against the APC as such”.

A number of citings from this piece are instructive. First, the fact that the 1977 demonstrations were only the “first” in the series of struggles for “restoration of democracy” infers that there were others inspired by the same “purpose” through history.

There was the ill-fated 1981 Labor Congress strikes, the 1985 students unrest, the 1987 students demonstrations, the 1989 Teachers uprising, the 1988/89 SU Now and Pro-democracy skirmishes, the 1989 clandestine pro-democracy leaflet drops, the 1990 and 1991 Pro-democracy student demonstrations, to name but a few.

All of these “proletariat” political actions, some of which may have been inspired by the 1977 unrests, played their part in weakening the entrenched Status Quo that was the APC; so that when the young soldiers descended on them in 1992 they were not sure where or who to turn to for help.

Another of Olu’s quotes that may be as much instructive is that which posits the 1977 actions as a “struggle for restoration of democracy”. What he does not elaborate is the conscious efforts the APC made to stifle that aspiration, and the brutal extent to which they went to ensure that their violent hegemony perpetuates itself and compare that to the rich democratic traditions that the SLPP embodies. Finally, Olu delineates the 1977 demonstrations as “a struggle against dictatorship; not a struggle against the APC as such”. Assuming that all this is true of the 1977 student demonstrations and the APC, the question that begs itself for answers is: what is Hindolo Trye’s “conviction” that has caused his wheels to “turn full circle”?

And the Wheel Turns Full Circle?

The adage, “the wheel turns full circle” is often a reference to someone or something returning to where it started. For Olu to refer to Hindolo Trye’s declaration for the APC as the “wheel turning full circle” may be disturbing, if only because it casts Hindolo Trye in a light that invites questions as to where he belonged on a number of issues that students were faced with at that stage in transition. But of course the questions are not about whether Hindolo is good or whether he has Sierra Leone at heart or not. It is not even about whether he had a house from his days with the NPRC or not. The brother is essentially a good man as far as some of us are concerned. But like most other good men, he has been wrong before, and no doubt he is way off the mark on this one. And here is why:

In the second part to his “endorsement” of Hindolo Trye’s declaration for the APC, Olu Gordon quotes Hindolo as saying that the 1977 demonstrations were not in favour of a party or against a party. Rather, it was a struggle against “the system”. But in the same breath, here is Olu Gordon in the same part to his piece: “we were totally fed up with the de facto APC One Party State and the overwhelming dominance of one man, Siaka Stevens”. What constituted “the system” in the view of Hindolo Trye and the 1977 generation is germane to the rest of this discussion.

If the 1977 generation is murky about who or what “the system” was, the generation which actually carried on the activist tradition that babied in 1977 is all too clear on what “the system” was. It was the APC in all its manifestations. It was Siaka Stevens and the rest of the other people in charge. It was the red sun that was the symbol of the system. It was the late and unpaid salaries. It was the corruption. It was the violence that became synonymous with politics. It was the long queues sprawling along street corners waiting to scramble for consumer items. It was rice chits, it was the petrol chits. It was just everything that set the downward spiral of our country in motion unto 1977 and beyond.

One may ask him/herself whether it was conceivable to distinguish between the APC and “the system”. The answer would be yes, for academic purposes and for academic purposes alone. The reason that is true is because “the system” was a conception and manifestation of the APC. It was the mode of governance that they chose from the outset. It was thought out to be murderously corrupt and coaxing of its “creed".

The leader was Machiavellian and thus guided the APC in its determination that it was weakness on the part of the SLPP to have allowed them to come close enough in the 1967 elections to have put the outcome in doubt. They were resolved from the outset never to conduct any election that gave the SLPP any chance of regaining power. That was “the system” that students throughout the generations fought to overthrow. I am not sure how Hindolo Trye or anyone for that matter is going to distinguish the political violence that pervaded the nation under the APC from “the system”. If it was “the system”, thanks to the APC.

Alarming Revelations

It is truly disturbing to learn from Olu’s opinion piece that Hindolo Trye sought to “compel” the APC to give their red sun “symbol” to Ernest Koroma, who was then an APC Youth League mastermind. And this is the same APC Youth League that led the violent charge against the students when they demanded that democratic governance be restored to the homeland. And add to this the fact that he was hobnobbing with S. I. Koroma, the alleged mastermind of APC violence across the country.

Guru would have to explain such inconsistencies to some of us who have, and will continue to hold him at a high pedestal. Given that Olu’s statements quoting Hindolo Trye are true, and to the extent that he had lobbied for a ticket to the inner sanctum of “the system” for his friend, at a time when students were engaging that same “system”; one would reasonably conclude that Hindolo Trye’s current support for Ernest Koroma does not derive from anything remotely having to do with the selflessness of the 1977 Students’ Demonstrations. Instead, it is about him helping his friend gain power even when he belongs on the wrong side of the issues. Again, I admire that depth of friendly gratitude. But the question remains, does Hindolo Trye’s endorsement of Ernest Koroma derive from experiences from the student protests? I doubt it highly, and I challenge Guru to take this matter on.

Another significant issue in his piece is the reminder I had, discussing this issue with a friend (I have heard this before), that Hindolo Trye was among a small group in the NPRC that spurred Valentine Strasser on to run for the presidency in 1995. It was the hope of every “campus radical” in 1992/93 that the inclusion of Hindolo Trye into the NPRC was going to transform the military coup of 1992 into the “revolution” that Sierra Leoneans had yearned for all along.

We trusted him to have political maturity and thinking to propose a direction for governance. He didn’t, and he watched haplessly as the young thugs bullied and raped the nation. Even as some of us who had always looked up to the Gurus of our generation for inspiration and direction were engaged in activities to realize the aspirations of 1977, Guru is alleged to have been scheming with the NPRC to perpetuate Strasser in office. I sincerely hope this is not true, but if it were so, then one can safely say that the “wheels” have long come off Hindolo’s 1977 euphoria train. If 1977 was about “democracy”, “corruption” and the rest of it, NPRC turned out to be an antithesis of what 1977 was all about.

In concluding, I must appreciate Olu Gordon for invoking the spirit of 1977 in the political debate of 2006/07. It is truly relevant. What happened in 1996 sowed the seeds of democracy in our country.

In 2002, the nation conferred “incumbency” on Kabbah. In 2007, the nation will have an opportunity to transition to democracy. It will be the first time that constituents will have an opportunity to directly elect those who would represent their interests in parliament. I can guarantee that the SLPP will provide the most democratic process in electing its tickets to represent the constituencies. The party will also guarantee that the pending elections will be a model for democratic participation by any international standard.

Bottom line: if 1977 was about democracy and open governance, Sierra Leone has never been as close as we are under the SLPP. So why is Hindolo Trye opting for the APC, which is the embodiment of “the system”. Some have argued that he was APC all along and that he was part of that “creed” that Olu refers to n his piece. I would venture that it is about fulfilling a promise that S.I. Koroma once thwarted. So Richie, it is not about 1977 as we knew it, but about 1977 as we now know.

Kalilu Totangi
Secretary General, SLPP North America Chapter.

Photo: The author