The Price of Leadership

14 September 2007 at 22:23 | 560 views

By Moses Massa, Freetown.

I have been following the debates about the elections in Sierra Leone with great gusto and I was very impressed with some of the thoughts expressed so far. Some of the contributors are well known and more enlightened than most of us. However, seeming enlightened is not the same as being critical and objective.

As I piece together my thoughts, I admit my insufficiency as far as expertise is concerned about political and economic developments in Sierra Leone. Please excuse my digression, which is just a testament to my academic inadequacy. Ironically, to quote Desiderata: ‘... listen to others, even the dull and the ignorant; they too have their story’. This epitomizes my own shrill voice of input to the roar of these academic lions. The theme of my narrative is the price of leadership. What one sows is what one gets.

I will begin by addressing the article written by one of my academic mentors, Lans Gberie, titled: THE RUN- OFF POOLS: FEARS & HOPES, in one online S/L newspapers. Though it was a brilliant essay typical of Gberie’s works, it was however, greased with intellectual insincerity.

I wonder why in this essay he said that strange things have been happening in S/L since the 1st round of the election failed to produce an outright winner. Why should that confuse him? or was he trying to be evasive of the reality? I will address this later but let me now make few comments about the essay of our well-known pundit.

It is fitting to say that Gberie has an impressive intellectual CV: a masters degree, published books on the bloody RUF and Diamond trade, many published journal articles, and a consultant on Sierra Leone.

To start with, his tone and choice of words seem to depict one who is too confident and all knowing to be wrong; something he often tries to do in many of his ‘objective’ contributions. Even if he does not agree with what others say, or others do not agree with him, he should not be vitriolic. An educated mind should be tolerant enough to accept other seemingly challenging perspectives but be strong, bold, and humble to acknowledge when he is wrong.

He must be willing to change also. I say this because of his acerbic comments about the UN and its Special Representative, Mr. Victor Angelo. Such an attitude or response is likened to those we invidiously brush with the term, religious fanatics. True, he is an erudite person but adjectives like ‘ridiculous’, ‘vestigial’, ‘loquacious’, ‘foolishness’ should not be used. It is sad to note that at times our words do portray what is inside of us. Mr. Gberie may claim he was/ is angry with Angelo, but should not spite the UN, which in all fairness tried to improve our country’s welfare.

Let me now take certain issues in his essay, which I see as dishonesty, piety and ignominy. Why do some people think they could and should influence the decisions of others? Is it because he is intelligent enough he can tell us what to do?

The late Haile Selassie of Ethiopia said: “Throughout history, it has been the inaction of those who could have acted; the indifference of those who should have known better; the silence of the voice of justice when it mattered most; that has made it possible for evil to triumph.”

Not so this time. The late reggae legend, Bob Marley made it clear ‘you can fool the people some time but you cannot fool the people all the time’. The recent elections clearly verified this. More so, no one is as blind as the one who refuses to see. The people of S/L have opened their eyes against what they saw as their cause of penury to eventual demise. As an intelligent individual, he is well placed in simple terms to understand this, that a state is associated with politics, the ability and capability of its leaders to provide the basic needs of the citizens.

Put into an equation : Politics = Governance = Performance, in other words, the variable to determine whether X is successful, corrupt, progressing or regressing has to do with the ability, capability, efficiciency and willingness of the state institutions to deliver the basic needs of its citizens.

I was privileged to go to the provinces sometime this year and what I saw was unbelievable. Only a person with a Bin Ladenic (coinage mine) character, or a blind man would deny the annoying existence of poverty in a rich country like S/L. It is easy to put the blame on the war for the woeful state of the country, but thank God, this defenseless accused was sentenced to oblivion (we hope it is a lifelong imprisonment) by all Sierra Leoneans, and the International community in 2001.

Without exaggeration, in the 2nd city of Bo, about 98 % of the inhabitants use water well as their source of clean drinking water. Kenema inhabitants do enjoy relatively good electricity and a ration supply of pipe borne water in addition to the wells. Not to talk of Kono, Kailahun, Makeni, where the luxury of light and clean drinking water are but a phantasm. When I saw the road network, being my first time beyond Freetown, I was filled with anger and utter disgust for our politicians. If Gberie sees it, he will not speak so elegantly for a government that did not live up to the expectations of the people.

I asked myself if this was the road
(most without tarmac and deadly gaping potholes) these politicians used to visit our people in the provinces and promise them their much awaited development. Yes, it is good to be a supporter of a group one feels he can identify with but not in the face of gross injustice and the destruction of others well-being.

I was stupefied when Gberie said : I always tell people that one measure of progress under the current government, which inherited a brutal ‘civil’ war, is a posteriori: for the past five years or so there has been little violence in the country, and hardly any incident (of even violent crime) leading to the loss of lives. I think that in this sense progress has being made. The SLPP government did not start the war, and it ended it. If it wanted to, it could have prolonged it. This is very important for me, and I’m sure for millions of people living in Sierra Leone as well. But of course it is easy to over-stress this aspect, as some government officials have absurdly tried to do...

With his political epithet of peace, it is only an alien who would regard such a joke - it was the SLPP that brought peace-as a fact. It is true to say that it was during the SLPP’s tenure that the violence escalated and came to an end (please take note of the use of my words).He bullishly went on to say that ‘the SLPP if it wanted to could have prolonged the war’. I wonder if he was very serious or honest when he was writing at the time. The measure of progress under his now bygone government, were the number of high profile, non-prosecuted corruption cases, the rampant, mocking and painful poverty, shameless blackout like the days of the old APC, lack of adequate clean drinking water, filth, helicopter crash, cocaine smuggling in our Ministry of Foreign Affairs .

True, we all know that the APC of Siaka Stevens and J.S Momoh was as inefficient, corrupt, suicidal, bedeviled by an elite with megalomaniacal and sadomasochistic attributes, who were justifiably paid in their own coin in 1992 by another congenital, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic and congenial group of corrupt army officers (NPRC). When the SLPP took power in 1996,it did well, however due to the AFRC’s rude interruption, and the restoration of the ousted SLPP, these same attributes of the former APC and the NPRC multiplied with exponential proportion, seasoned with weak-sweet lies under the SLPP administration.

It is a strange but interesting to note that he mentioned about the existence of little violence in the country. It could be a strange question also, what is violence? Does violence necessarily mean the occurrence of bloody conflicts? I guess this is a common misconception. According to the Norwegian scholar, Johan Galtung, the violence paradigm involves a lot of issues that in many ways affect people. In his book- Peace by Peaceful Means - he analyses three kinds of violence: direct, structural and cultural. Direct violence involves the outright use of force on people in every society, meant to deny their human values and rights. Structural violence on the other hand is equated with indirect violence, which refers to the violence that emanates from the social structure itself between class, race, sex e.t.c. Cultural violence involves the symbolic use of imposing one set of particular value on another group with a different identity.

It functions to legitimize direct and structural violence. This is the reality that Galtung refers to as the ‘triangle’ of violence; the main reason for the many kinds of conflicts we now see around us ranging from gender, race, nationalism and ethnic violence. Without much emphasis, our country has /is experiencing direct and structural violence, which sadly, Gberie does not want to see or does not know about. Maybe, because he is living in the UK where there is relatively low violent crime, he is privileged to lecture us on this topic. Does he know the amount of such violent crime activities and armed robbery taking place in the country? I think the contrary.

Talking and expressing fear of a divided country, when has politics been devoid of regional and tribal sentiment in Sierra Leone’s elections? A telescopic look at our political history before independence showed a country already split along this social and linguistic dichotomy; courtesy of our ‘good’ British colonial master. When the elections were conducted by this colonial administration, which favoured the interior groups over their city counterparts (i.e. the Creoles) was it not a problem? Why was the APC formed if there was no shadow of nepotic leadership by the then SLPP?

Interestingly, history is not only a reflection of important, sad, dynamic and catastrophic events of the past, but also a telescope to bring a closer view of far -flung objects, events, and circumstances. The problem with many of us is that we learn some things and forget everything. At the time when we had our 1st democratic elections in 1996; an election that was conducted along strictly ethnic lines as the just concluded one, no party won the first round. What happened then? Did not the other parties, with their own ethnic supporters pitch tent with the SLPP in the run off? At the time, did anybody accuse the now fallen PDP of the late Thaimu Bangura, the APC and the other political parties of tribalistic, selfish, and myopic? To commend Karefa Smart, he did not campaign or wag a tongue of polemic centered on ethnic loyalty. When Charles Margai did it for the APC, many diatribes were made against him. Only time and history will reward Charles Margai’s great work of brinkmanship for pulling our country by the neck from the brink of untold apocalypse had the SLPP won again.

Another thing is the stark conceit of Gberie’s omniscience in the country we all know so well and the humans we know so little about. Why was he so confident that the SLPP would win? His expertise is on International Politics and Security Issues, and even if he has knowledge on legal and political matters, the issues of our political system should be left for the people through their representatives to decide how they plan to elect their leaders. Was it not the SLPP with their majority in parliament that instituted the constituency system? The inability of the SLPP to win any single seat in Freetown is a testament to the political maturity of the city residents and the transcript of a failed political leadership.

It is a shame or if not utter blindness to blame the electoral system as a reason for their abysmal failure in the city. I think the once sweet grape has now become sour. The 2004 local government elections sent a signal to the SLPP that things were not what they thought. They never won a seat in Freetown, instead of thinking what to do, they were inebriated with the notion that they had their so-called traditional bastion and that come 2007, nothing will stop them from winning again. Like a mist that sometime sends rain, the year 2007 came and the same opportunity was given to all parties to sell their commodities to the buying populace. But the question was how could you sell a rotten egg to a customer who was ready to consume fish instead, having a similar protein but with a different gram? Except a miracle, could change such a desperate buyer or a gullible that is ready to get a cheaper price and not considering the aftermath. This simply meant that the government was worth less than our disused Le 2 note.

I admire and may sometime emulate Gberie. However, common sense urged me to produce my own ripple on his intellectual sea (mind) and give my necessary, humble opinion to him. The Jewish Austrian philosopher, Ludwig Wittgenstein:"Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent". This brings me to another side, which is a light of warning to the new government. The APC should know what the stakes are. The late prodigy of black emancipation, Martin Luther King, Jr, said: ‘All progress is precarious, and the solution of one problem brings us face to face with another problem’.

Simply put, the leadership of the SLPP was our problem and their defeat is a progress for all Sierra Leonean but is a problem for the APC. I want to clarify this for the APC, all humans (all sierra Leonean) are full of a brighter expectation (which is a right) thus, you must not again take us for granted. We want to see tangible result; and not the textbook of the World Bank’s economic growth, reflected on our people. If they fail to deliver, then we vote them out as the SLPP. I conclude with this to all my people: ‘Change does not roll in on the wheels of inevitability, but comes through continuous struggle. And so we must straighten our backs and work for our freedom. A man can’t ride you unless your back is bent’. (Martin Luther King, Jr)

In other words, the struggle which led to the change has started, and we must not relent in pursuing our destiny. We have come afar for us to relax and return to those dark moments of the past.