From the Editor’s Keyboard

The youth got the power!

10 October 2017 at 04:48 | 1945 views

By Oswald Hanciles, Guest Writer, Freetown.

“Youth Arise!!! …Yaaaa!!! Youth Arise!!! Yaaaa!!! ….Who got the power? We got the power!! Who got the power? The youth got the power!!”

That’s the rousing call of the youth group I am co-founder for in the year 2000. Words have power. Think on the words of Youth Arise again as both the SLPP and the APC this week elect their flag bearers for the 2018 election: “The youth got the power!!” There is grave danger for any political party that does not lend profundity to that demographic reality of Sierra Leone today

About 40% of Sierra Leone’s population comprise of those that are classified by the UN as “youth”. (Children are 42% of our population). Probably, about 80% of those who will vote and elect any president of Sierra Leone have to be youth. It is the most common sense thing then that presidential candidates are chosen that cater to youth; and messages are crafted to target to youth.

*‘The Age of Youth’ is Age of Big Dreams*

‘The Age of Youth’ is the time between childhood and full physical, educational, emotional, and economic maturity. Early youth – between 15 years and 25 years (who are 20% of Sierra Leone’s population) – is the Age of Big Dreams; youth are likely to be adventurous in those years; they gravitate towards BOLD VISIONS; youth are moved by MORAL persons. But, youth in this age bracket could also easily get disappointed; disillusioned; angry. What is the message for party chieftains who are going to choose candidates? Do not choose an aspirant with ‘dirt’, or, baggage, or, skeletons in his/her cupboard. It is not enough to for an aspirant to say “I have never been indicted, prosecuted, and convicted in a court of law”. Probably, about 99% of the very corrupt in society have never been prosecuted in a court of law. Many people know, or, opposing political parties would dig out dirt on, deals made in ministries or agencies while an aspirant was in charge. The construction workers, laborers, masons…who have constructed mansions of an aspirant with obvious “unexplained wealth” could talk. 2018 will be ferocious with social media being used as a political weapon. It is far safer for a political party to present a near-squeaky clean candidate. Youth would be repelled by a candidate with the stigma of “corruption”.

*Youth love CHANGE*

Youth love CHANGE – sometimes, not because what exists in the old is bad, but, simply because there is this impulse in youth to want change. They would change their shoes, caps, shirts, or, political parties and political candidates, because their peers are changing, or it is fashionable to change. There, the political opposition has an inherent advantage because of the intrinsic change which they present. The challenge for a governing party is to present a candidate that they can sell as a CHANGE agent. The gospel of CONTINUITY is a hard sell to youth, even when a country has gone through a boom period before an election. The economy of Sierra Leone has been strangulated since the Ebola War of 2014. The advantage of economic and political stability and political continuity can be packaged for the youth – but, it must be packaged imaginatively.

*Youth gravitate towards beauty; and glitz*

Youth make a lot of judgment based on VISUALS – what they see. That is why music and film targeted at youth always has glitz and glamour and fast motions. That is why pop stars and film stars who target youth are so flashy and noisy. If the old party brass want to better understand this let them watch Justin Bieber’s main musical video “I am sorry”. A tall and handsome candidate is likely to receive the vote of youth just because of that alone. That was one big advantage of President Ernest Bai Koroma when he contested against the SLPP’s Solomon Berewa in 2007. “Ernest” – as he was fondly called by youth – was tall, with film star handsomeness, and a smile as if he were advertising toothpaste that made female youth swoon. Berewa – “Solo B” – was short, with a comical face; too soft-spoken to sizzle the blood of youth. Which of the APC aspirants best meets this psychological criteria of being most pleasing to the eye of youth as President Koroma was? How will he fare against the short, heavy-overfed-face but nonetheless handsome Maada Bio?

In a ‘101’ psychology book which I read about forty years ago as I started my post-university life, the writer postulated that handsome people are more likely to persuade other people than those who are ugly. The writer argues that that is why most national leaders are dashingly handsome. (And, most con men too).

*Youth are awed by erudition and resonance*

Youth are awed by what they hear. When youth hear a highly educated and exposed person speaking they listen with rapt attention, their lips quiver; a light shine in their eyes – especially if such a person has the resonance of a Charles Margai or a Barrack Obama. They almost would worship such a person. Some of the political opposition leaders today have the gift of gab – like Kande Yumkella and Kamarainba. For the governing APC to underestimate this power of speech within these two challengers and select an APC candidate who cannot speak volubly with erudition and resonance will be a costly mistake. And that is putting that mildly.

*Youth Demand Trust from Leaders*

Youth demand leaders they can TRUST. If you have been a teacher in a classroom, if you have been a mobilizer of youth in a church or mosque or in your community, you would notice this habit of youth: They would look at you with eyes that seem to me opening up your brain to see what is in there, and doing surgery on your very soul. Youth appear to almost to FEEL the sincerity of a much older person they are listening to. If they see or hear negative things (or, feel it with an uncanny inner barometer), they would never give you their political support. Remember, urban youth (about 45% of our population) have learned, or, we have taught them, to be cynical, and wily – they can shout and dance for you only to gain a few Leones. And not vote for you!! That was what they did to Solo B in 2007. Those who are to choose a candidate must understand this element of TRUST among youth. With about fifty years of experience in public life, it was the “trust factor” that bedeviled Hillary Clinton’s presidential bid in 2016 - the perception that she had been part of the decadent political system of the US ‘forever’. And Hillary - who Barrack Obama campaigned for as “the most experienced candidate ever to run for the presidency” - was trumped by the neophyte politician, Donald Trump.

*Most Money is Important Only When….*

Money is vital in any democratic election in modern times. The candidate who has lots of money, or, can raise considerable money, has an edge over other candidates. Money is crucial for a candidate of a governing party. He/she has to PROVE that his/her party has served the youth well; and can continue to do so better when given another opportunity. Throwing money at the electorate, or, trying to buy them, has never really worked in Sierra Leone. If money was the winning factor in presidential elections in our country, Dr. John Karimu of the military-backed NUP with lots of money to throw around would have easily won the 1996 presidential election against the then broke SLPP. The SLPP candidate in 2007, Solomon Berewa, was throwing money on the electorate as if money were grains of sand he would just scoop from the ground. And the APC was broke. Charles Margai and his PMDC were also broke. Yet…Berewa lost. If the governing party can use money to collect and collate information on its achievements and package them in video images AND put them in perspective, they can wisely use the relative advantage of having more money over the opposition candidates.

A candidate should have strategic sense and emotional maturity. A candidate who could be popular in one or two districts and completely unmarketable in most other districts will be suicidal for a political party. A candidate who thinks in terms of electoral strategy as if 2018 would be 1977 is sure to kill his/her party. A candidate who ignores the technological reality of social media, of three private television stations and fifty broadcast radio stations; of over 70 newspapers in the country… is doomed to fail. The party chieftains MUST be perceptive to make these judgments about aspirants.

*“We Boku Pass Dem” APC Big Lie*

For the governing APC, a candidate who is intoxicated on what could be the Big Lie of “We boku pass dem” will be walking on a slippery slope with banana peel all over – that is the assumption that all Northerners in the Northern Province and Western Area will blindly vote for the APC. Such thinking would prevent imaginative packaging of information; would get a candidate not to harness quality media minds; would get a candidate not to have aggressive outreach programmes; would grossly underestimate the political opposition. In especially Freetown since the war era, there are too many youth born in, or, bred in, Freetown who can barely speak either Temne or Limba; they are not likely to blindly support the APC like their parents would. They need to be persuaded to vote APC.

Of course, a candidate chosen should be marketable OUT of his own ethnic/language region!! Democratic elections in the heavily polarized and embittered political space like Sierra Leone are not like football clashes. They are not likely to be over once a referee blows a whistle. If a candidate is perceived by the other main ethnic group/region as having a ‘closed mind’, as a President who would carve all the jobs for his/her own ethnic group/region, there could be stiff resistance with volatile ramifications even after the result of a winner is announced…..The APC NAC, the SLPP delegates, who choose a presidential candidate MUST not forget this: “THE YOUTH GOT THE POWER”!!
I pause.

(To be continued).